Alabama town borrowed money, rearranged workers to beautify

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 14, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; When Korean auto manufacturing executives came to visit Greenville, Ala., Mayor Dexter McClendon made sure they toured downtown.

Situated on Interstate 65 south of Montgomery, the town of 8,000 is just a short drive from a soon-to-be-built Hyundai plant.

That proximity helped Greenville land two first-tier suppliers for the auto manufacturer, which will bring more than 500 jobs to the community, said Mayor Dexter McClendon.

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But McClendon believes a few other factors helped make a good impression &045; one of them being the beautification efforts.

&uot;I really feel like downtown development helped,&uot; he said.

&uot;You never know who’s going to be coming through,&uot; he said. &uot;And you just want to be proud of your city. It’s like cleaning up your yard or your house &045; that sounds corny, but it’s true.&uot;

Just four years ago, Greenville wasn’t in such a great position, with unemployment at 18 percent.

But despite those economic challenges, the town has invested about $3 million over the past 10 years in its downtown, fixing sidewalks, cleaning streets and planting flowers.

About two-thirds of that money came from grants, but the rest was invested by the city.

&uot;It’s an investment,&uot; said McClendon, who is in the third year of his first term.

&uot;You have to spend money to make money. I don’t mind spending money on economic development.&uot;

And McClendon, who was elected to the city council in 1988, believes beautification is economic development &045; especially downtown.

&uot;The key to any town is its downtown,&uot; said McClendon, who resisted efforts to move the city hall to the bypass. Instead, Greenville renovated its old city hall.

&uot;I felt like we needed to be downtown,&uot; McClendon said. &uot;If you ever start losing your downtown, you’re just a shell.&uot;

Before the city began cleaning up its downtown, &uot;it was just dreary,&uot; McClendon said. &uot;Nothing had been done in years.&uot;

So how did Greenville begin cleaning up?

It started, in part, with the former mayor fixing up his own business, a shoe store downtown.

That spurred other business owners to clean up their own properties.

Then the city hired a horticulturalist and restructured public works staff &045; workers who had been cutting grass at the cemetery &045; to help her with beautification.

&uot;We hired the right person, a horticulturalist,&uot; he said. &uot;It’s all about deciding that’s what you want to do. It is going to cost you a little bit of money.&uot;

The city also bought a water truck from the state surplus to help maintain the flower beds planted downtown.

Grants helped, but McClendon admitted that finding the money is tough for small communities. &uot;It wasn’t easy,&uot; he said. &uot;You can’t ask government to go and do these things without a price.&uot;

But McClendon believes the investment was worth it. &uot;We used bond issues to fix things up,&uot; he said. &uot;We borrowed money, basically.&uot;

&uot;We made a decision that you can sit around and do nothing &045; and waste away like an abandoned house &045; or you can take a chance and do something,&uot; McClendon said.

&uot;It takes somebody getting behind a project, the leadership in the community,&uot; he said.