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MONTGOMERY, AL-At one time, downtown Montgomery was little more than the seat of government, where people came to work by day and vacated it by night. These days, with help from a close to $1 billion investment from the city and the Retirement Systems of Alabama , as well as and interest from private developers, the former dead zone is coming to life.

Once the birthplace of the Confederacy and the civil rights movement, the CBD today is home to the 7,000-seat Riverwalk Stadium at 200 Coosa St., home to the Montgomery Biscuits Baseball Team. The team’s claim to fame is that it is the AA club feeds players into its major league team, the World Series Tampa Bay Rays. Nearby, at 355 Coosa St., stands the Riverwalk Ampitheater, which offers upwards of 7,000 people for various performances. A new riverboat arrived in early October, which can hold 400 passengers for cruises.

Then there is the Alleyway. Bordered by Commerce, Bibb, Coosa and Tallapoosa Streets, this two-acre plot is sprouting local restaurants and entertainment venues. The area also boasts the Montgomery Performing Arts Centre and the adjacent Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa at the Convention Center. A new court building has been erected, as has an office building.

As successful as it seems to be, revitalization didn’t just appear out of thin air. It took many years, launched by the 2000 election of Bobby Bright to city mayor to get the wheels going. Jeff Downes, executive assistant to the mayor says Bright was familiar with the CBD’s history, especially that of Dexter Avenue, Montgomery’s main street. He then considered the Alabama River and how it might fit in with a revitalization concept. Then he decided the whole thing needed a fresh vision.

“That resulted in a 2000 time frame of a downtown plan, setting up certain projects and ideas to hopefully spur private development,” Downes comments. The initial plan brought the stadium, convention center and performing arts theater to town. Downes tells GlobeSt.com that incentives were freely used to lure developers to the area, and to spur mixed-use, residential activity.

Jerry Kyser, a local developer, says he’s been investing in the CBD since 2000 because of its potential. “Economic conditions here are better than in other parts of the country,” says Kyser, who is constructing space for restaurants and bars in the Alleyway. “We felt like the downtown area might have a lot of opportunity for conventions and meetings, and wanted to provide some amenities and entertainment for visitors.”

The ballpark is successful, the amphitheater draws people and restaurants in the Alleyway will be open in March 2009. But Kyser and Downes say the work of revitalization is far from complete.

“If what we’re doing now is successful and we can get the momentum going, there’ll be a lot more opportunity down there,” Kyser comments. Kyser and some partners own a three-block parcel of vacant land on the edge of downtown. “Depending on market demand and success, we plan to participate in future expansion,” he notes.

Downes adds there’s plenty of work to be done, especially on the edges of the CBD. Some of the projects include investment in a new county office building and improvement of Dexter Avenue.

“Suffice it to say, there’s enough work to be done for the next five-to-ten years,” he comments. “We have it in the planning stages, and it’s our hope that the private sector will come along side of this as well.”

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