FIVE YEARS LATER: CHAMBER OF COMMERCE CREATES NEW OPPORTUNITIES

Chamber

Note: This story, and many others on the April 27, 2011, tornado, aired during WVUA 23’s 1 and a half hour special program “Faces of the Storm” on April 27, 2016. If you’d like to watch the whole series, click here.

The West Alabama Chamber of Commerce has always been about creating and maintaining jobs, and making the area a better place to live, work and enjoy life, but after April 27, 2011, it got a new mission: rebuilding Tuscaloosa.

In the days after the storm, the Chamber paired up with the city, creating the Give Tuscaloosa Fund.

Chamber President and CEO Jim Page said millions of dollars for storm victims came pouring in from around the nation and globe.

“We’re very proud that every single penny of the Give Tuscaloosa Fund went to local nonprofit organizations, which then in term went directly to help the people that were affected.”

Page said he considers the old Cedar Crest Neighborhood Tuscaloosa’s “Ground Zero.” But after a collaborative effort, the Shoppes at Legacy Park now stands at the ever-improving 15th Street and McFarland Boulevard intersection.

“The landowner wanted to do something substantial and leave a legacy,” Page said.

The 250,000 square-foot center cost $55 million to build. Page said the city was proactive in recruiting brand-new retailers to Tuscaloosa, thanks to an outside-the-box incentive agreement.

“(Retailers are) much more selective (these days),” Page said. “Its really gotta make good financial sense, more so than ever before.”

Most retailers at Legacy Park are new to the Tuscaloosa market, including big names like Fresh Market, Petsmart, Bed Bath and Beyond and DSW, offering Tuscaloosans at least 400 jobs.

Another area the Chamber is working with is Alberta, although reconstruction there has been slower.

“Alberta was hit really hard from a residential standpoint,” Page said. “A lot of people were displaced, and that rebuilding effort has been slow to come back, but we think it’s going to happen.”

A new and improved police and fire station, along with the new Alberta School of Performing Arts have already made a big impact, but Page said it’s a continuing process.

“We think we’re gonna be able to bring some retail, some commercial development,” Page said.

But bringing back residents is key.

“I think you can look around and say on the whole, Tuscaloosa and those businesses that were affected most by the tornado are bigger, better and stronger than they were before,” Page said. “It’s a good story to tell after the fact.”

From an economic standpoint, Page said he’s proud of what the Chamber has accomplished.

“In just a five-year period, Tuscaloosa has really really developed well, developed the right way in a smart way, and it’s really on the radar from national retailers that really weren’t looking at Tuscaloosa prior to the tornado five year ago.”

But it wasn’t only business deals and economic incentives that rebuilt a broken city. Residents’ compassion and kindness offered hope in the face of adversity.

“When you’re affected by something like a tornado,” Page said. “You want to help your neighbor. There’s a million examples of people wanting to help their neighbor.”

Categories: Community, Local News