There are 13 ongoing news stories in the Shoals that bear continued watching in 2013, all of which could have significant economic effects on various communities.
In no particular order, stories include:
RegionalCare Hospital Partners
The private company that bought Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital in Florence is asking the state Certificate of Need board for permission to build a 300-bed replacement hospital overlooking the Tennessee River. Opposition has already formed from Helen Keller Hospital in Sheffield and Huntsville Hospital, both publicly owned.
Florence officials are backing the move, saying it represents an opportunity for new retail and job growth in east Florence.
Pet owners in Florence, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield and Tuscumbia could be paying an annual license fee by the end of the year. The governing bodies in the two counties that oversee shelter operations in Florence and Colbert County are considering adopting annual licenses as a way to better control exploding cat and dog populations.
The money raised from the licenses could be used to expand spay and neuter programs, and expand aging, overcrowded shelters.
Title loan ban
The Muscle Shoals City Council is considering a ban on title and paycheck loan businesses that has met opposition from the businesses. The loan companies are well established throughout the Shoals.
There is some speculation that other local governments will consider banning the businesses, as well. If council members do discuss it, look for stiff opposition from the loan companies.
UNA to NCAA Division I?
The University of North Alabama has made much ado about moving its athletic programs from NCAA Division II to Division I. Fundraising plans were made and a study was completed on how to get to Division I.
But now, the effort seems to have gone quiet. The move is a significant one, especially financially. There has not been unanimity in the community about going to Division I. Before the discussion can continue, UNA must first receive an invitation to join a Division I conference.
The heavy vehicle manufacturer was expected to begin producing this spring a truck engine that would lead to more than 2,000 jobs in the Barton Riverfront Industrial Park. But the Environmental Protection Agency did not approve the technology for the engine, which caused the company to re-evaluate its plans.
The massive plant, originally built to manufacture rail cars, could be used for other types of manufacturing and could be very attractive to the burgeoning auto-making industry. Navistar officials could also opt to use the plant to produce other vehicles already established with the company name.
Navistar is trying to dig out of bankruptcy.
TVA Muscle Shoals Reservation
The Tennessee Valley Authority has stated it wants to sell 1,000 acres of its Muscle Shoals Reservation. Local governments have formed an organization to negotiate with TVA. Elected officials want to see the property, which was the birthplace of TVA in 1933, developed for retail and light industrial use.
As with most government agencies, considerable red tape must be gotten through, and there are those in the community who want to see the property preserved for its historic and environmental value. The matter could be resolved this year.
The final portion of the economic development partnership with the Retirement Systems of Alabama is construction of a tourist attraction in the riverside park in Florence. The land is owned by TVA, which leases it to Florence for public access recreation.
A tennis complex and an outdoor performing arts center are the latest suggestions for development, any of which would be subject to TVA approval.
It’s likely a decision will be made before the end of the year.
Whatever is built there will be funded largely by Florence, which is developing a capital projects budget. There is talk of other attractions being incorporated into the development.
The Civil Wars: Together again?
The most successful artists to emerge from the rich Muscle Shoals music tradition in recent years is duo The Civil Wars — Florence resident John Paul White and Nashville resident Joy Williams. They racked up two Grammy awards for their album “Barton Hollow,” and contributed a song (with Taylor Swift) to the sound track of the movie “The Hunger Games.” But they took a sudden hiatus from touring this fall after Williams had a baby. There is no indication when they might start working together again.
White has been active in Muscle Shoals for years as a songwriter and recording artist.
Rogersville Industrial Park
There’s an empty building in Rogersville Industrial Park that’s attracting interest from a manufacturer that, if it chooses to locate here, could have far-reaching economic implications. Town officials won’t say much about the prospect but they are clearly excited that the manufacturer is interested in the Shoals.
Rogersville is, in many respects, strategically located for economic development.
It is the closest Shoals community to Interstate 65.
The cities of Sheffield and Tuscumbia have applied for a state grant to widen bumpy, two-lane Avalon Avenue from the Muscle Shoals city limits to Montgomery Avenue at Helen Keller Hospital. The estimated cost of expanding it to five lanes is $4.2 million, with the two cities paying 20 percent of the cost.
The Keller Hospital board said it would contribute $300,000 of the cost.
The road that divides the two cities is a major traffic artery long in need of expansion.
College Street bridge
The city of Florence was poised to begin work on expanding College Street in advance of building a bridge across Cypress Creek that would open the west side of town to Alabama 20 and the sports complex. But those plans were placed on hold in a compromise with Lauderdale County under a state grant program.
But more money is expected to become available, possibly in 2013, that would allow Florence to move forward with the expansion.
The city has spent more than $400,000 for engineer work, and College Street and the bridge have become an cornerstone of the long range plan.
Florence and Lauderdale County are going through the processes of rebidding ambulance service for the city and county.
The contract is currently held by Lauderdale EMS, a subsidiary of Helen Keller Ambulance Service.
The county has chosen to remain with Lauderdale EMS, while the city has chosen to contract with a new ambulance service.
The contract agreements are linked, which means the two governments must reach agreement or severe the relationship and go their separate ways.
Robert Palmer can be reached at 256-740-5720 or robert.palmer@TimesDaily.com.
Staff writers Bernie Delinski and Russ Corey contributed to this report.