Alexander City, Alabama
A City amid Transformation
From Textile Heritage to Thriving Community, Alexander City is Embarking on a Journey of Reinvention and Growth
If there is one thing we all can agree on it is the warm embrace that southern cities offer the visitor and Alexander City, situated in East Central Alabama is no exception. The city is also currently experiencing a remarkable transformation. After its century-long textile heritage came to an abrupt halt in the early 2000s, the community embarked on a journey of reinvention.
Although Mayor Woody Baird describes the buyout of Russell Corporation and the subsequent loss of 5,000 jobs as a “total economic catastrophe for our local area,” Alexander City’s story doesn’t end there. Today, the community is witnessing unprecedented growth and development, evolving into an attractive destination, and embracing new opportunities across various sectors.
Lake Martin Acts as a Catalyst for Growth and Revitalization in Alexander City
Located along the pristine Lake Martin, renowned for its drinkable water and expansive shoreline spanning 880 miles, Alexander City is capitalizing on the amenities of this natural treasure. Built on its shores is Wind Creek State Park, home to 586 campsites and a major attraction to the area.
Baird highlights, “In the last couple of years it has been discovered, and people are coming here. We have people coming from Texas and Florida. The major thoroughfare through here is US Highway 280, a four-lane interstate, and we’re the gateway to the lake. So, retail-wise, people come through here and they stop and pick up what they need to go to the lake with, so it’s a huge economic boon for us.”
The lake has also emerged as one of the greatest assets for Alexander City’s revitalization, highlighted by a development project brought forward by the Russell Lands Group, which owns approximately 25,000 acres of lakeside property and has embarked on developing Lake Martin as a high-end residential area. “They have one large development going on right now,” Baird describes. “It’s going to be 400 homes, but it’s an extremely exclusive gated community, with a huge Coore and Crenshaw golf course. The homes, by the time you buy a lot and build a house, you’re looking at $3 to $4 million.”
A planned neighborhood community is also in the early stages of development, bringing another 700 residences, which are desperately needed in the city. “It’s going to be a mixed-use subdivision. We have the lake, so part of it is going to be lakefront and then there’ll be lesser-priced, medium-priced homes that are backlots. And then even further back than that, you’re going to have patio homes, townhouses, and apartments. If they can get that off the ground, that’s going to be huge for us, because we’re in a housing crunch right now for affordable starter homes,” Baird admits.
Driving Economic Growth: Alexander City’s Thriving Industries and Educational Collaborations
The Lake Martin Area Economic Development Alliance is working closely with Alexander City on the development of an industrial park that will be the home of the graphite processing facility Alabama Graphite Products, the first of its kind and a significant opportunity for the region. This plant will refine the graphite, creating a product known as Spiracle Coated Purified Graphite (SPCG), using a proprietary process that promises faster and cleaner production. This can then be processed into usable products, including those for EV batteries and carbon fiber-based items.
According to Baird, the initial output is estimated to fulfill only around 1% of the projected requirements resulting from the surge in EV technology and production. However, there are plans for expansion, including the construction of a second building and process refinement with the company positioning itself as a major player in the refined graphite market.
Denise Walls, Lake Martin Area EDA Interim Executive Director, relays, “We are hoping that will open us up to the EV market and maybe attract some of their supply chains to that industrial park as well.” As for other possibilities, she adds, “We’ve seen some active prospects in the forestry industry lately, who are very interested in Alexander City. We are kind of in the middle of what the forestry industry calls a very active wood basket. So, we’ve also had several prospects looking at Alexander City for that.”
Alexander City benefits from the presence of Central Alabama Community College, an active two-year college that provides tailored programs for companies to upskill their workers and promote employee growth. This approach not only benefits existing industries but also attracts new businesses to the area, fostering economic prosperity.
“My job is to connect the two, to visit industry and find out what their needs are, and then bring that back to the college,” Walls describes. “It’s been very beneficial to companies because they can send their incumbent workers to Central Alabama Community College through one of their programs and upskill them. And now they have an employee that’s not only dependable, and a hard worker, but they also have the skills they need to be promoted in their company.”
The collaboration extends to Auburn University, located less than 40 miles away, which has recently opened a culinary school with a hospitality curriculum. The intention is to create pathways for students interested in the culinary arts, offering a “two-two-two” program that combines two years of high school, two years at the community college, and two years at Auburn University.
“Here in Alexander City, Auburn is very well known,” says the mayor. “It’s a great school, they have a good engineering department. We find if you can engage high school students and get them interested, then potentially you can bring them into the workforce easier.”
An increasing interest in restaurant businesses, both startups, as well as existing establishments looking to expand their operations, is something Amanda Thomas, Alexander City Community Development Director, believes is an indication of the growing entrepreneurship in the area.
“We have a microbrewery that is going in the downtown area. We expect that to be a huge hit with how much interest there is,” she discloses.
In collaboration with Main Street, the city is also looking for redevelopment opportunities for the former City Hall and Courthouse buildings. “We’re actively pursuing the best economically positive impact for the downtown area for that property,” Thomas asserts.
Enhancing Quality of Life: Alexander City’s Community Partnerships and Downtown Revitalization Efforts
Emphasizing the city’s dedication to improving the safety, health, and quality of life services for its citizens Thomas notes the importance of fostering partnerships with local and private agencies like the EDA, Main Street, the United Way, Adelia M. Russell Library, Mamie’s Place Children’s Library, and the Chamber of Commerce, all of whom are vital in enhancing the quality of life services within the community.
Capitalizing on the annual Alexander City Jazz Festival, which has been a summer kickoff tradition for over three decades, Main Street and the Alexander City Chamber of Commerce have joined forces to expand the festival into a weeklong event. This extension includes exciting activities like a glow-in-the-dark golf tournament and a citywide medallion search, further engaging the community.
The city also focuses on organizing community-building events such as the Tikes for Trucks event, crawfish, gumbo, and chili cook-offs. Thomas acknowledges that Alexander City’s role is too often to provide necessary services during these events, such as electrical support, water supply, security, and garbage collection.
This is all part of an effort to reinvent the downtown core, given the impact of the US 280 bypass, which shifted the main road away from the downtown area. “The aim is to revitalize downtown and bring back a vibrant flow of foot traffic,” Baird says. He shares that downtown Alexander City has an established Arts and Entertainment District, which serves as a hub for various events, including a stage for the popular Lake Martin Songwriters Festival. During such events, downtown streets are closed to vehicles, and visitors can freely roam and enjoy the festivities, immersing themselves in the experience.
Along with sidewalk enhancements, to improve walkability and connectivity throughout the community, Alexander City allocates a portion of sales tax collected towards a paving program. “On top of that, we’re working with the Alabama Department of Transportation, replacing some bridges to help accessibility, especially on the main thoroughfare going into Lake Martin, highway 63 off of 280. There are some huge upgrades there to help with traffic flow,” Baird reports.
Bids are also out for the building of a new high school which Baird says will lead to a consolidation of the school system. Additionally, a new senior village is coming to the community, thanks to a generous $25 million donation from the Russell family. “It’s going to be specifically geared toward senior citizens, with a geriatric advanced care facility, an assisted living facility, and 26 independent living cottages,” Baird recounts.
“It borders our sportsplex which is our municipal recreational facility. Once they get this village built, the residents will be able to take golf carts and drive down into the sportsplex and watch ball games or whatever. It’s going to be neat to have them all tied together.”
As for the future of Alexander City, Baird maintains that the emphasis is on sustainable growth that brings prosperity and opportunity to the city.
“We are trying to address this huge amount of development that we have happening right now and be able to take advantage of everything that’s coming at us,” he concludes.
AT A GLANCE
Alexander City, Alabama
Where: Tallapoosa County, Alabama
What: A city of 15,000 on the brink of major growth and development
Central Alabama Community College – www.cacc.edu
Central Alabama Community College (CACC) is a diverse and dynamic institution offering state-of-the-art academic and workforce education and training. With various programs and flexible scheduling, CACC serves students of different ages and backgrounds, preparing them for a rewarding future. The College’s intimate class sizes, highly qualified faculty, and modern technology ensure a strong academic focus, while its athletics, organizations, arts, and events encourage personal growth and discovery.