Ashford Downtown Redevelopment Authority is making a bright future with a nod to the past

Editor’s note: Each Monday, Alabama NewsCenter is highlighting stories from the Alabama Power Foundation‘s annual report. Each story spotlights an organization or initiative the foundation supported in 2019.


Brad Kimbro is the kind of volunteer every town needs – the sort of fellow who treats his nonpaying job like a full-time job. He is also a professional who keeps the momentum going as chief operating officer at his official office. In other words, the town of Ashford is getting from-the-heart dedication as Kimbro leads the way toward a revival of spirit and structures.

The attention comes at a good time. Ashford, population about 2,100, isn’t what it used to be. And not what it’s going to be, either – yet. So Kimbro, chairman of the Ashford Downtown Redevelopment Authority, along with many energized town residents and an all-in mayor and City Council, are making it their daily business to turn things around.

After two years of plotting and planning, changes are beginning to show.

“You could go anywhere in town and point, and there would be something that needed doing,” Kimbro said. “We’ve already renovated a downtown park with green space and a pergola. And we just purchased a building, which was the biggest eyesore in town. We’re tearing it down and using the lot for much-needed parking – and the downtown is already better.”

A bit of history helps. Around the late 1880s, Ashford was a thriving railroad town with a depot now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Turpentine, cotton, fertilizer and sweet potatoes were moved to market by trains until the times and needs changed. Even when the railroad runs ceased, the town continued to forge on.

The downturn culprits were the shopping malls in nearby Dothan and the rerouting of a major highway that turned Ashford into a town of vacant storefronts and quiet streets. “If a building doesn’t have life, it doesn’t have spirit,” Kimbro said. “Add the addition of those shopping malls and big-box stores and our town was suddenly different.”

Ashford Downtown Redevelopment Authority is putting on the charm in southeast Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Hugh Deese, florist/owner of The Petal Pusher, has seen it all – and is enthusiastic. “I believe good things are coming,” said the businessman whose family moved to Ashford when he was 8 months old.

“I never once thought about moving,” said Deese, who has been in the same shop location for 44 years. “I remember when Saturday streets were filled with people – you couldn’t find a parking spot – and retailers were here, loving on people and giving them what they wanted. I have to believe, in my lifetime, that people are going to start yearning for the connection they get at the mom and pop stores.

“I want to see things vibrant again. There are folks here rolling up their sleeves and opening their wallets to make it happen, and good people like the Alabama Power Foundation are helping us along. Positive things can happen.”

Kimbro agrees the town has “a lot of momentum.”

“The Alabama Power Foundation Good Roots grant has given us something tangible, right on Main Street across from City Hall. We’re creating a new green space where we will plant white Southern crape myrtles, using them for beauty as well as to form a ‘fence’ hiding the backdrop behind,” he says. “The Alabama Power Foundation is helping us realize our potential from the start.”

Fast-forward about three years, Kimbro said, and visitors will see not only a revitalized Ashford but a destination, a place for people to flock for the small-town atmosphere, unique restaurants and shops, and a totally nonmall approach to living. First up is the need to attract new businesses to fill buildings and revamp facades, a campaign to play up the innate charm of a town that never completely lost its charm and to qualify for the Main Street program.

“Being designated as a Main Street city has many advantages,” Kimbro said of the national program that has helped revitalize about 1,600 downtowns and commercial districts through preservation-based economic development and community revitalization. “They have ideas and resources to guide us. This, to me, is a big deal.”

Another big deal is the recently established clinic that offers internal medicine and pediatric services from the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine in Dothan. “Third- and fourth-year students will train in this facility. Staff includes a nurse practitioner, neuromuscular specialist, and radiology and lab technicians,” Kimbro said.

The time is now. There’s the opportunity to capitalize on being east of Dothan, the development-rich side. And to become an attractive bedroom community to the larger neighbor. And to bring in new businesses that complement quality operations already in place.

Kimbro’s wife, Judith, owner of The Courtyard gift shop in the heart of town, welcomes her future neighbors. “I want to bring things to this town where I grew up, something so special that people won’t need to go elsewhere to shop,” she said. Additions will enhance places like the Broadway Café with its Southern buffet; Wendy Jones Photography, which attracts clients from around the Southeast; and Wiregrass Pharmacy with its old-time soda fountain serving milkshakes and floats.

Brad Kimbro can envision the future clearly. “You’ll see Ashford as a destination town that’s going to add 30% to 40% new residents, a place where families will feel safe and others will want to visit. And thanks to the Alabama Power Foundation’s support and encouragement, this can happen.”

Deese said, “We’ve gone from thriving to sad to hopeful, yet never wavered in the product we deliver. I’ve seen Ashford up and I’ve seen it down. I much prefer up. And I do think the good times are ahead.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 hours ago

Barry Moore lands Trump endorsement in AL-02 following Oval Office visit

Former State Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise) on Wednesday visited with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in the Oval Office.

After the meeting, Trump tweeted his endorsement of Moore’s Republican campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives in Alabama’s Second Congressional District.

Trump wrote that Moore will be “will be a terrific Congressman for Alabama.”

The president noted that Moore was an earlier endorser of his campaign in the 2016 cycle, adding that Moore “is Strong on Jobs, Life, the Wall, Law & Order and the Second Amendment.”

393

“I’m truly honored to be endorsed for Congress by President Donald J. Trump. I have never regretted being the first elected official in America to endorse him for President in 2015, and I’m looking forward to working with him in the next Congress during his second term,” Moore said in a statement.

“President Trump has already accomplished so much and kept so many of his Campaign promises despite all that the Establishment and the Democrats have done to obstruct him, but he knows there’s still lots to be done,” he continued. “We must contain and control the COVID pandemic, restore our economy to the pre-pandemic level of growth and prosperity we enjoyed during his first three years in office. We must restore and maintain law and order on our streets and in our cities. We must finish building the wall, and then fix our broken immigration system.”

Moore outlined, “We had great meetings at the White House with the President’s Domestic Policy team. Larry Kudlow, Director of the National Economic Council was also there. We discussed a new Healthcare plan being introduced, economic recovery, trade with China, and expansion of opportunity zones in depressed areas. The President has a bright vision for America.”

“I’m convinced that Donald J. Trump is the President we need to lead us for the next four years, and I hope the people of Alabama’s 2nd District see fit to elect me to work with President Trump as their Congressman on November 3rd,” he concluded.

Moore will face Democrat Phyllis Harvey-Hall on November 3.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

5 hours ago

Jerry Carl visits White House, gets endorsed by President Trump in AL-01

Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl, the Republican nominee in Alabama’s First Congressional District, on Wednesday visited the White House and met in the Oval Office with President Donald J. Trump.

“It was an incredible honor to spend over half an hour in the Oval Office with President Trump and Vice President Pence today,” Carl said in a statement to Yellowhammer News.

After the visit, Trump in a tweet endorsed Carl for the Southwest Alabama congressional seat.

“He Loves our Veterans, Stands for Law & Order, and is Strong on Jobs and the Second Amendment. Jerry has my Complete and Total Endorsement!” Trump wrote.

224

“The President is focused not only on his own race, but also on down ballot races nationwide,” Carl told Yellowhammer News. “He cares about the people of Alabama, and we had a good conversation about issues that are affecting Alabama’s 1st District.”

“I’m looking forward to working with President Trump to address some of these critical issues – stopping the spread of socialism, supporting our law enforcement, and getting our economy back on track,” he concluded. “Thank you, President Trump!”

Carl will face Democrat James Averhart on November 3.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

7 hours ago

Sara Evans is a 2020 Woman of Impact

One of country music’s most popular artists of the 21st century, Sara Evans, has adopted Alabama as her own, and she is not slowing down.

Earlier in 2020, Evans released a new album, “Copy That,” where she covers 13 classic songs, and published a new memoir, Born to Fly.

She came to the Yellowhammer State after marrying former University of Alabama quarterback Jay Barker in 2008. They now make their home in the Birmingham area along with their seven children.

The singer performs and releases music under the name Sara Evans, which is how Yellowhammer News is referring to her for the purposes of this article. Evans does not shy away from her married name; just in 2019, she released a six-track EP titled “The Barker Family Band” which featured herself, her son Avery and daughter Olivia.

848

Evans was born and raised outside of a small town in Missouri and began her lifelong connection with music at age four. She had recorded her first CD and was attending country music events by the age of 9 or 10, according to a 2011 interview.

Aspiring to a career in music, she moved to Nashville in 1991 and worked as a waitress while trying to find her big break.

“Three Chords and The Truth” and “No Place That Far,” Evans’ first two albums, were released in 1997 and 1998 respectively. They earned the artist solid reviews from critics but did not make a big impact on the charts.

“If I’m going to have the career I came to Nashville to find,” she told a newspaper at the time. “I’ve got to get on the radio and give today’s fans what they want.”

“Born to Fly,” the album that resulted from this change in sound, achieved everything Evans aimed to accomplish. The Recording Industry Association of America has certified it as double platinum; meaning it has sold over 2 million copies. Singles “Born to Fly” and “I Could Not Ask for More” placed first and second on the U.S. Country charts.

After the breakthrough success, Evans never left the country charts for very long over the next decade; buoyed by singles like “Suds in the Bucket” and “A Little Bit Stronger.”

Evans’ albums “Restless,” “Real Fine Place,” and “A Little Bit Stronger” are certified platinum and five more albums by Evans are certified gold.

She won Top Female Vocalist at the Academy of Country Music Awards in 2006.

Her five most popular songs available on the music streaming service Spotify have been played a combined 101,997,937 times.

Jerry Sharpe, a music writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, described Evans as having a “a strong, spring-water clear voice, which she uses well.”

Evans met her now-husband when they were both in their 30s with kids. They were introduced by Joe Beam, a Christian speaker that focuses on love and marriage who knew them both previously.

“One defining moment was, I made the decision to walk into my office and email Jay Barker and say, ‘Hey, so-and-so told me that I should reach out to you. I want you to know that I’m praying for you, and I’m sorry for everything that you’ve been through,” Evans recounted to music website The Boot.

Barker was the starting quarterback on the Crimson Tide’s 1992 championship-winning team, and at the time when he and Evans connected they had both recently gone through painful divorces.

“He emailed me back within five minutes, and that was definitely a defining moment,” she added.

Evans brought three children to the new family, while Barker brought four.

“Our house is full of children and activities and chaos, but Jay is such a great support to me,” Evans told The Boot about her husband, who hosts a sports talk show in Birmingham.

Radio play by country music stations is dominated by male artists and programmed by male deejays, something that has frustrated Evans in recent years.

She has become an outspoken advocate for more women in country music and voices her opinions on the subject with regularity.

Evans has appeared at events and spoken up for the organization Change the Conversation that aims to gain more representation for women in country music.

“The lack of voices heard on country radio affect not only those who are making music, but those listening as well. Music plays a powerful role in shaping our popular culture. Today’s music does not reflect who we are as a country and sends the wrong message to our girls and women. Too often, country songs portray women as a pretty ornament on the passenger side. It is time to reclaim a woman’s place in the driver’s seat,” the organization says on its website.

Evans has remarked that for her most recent original studio work, the album “Words” released in 2017, she placed a greater emphasis on including female producers and songwriters to give their careers a boost.

At a Change the Conversation event in 2017, Evans said, “When I first got my record deal, women were dominating country radio. We had Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Trisha Yearwood, Lee Ann Womack, LeAnn Rimes, Shania Twain, Patty Loveless and on and on. I was fortunate enough to join that group of amazing women.”

“[W]e need to change the conversation and figure out why it is not that way anymore. Why are there not enough women on country radio? Women artists are amazing and they have so much great music that we want to hear and we need to hear, so let’s change the conversation,” she urged.

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Sara Evans a 2020 Woman of Impact.

Editor’s note: Yellowhammer Multimedia recently announced the third annual Women of Impact Awards. Honorees are being featured on Yellowhammer News each weekday through October 1. We will tell their stories one-by-one, utilizing written and video formats. Check back daily for more of Alabama’s best and brightest.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

8 hours ago

Baldwin County residents throw parade for linemen amid recovery heroics

Southwest Alabama residents are celebrating the heroic linemen and support personnel who have traveled from across the country to restore utility services following Hurricane Sally last week.

WKRG reported that Fairhope residents on Tuesday night held a short parade downtown to express their appreciation for the power crews.

87

The parade reportedly featured bucket trucks honking, with linemen inside waving, to those residents who took their time to line Section Street.

Alabama Power Company has restored power to its service area as of Sunday night, and Energy Institute of Alabama members continue to lead the charge restoring service to Baldwin County electric cooperative members, which was hardest hit by the slow-moving category 2 hurricane.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

8 hours ago

Shadowy web of 20 ‘news’ sites operating in Alabama, tied to national network that invented quotes, bylines

A shadowy group of websites masquerading as local news agencies has been launched ahead of November’s high-stakes general election.

An investigation by Yellowhammer News uncovered the existence of “Yellowhammer Times,” which purports to be a statewide news organization intended “to provide objective, data-driven information without political bias.” The site’s “people” section, where one would expect its employees to be listed, is blank.

“We provide 100% original reporting, including to share as much data as possible from government and other publicly available sources,” the site claims. “We also provide a platform for all citizens whose views on issues are rarely heard. If you want a voice in your community, we want to hear from you.”

The website is admittedly owned and operated by Metric Media LLC and its parent Metric Media Foundation, a Missouri-based entity just granted 501(c)(3) nonprofit status last year. Publicly available data shows that Metric Media has not yet revealed having any assets, income or revenue through mandatory IRS filings. This means that at this point in time, the organization is effectively operating as a dark money group.

945

Metric Media has a glitzy website that asserts, “Metric Media is funded by donations and grants from contributors who care about restoring local news in their communities.”

The website does list a three-person board of directors, which is reportedly chaired by San Francisco-based Rakesh Donthineni. The other named directors are Victor Chen of Los Angeles and Brent Southwell of Houston. Chen formerly worked for then-Beijing TV China, an entity of Beijing Media Network — which is owned and operated by the Chinese government, otherwise known as the Chinese Communist Party.

Metric Media’s explicit presence in Alabama does not stop at the statewide Yellowhammer Times. The bottom of this website links to 18 more sites, all appearing to be local or regional news agencies across the state. These publications are identical in format to Yellowhammer Times and are as follows: Auburn Times, Baldwin Times, Decatur Times, East Central Alabama News, Gadsden Today, Huntsville Leader, Jefferson Reporter, Mobile Courant, NE Alabama News, NW Alabama News, North Birmingham Times, River Region Times, Shoals Today, South Alabama Times, South Birmingham Times, Tuscaloosa Leader, West Central Alabama News and Wiregrass Times.

Publicly available domain information shows that these sites were all registered in May of this year.

That same month, Yellowhammer Times published its first “original story,” which was about COVID-19 related liability issues. The author is listed as a “T.H. Lawrence.”

Almost every story posted since then has been a completely automated story, mainly using RSS feeds to populate the stories on the site. This includes republishing press releases from Governor Kay Ivey, Alabama State University and the University of Alabama. The automated stories also include a lot of identical templates that simply display federal government-released data.

In all, Yellowhammer Times as of Wednesday at noon hosted more than 2,300 stories on the site — with only two listing a human author. The automated stories name “Metric Media News Service” or other entities such as “Locality Labs News Service” as the author.

One short story about lost Alabama tax revenue related to the pandemic simply does not list an author.

The second story to actually list an author, Juliette Fairley, advocated in July to fully reopen the economy and return students to school in the fall. This story was based on exclusive quotes from Alabama-based John Chamberlain, board chairman for Citizen Health. Citizen Health advocates for subscription-based medical services and disrupting the healthcare industry.

Yellowhammer News dug into the two authors listed on the site. Fairley is a national freelance author specializing in finance, while T.H. Lawrence’s name popped up across several sites in Metric Media’s network of more than 1,000 sites nationwide.

Yellowhammer News’ investigation also uncovered that T.H. Lawrence is indeed Tom Lawrence, a career journalist from South Dakota who was once executive editor of the state’s Black Hills Pioneer. He is now a freelance writer and blogger, appearing in local publications (under his real name) such as the Dakota Free Press, American News and South Dakota Standard. He also has his own blog, the Prairie Perspective. It should be noted that American News is owned by national conglomerate Gannett.

Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) in December 2019 published an in-depth investigative report that revealed some disturbing findings about Metric Media and its related entities, including Locality Labs. The investigation concluded that the network can be traced back to Illinois-based businessman and conservative activist Brian Timpone.

CJR was able to find at least 450 sites, all linked, operating under the banners of Metric Media, Locality Labs, Franklin Archer, the Record Inc. and Local Government Information Services. The entities at times — while being aimed at different states — shared IP addresses, Google Analytics IDs and other technical identifiers. Since December, the network has more than doubled in size, according to Metric Media’s own website.

CJR further traced Locality Lab’s origin story. The entity was once known as Timpone’s company “Journatic.” Journatic had to rebrand in 2013 following a national scandal over “faking bylines and quotes, and for plagiarism,” per CJR.

The CJR report followed a story published in October 2019 by a Michigan paper about Metric Media’s network that had popped up in that state. More local and national reporting followed, including by the New York Times and Guardian.

Yellowhammer Times republishes stories from other named entities in this Metric Media web, as well. For example, the publication ran a story from Empire State Today of New York.

This also includes another Alabama-focused site not directly linked at the bottom of Yellowhammer Times. Alabama Business Daily stories are republished on the site, and CJR previously reported there is an identical entity curated by Metric Media in each state. Yellowhammer News found that Alabama Business Daily’s domain was registered in February 2018.

With the 2020 election rapidly approaching, the existence of this network of sites in Alabama should raise alarm bells across the state.

Alabama was already besieged in the 2017 special election cycle by “Project Birmingham,” which utilized “Russian tactics” by Democratic operatives to aid the campaign of then-Democratic nominee Doug Jones.

Alabamians will hope that this type of disinformation campaign is not repeated this time around through Metric Media or its sister entities.

Secretary of State John H. Merrill has previously warned residents to arm themselves with the truth and to be wary of unknown sources spread on social media, especially.

“It is of paramount importance that the 4.8 million people who make up our state are informed with up-to-date, complete, and accurate information,” Merill has said in a statement. “All election-related information should come directly from our website or from your local election official. We are your trusted source for information related to the elections process.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn