The Mobile Historic Development Commission will fill a top slot in 2018 as Deputy Director Cart Blackwell will leave in January for a slot in the private sector. It concludes his department stint months shy of the nine-year mark.
“It’s hard to believe. It’s been almost a decade, so I spent the latter part of my 20s and the first part of my 30s here,” the Selma native said.
Though young, his impact has been quickly felt in Mobile. Blackwell boasts affiliations with the Historic Mobile Preservation Society, the Southeast Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians, the Alabama Bicentennial Commission and Friends of Magnolia Cemetery. In 2012 he was a graduate of Leadership Mobile and listed in Mobile Bay Magazine’s “40 Under Forty.”
His last day is Jan. 5, and Blackwell said he will “burn some time” before departing for good in the month’s last days. The city has a process ordained for naming his successor.
“It’s a merit system position so it’s not an appointed position. They will go through the bells and whistles, but I know the successor has a good foundation to build on and enters at a great time for Mobile. There’s so much restoration and work going on and they will join a good team in the historic development office as well as in the larger Build Mobile division,” Blackwell said.
The remaining members of the department listed on the commission’s website are Architectural Historian John Sledge, Junior Architectural Historian Paige Largue and Secretary Bridget Daniel.
Pride is obvious when Blackwell spoke of the changes and projects he’s witnessed, particularly the passage of new historic guidelines. He said there was only one appeal of the architectural review board.
“We’ve more than doubled our mid-month approvals, people coming through the office. There was in excess of over 200 tours and a hundred speaking engagements by our office. We’ve got four pending onto the listing of National Register [of Historic Places] properties,” Blackwell said.
He listed service of 13 mandates outlined by state law, from the creation of new National Register districts, the sale of City Hall North, staircase restoration at the Oakleigh House, restoration of the iron work at the Richards-DAR House and the Carnival Museum.
“We’ve been heavily involved with things and I only see the office continuing to do so under the current staff and however it might expand,” Blackwell said.
He regrets departing while a mayor he likes is in office, and also lauded Build Mobile Executive Director Shayla Beaco.
“I go with their blessing so though I have a bit of a heavy heart, but they’re excited for me and I’m pretty pumped myself,” Blackwell said.
The city will keep him on in an advisory capacity for a month or so. He’ll maintain contact with Beaco.
Other parts of his life will remain much the same. Blackwell has side work he’ll maintain.
“I do consulting in the country, not the city of Mobile, for both personal and ethical reasons. I’ll continue my private consulting but it will just be a form of additional income and energy that will not be the main focus of my career,” Blackwell said.
He was initially coy about his new job but did say it puts to use his education — a double master’s from the University of Virginia with art and architectural components — and interests.
“This is much more in line with my roots, in training and curatorial management and material culture, and it’s a way to continue serving Mobile via one of its greatest living traditions, and it allows me to write in the evenings, so both for personal and professional reasons,” Blackwell said.
His Black Belt background also gives clues about Blackwell’s future. He mentioned work with a series of house museums throughout that region. Then he goes a little further.
“The place has a good foundation but it needs to be something that makes locals come in and want to come back and bring their families, but also where visitors and guests to our city get a good taste of who we are and want to come back during our most fun season,” Blackwell said.
“I’m ready to go from rule to misrule,” he laughed.
Clarification of the Dec. 20, 2017, “Artifice” about Classical Ballet of Mobile:
While Circuit Court Judge Jay York dismissed lawsuits against individual members of the Mobile Ballet leadership, an equitable suit against the organization itself remains.