By Sam Prickett
What’s on the agenda for Homewood in 2020? According to Mayor Scott McBrayer, the plan is to continue to focus on the western side of the city.
“For years, nothing was done in West Homewood,” McBrayer said. “I told them when they elected me mayor that just wouldn’t be the case. We’d get things going over there, we’d help people’s property values, and that’s what I’m doing.”
West Homewood was the site of several major projects in 2019, including the construction of Patriot Park, which opened its swimming pool in May. The park also includes a playground, restrooms and a walking path. Patriot Park’s aquatic center was developed along with the West Homewood Athletic Center, which also opened in May. The total cost for both projects was $29.7 million.
McBrayer said an increase in the city’s younger population drove the need for the new developments.
“West Homewood has been a focus of emphasis for quite a while for me,” he said. “I know that when I was elected mayor in ’08, Patriot Park was just a bare field. There was nothing there. But what has happened, basically, is we’ve gotten so many young people with children moving into Homewood, so that having just one park is just not enough to accommodate everyone. West Homewood has really been the optimum place to put everything, and the land was available.”
One major step in redeveloping the area will be a complete renovation of Green Springs Highway, which McBrayer said will be a $3 million “beautification project.”
“We’ll basically go from Lakeshore Drive to West Valley Avenue and put in a center median with trees, decorative lighting, landscaping, all kind of things,” he said. “It’s going to completely change the look of Green Springs Highway. This will be a major project that I really think is going to help with the transition of Edgewood into West Homewood. For so long, Green Springs has kind of been the dividing line, and I just want to change the look of that. I think it can be one of the most beautiful boulevards we have in the area, and if we do it right, it’ll connect the two areas in a much better way. It’s really going to help businesses down the Green Springs area, and it’s going to have a different atmosphere and different feel than it does now.”
New Public Safety Center, New Fire Chief
Of course, not all of the city’s plans for 2020 will be focused on the west side of town. There’s the city’s new public safety center – a $22.5 million, three-story facility that will house the city’s police department, court system, administrative offices and jail. Construction on that project is anticipated to be completed by late March or early April. A $1.2 million expansion to the Homewood Public Library also is underway.
Similar to the proposed Green Springs project, McBrayer said, is a plan “to extend the look of 18th Street” in downtown Homewood “all the way down to Highway 280.”
“We’re going to narrow the street there in front of the post office (at 2710 18th St.), we’re going to have center medians with trees and diagonal parking along the street.”
There’s a major personnel change in store for Homewood as well, as the city seeks to replace Fire Chief John Bresnan, who died suddenly last month. Bresnan had been fire chief since 1992, and McBrayer said it may take months before the position is permanently filled. In the interim, Battalion Chief Nick Hill is serving as acting chief.
“The city of Homewood is under the Jefferson County Personnel Board, so anyone that we hire has to go through that hiring process,” McBrayer said. “The discussion right now is whether or not the personnel board is going to have to give a chief’s test (to applicants), or if they’re going to simply provide a list of qualifications and send us a list of the top 10 qualified employees to fill that position … . We can’t do like Birmingham. We can’t go to California and say, ‘There’s the greatest fire chief in the world out there, we want him. It doesn’t work that way.”
If the personnel board decides to test applicants, McBrayer said, “we’re probably looking at five or six months” of waiting before a new chief is hired.
In the meantime, McBrayer hopes to make progress on two other projects that will benefit the fire department, both of which will be centered in West Homewood.
He plans to continue lobbying the Homewood City Council to approve the construction of a new fire station on Green Springs Highway.
“We’ve purchased the property there in front of the Publix … . I want to move Station No. 2, which is on Carr Avenue around the corner, and build a completely new facility that would come out onto Green Springs Highway.”
The current location of Station No. 2, he said, “is probably our oldest city-owned building in Homewood … . It’s just not really what they need to be able to do their job. It needs to be brought up to have all the things that our Station No. 1 has got.”
A new location for Fire Station No. 3 is also headed to West Homewood, he said, on property left over from last year’s construction of the athletic facility on West Oxmoor Road.
Some of these capital projects, McBrayer added, have come from his administration’s track record of ending the fiscal year with a surplus. FY 2019, for instance, ended with a $1.2 million surplus for Homewood despite having awarded about $370,000 in employee bonuses and allocated $1 million to the city’s capital projects fund.
The surplus also has allowed the city to establish what McBrayer calls a “rainy day fund.” The council’s name for it is the more-formal “Reserve for Economic Uncertainty.” It currently holds about $11 million.
“If we do fall on hard times or if something comes up that we just had no idea was going to happen, we’ve got cash set aside that we can use to keep going,” he added. “That lets me sleep at night.”