The City of Cullman took another tentative step Monday toward what might one day serve as a new locus for creative activity, collaboration and civic enrichment in the city limits.
Holding a first public hearing to solicit community input on a proposed art district on the city’s west side, the Cullman City Council received no formally-voiced opinions from residents interested in the idea who turned up at Monday’s hearing. But the handful of business owners or artists who did show up said, following the hearing, that they fully support the city’s efforts to create a new arts district centered on Main Street’s Art Park and radiating into the surrounding city blocks.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said local artist Jack Tupper, who’s responsible for many of the murals that grace the exteriors of the city’s historic buildings. “With all the things I’ve been lucky enough to do, I really appreciate” the city’s focus on the arts, he added.
The proposed boundaries for the district include Art Park, Werner’s Trading Company on the west side of Main Avenue along U.S. Highway 278, and from 2nd Street Southwest to 6th Street Southwest between 5th Avenue Southwest and 3rd Avenue Southwest. City officials showed up at the hearing with a map of the area highlighted by the boundaries that would delineate the proposed district.
City clerk Wesley Moore said the proposal is very much in the early planning stages, and that its form will be shaped by the opinions of city residents and business shareholders who present ideas the council members themselves may otherwise not have entertained.
“We’re going very slowly, and of course we want plenty of public comment,” he said. “We’ve looked at other art districts throughout the United States, and we think there is a lot of potential in the west side of the city for sculptures, murals, and…unique retail shopping opportunities and restaurants in an art district.
“On the west side of downtown, we see a lot of vacant lots; empty buildings; abandoned buildings,” he added. “This is to try to stimulate [economic activity], too. We want to see that area prosper, just like the east side has. When you go into communities, the downtown’s the heart — and we want to make sure that it thrives.”
Should the city create an arts district, it would be regulated by the same rules that currently apply to Cullman’s Special Events District along First Avenue. Major events held in the district could be served by a potential parking area that the city could elect to build on a vacant lot along Main Avenue, as well as street parking, according to mayor Woody Jacobs.
“Kind of like at Depot Park, people could park anywhere — even blocks away — and walk to the events,” Jacobs said.
The city council did not take action following Monday’s public hearing, and did not announce its next scheduled move to push the project forward. “It’s just an exploratory thing that we’re talking about at this stage, and we want to get input from the public,” said council president Jenny Folsom, with Moore adding that the city will continue to solicit suggestions, as well as opinions both for and against the project, before choosing how to proceed.
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