Montgomery Business Journal

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The City of Montgomery's Development Department team (from left) are Mac McLeod, Bill Wilson, Melanie Golson and Lois Cortell.

November/December 2014
Story by David Zaslawsky     
Photography by Robert Fouts

From his vantage point on the first floor of One Court Square, the city’s director of development noticed a crane on Lower Dexter Avenue and walked over to see what was going on and if help was needed.

Mac McLeod, whose official title is director of business and commercial development for the City of Montgomery, likes being where the action is. “I get the biggest kick watching some construction workers walking around out here,” he said. “That’s appealing to me. I like seeing things happen.”

And there is a lot of action on Lower Dexter Avenue – a focus of the Development Department. All of the properties the city bought on Lower Dexter Avenue with a grant from the state have been sold and closed. That includes One Court Square, which the developer closed on in late August.

Another property that closed was the Birmingham-based StoneRiver Co., which is spending $20 million on a 165-unit, four-story apartment complex on Maxwell Boulevard across from Wright Brothers Park and near Maxwell Air Force Base.

The current four-person Development Department team has been together less than one year. The staff did lose one employee and McLeod hopes to replace her, but might look for a different skill set.

One weekend day when McLeod went to his office, he read a quote from legendary pro football coach Vince Lombardi: “The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined efforts of each individual.” McLeod wrote that quote on a department bulletin board.

“We are a small team,” he said. “As long as we’re selective and focus our time correctly, we can get a project started. Once a developer takes that project over, then we can monitor that development a lot easier than we can getting it up to that point.

“We all have different skill sets, but we complement each other quite well. We all pull together and we accomplish a lot for just a small number of folks. I’m proud of them.”

People are noticing the activity and that’s just what Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange wanted when he recruited McLeod from The Colonial Co., where he was president. The firm is involved with single-family and multi-family real estate projects, shopping mall and shopping centers as well as insurance and office buildings. He worked for The Colonial Co. for 14 years and worked for the Lowder family, which owns the company, for 33 years. “I know a lot of people because I’ve been around a long time,” said McLeod, a lifelong resident of Montgomery.

“When he (Strange) asked me to come to work for him at the city, he said, ‘Mac, we have some development that needs to start moving because we announced some things and they never got off the ground.’ ”

Take a look now. Things are getting off the ground, especially on Lower Dexter Avenue. McLeod does credit the streetscape project on Dexter Avenue to help spur development.

“That had a lot to do with attention brought to downtown and the fact that the city made the commitment to buy those old buildings that had been sitting vacant for years.”

He also credits his experienced team. Senior Development Manager Lois Cortell’s background working with the city of Portland, Oregon, has been invaluable to the Development Department. “Some of the things we’re trying to do here, she has done before,” McLeod said. She works all those agreements with the developers and is the detail person. Bill Wilson is the design studio coordinator for the department and Melanie Golson, the outreach coordinator, is the public face for the department.

“We do get a lot of comments about the success we are having,” McLeod said. “Successes come in the form of real estate closings, dumpsters and cranes. We’re not at the dumpster or crane stages yet.” Although there was that crane on Lower Dexter Avenue.

By the end of the year, the Development Department will have closed on nine real estate projects worth more than $4.1 million. That’s a pretty good start.

There has been some preliminary work on Retail Specialists Inc.’s $10 million-plus project on the corner of Commerce and Bibb streets. The project will have 64 apartments on top of two restaurants.

Development is a slow process, McLeod warned. It takes a lot of time. “Just selling a piece of property is not what we’re about,” McLeod said. “We’re about the highest and best use. What is in the best interest for the city for this building here (One Court Square)? We know the idea they (ELSAJA Court Square, LLC) are kicking around about this building and it will be great for Montgomery and I think everybody will agree.”

The next areas of focus for the Development Department will be:

Monitoring the Lower Dexter Avenue property agreements

Cypress Creek development as a long-term project

Maxwell Boulevard projects

Linking Maxwell Air Force Base to downtown

Linking downtown to Cottage Hills

Development on Fairview Avenue

Bringing a grocery store to downtown.

He said the natural direction for downtown to go is Five Points. “There is interest in that area right now. Eventually we will have to expand in that direction,” McLeod said.

The Development Department is a “conduit,” McLeod said, “trying to support the city and the city’s efforts and private industry. Our goals are economic growth and revitalization of the downtown area, but other parts of the city as well. We are the middle man trying to help new growth and new businesses or expansion of existing businesses.”

He has been working on an existing business expansion with Ellen McNair, senior vice president, Corporate Development for the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce. That expansion would create 300 jobs. McLeod said the company was buying property from the city and he developed a relationship with company officials.

He said the city owns 18 acres of contiguous property along Maxwell Boulevard and “there is a chance for some commercial and future residential” development there. “We’re not looking to acquire anything unless it fits with other property that we have and that’s rare,” McLeod said.  The city has acquired land over the years through tax liens and various means. “We’re looking at ways to use those properties; get them into the private sector. Once you get them into the private sector, there’s property taxes and all the advantages that come from private industry.”

That’s the downside to vacant buildings. “We cut the grass and receive no tax off of it,” McLeod said.

City officials would like to see residential growth in the northern section, which is called the warehouse district. “You see in many cities residential developed around industrial areas,” McLeod said.

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