By Council President Levon Manzie
Every so often on the City Council we face a decision that has the ability to alter the future of our city. Next Tuesday, we face such a vote. We can either move our great city further down the track to progress or allow it to sputter and remain stuck in place.
The return of passenger rail to the city of Mobile will be a game changer. It is the obvious next step in the tireless efforts to reinvigorate our downtown, make Mobile a tourist destination and improve the quality of life for our residents.
Over the past several years, we have made an enormous investment in solidifying Mobile as a tourist destination. We have ensured our tourism organizations have the resources to expand their efforts. We have invested in the cruise terminal, a downtown airport terminal and are in the midst of re-imagining some of our key city assets with our tourism efforts in mind. As a result of these efforts, our local businesses are seeing the fruits of this labor.
At the same time, we have invested mightily in our downtown. We have rebuilt roads, repaired sidewalks, and addressed other major infrastructure issues. We have changed ordinances and encouraged state legislation to help our downtown and Entertainment District grow and thrive. As a result, local entrepreneurs have put their heart, soul and resources into opening shops, restaurants and entertainment venues and residential living downtown is once again flourishing.
Our downtown is vastly different then the last time the train rolled here. We are primed and ready to take advantage of the countless opportunities the return of passenger rail presents.
Just to be clear, these opportunities are the increased economic activity our businesses and city will see as a result of the return of the train. For example, studies have shown that the increase in tourism alone will have a total economic impact to Alabama of $11.86 million. And, that’s the most conservative estimate. There will also be positive economic impact -including NEW jobs- as a result of the construction and operation of the passenger rail.
Now, some have shared their concerns over “subsidizing” this form of transportation decrying spending taxpayer dollars on something that won’t show a profit.
But, when we rebuild or repave a road, we don’t do it expecting someone to turn around and hand us a check for the job. It’s an investment in our residents, our businesses and our city. That road improves the quality of life for our citizens. It gives our businesses a better chance of succeeding and it improves our city. This is the same for the steps towards passenger rail. They are an investment in our citizens, our businesses, our tourism industry and the future of our city.
In addition, all we are being asked to do is agree to a letter of intent to help offset the cost of the return in order to secure a matching grant from the Federal Government. The Southern Rail Commission, which was created by the Federal Government with the stated goal of returning rail to the Southeast, is committed to finding the additional funding necessary. If they cannot secure that funding, the city will not be on the hook for a dime.
These are the reasons I am proud to sponsor this proposal, which we will take up next week. It’s also why I urge my colleagues to join with me and together, let’s show the world that we believe in our city. We believe in Mobile and we are going to see our investment through.
We cannot let our moment pass us by. Join me on the train to progress!
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