Northport city leaders: Community center sale wanted by silent majority

By WVUA 23 News Student Reporter Chaney Scott

Northport City Council recently unanimously voted to begin exploring the sale of its community center. The council voted Monday night to begin a 180-day due diligence period on the community center area which also has a historic museum/former schoolhouse, a playground, and a small white historic building. When you drive over the Lurleen Wallace Bridge, it’s the property across the street from Mavis Tires and directly behind the Marathon gas station.

District 2 Northport City Council Member Woodrow Washington said the city isn’t planning on leaving Northport without a community center. If the property is sold, the money would pay to revitalize the Robert Hasson Community Center and Civitan Park.

“Why not have a nicer, more modern community center and serve more people because you would have two community centers? I am determined we are all to be treated equal in this city. I am fortunate to be on a council with four other people who think the same way,” said Washington.

“People just don’t like change,” said District 3 Northport City Council Member Karl Wiggins.

The Northport Heritage Museum would be moved to Shirley Place and become a welcome center. The Public Works department is already pouring a concrete slab for that building at a property near the courtyard hotel as part of an entranceway and visitor’s center into Northport.

Washington said that in this town of around 30,000, people want to sell this property where children who come to play have to use the bathroom in a playground porta potty.

“They just aren’t as vocal as the 300-plus citizens who came to our Monday meeting,” Washington said. “Out of 30,000 people, there’s somebody saying to sell, they’re just not coming up to us saying “Sell! Sell! Sell!”

At Monday’s meeting, residents waved signs that read “Vote No” and asked the council to table the vote.

“This is not the right thing for Northport,” Northport resident Judy Holland said.  She grew up going to the center and playing at the park. She started a petition in order to keep it.

The petition would prevent the area from being developed into a retail center, which would likely be a sit-down restaurant and Starbucks, according to Wiggins. He also said Starbucks was only interested in the specific location on that side of the street because they would catch the morning traffic.

“Within minutes, I had people signing up on the petition, in-boxing me and calling me. I’ve talked to a hundred people. It’s all the same. I have not talked to one person who is okay with this being sold –not one,” Holland said.

“The thing about a petition is number one, you know, is there any way to know whether those people on that petition are people who are actually citizens of Northport, because by and large, we serve the citizens of Northport,” Wiggins said.

Hundreds of people have signed the petition. Holland said she personally verifies the zip codes of those who sign the petition, confirming they live in Northport.

Holland said her main issue with the recent vote is that if the current community center is knocked down, then people will not have anywhere to go while they build a new center.

The council wants to move the historic museum to become a welcome center in an underserved area, costing more than $100,000, said Washington.

Washington said he wants to create more entertainment options in Northport.

“I’m 50 years old. I’m living for my kids and grandkids. I want to make sure this is good for them,” he said.

If sold, the Northport Community Center would go to the Beeker Property Group for $1.1 million.

If not sold, two nonprofit organizations have pledged $20,000 to buy new playground equipment.

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