Monday’s announcement of a planned $10 million four-story hotel and retail project on Noble Street is the latest in a series of major planned developments that combined promise to change the landscape of downtown Anniston.
Mayor Jack Draper, speaking by phone Tuesday, used the word “resurgence” when speaking about the projects, which he said are the product of the previous administration’s work.
“They deserve tremendous credit for what’s going on now,” Draper said. “Anniston and this council are benefiting from the previous council and I hope we can carry on this momentum.”
At an Anniston City Council work session Monday council members heard from Johnny Arnold, with Baton Rouge, La.-based Tag Investments and GM Realty Associates, about his plan to raze the vacant, city-owned office building at 1200 Noble Street, known as the “Model City Center,” to build an estimated $10 million, multi-floor, 100-room hotel with retail space on the first floor.
News of the project was followed by smiles from council members seated around a conference table at City Hall on Monday, but the plan had been in the works for years, explained City Manager Kent Davis.
Draper said Tuesday that the hotel would benefit from cyclists who continue to take advantage of Anniston’s many cycling venues, from the Coldwater Mountain biking trails to the Chief Ladiga Trail and the city’s annual Sunny King Criterium downtown cycling races.
“Having a hotel on Noble Street, that’s exciting,” Draper said. “That will increase foot traffic on Noble and the surrounding areas.”
Other lodging, past and present
And it would be one of few hotels near downtown.
Hotel Finial, which opened on Quintard Avenue in March after months of renovations, had been given to Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston and his wife, Ginger Marsh, by the city. The couple in turn agreed to spend $1.5 million renovating the 126-year-old property, although final cost of the work was $2.5 million. The historic structure was once home to the Victoria Inn.
Anniston’s old Downtowner Inn and restaurant, at Fourth Street and Quintard Avenue, was built in 1969 but torn down in 2013 after years of decline. A Ramada franchise was located there in 1998, when a strip club operated in the restaurant drew the ire of locals and visitors alike. Ramada didn’t care for it either. The property was foreclosed in 2010 and was home to a Christian ministry for a time.
The planned hotel wouldn’t be the first to call the northwest corner of 12th and Noble home, however. The 94-room Alabama Hotel, built in the early years of the 20th century, was in its day a prime meeting space as well as lodging. The city’s Chamber of Commerce had its office there. A massive fire took the hotel down Sept. 15, 1944, with the loss of one life out of approximately 200 guests, according to The Star’s archives.
Speaking by phone Tuesday, Arnold said what drew him to invest in Anniston wasn’t the hard numbers — population and income statistics and the like — so much as it was the city’s economic development team and what he learned about Anniston through them.
Arnold began discussing the project with Anniston’s former economic developer, Eric Basinger. When Kent Davis was hired to replace Basinger in July the incoming Davis called Arnold and restarted that conversation.
New markets expected
“If you just look at numbers, you wouldn’t realize what’s really going on there,” Arnold said, from a full-service grocery store downtown to two hospitals, myriad cycling opportunities and a planned new federal courthouse.
The U.S. General Services Administration is mulling three different downtown blocks on which to locate a new approximately $92 million federal courthouse, to replace the existing courthouse at the southeast corner of 12th and Noble. Plans call for the new building to be completed in 2021.
Arnold said Anniston will see “an absolute snowball effect” once the new hotel opens, and said he was encouraged by the city’s push to build nightlife downtown through the establishment of an entertainment district.
In October the City Council agreed to establish a downtown entertainment district that will allow restaurants to open parklets outside where patrons can eat and drink along Noble Street.
John Hartlein, a general contractor and Arnold’s partner in the project, said Anniston will not only support the new 4-story hotel downtown, but will bring with it its own market.
Hartlein said the nearby Jacksonville State University, the Center for Domestic Preparedness and new federal courthouse will all feed the hotel with customers, who may now be staying in hotels outside the city.
“We’re excited about it,” Hartlein said.
The announcement of the hotel project followed the announcement on Dec. 19 of a planned $6 million downtown retail development project, to include several national restaurant and retail chains on land between Ninth and 10th streets and Quintard and Wilmer avenues.
Local officials are also awaiting to see if President Barack Obama will designate two Anniston sites tied to the civil rights-era Freedom Rides as a national monument.
Sally Jewell, secretary of the Interior Department, and Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, in October toured the former Greyhound bus station on Gurnee Avenue and the site where a mob burned a bus on Alabama 202 west of Anniston.
Obama is expected to decide on whether to use the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate the Anniston sites as a national monument before he leaves office Jan. 20.
The downtown skyline will change as all the planned projects become a reality, Draper said. It’s the sort of growth other cities have seen in downtown areas, born of the sort of energy that he says he sees in Anniston today.
“I think people are hopeful. I think they sense that there’s a continuing energy going on here and that good things are on the way,” Draper said.