Today, the property sits as a crumbled, vacant brownfield site that only historians, sentimentalists and planners can love. Seeing the potential of a 19-acre block of land just west of Noble Street can be difficult unless Annistonians view it through the appropriate lens.
Nevertheless, the property’s promise is undeniable. Anniston cannot afford to mismanage either its rehabilitation or its rebirth. Plan large. Think big. Include all parties in the conversations. Do it right.
Earlier this week, the city hosted approximately 20 cleanup contractors who toured the Chalk Line property. Their interest was increased, City Planner Toby Bennington told The Star, by the growing popularity of federal brownfield grants and the slightly improving economy — though banking on the fits and starts of the financial system remains a dicey thought.
In Anniston’s figurative pocket
is a quarter-million-dollar brownfield grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, along with $150,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission and $47,000 in matching city funds.
That’s real money that will draw response from those interested in investing time and cash in Anniston.
Granted, having a pre-bid walkthrough with cleanup contractors isn’t sexy. Brownfields are former industrial or commercial sites whose pollution has to be removed before they can be developed. In the Chalk Line property’s case, this week’s tour was merely part of a lengthy-yet-necessary process that holds strong promise when completed.
Yet, that completion — the rebirth of the Chalk Line property — is why the city must hit a home run with this project.
Thus far, the possible uses for the historic former home of the 1880s-era Anniston Manufacturing Co. are intriguing. Bennington and other city officials have mentioned a variety of possibilities: mixed-used developments, government agencies, retail outlets, cultural centers and open spaces.
If anything, the site’s potential is bolstered by its location — a west Anniston site only a stone’s throw from Anniston’s downtown corridor. If done correctly, and with collaboration with residents and business interests from all parts of town, the Chalk Line site could be a model for other reuse projects in Anniston.
Bennington told The Star as much. “The idea is to connect west Anniston to downtown and not create any type of alienation and anything that’s not going to open it up for better access,” he said. In this case, he’s right.
Anniston wins when revitalization projects inject life, vigor and hope into our communities. One success can breed another. Let’s hope this project’s potential isn’t derailed by unnecessary politics or demagoguery. The site’s promise is too important to squander.