2019 was full of noteworthy news articles, but we managed to narrow it down to the top 10 stories of the year.
1. Tallassee council condemns Hotel Talisi
In March, the Tallassee City Council voted 6-1 to condemn the historic Hotel Talisi in
the heart of the downtown district.
Tallassee Mayor Johnny Hammock and most councilmembers said safety concerns override
the historical value of the building and noted property owner Wylie Troupe has not
followed an order to correct the more dangerous issues with the building.
Residents and business owners in the area said debris, such as bricks, have begun to
fall from the building which is adjacent to a well-frequented park in the area.
According to Hammock, a brick that falls from the roof of a third-floor building can
travel three times the distance it falls from.
City officials gave Troupe a 45-day notice to make the needed structural repairs and
Troupe was also given an immediate notice to fix metal flashing hanging in sheets
from the roof of the building.
Troupe asked city officials for a 60-day extension to make the necessary repairs but
Hammock said the city cannot wait that long to ensure safety in the downtown
district. Work began to bring the building back to code soon after. Today, municipal building inspector Andy Coker is working closely to oversee progress at the site.
The unique history of the Hotel Talisi, paired with a widely popular buffet, once
drew a tremendous number of people to the area.
2. City looks to take ownership of eastside mill site
The Tallassee City Council held a special council meeting on Friday, Dec. 20, to pass a resolution that would allow city officials to move forward with discussions with eastside mill owner Tommy Hudson that would transfer ownership of the property to the City of Tallassee.
The city has been in litigation with Mount Vernon Pine since 2017, but that could be over.
"We've been discussions over the past several months for ways to do that, and some time ago they — that is Mount Vernon Pine — would deed the property to the City in resolution of the lawsuit," city attorney John Smith said. "So that Mount Vernon Pine might be able to get whatever tax advantage it might give for making what would amount to be a charitable donation to the city. "
The deed to the site needs to be notarized before the city can officially take ownership and Hudson is expected to pay the $300 in taxes owed on the property before the deal is complete.
"We have exchanged papers and documents with their lawyer over the past week or thereabouts and believe we a have a firm agreement with them," Smith said. "While we have a signed deed, the deed has not been notarized."
In addition to the City of Tallassee dropping the lawsuit against Mount Vernon Pine, Mount Vernon Pine is expected to release the City of Tallassee from litigation as well.
"There is a release that is a mutual release where Mount Vernon Pine releases the city from any claims and it may claim to have against the city and the city releases Mount Vernon Pine from the lawsuit it's in as well as any other claim the city may have against Mount Vernon Pine,” Smith said.
Smith first explained the positive aspect of taking ownership of the mill site and how the property could be utilized.
"The city becomes the owner of the mill property," he said. "That gives the city a little bit of leeway to do two things. One, the water filter plant, the city would now have more property to expand, renovate or do whatever to may need to do now or in the future."
Smith then explained the downside of taking ownership of the decades-old scorched site.
"It now gives the city ownership of that property, that I think we all will agree is a mess,” Smith said. “But the city would be positioned to apply for grants and take steps to clean up that property, which is probably the least painful way to get that property cleaned up and put into a better appearing position than it is now.”
Councilmember Bill Godwin questioned the city's liability for the crumbling property.
"Post no trespassing signs, make sure the fences and lights are well maintained so that people are kept from going on to that property."
Tallassee Mayor Johnny Hammock expressed his thought on the matter explaining this could be the city solution to the future of the municipal water filter plant.
"I personally think this is something we need to act on we have our intake right below Thurlow Dam so there's really no other to expand the water filter plant,” Hammock said.
If there is one thing Hammock is known best for, it very well may be writing grants, and with over $4,350,000 in grant funding awarded to the city since taking office, he is prepared to begin the processes of applying for grant funding that would cover the cost of cleaning the site.
"I already have the Brownsfield grant written up to submit," Hammock said. "They have been holding and waiting."
3. ADECA awards $250K to demolish dilapidated structures
In early November, Tallassee Mayor Johnny Hammock announced the City of Tallassee was awarded a $250,000 Community Development Block Grant through the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA). The grant has a 10% match, which means the city will have a total of $275,000 to fund the demolition of dilapidated structures throughout the city.
"When I ran for mayor, beautification was a large part of my platform and this will help with that," Hammock said.
ADECA director Kenneth Boswell toured Tallassee on Oct. 8, along with Hammock and other city officials to get a firsthand look at some of the city's most dilapidated structures.
The tour included stops in Jordanville, east Tallassee and the Tallaweka areas of the city.
Boswell called an abandoned structure on 2nd Avenue in the Jordanville area “snake heaven.”
"These are only some of the structures that we would like to see demolished," Hammock said.
The CDBG grant process is highly competitive and Hammock said he is very grateful to everyone who helped with this project.
"I appreciate Bishop Adolphus Gauntt, Damian Carr, police chief Matthew Higgins, fire chief Travis Jones and everyone who helped with this," Hammock said. "Leslie York and Greg Clark with ADECA — I'm very appreciative of all the hard work that went into this grant."
4. Thurlow Dam spillway replacement complete
Alabama Power officials announced the installation of the new spillways on Thurlow Dam was complete in October.
Water levels on Lake Thurlow soon returned to normal. Water levels on Lake Thurlow were lowered by 4 feet or more this summer as part of spillway gate replacement at the dam. During the drawdown, water levels were held between 278 and 279 feet.
The original spillway gates were installed in the 1920s.
The replacements, called Obermeyer gates, are constructed of steel and will be more efficient than the old 36-gate flashboard system. The new spillway gates use adjustable, inflatable bladders to control the gates and more accurately manage water resources.
"The new gates will allow better control of the flow over the spillway," Thurlow Dam superintendent Joel Johnson said.
Alabama Power worked with the Alabama Historical Commission and the University of Alabama to research Thurlow Dam when designing the new gates. The dam was built on the site of an early 19th-century textile mill.
The new design features only four spans that operate independently across the top of the dam and resemble the historical look of the original dam.
Decades ago, locals promoted Thurlow Dam as the "Niagara of the South" for the way the Tallapoosa River spills over the dam when all the gates were open.
"This will look and feel like the Thurlow we all know and remember," Johnson said.
The work was done during the summer months to take advantage of the warmer, drier weather.
5. School board approves plans for new THS
In July, the Tallassee Board of Education voted unanimously to approve plans for a new, secure but smaller high school.
According to the design team, the current THS main campus building is 44,000 square feet and the new building would be 37,800 square feet but there will be more classrooms, more office space and more seats in the auditorium.
“The new building will be better than the existing building in a lot of ways,” McKee and Associates’ Walter McKee said. “The classrooms will be 100 square feet bigger, it's going to be 21 classrooms, plus at this point we are recommending moving the science labs.”
The new building would house three more classrooms than the current building, administrators will have 50% more office space, the guidance department will be relocated in the new layout and the new auditorium will have a higher capacity, McKee said.
“Currently the auditorium has 450 seats,” McKee said. “The auditorium as we propose has 636 seats in it. The band room will seat 125.”
McKee said students would be without a main campus building for one school year.
Greater campus security will also be provided in the new building after police chief Matt Higgins and fire chief Travis Jones compiled a report critical of safety and security weaknesses in the existing building.
Access to the interior of the campus will be limited with the use of a gate system from the time school begins until it ends.
“Your students would be in a secure campus,” McKee said.
The new school layout includes a covered walkway to the annex making it more accessible to the main buildings.
McKee said the plans are still in the concept phase and changes could arise as progress continues. But if all goes as planned, the main building would be constructed between the end of one school year and the fall of the next year. A new parking lot is currently under construction.
6. The Tallassee Chamber of Commerce presents A Taste of Tallassee
In October, the Tallassee Chamber of Commerce announced it would bring back the once-popular A Taste of Tallassee. This year's event was held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Nov. 7 at the National Guard Armory on Gilmer Avenue.
Several vendors participated in the Taste of Tallassee; some of them are from neighboring communities aiming to offer locals a sample of their tasty treats.
In addition to traditional restaurants and food vendors, this year's event included cottage companies. A cottage company is a home-based company.
There was already a long list of participates for the 2019 Taste of Tallassee, including the 1220 Café, The Wharf, Rustic Mill, Cozumel, Eagle Convenience, Larry's, Subway, Great Wall, Acapulco, Louie's, American Deli, Buck's Café, Buddy's Road Runner, Tallassee Cookie Company, Eclectic Sugar & Spice, Carrie-Dean's Cookies, No No Maria, Sister Su, Kickin' Chicken out of Eclectic and Popeye's Chicken out of Shorter, and more.
According to event coordinators, this once-popular event turned out to be a night full of food, fun and entertainment with a performance from The Tone-Deaf Hobos.
According to Cunningham, this event ran its course at the time but should be a hit now.
"There was a Taste of Tallassee back in the ’90s," Cunningham said. "It was very popular back then and I think this new Taste of Tallassee will be well received."
7. Garnett given the Key to City for her years of hard work and dedication
On Sept. 4, members of the Tallassee City Council and Mayor Johnny Hammock showed their gratitude to retiring city clerk Barbara Garnett.
Garnett served as the clerk for 25 years under three administrations. Garnett worked under Hammock, Bobby Payne and George McCain.
Hammock expressed his gratitude to Garnett saying as a new mayor, she helped make his transition to the mayor's seat go smoothly.
"Barbara has done more in the past 25 years than anyone has in my opinion," Hammock said.
"Not only for the City of Tallassee but also for the city employees. She has worked with three mayors. Basically, I didn't know anything when I came into office and she helped guide me through the choppy waters, so to speak. I'll forever be in debt to Barbara Garnett. I don't know if you know how much I really appreciate it.”
After Hammock expressed his gratitude to Garnett, he presented her with a Key to City on behalf of the council.
During the council's reports, council members each took a moment to show gratitude to Garnett for the years of hard work and dedication she put in over the quarter-century she served as the city clerk.
"Under you, with you and now for you," councilmember Jeremy Taunton said. "I'm proud to have worked with you and I hate to see you go. And I agree, there has been nobody who has run the city like you."
Councilmember Damian Carr said, "Mrs. Barbara, if I could say ‘thank you' a thousand times, it would not be enough for all you have done for the city. You're going to be truly missed.”
Councilmember Darryl Wilson thanked Garnett for her years of service to the city and its citizens.
"I also want to thank you, Barbara, for everything you have done and more than others," Wilson said. "They don't realize what you have done even right here in city hall but the mayor and the staff will soon learn that they will some big shoes that are going to have to fill. Hopefully, they can mature and if we give them the support like we did you to learn and go forward and thank you for all your help and years of dedication to the city."
Councilmember Bill Godwin, who worked with Garnett longer than any other councilmember, also showed his appreciation to Garnett.
"We have worked together for many years," Godwin said. "It has been tremendous working with you and I appreciate you."
Councilmember David Stough closed the council's reports, also expressing his gratitude for Garnett and what she’s done during her tenure.
"I want to wish Barbara many years of enjoyment and relaxation in her retirement," Stough said. "Retirement is a big step in life. I know she has it under control. With that being said, I want to thank you for the service that you have given the City of Tallassee and all you have done. Words can't express what you do and the help that you have given me over the last seven years when I was elected as city council and I really appreciate it."
In closing, Garnett kept her words short and sweet as she tried not to cry.
"I've truly enjoyed working with you," Garnett said trying to hold back tears.
Taunton then made a special motion that passed unanimously.
"I make a motion for a hug," Taunton said.
8. City to seek grant for soccer field
The Tallassee City Council voted unanimously at its July 23 meeting to seek a grant to fund a $333,000 soccer complex for area youth.
Councilmember Terrell Brown, who is also a coach at Tallassee Elementary and a member of the city’s recreation board, asked officials to move forward in selecting funding options to build the soccer complex.
“Our students in kindergarten through the sixth grade, right now they do not have a designated soccer field,” Brown told the recreation board and fellow councilmembers. “They are playing on our girls softball field. We are interested in trying to get a designated soccer field."
The projected cost of the soccer complex is $330,000 but with funding options the city could pay much less.
"Hopefully we can get half of the funding needed through a grant," Brown said. "I am asking the rec board and the council to give the mayor authorization to go apply for the Land and Water Conservation Fund to build a soccer complex at the airport near the Babe Ruth Field."
Councilmember Jeremy Taunton asked the council to apply funds from an upcoming timber sale to the project to further offset the cost of construction.
“I would like to see that that money goes into an account to draw interest for the proposed soccer fields,” Taunton said. “It's coming off the property; it should go back on the property."
City attorney John Smith said Taunton's request is practical.
“I don't see why they can't do it,” Smith said.
However, councilmember Bill Godwin asked the council to postpone a vote until the next budget meeting.
"I think that's a good idea too,” Godwin said.
Upgrades and renovations are planned for other recreation programs and Brown said the development of a soccer complex would not interfere with those plans.
"This in no way takes away from improvements at other facilities but I believe this is something that is more doable now,” Brown said.
9. Municipal airport closed, future uncertain
Tallassee’s municipal airport closed on Dec. 31, 2018, and today, the council has a few options to consider at the 334 acres land parcel, including selling timber and potentially becoming the future home of a solar farm.
Councilmember Bill Godwin suggested selling the airport and hoping someone will pay close to the appraised value.
“Let’s do what we did with the other two properties we sold,” Godwin said. “We were sure how that would turn out and it was good for the city. I say we put it out there and if we get a million dollars for it, that’s great.”
Selling the timber could compromise facilities at the airport, according to Hammock, “because log trucks and other equipment would be driving on it. They aren’t going to go around the runway and that could hurt the sale.”
Councilmember Jeremy Taunton suggested retaining the property for future use.
“We’re not making any more land,” he said. “My suggestion is cut the timber, potentially replant as an investment, in 20 years we can cut it again and make more money off of this land. Down the road, we may want to do something with it.”
10. Rowe surprises Tallassee with ‘Returning the Favor’ filming
In June, Mike Rowe of the nationally syndicated television show “Dirty Jobs” made a surprise visit to the Tallassee area for his new Facebook project called “Returning the Favor.”
Following his trip to Tallassee, Rowe wrote the following on his Facebook page about Dr. Greg Dubay, who has lived in Tallassee for 40 years and joined Operation Combat Bikesaver in March.
“Doc is one of several combat vets utilizing Operation Combat Bikesaver, which just opened in Tallassee, Alabama. More on that later, specifically, at the end of this season. Doc served as a medic in the Army. He’s seen some things. Yesterday, when we finished filming, he showed me the flag he wore on his uniform before he retired. On it, is recognition for his service in Vietnam, along with a medal from the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, his rank, (Specialist E-5) and a Major Oak Leaf. I talked to Doc about his time in the service, and his commitment to caring for the men with whom he served over the years. We discussed the sad reality of PTSD, and the fact that Alabama leads the nation in veteran suicide. We discussed the extraordinary efforts being made to fight this scourge by honorable men and women all over the country. People like Jason Zaideman, who started OCB, and Rob Dinsmore, who was inspired to follow in his footsteps. Finally, we talked about the significance of the flag he wore, and the insignias attached.
Then, he gave it to me.
‘Why?’ I asked.
‘Because I’m grateful to you,’ he said. ‘I appreciate your commitment to excellence, honesty, and integrity.’
I didn’t know what to say.
I still don’t.
One day, I hope to become the person Doc thinks I am. For now, I can only thank him for his service, and promise to care for the flag he once wore.”
The show aired on Aug. 26 on Facebook.