By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times
Before long, Cullman could be the new bass fishing hub of the south. After submitting a proposal last year and memorandum of understanding earlier this month to house the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, officials were notified this week that the city is a finalist for the project.
With a crowd of more than 150 in front of him Friday, Cullman Mayor Max Townson used the platform of the annual State of the City and County to let the cat out of the bag.
“We were invited today to attend the national convention of the Bass Hall of Fame, which is held in Tulsa, Oklahoma on February 22,” he said. “They told us we are a finalist and that is where they plan to announce their site selection, so fingers crossed.”
The City of Guntersville is considered Cullman’s chief rival for the project, and Guntersville officials confirmed to The Times on Friday that they will also be attending the Hall of Fame event in February.
Cullman’s proposal features a hall of fame building with an aquarium and a fishing camp which would include involvement by Auburn University. A new civic center would also be attached to the facility, all housed at the former Burrow property on County Road 222. If Cullman is selected, the city plans to share the cost of construction with the Hall of Fame board. The city would then lease the facilities back to the board and retain ownership.
The mayor also gave a teasing update on a project that has been in the works since last year: An annual music festival anchored by country music star Sara Evans, which will build on the success of last year’s Rock the South concert.
“We’ve been working with Sara Evans and they love this community,” he said. “We believe we’re going to get a commitment from them to do this on a three-year contract and we’re really looking forward to doing another Rock the South.”
Officials have previously said they hope to make a formal announcement about the concert by the end of this month.
Sidewalk renovations, CRMC pledge
In addition to the big reveals, Townson also touched on several smaller initiatives the city will be undertaking in 2013.
“The state of the city is in fantastic shape, I can tell you that, because we believe in stewardship and efficient and effective government,” he said. “Our budget is up a little bit to $26.8 million, but that’s coming out of some tough times in years past. We’ve spent that money wisely updating sidewalks, updating fire trucks and finishing the clean-up on the Grief property.”
One major financial catalyst over the past year has been the addition of alcohol revenue, which started flowing in soon after Cullman residents approved legal sales in 2010.
“The council and mayor decided once Cullman went wet, instead of dumping that revenue in the general fund, we set that aside in a separate fund,” he said. “From that revenue we’ve put a lot of money back into the community. We’ve allocated $450,000 to the downtown facade program and you can see the difference that’s making in downtown Cullman. We want our buildings to keep their heritage and beauty and it’s working great.”
Townson added that alcohol revenue also helped the council restore some non-profit allocations that had been cut when the economy soured around 2008.
“A lot of that we put back into the community for the 501(c)3 [non-profit agencies] such as Cullman Caring for Kids and the Good Samaritan Clinic and we think that’s a great idea,” he said. “Once the facade program tapers off, we’ll take some of that and allocate it toward road repairs and bridge repairs. We actually had in the budget two years ago to replace Eva Road Bridge and that’s something we hope to get taken care of in this administration.”
Townson said the city has also pledged $900,000 to Cullman Regional Medical Center over the next several years which will be used for a renovation project, as well as the addition of more beds.
With hundreds of millions of dollars invested in the community over the past several years from new and returning industries, Townson also took a moment to thank the Cullman Economic Development Agency for their efforts.
“Since I was elected in 2008, it’s like [director] Peggy [Smith], [Assistant Director] Dale [Greer] and her staff have just made us look wonderful,” he said. “In 2012, we had over $161 million in expansion and new business. REHAU announced a $119 million expansion. Our economic development department is second to none. Plus 80 percent of those jobs in those industries go to county residents and that’s a fact. What’s good for the county is good for the city and what’s good for the city is good for the county. We need to stay united in those efforts and we do.”
* Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.