I-Team: Pending Salvation Army Sale Impacts Montgomery Whitewater Project

This week marks one year since Montgomery’s Whitewater Project was announced.  The 120-acre outdoor complex will be centered around an Olympic standard whitewater rafting course.  You won’t see many changes at the project site off Maxwell Boulevard right now, but county leaders say the project is full steam ahead.

Project Catalyst (Source: Montgomery County Commission)

One component of the project has yet to be finalized, a pending sale between the Salvation Army and the City of Montgomery.  There are differing opinions on if and when that sale will come through.

Alabama News Network first reported in February that the City of Montgomery had a Memorandum of Understanding with the Salvation Army to purchase the Maxwell Boulevard location for $6 million.  Currently, the Salvation Army sits where whitewater facility will be built.  Then in April, that sale was put on hold because of the Coronavirus.  Now, four months later that sale is still in question and it’s been hard to get many answers.

“I support what makes the most financial sense for the city and all entities combined.”

That was Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed’s response when he was asked if he supports Montgomery’s Whitewater project, the multi-million dollar project announced by County Commission Chair Elton Dean and then-mayor Todd Strange.  It’s a partnership between Montgomery County, the City of Montgomery, the state and other public and private organizations.

“I’d love to see the project come online if it makes financial sense so the devils in the details, and I think that’s what everyone’s trying to work out right now,” Reed explained when he was asked a second time if he supports the project.

One detail is the sale between the Salvation Army and the City of Montgomery, it was put on hold not long after COVID-19 hit.  The Salvation Army’s current building sits near the entrance to the whitewater facility on Maxwell Boulevard.  If the sale is finalized, the Salvation Army would in-turn purchase a new property from the city.

“It can’t be just a win for the city, can’t be just a win for the Salvation Army, it has to be a win for the city, the Salvation Army, but also the community,” shared Lt. Bryan Farrington with the Salvation Army of Montgomery.

The pending agreement with the city would have the Salvation Army purchase and move to 600 South Court Street, the current home of the Montgomery Chamber’s Business Resource Center.  Farrington says that property would better suit the non-profit’s growing ministries.

“This new facility, we can then design it around the ministry that we have now, and the many needs that are still arising that are a little different than what they were back in the 70s,” he explained.

If you look at the proposed site for the Whitewater project, not much has changed in the year since it was announced, which has some people wondering if it will still happen.

Montgomery County Commission Chairman says this project is still happening and the Salvation Army property is still in the mix, but that sale may not happen this year.

“We have the property that we need for this whitewater project to be successful without the Salvation Army but we want to have the Salvation Army to complete the project,” Dean explained.

The Montgomery County Community Cooperative District, the group appointed by the Montgomery County Commission and Public Building Authority, is overseeing this project.  Dean says they have moved into the design and development phase, which should be finished next May.
The anticipated groundbreaking should happen next summer.  When the project was first announced, county leaders said it would open in March of 2022…that has now been pushed back to the summer of 2023.

County leaders say 300,000 people are expected to visit the whitewater facility each year. To put that number in perspective, around 225,000 people visited the Montgomery Zoo last year.

Elton Dean says the initial construction of the project is expected to have a nearly $40 million economic impact.  Once the whitewater facility opens, he says it’s expected to have an annual economic impact of over $35 million.

If the Salvation Army sale and move to The Chamber Business Resource Center is finalized, the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce is looking at Union Station in downtown Montgomery as a new home.

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