Phenix City 'Homage Park' part of ambitious, multi-project plan

Mowen@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 21, 2013 

Phenix City unveiled an ambitious plan Thursday to revitalize the Thirteenth Street corridor, bringing the empty site of the old Cobb Hospital into the mix.

The city would swap two acres of the 18-acre hospital land to the Fletcher McCollister American Legion Post 135 in exchange for its 2-acre property at the corner of 13th Street and Broad Street. The city would also build a new $3.5 million facility for the American Legion, surrounded by a $3 million “Homage Park,” to pay tribute to the five branches of the U.S. armed forces – the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard, Phenix City Mayor Eddie Lowe announced.

“What we want to do here in Phenix City is have niche, something that is so unique that it will be the best in the state if not the best in the country,” Lowe said. “We want to pay homage to each branch of the military.”

Lowe made the announcement at a gathering of area business leaders, who were called upon to “Help us help us” by the mayor. The help Lowe was referring to is a $3.5 million capital campaign that will be needed to finance the project. Lowe estimates the city can raise $3 million from selling the old Legion post and two office buildings the city owns adjacent to the planned park site, leaving $3.5 million to finish the project.

“I want to challenge you because I believe in my heart that we in Phenix City have the momentum, we have it structurally and we have it systematically, but we need the spiritual part, which is the heart,” Lowe said.

At-large Phenix City Councilman Chris Blackshear told the gathering that plans like these are vital for cities to progress, but they’re not free.

“You have to start with a vision to get you where you want to be,” Blackshear said. “But with every vision comes a price tag, and that’s what the mayor’s laid out as a challenge.”

After the presentation of the American Legion plans, architect Scott Holmes with Hecht Burdeshaw Architects, which designed the new Legion building, unveiled architectural renderings of two nearby projects – a two-story parking deck at the corner of Fourteenth and Third Avenue and a new Phenix City Museum, which will be built on Fourth Avenue between the old library building and the Coulter Building.

The deck will have two layers, but no ramps between them. Drivers will access the lower level from 15th Street and the upper level off Fourth Avenue. It will have 200 parking spots and feature an exposed staircase to provide an open feel and views of the river, Holmes said.

The proposed museum will be a concrete, steel and glass structure set in between two more traditional brick structures, both of which hold some historical significance. One is the old public library. The other is the Coulter Building was where Alabama Attorney General-elect John Patterson was gunned down in 1954, setting off the ultimately successful drive to run organized crime out of the city.

If the modern architecture seems out of place, Holmes said, that’s exactly what he was aiming for.

“You’ve already got two historically significant structures,” Holmes said. “The last thing I want to do is try to create another historic structure between the two.”

He said he wanted to make “a simple modern design that is a new vision of Phenix City.”

The parking deck is set to be built next year, but the museum will depend on raising funds for the project, as is the case with the American Legion project. Lowe said ideally, he would like to start that work in 18 months, but that will depend on the success of the capital campaign.

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