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State of the City 2019

During the past year, we have all witnessed Mobile’s increasing momentum. We are seeing people emboldened by the buzz in the city, taking measured risks and making bold investments. This momentum – You can see it! You can taste it! You can hear it! Can’t you just feel it! Ladies and gentlemen, thanks to all of you, the City Council, the County Commission, thanks to everyone in this room, the State of the City is strong and getting stronger.

In case you haven’t noticed, our citizens and guests are SEEING a more vibrant downtown; seeing more people walking to and fro; seeing more on-street parking; and seeing smoother traffic flow on Water Street. All across the city, they are seeing an increasing amount of work from the city’s Capital Improvement Program – sidewalks repaired; fresh asphalt being laid; drainage repaired; and parks restored.

For those who haven’t seen the momentum, I’m hoping you have TASTED it at either Haint Blue, The Cheese Cottage, Brick and Spoon, Ruby Slipper, Nova Coffee, or Flipped Out Kitchen – just to name a few who stepped up; invested in their dream and by doing so created jobs and contributed to improving the quality of life for Mobilians.

For those who haven’t seen or tasted the momentum, maybe you’ve HEARD about the jobs being added at Aerostar, Crown Healthcare and Airbus. Or maybe you’ve heard the jet engines of the new Airbus A320 when Frontier took off from Brookley heading back to Chicago. Or maybe you heard the noise of the crowd taking dinner cruises in the river aboard the Perdido Queen; or you heard the excitement of the crowd playing basketball on the beautiful, state-of- the-art court built by hometown hero Demarcus Cousins.

Our vision is bold – to create One Mobile to become the safest, most business and family friendly City in America by 2020.

While our actions have been bold, the fulfilment of our vision requires even bolder action. Setting high expectations has challenged the status quo, requiring new thinking and better collaboration. With dozens of projects aimed at improving the quality of life in Mobile, WE NEED YOU, individuals and organizations, energized to keep the momentum alive.

What is your bold? How and when are you going to jump in and move to the tempo of the City? Some have already done it.

The most recent example is the Airport Authority and its Executive Director, Chris Curry. At this time last year, who thought we would have Frontier Airlines flying out of Brookley, our downtown airport? Amazing!

Bold! A real game changer!

But even with all this momentum, we still have challenges and opportunities:

  • for reducing crime;
  • for increasing tourism;
  • for becoming more business friendly;
  • for growing the city;
  • for improving affordable housing;
  • and for improving education.

From my perspective, THE HEAT IS REALLY ON and with each passing month leadership is going to feel the temperature rising until improved outcomes are achieved.

Regarding crime, Director Barber and Chief Battiste will continue to roll out improved, multifaceted programs to address youth violence and crime in general. Almost monthly, announcements are made about either a new program or partnership, new equipment, or enhanced training to better prepare our officers to succeed in today’s policing world, thus making Mobile a safer city. We know that our program to eradicate blight is paying dividends. In just 3 years, with the bold action of our City Council, we have removed half the blight in the city, and we will continue to pursue it with a vengeance. Our YES Initiative to engage our disadvantaged youth during the summer is also paying dividends, and we will continue to expand that program.

In a similar vein, citizens are going to see bold changes and improvements in the programing in our recreation centers and on our playing fields and courts. The city’s new Senior Director of Parks and Recreation, Shonnda Smith is leading this effort. During her interview last December, she asked the interviewing panel if they and the mayor would support the effort for the parks and recreation department to become accredited. When you consider there are only 165 accredited in the United States, this is a bold vision that I am confident will be fulfilled.

Regarding tourism, Visit Mobile, under the very capable leadership of David Clark, is picking up momentum. Knowing they needed more money to spend on marketing, Visit Mobile, along with their lodging partners, took a bold and innovative approach in creating a Tourism Improvement District. Once the Governor signs the TID into law and the stake holders reaffirm it, Visit Mobile will have an additional $1.6 million to spend on marketing. With new marketing money coming their way, we can expect our 2019 tourism numbers to approach 4 million tourists, which would be an all-time record.

Regarding becoming more business friendly, the biggest initiative is adopting the Unified Development Code. The need for a new zoning code came as a specific recommendation from the Map for Mobile plan. The zoning code controls how you want your city to grow. This may be heaviest lift, but possibly the most helpful initiative of my administration. Shayla Beaco and her team have held over 200 meetings with stakeholder hammering out what will be a win-win-win code. They will present it to the City Council for adopting by the end of the summer. The boldness of this effort cannot be understated nor can the importance of its adoption.

When it comes to growing the city, this administration and City Council finds itself in an unprecedented position. Last Fall, when the city withdrew the emergency medical services from the police jurisdiction, citizens living in the jurisdiction starting reaching out wanting to know how to become part of the city. In the past, the city’s administration led annexation efforts by trying to convince citizens to become Mobilians.

Now, the shoe is on the other foot and many neighborhoods in West Mobile are appealing to join the momentum. Recently, the City Council wisely voted to add Darby Creek as a Mobile neighborhood after 100% of the residents petitioned to join. An economic analysis showed that the additional tax revenue generated by the neighborhood easily paid for the services that would be provided. As the City Council addresses these neighborhood requests, the administration will provide them with a suggested plan that would make limited annexation economically feasible.

In working my way down the list, the last two are the most challenging, but the most important. They are affordable housing and public education. Shortly after being elected in 2013, HUD officials informed me that Mobile’s Housing Authority was the third worst in the nation. My greatest disappointment after being in office for five years has been the past failure to improve in this area. While it has been the source of my greatest disappointment, recently it became the source of one of the most joyful moments of my career.

That moment occurred when a gentleman came into my office and told me of a short conversation that he had the previous evening with his wife. He said, “Honey, I know you are going think I’ve lost my mind, but I think I’m going to tell the mayor that I’d like to apply for the Executive Director’s position at the Housing Authority.” Her response, “Yes, you have lost your mind.” Thankfully, the Housing Board hired him as the interim director, and Michael Pierce is a candidate to become the Executive Director.

For those who don’t know Michael, he is mission-oriented and decisive. He is innovative, a quick study and already networked with business, civic and city leaders. He is driven to make a difference. In applying for this position, Michael knew he could do the job, but he had to take a risk and step out of his comfort zone to apply.

That ladies and gentlemen is a concrete sign that Mobilians are taking bold action to push the rising wave of momentum!

The last and most significant opportunity is with the Mobile County Public School System. If you recall this time last year there was a move afoot to research the feasibility of creating a City school system. The study was in response to dissatisfaction stemming from the number of schools reported as failing. As the study was evolving, Chresal Threadgill was taking over the reins as the new Superintendent. In August, knowing that the city and the school system were on a collision course, interested individuals encouraged Mr. Threadgill and me to meet.

The outcome of that meeting was the realization that we needed to meet frequently on an ongoing basis. By the second meeting, I realized that Mr. Threadgill was a mission-focused leader of high character, intolerant of mediocrity and the status quo. He is willing to embrace innovation and change.

I am grateful for Chresal. Like other leaders, we both recognize that cities with the best prepared workforce pipeline are the most attractive for job growth and startups. Mobile’s future is tied directly to improvements at the MCPSS. Without any reservation, I know that Chresal will reach the district’s vision of becoming one of the nation’s premier education systems. I ask that you please embrace his bold initiatives.

Now... If we haven’t given you enough to stimulate your thinking and increased your desire to jump in and move to the tempo of the city, consider these bold moves: the ducks are coming back; plans are being finalized to build a grocery store on St. Louis Street; and the City is launching its new website today.

We’re hoping you will check it out soon!

I’ll ask the question again, what is your bold?

As we come to a close consider this. A bold person who we know the most about who rebuilt and restored a city against impossible odds was Nehemiah. “He was able to accomplish a huge task against incredible odds because he learned that there is no success without risk of failure, no reward without hard work, no opportunity without criticism, and no true leadership without trust in God.” Thankfully, there are many leaders in Mobile who recognize this also.

Momentum - do you wonder when our momentum started? Maybe it started 500 years ago in 1519 when Spanish explorer Pineda sailed into Mobile Bay naming it the Bay of the Holy Spirit. Could it be that he defined this city long before we stepped into it, and there is something significant happening 500 years later?

We may never really know the answer to this, but this we do know: Mobile’s momentum is real. You can see it! You can taste it! You can hear it! Can’t you just feel it! The time is now. Step up! We need your bold! Now, let’s go get ‘em.