In the last two decades, Calhoun County’s southernmost city has feasted on the commercial goldmines brought by life alongside a federal interstate. It’s a waste of time to suggest that Oxford would still be ol’ Lick Skillet if Interstate 20 didn’t cut through the city, so we won’t.
Instead, we’ll make a few points Oxford’s City Council and Mayor Leon Smith should file away for when it comes time to turn that land into their next development project.
• Plan smartly, access-wise, around Exit 191. The point: Look at exits 185 and 188. They’re equal parts ugly, poorly planned and hard to maneuver through, particularly for out-of-state travelers looking for a hotel room or a tank of gas. The intersection on Leon Smith Parkway just north of the interstate is a headache, even for drivers well-seasoned in Oxford roadways. Traffic congestion around 185 can be a workday nightmare, what with a Wal-Mart SuperCenter, an interstate, the county’s largest high school and the Alabama 21-U.S. 78 intersection clustered so close together.
• Develop a master plan for Exit 191. What is the vision? A carbon copy of 188 — more hotels and restaurants? Where do new housing developments fit in, or do they? It would be interesting to hear what the smart minds of Oxford’s Commercial Development Authority have to say about that.
• Don’t rush. Oxford’s ball of retail development is rolling, and human nature says to keep at it. In other words, work on the land’s infrastructure — sewer, water, etc. — and kick start talks with developers. But hold on, we say. Oxford’s got the land and the interstate exchange. They’re going nowhere. And, as Councilman Mike Henderson said, “right now it’s a swampy area, but there is some potential for development.” Whatever is done with Oxford’s new acreage will be there for decades, so be wise about it.
It’s no shame if Calhoun County’s other cities harbor mild fits of jealousy over Oxford’s seemingly bottomless chest of opportunities. For those of us who remember Oxford as it once was, it’s fascinating to watch it become what it is today, regardless of the reasons behind that transformation.