Gilbert highlights a year of rebuilding in State of the City address
by Jennifer Cohron
Nov 07, 2013 | 1704 views | 0 0 comments | 43 43 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CORDOVA — A year of recovery was condensed into an hour-long presentation Tuesday night in a State of the City address held in Cordova.

“A lot has been going on in Cordova. Many people choose to see it. Many people choose to ignore it,” Mayor Drew Gilbert said.

Gilbert pointed to the demolition of downtown as the primary achievement of 2013.

The cost of demo was approximately $469,000, most of which was paid through federal funds.

The city spent $190,000 on the project, dipping into the nearly $1 million in insurance proceeds received after the April 2011 tornadoes.

Also in 2013, the city was awarded approximately $1.4 million through the Alabama Department of Community Affairs to build a grocery store.

Nearly a year after the funding announcement was made, no ground has been broken for that project.

Gilbert said a desire for high design in a store that would also meet the needs of proposed grocer Mark Bozeman is the cause of the delay.

“It’s taken us longer than we would have liked,” Gilbert said.

The design phase for the grocery store has almost been completed. The next step, the bidding process, will last for 21 days before construction can begin.

Significant changes at the Cordova Police Department were recapped by Gilbert as well as Chief Nick Smith, whose hiring was one of the first official actions of the new council last November.

Arrests have tripled under Smith’s leadership, from 61 in 2012 to 182 to date in 2013.

The number of reported crimes has also dropped from more than 600 in 2012 to 122 in 2013.

In the past year, officers benefitted from new uniforms and a new fleet of vehicles, the station received a facelift and the department added a flurry of new programs targeting every age group from schoolchildren to senior citizens.

“With the programs we have established and the support we have from the mayor and council, I feel like we have laid the foundation for when the city starts its rebuilding and growth process,” Smith said.

Fire chief Dean Harbison updated the community on his department, which has had its share of ups and downs since being directly impacted by the tornadoes.

Cordova Fire and Rescue received two federal grants this year.

One will provide residents with address signs, which will aid first responders in finding the correct home in the event of an emergency. The second was for the purchase of rescue equipment that can be used to lift large vehicles such as 18-wheelers.

Members of the department, most of whom are volunteers, also trained extensively in 2013.

However, such accomplishments were overshadowed by the loss of the temporary fire station that had been established at the old high school gym.

The city’s request for $2.8 million to build a station was denied by ADECA two months ago.

The department is currently housed at the VFW, its fourth location since the April 2011 tornadoes.

“But we’re still here. Don’t think that our dedication has changed. Our mission is still the same,” Harbison said.

Gilbert assured the audience that the city would construct a fire station in 2014.

“We’re not pushing them around anymore. We are building a firehouse in 2014. We have enough funds available to do something, and we’re going to,” Gilbert said.

Without outside funding options available, officials are currently looking for an option that is “budget-friendly” and meets the needs of the department and the community, according to Gilbert.

Gilbert, who has made image and communication priorities of his administration, cited the adoption of a citywide branding campaign and upcoming launch of an official city website as examples of steps in the right direction in his first year in office.

In recent months, the city has received positive press from National Public Radio and “The Globe and Mail,” Canada’s largest national newspaper.

“Cordova is an awesome place right now. It’s got a lot of buzz,” Gilbert said.

Major legislation passed in Cordova in 2013 included ordinances governing the sale of alcohol and restricting smoking.

Gilbert used the final moments of his State of the City address to highlight plans for the future, such as construction of a new City Hall and police station. That project is expected to be funded by a $3.7 million ADECA grant.

He encouraged more citizens to work with his adminstration to help rebuild Cordova.

“Just because the tarps and water bottles are gone doesn’t mean we’re not still recovering from tornadoes. I challenge everyone in this room to come get involved and be a part of positive progress,” Gilbert said.