A candidate for Mobile City Council District 2 advocated tearing down the Arthur Outlaw Convention Center to allow for more waterfront amenities downtown.
Reggie Hill, who is one of six candidates for the council seat in the Aug. 24 election, told moderator Lenise Ligon at an NAACP forum on Thursday night that he would tear down the building to make way for other amenities.
“This could bring more waterfront amenities to the area,” he said. “It could mean more tourist amenities. Savannah has 50,000 fewer residents than we do, but gets 8 million more tourists because of what they’ve done with the waterfront.”
Incumbent District 2 representative and Council President Levon Manzie took aim at another building along the waterfront, the GulfQuest Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico. Manzie lamented the millions of dollars poured into the city owned facility and speculated that the funding could’ve been used for better amenities in its place.
“We’re not going to see a return on that investment,” he said. “It was a missed opportunity.”
Former councilman William Carroll, who is also running for the seat this year, said the city should clean up Hickory Street landfill and continue to rejuvenate areas near Three Mile Creek.
“Let affordable housing anchor it,” he said. “Let’s activate it with a fishing pier ….”
Mark Minneart, another challenger for the seat, wants to install bike lanes that would connect the downtown area to areas two to three miles away. In addition, he advocated for outdoor events and even an amphitheater to hold large concerts.
Kimberly McKeand said, if elected, she would focus on more sidewalks, bike lanes and the city’s tree canopy.
“I would save the trees,” she said. “I want to make sure they’re not slaughtered.”
The candidates were also asked about affordable housing and how to deal with blight during the forum, which was livesteamed with the help of Fox10.
Carroll said he has helped refurbish 25 homes in his neighborhood since 1999. He wants the city to focus on doing the same thing in The Bottom area of District 2. By using the city’s land bank, Carroll said, the council and administration can work with developers and others to convert blighted structures into affordable housing.
Hill took Mayor Sandy Stimpson and councilors to task for allowing the Mobile Housing Board to close a number of public housing units in the city. Hill also believes the city is acting too quickly to demolish blighted structures when some could be rehabilitated and sold back to members of the community.
“We should not elect councilors who allow housing to be closed down,” he said. “We need to look at holistic remedies. Leaders should not allow units to close, pushing residents to other areas.”
Manzie credited his program, “A New View for District 2,” for providing capital funds to replace roofs and paint homes in the district. The program was able to help 75 homeowners, Manzie said.
“We’re going to allocate more funds for it next year,” he said. “It has been wildly successful.”
Like Hill, McKeand also mentioned the closing of public housing complexes east of Interstate 65 and the movement of some of those residents to West Mobile.
After a recent Supreme Court ruling found that state’s couldn’t concentrate affordable housing in low-income areas, the Alabama Housing Finance Authority, which provides funding for low-income housing statewide, changed its points system to more easily award tax credits to developers looking to place affordable housing out west.
Minnaert alluded to the Supreme Court case, but also the tendency for housing authorities to move away from large, apartment-style housing complexes.
“That might have been a mistake,” he said.
While cities all over the country are dealing with a lack of affordable housing, Minneart said Mobile has a lack of housing in general.
“It’s not just low-income housing that’s in shortage,” he said. “All housing is in shortage.”
On an equity and inclusion front, all the candidates agreed the city could do more to help all residents of Mobile. For many of the candidates this includes a rededication to minority owned businesses, especially those that can be awarded city contracts.
While Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration has created an office of supplier diversity within his administration, the city holds meetings to help disadvantaged business enterprises learn how to become a certified contractor with the city.
Minneart said he would work to continue those meetings and make an effort to certify as many minority owned businesses as possible.
“I’d like to get to a point where we don’t have to push for DBEs anymore because we have an appropriate amount of them,” he said.
The Zoghby Act, a state law which set up the city’s current form of government, requires that the administration make a best effort to award 15 percent of all contracts to disadvantaged business enterprises.
Manzie took credit for working with the administration on awarding more contracts to these minority owned firms, but he argued that work on certifications should continue, especially for those DBEs who work on repavings. Right now there are a handful of contracts authorized to do that work, but Manzie believes it could and should be more.
“We’ve got to grow the bench, so to speak,” he said.
Hill did not blame white Mobilians for a lack of inclusion in the city, but instead went after “spineless, cowardly leaders who look like me” for the problems.
“What are you going to stand up for … ?” He asked. “People who look like me are the reason Mobile is the way it is.”
Carroll said the city should make the contract award language in the Zoghby Act mandatory and up it 30 percent.
“Raising the bar is where we have to go,” he said. “There’s no way out of it.”
If elected, McKeand said she would be an advocate for black voices and fight the systematic racism that is still present in the city.
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