End of an era

Published 12:29 am Saturday, November 3, 2012

Howard Shell retires this weekend after more than two decades as mayor of Atmore. Looking to the future, Shell said the city will reap benefits for years to come from the Rivercane development.

Mayor Howard Shell will soon be stepping away from the limelight and an office he has held for 24 years. The man who has shaped the city through the years envisions a future for Atmore with a growing economy, thanks in large part to the Rivercane development he has championed.

“I think with the way we are going and the leadership that we have got coming on board that we’re going to see some good things happen for the city of Atmore in spite of the economy being like it is,” Shell said. “I think one of the best moves that we have possibly made was back 10 years ago when we made the decision to purchase the property at the interstate and start what we now call the Rivercane project. We went through some very trying times because just about the time we were getting ready to start marketing the property, Wall Street took a tumble and the economy went south and we almost went south with it. But, we were able to hang on. We were able to service all of our debt issues and gradually we’ve been able to secure some tenants out there that are now making a significant difference in our tax base, and that was the reason for doing this to begin with.”

Shell said the City of Atmore has not only been able to build a growing economic boon with Rivercane, but has also built up existing areas in Atmore.

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“We’ve been able to keep a pretty good tax base in town with all of the stores that have went in the shopping centers on the south side of town along with Dirt Cheap and the other businesses in that shopping center,” Shell said. “It hasn’t many years ago that that shopping center was completely empty. The one across the street where K Mart was, now Marvin’s and Hibbetts and subs and a number of stores in there, well, that one was empty. So, we’ve been able to maintain our tax base while we were striving to increase it out at Rivercane. That’s what we’re on the verge of doing.”

With the addition of the new Fairfield Inn, the City of Atmore should now be able to completely pay the debts incurred by the investment cost involved with the Rivercane development. Already, the city has done well enough to have paid a significant portion of the debt. Shell sees the area only continuing to blossom and give the city growth not long from now.

“We’ve been able to get to a point with all of the money we borrowed to develop Rivercane, we’re now at a point that we’re making enough off of sales tax at Rivercane, we will with this new motel this coming on line, that we will be able to completely service the debt that we have,” Shell said. “So, what does that mean? Well, that means that we’ve just scratched the surface out there. We’ve only got just a few businesses scattered around and already we’re generating enough tax base to service the debt. Well, it’s going to mean that in another 10 years from now, you’re going to have three, four times the businesses you’ve got out there. When you bring in another motel like it’s coming in, the Fairfield is coming in, then you’re going to begin to have things like your sit-down restaurants that will begin to look at it and sooner or later they’ll start coming in and it will just domino.”

Shell added that the city has the final say in what companies and at what locations the companies build at for the Rivercane development.

“It will just keep growing and that’ll be a controlled growth that the city has control of,” Shell said. “We can control what goes out there, where it goes and that’s a good thing too because you want it organized and you want it to be beneficial to what you’ve got going. That’s where I see us going in 10 years from now. I think 10 years from now, the City of Atmore will be doing great. There will have to be some change in the way people merchandize their products. Change is just something that’s going to happen and you have to adapt with it or you kind of fall behind sometimes. It takes the person that can come up with the innovative idea to make things work and work in a good way. But that’s where I see us going.”

Shell said being able to work closely with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians has been and will continue to be critical to the sustained growth of Atmore.

“With the attractions and the development of things that are going on with PCI, what they’re doing—building a movie theater and a bowling alley and I think a game room, things that will attract families—well, all that’s going to do is help us,” Shell said. “Where you’ve got growth going on, then you capitalize on growth and you capitalize on the traffic you’ve got coming in. You see if you can get your part of it and that’s what Hardee’s and McDonald’s and the Waffle House are all doing. They’re getting their part of it. I rode by there the other day and all three businesses were very busy, so that’s what you like to see. You want to see them eating those biscuits and drinking that coffee.”