Though she loves the recently re-bricked sidewalks and new greenery near her downtown business, Bennett Home Supply owner Carol Bennett said the city streetscaping project has also created a few parking problems for her.

“It really gives a warmth to the downtown area and shows that we have a lot of pride in our community — I really love it,” she said of the city’s plan to spruce up downtown areas. “But, it has created some parking issues for us where we’ve lost a few spots ... Those are just some minor things you have to work through, though.”

As part of the city’s ongoing streetscaping project, the work includes re-bricking of sidewalks, new pedestrian lighting via street lamps, landscaping, new signalization, flower beds and benches on various downtown streets. The city is also adding “bump-outs,” which allow for more greenery on city streets.

“It’s going to be a beautiful downtown,” street department supervisor Rick Henry said. “It gives everything a more wide open look ... It’s all going to look so good and I think people are going to be so proud of it.”

Cullman city council president Garlan Gudger, Jr. said the streetscaping project was actually kick-started to repair old water and sewer lines in downtown.

“The last map we had was from 1932, and on that map it said some of the lines were old,” Gudger said. “That was the major attribute to why we started it. Since we were tearing things up anyway, we decided to put some nicer things back when we finished.”

Overall, the entire three-year plan is expected to cost the city approximately $1 million — with more than $1 million more paid for by government grants.

With work now well underway, Gudger said he believes it is more important than ever to improve the look of downtown Cullman.

“Especially now, with the economy downturned, as much money as we can pull in for tourism, the better,” he said. “Downtown is the heart of our city. More than 4,000 people came through for the Strawberry Festival in May, so if we can get people who don’t live here spending money here, it makes the city and the county a wealthier place.”

Looking toward the city’s future, Henry said he believes the streetscaping work will be appreciated by Cullman residents for years to come.

“A lot of people weren’t so sure about creating Depot Park at first, but now it looks great,” he said. “I think people are going to be proud of this far off in the future.”

Erin Brooks, manager at downtown shop Berkeley Bob’s Coffee House, said the work hasn’t had much of an impact on her business.

“I don’t think it makes much of a difference,” she said. “It is attractive, but you wonder if that was the best possible way to spend that money.”

Balloon Bazaar employee Tina Bailey echoed those sentiments.

“It’s pretty, but it hasn’t made much of an impact for us,” she said.



The Phases

The city split the entire streetscaping effort into three different phases, focusing on three different areas of downtown.

The city is nearly finished with the first phase of the project, which brought re-bricking and landscaping work to the west side of Highway 31, from Fifth Street to Third Street.

“We’ve finished the brick and light installation on the east side and things have essentially been completed on the west side,” Henry said. “We’re just still hooking up some lights.”

Phase I was estimated to cost $942,000, though the final price came in below budget, closer to $800,000.

The second phase — which will focus on Third Street to First Street — has taken slightly longer to begin, due to the fact that the work was bid out. The project was sent to bid because 80 percent was paid for with a grant, and it was required as a stipulation for funding.

“We won’t really be too heavily involved with that,” Henry said of the street department. “Phase II is really just getting off the ground.”

Approximately $729,875 of Phase II was paid for with government grants, while $145,975 came from local dollars.

The final phase will be Phase III, which will landscape from First Avenue to Third Avenue. This phase will be partially funded by federal stimulus funds and is slated to begin in the spring of 2010.

“That will go one block east and west, following the Highway 278 and Highway 31 intersection,” Gudger said. “That’s really the center of our downtown, so it’s one area we’ve always wanted to upgrade.”

One change on the way for the midtown intersection should be a benefit to local drivers once it is eventually finished.

“The brick will start at curb height and as it gets to the corner it will bevel itself down level with the highway, so 18-wheelers on that corner won’t have to make such a sharp turn anymore,” Gudger said. “We’re also going to move the streetlight pole back closer to Wachovia Bank, so trucks won’t have to jump the curb. That will create a zero clearance, so people won’t have to back out and have issues in that turning lane.”

Phase III is expected to take approximately a year and a half to complete.

At least 80 percent of the $437,950 Phase III will be covered by grants, and is still in the running for 100 percent funding from federal stimulus dollars.

Though the different phases are being staggered, and at times handled by different contractors, all of the aesthetics are expected to tie in for a unified downtown look.

“The other phases should all fit with what we’ve done on Phase I,” Henry said. “It should tie in directly.”

With nearly one-third of the project completed, Henry said he believes things are running smoothly.

“We think it’s going remarkably well,” he said. “We may even be a bit ahead of schedule ... Everyone who has worked on that project has been extraordinary and it really has been a cooperative city effort.”



‰ Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at trentm@cullmantimes.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 225.

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