ALBANY — With a line from the vintage “A-Team” television series and a variation on Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous speech, Dougherty County’s top elected officials gave their verdict Wednesday on the state of the community.
The county and city of Albany are weathering the storms — plural — and are in some ways better than ever, Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard and County Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas told an audience gathered for a luncheon at the Albany State University West campus Wednesday.
During the event, hosted by the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce, the two leaders gave brief remarks and then answered questions from Barbara Rivera Holmes, the chamber’s president and CEO, and audience members.
Among Albany’s most pressing challenges are crime and replacing and maintaining aging infrastructure, Hubbard said. But, she added, those issues are being addressed.
Albany police are working with state and federal agencies to address gangs and violence, and the city’s work on its sewage system is making headway, Hubbard said.
“Another area of ongoing concern has been our infrastructure,” she said. “In fact, it has been an issue throughout the state and throughout the country. The critical lift stations (among 108 in the city’s sewer system) are substantially complete. All 10 critical lift stations are in operation.”
The city also is planning sidewalk design and will begin work on new entrances at the airport next month, Hubbard said.
“Downtown revitalization (was) and continues to be on the top of the list of our priorities,” the mayor added.
She encouraged those of the business community gathered together to join efforts to clean up and beautify the city. She also asked those in the audience to encourage everyone they know to participate in the coming U.S. Census as those numbers help determine how many federal dollars a community is eligible for and are used in drawing district lines for local, state and federal elections.
“I love it when a plan comes together,” Hubbard repeated several times in a raised voice to close her remarks, echoing the famous line of the character Hannibal Smith from the popular “A-Team” franchise.
Cohilas told the audience that the reason for recent successes, from securing money for storm recovery to economic projects, is that various groups came together in partnerships and presented a united front.
“When you go to Congress, when you go to a meeting to see whether you get (funding), the first thing they want to know is do you have a partnership and do you have a plan,” he said.
More and more, Cohilas said, the city, county and school system have those things. And, he added, that teamwork has paid off.
Cohilas said he sees the Flint River Trails master plan as a potential game-changer like the Atlanta BeltLine development that links some 45 neighborhoods through trails, streetcars and parks along railroad corridors that once encircled that city.
“Many of those areas used to be like east Albany, had a lot of crime,” Cohilas said.
The Flint River Trails master plan calls for the Flint River in downtown Albany to be a hub for trails extending in all directions and as far as the city of Sasser.
Lastly, Cohilas asked the audience to imagine an Albany State University student riding his bicycle to downtown to work as an intern, eating at a downtown restaurant, and steering his bike south in the evening after work.
“I want you to imagine that student being able to go to Radium Springs and being able to swim where before only white people were allowed to swim,” he said. “(People) can swim together, and that’s how you build a community.”