WEDOWEE - On Sept. 24- 25, 2020, more than 15 students, all third- and fifth-year students from Auburn University Urban Studio, Marshall Anderson, managing partner with Design Initiative of Birmingham, local business leaders and 52 area residents took part in a two-day workshop that led to an additional workshop in October.

After the presentation from Design Alabama, the group walked through downtown Wedowee, observing the quaint shops and restaurants, new businesses, like Edward D. Jones, but also noting large dumpsters in front of local businesses. The group discussed missed opportunities for walkability and envisioned some enhancement projects from crosswalks to murals. Throughout the month, many researched the entire county and continued to think tank community enhancement projects. The architects, students, citizens and local businesses collaborated on beautification projects, broadband improvement, community housing and lifestyle ideas. The total cost of the two-month workshop was close to $8,000, which included administrative fees, design fees, food and miscellaneous expenses for the group meetings.

Many businesses and residents generously gave money, locations, meals and services to make the work sessions with Design Alabama and Auburn University Urban Studio successful. Sponsors included: Gene Crouch, Keller William Realty, $3,500; Denny Hicks, local restaurant owner and resident, $1,000; Butch Jackson, Keller Williams Realty, $1,000; Bob May, $500; and Bob Stone, Stoneco, $1,000. Randy Morris of Wedowee Marina provided the meeting location and several meals over the two-month period.

Several residents, including Doug and Kim Styes, Gene and Ramonda Crouch, and Butch and Lynn Jackson hosted the out-of-town students and professionals.

On Dec. 8, Wedowee Marina South held the final presentation from the workshopped ideas. About 60 residents, business owners and a few elected officials, including Mayor Tim Coe and his wife Suzi, were in attendance at the meeting.

Marshall Anderson, a managing partner with Design Initiative of Birmingham, led the meeting loaded with ideas and issues relevant to the group's aspirations for the Wedowee area. The presentation included drawings, statistics and recommendations on the next steps to make the many enhancement opportunities a reality. Mary Helmer of Main Street Alabama presented a video based on ongoing downtown revitalization efforts in other small cities like Wedowee.

A question-and-answer session followed with many ideas and concerns discussed amongst the attendees, including the added challenge of a state and federal highway running through the heart of Wedowee proper. The audience referenced the ideas and drawings put on a big screen and compiled them into a 22-page booklet.

In 2004, Auburn Urban Studio, the student group from Auburn University, led a similar process with the Wedowee community to help evaluate existing assets and liabilities and determine a vision for Wedowee's future. Just like the recent meeting, this vision was presented in a similar setting, but instead of a PowerPoint on a big screen, it was a concept board. Recommendations from that initial effort included focusing on and improving the existing downtown, connecting the downtown to new commercial development on Highway 431, the creation of a new park in the flood plain at Frog Level Creek, and providing new housing in and around the town center. Even though many ideas were embraced in 2004, and many were re-visited and applauded in the latest workshops, it was noted that 16 to 17 years later not much progress had been made when comparing the 2004 presentation to the 2020 report.

Gene Crouch, a 25-year resident and local businessman, said when he ran across a 2004 poster with a schematic of downtown full of the architecture students' vision, he thought it was very clever and an approachable opportunity. He stated, "We love Wedowee. We're dug in here. We have made this our home, and we want to see it be the best it can be. Not necessarily change it completely, just enhance it - make it be that special gem of a place that it is."

A few who attended the meeting thought it was going to be a larger discussion on broadband coverage, which was a topic and lifestyle item referenced in the presentation. The 60 or so attendees were engaged listeners and wondering how to move forward with a few of the ideas, from expanding broadband, to community activities.

After the presentations and the question-and-answer session, Tricia Stearns, a resident, introduced herself and a new group of citizens that has been formed as a response from the workshops.

Wedowee Together, a new 501(c)(3), a non-profit entity, hopes to benefit every citizen of Randolph County. Their mission is to promote, support and enhance Wedowee and the surrounding communities in Randolph County. With a board of nine residents, the group plans to be an umbrella of activities from an active downtown merchant organization, county beautification efforts, broadband and cell phone improvement group, as well as community events and networking opportunities. Their website is WedoweeTogether.org, and the group has a Facebook page, Wedowee Together.

According to their website, volunteers are needed for their first event to be held on May 1. For more information on how to volunteer with Wedowee Together, go to www.WedoweeTogether.org or call Tricia Stearns at 404-401-4636.

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