By Sam Prickett
Frank Brocato’s first year as mayor of Hoover coincided with the city’s 50th anniversary, and Brocato spent most of that milestone year, he said, refining and implementing a vision for what the city’s next half-century will look like.
Brocato was elected mayor in August 2016 with 52 percent of the vote, beating out incumbent Gary Ivey and challenger Steve McClinton without a runoff. Brocato, a former fire marshal who had retired in 2015 after 42 years with the Hoover Fire Department, ran what he described then as a grassroots campaign that emphasized supporting Hoover schools, developing a city master plan and fostering governmental transparency. A year into his four-year term — which he shares with the city’s seven-person city council, for whom he repeatedly states his admiration — he said progress has been made on all three fronts.
Increasing financial support for Hoover’s schools was arguably the primary issue for Brocato’s campaign, and his fulfillment of that goal is the first thing he mentions when asked about his first year in office.
“We were so happy to be able to do that,” he said, referring to the city’s allocation of $5 million to the Hoover Board of Education in its 2017 budget, double the $2.5 million in funding it gave the previous year.
For years, the school board had operated with a deficit as high as $10.4 million, though that deficit had begun to shrink even before Brocato took office. Brocato said that, when Hoover schools finished 2017, that deficit had been eliminated.
“They had years of finishing in the red, and with the help of the city’s contributions and their hard work and their really running the ship in a very conservative way, they were able to finish in the black this year,” he said. “I think they had a positive cash flow.”
Working to shape a plan for the city’s future, though, required a more complicated change in mindset, Brocato said.
“We focused a great deal on changing the mentality of the way our city was developed,” he said. “We had to change that mentality not only inside City Hall, but also from the builders and developers in our city. … What we’ve talked about for a year is how we wanted the city to emerge (going into) the next 50 years.”
Some of those discussions involved emphasizing sidewalks and greenspaces, he said. “We talked about making (the city) more walkable. Any type of developments that occur, we wanted to make sure that they had sidewalks. If there were any commercial developments, (we made sure) that they also had more of a village-type of appeal, rather than the old-style shopping center.”
To accomplish that, the city created a full-time position of city planner, a role that previously had been filled on a contract basis. The job was filled by Mac Martin, who had served as city planner for Athens, Alabama.
“What he’s done is to reinforce our vision,” Brocato said, pushing the design of new developments away from traditional outparcels to something a little more pedestrian-friendly.
“He has come in and helped us negotiate that and to help those developers catch that vision as well,” Brocato said. “You’ll see that in all of our new developments, just what I’ve been talking about.”
Brocato also said the city had been diligently working to identify a downtown area for Hoover — another part of his “village-type” vision for the city.
But Brocato’s vision for Hoover’s future isn’t constrained to physical appearances. There’s a need for economic diversity as well, he said, which involves supporting the historically retail-centric city’s existing businesses while also bringing in other types of businesses, in particular, those involved in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.
“I feel like we had a really, really good year in that particular area,” he said. “We were able to land two really significant companies that are STEM or white-collar types of businesses … that are going to result in over a thousand jobs coming into the city of Hoover.”
Iberia Bank, for one, is moving its regional headquarters into the city, while McCleod Software, a Birmingham-based trucking technology company, announced in December that it would be relocating to Hoover.
“To get that many folks in one year, to get those types of professional jobs into our city in one year was quite an accomplishment,” Brocato said.
As with city planning, Brocato said economic development in the city has been buoyed by the creation of a full-time position dedicated to just that. Greg Knighton, a former vice president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, was hired to fill the new role in late November.
“Not only is he really one of the leaders in economic development in Alabama, we’re happy that he is also a longtime Hoover resident,” Brocato said. “So we have someone who wakes up every day and thinks about how he’s going to recruit businesses into our city and spends his day primarily focused on that.”
Bringing in Citizens
Transparency and communication with Hoover citizens has been another focus of Brocato’s first year, he said, and it’s a priority that will extend into 2018.
“We have held four ‘Future of Hoover’ meetings around our city, and they were just an opportunity for our citizens to have dialogue with their city officials. … And it went over very well. If there’s anything we learned out of it, it’s that we need to continue to have these neighborhood meetings,” he said. “People really appreciate that and love being able to come in and talk about the city and the direction it’s going.”
That opportunity will come sooner rather than later, with discussions of a soon-to-be unveiled comprehensive plan slated to begin in January, Brocato said.
“We’ll be going into the neighborhoods over the next few months and getting feedback from our citizens,” he said.
As far as his plans for the next three years of his term, Brocato said he wants to “stay the course.”
“I mean, we just had a year of diversifying our economy,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure we don’t lose that focus (or) our focus on the way we want our city to develop.”
Continued support for public safety departments is another priority, he said, as is working closely with the Riverchase Galleria — the city’s economic nexus — to help it continue to thrive as a retail hotspot in the age of online shopping.
“There are lots of good things going on in this city,” he said. “We’re pretty excited.”