Category Archives: Crime and Safety

Todd Strange Speaks to Emerge

By Kate and Stephen

We first heard about the “Future of Montgomery” program by way of Facebook. Hey, we live in Montgomery! We think about the future! Perfect! The Facebook event told us that the program would be put on by a group called Emerge Montgomery, which we were unfamiliar with, and would be held at a center of civic gathering – the Max Credit Union over near Eastdale Mall. As a sidebar, we learned that Max Credit Union was, according to their conference room’s “Wall of History,” founded with $125 stashed in a cigar box.

As for Emerge Montgomery, we discovered that it is, according to their website, “a program of Leadership Montgomery in partnership with the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce.” Further:

“EMERGE Montgomery is The organization for young professionals to connect with each other and the community. It is a built-in network of contacts for 22-40 year olds who currently live in the Montgomery area or are considering Montgomery as a place to live.”

Leadership Montgomery? Well, that’s here. And the Chamber? Well, you know what a Chamber of Commerce is.

Being between the ages of 22 and 40, and armed with a healthy interest in the future of the city in which we live, we decided to attend. The Facebook event told us that we would hear from three important Montgomery leaders:

· Todd Strange, Mayor of the City of Montgomery,

· Elton Dean, Chairman of the Montgomery County Commission

· Nim Frazer, Chairman of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce.

Dean didn’t show, but the comments by the other two guys were particularly interesting. Most of Frazier’s comments were praise for the members of Emerge and Leadership Montgomery, saying that they were bright leaders of tomorrow, that sort of thing. The people we met were certainly nice enough and very interested in what we did, where we worked, etc. There was a lot of card swapping, name dropping, and conversation about whether so-and-so was the V.P. or the Senior V.P.

Frazier’s comments encouraged the audience to join the Chamber of Commerce and participate in their events. He noted that his father was also the head of the Montgomery chamber, and reminded us all of how CNN drove their giant news bus into Montgomery a few months ago and did some reports.

But the show was really about Mayor Strange, who talked for about 45 minutes to an hour, all off the cuff, unscripted, without notes. He was casual, fairly open, and quite warm. He came off as candid, while excited about the prospects of the city he leads. It was hardly our first exposure to the mayor, but our longest duration of hearing him talk by far. And he saved plenty of time for questions.

Strange began by talking about his arrival in Montgomery at the age of 33 as a regional manager for BellSouth. He said that on his first day of work, he went to meet with the Chamber of Commerce and not only joined, but promptly set out selling memberships. He indicated that he made numerous false promises in order to induce people to join, prompting a great deal of laughter from the audience.

He quickly moved into talking about Hyundai jobs and a state bond issue of $5 million, which the city used to purchase the old Colonial Bank building downtown at 1 Court Square, facing the city’s famous landmark fountain. He ran through an impressive list of items that conveyed in addition to the building: laptops, furniture, art. We’d like to hear more about the city’s plans for these items. Current plans for the building involve making some cosmetic changes to the outside of the building, while leasing the inside space to merchants and businesses.

Mayor Strange stressed the value of inmate labor, saying that the city employed 20 prisoners to tear down the old Riverside Heights properties.

He touched on public schools issues and crime, noting that he himself had been pulled over in the various checkpoints that police officers are employing around town. He mentioned city plans to renovate Cramton Bowl and suggested that the city was in the running to secure a contract for some sort of college football bowl game in coming years. He discussed the future construction of a building designed to attract women’s athletic events and also previewed an upcoming $250,000 public relations branding rollout to tout Montgomery’s new slogan – the “Capital of Dreams.”

Questions from the audience involved the smart code issues discussed regularly here on MML, the city’s plans for green space, the prospects for a downtown grocery store (upshot: deli likely, full grocery store unlikely), and plans for the abandoned Montgomery Mall.

All in all, our first exposure to this whole scene was a positive one. The mayor seemed frank and easy-going. The people from Emerge and Leadership Montgomery were professional and evinced a genuine commitment to  the often unrewarding work of civic engagement. The crowd was racially mixed and seemed to have a real interest in making Montgomery a better place. And on a weeknight during the summer doldrums, you really can’t underestimate how important it is that they were able to fill up the room. We’re hoping to continue to follow the activities of this group of “tomorrow’s leaders” and track the difficult work of charity, community improvement, and civic participation. Groups like this are one of the many driving engines that make democracy work.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a dog, a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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Filed under City services, Crime and Safety, Government, Legal Issues, Parks, Race

The Ghost of Martha Manor

By Stephen and Kate

Before demolition, Martha Manor in its last days. Photo by SDHA resident Bennie J. Riley.

We were used to them, in a sad kind of way. The Martha Manor Apartments on Wilmington were a kind of neighborhood landmark. And not in a good way. The apartments were long-abandoned, desolate, scary and certainly not the kind of place you’d want to be walking near at night. The words “NO COPPER” were scrawled across one outside surface, discouraging further scavengers from ripping up walls in search of metal. The windows that weren’t boarded up? Broken out. Weeds were knee high and scorch marks were reminders of some previous fire. One friend described it as the perfect place for someone to drag a victim, while another joked that we should nominate it for Montgomery’s Most Likely Corpse Disposal Location.

We didn’t envy our neighbors in South Hull for having to live near such an eyesore. As businesses began to spring back to life at the troubled corner of Norman Bridge and Edgemont, Martha Manor loomed over them like a reminder of civic decay, of the city’s struggle to thrive despite considerable adversity.

And then, one day, they were gone. We were shocked. How did this happen? Who was behind this much-needed masterstroke of neighborhood improvement? The more we looked into the matter, the more impressed we became with the perseverance, over nearly a decade, of our dedicated neighbors in the South Hull District Association (SHDA).

Of course, Martha Manor wasn’t always a creepy blight on the community. No place ever starts out that way. By nearly all accounts, the apartments were well kept for a long time until they went downhill in the 1990s. In December 2001, the city was called out to inspect the property because of a report that water was gushing out of the second story of one of the two buildings. The city’s inspection found that the apartments were extremely dilapidated. The battle to clean up South Hull was joined. Using the City’s formal procedure, a letter was sent to the property owner insisting that the apartments be brought up to code. When the owner failed to take the necessary steps, the City Council began a debate over demolition.

That’s when then-newly-minted City Council Member Martha Roby got involved. When Roby took over from her predecessor, Alice Reynolds, the Council was first beginning to consider authorizing the demolition of the property. Demolition was finally approved in August 2007, but then there was little action because the order was appealed.

“What happens with situations like this is once the city condemns a property, the owner can file a lawsuit in the circuit court to have the decision overturned,” Roby said. “With many of these properties that is what happens. It’s very frustrating from where I sit and where the neighborhood stands because it’s out of our hands.”

The west building was torn down a few years ago, but there was some talk about improving the remaining building. The SDHA reports that the property’s owner even attended an SDHA meeting to talk about plans for renovation. There were some improvements made to the remaining building, but with no property manager on site, they didn’t stick, and once again demolition was on the table. The property owners wanted to sell, so the city gave some time for potential buyers to come forward. None appeared.

Finally, in April, the ruins of Martha Manor came down to great acclaim among the members of SDHA. Even though the property wasn’t technically within the boundaries of their neighborhood, the association had come together to improve their larger community.

“The destruction of Martha Manor will benefit our and neighboring communities by helping to eliminate the foot traffic coming from an area where suspected illegal activities occurred and hopefully decreasing the break-ins in our areas,” said current SDHA President Lauren Dunning.

Roby emphasized the importance of Montgomery residents knowing and using the established city process when they have concerns over properties.

“If there is a piece of property that there is concern over, whether it is structurally unsafe or open and becoming a haven for criminal activity, the neighborhood association needs to contact their City Council Member or the City’s Inspections Department, or even call the city’s 311 number.”

The future of the site is unknown for now. SDHA residents are hoping that there might be some momentum to make the lot a neighborhood park, but everyone agrees that it is better to have a grassy lot than abandoned buildings where trash is dumped or act as a haven for criminal activity.

Download the latest SDHA newsletter here to read more about the story and get the latest news from South Hull.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a dog, a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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Filed under City services, Crime and Safety, Government, Legal Issues

Old House Expo Opens Some Eyes

By Sandra Nickel

It happens every year. Folks see the Old House Expo ad in the newspaper or find the site on the Internet and show up to see what it’s all about. They oooh and aaah with just a tinge of sadness, then confess they didn’t even know that our residential historic districts existed.

Every one of the 135 people who visited 1458 S Perry St was awed by the architectural detailing, especially in this grand entry hall.

Many have moved to Montgomery from other parts of the state or nation.  Most have bought or rented in east Montgomery (or a suburb) and didn’t see homes in Old Cloverdale, Cloverdale-Idlewild, or Garden District, never mind Cottage Hill or Capitol Heights. And they are amazed that, not only are the homes wonderful and the surroundings lovely, the areas are filled with families with little children who love to front-porch sit and walk around the neighborhood. In a word, it’s safe!

Safe, indeed. My husband and I have lived in our Garden District home since 1980. Yes, we have experienced an occasional property crime (Emory Folmar and I didn’t agree on much, but I totally agreed when he said, “If you’re going to live within walking distance of poverty, you’re going to have property crime!”). And I have never felt unsafe … not for one single moment.

Why, then, are so many in the River Region fearful of our downtown and Midtown areas? In my opinion it is, unfortunately, as a result of the vestiges of racism and all those other -isms. On some level, conscious or subconscious, there’s the tendency among most of us to feel less than totally safe when we are in the minority and/or in the presence of people who are very different from ourselves. The most obvious difference, of course, is color. But it can also be clothing/hair/makeup/jewelry. Think about your own reaction to “Goths,” those folks who dress in black, dye their hair black, paint their nails black, etc.  Think about your own reaction to the folks with tattoos and piercings.

In our older and historic neighborhoods, diversity is the order of the day. It is one of the things that makes Midtown who we are: a rich mix of young and old, rich and poor, black and white, gay and straight. We not only tolerate, but celebrate our differences.

So if you have friends and co-workers who are stuck in neighborhoods where everybody pretty much looks and sounds alike, cut them some slack if they make bad assumptions about where you live. Don’t argue with them. Instead, invite them to visit and get to know first-hand why Midtown is increasingly attracting relocations from all points east, northeast and northwest!

Sandra Nickel has been listing and selling residential real estate for over 29 years, most with an intense focus on Montgomery’s Midtown neighborhoods. Sandra serves on the Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless, the Cloverdale Business Coalition, Historic Southview, the Volunteer and Information Center, Landmarks Foundation and her own neighborhood Garden District Preservation Association.

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Filed under Crime and Safety, Race, Sandra Nickel