1 month ago

HGTV’s ‘Home Town Takeover’ crew enjoyed their stay in Wetumpka, Alabama

It was almost quitting time on a Friday, and Josie Russell Young was looking forward to her weekend when the phone at Russell Construction of Alabama’s Montgomery office rang. She saw it was a California phone number and almost didn’t answer.

“It was 4:45, and I really thought it was spam,” she said, “but I picked up anyway. What a surprise.”

A representative from RTR Media, a production company working with HGTV, was on the other end of the line asking questions about the construction company’s possible involvement in the new show “Home Town Takeover,” which would be filming in nearby Wetumpka. As a spinoff of the network’s popular home renovation show “Home Town,” which features Ben and Erin Napier renovating structures in Laurel, Mississippi, “Takeover” is also focused on renovations, but this time, the Napiers are revamping a city.

When it airs later this spring, “Home Town Takeover” will showcase 12 renovation and upgrade projects in and around Wetumpka’s downtown and historic district. Russell Construction’s team of contractors and subcontractors worked with the Napiers to give makeovers to six commercial structures, six homes and several public spaces. It was a big job, but Young said the company her father, Steve Russell, founded in 1983 was up to the task.

“We’ve been doing residential and commercial work since it started,” she said. While she grew up around the business, she’s been working as marketing director with her dad at Russell Construction the past four years.

Getting the HGTV call was a marketer’s dream, but she tried not to get carried away. “I didn’t let myself get too excited,” Young said, “but it hit me the night before demolition Day One. The next morning, we were getting going, and I thought, ‘This is real.’”

Things got surreal when cameras began showing up. “To know our hard work was really going to be on TV for everyone to see was so awesome and so special. I believe it will boost our business, but it’s not just good for us. It’s such a win for everyone in Wetumpka,” she said.

The experience was special for the film crew, too. Producers, directors, camera operators, audio and lighting specialists and others spent six months in Wetumpka, not just working but living there from August 2020 through January. Months on-site is nothing new for them, but like Young’s shock at that initial phone call, many were surprised by what they found when they arrived in Wetumpka.

“You never know what to expect, but right when I got to town, it was so pretty,” said Carissa Sison, line producer for the show. “Our offices had the Coosa River right behind them, and it was such a tranquil setting. But the best thing was the people. They were so happy to meet us. I’ve never experienced that kind of friendliness in my life and definitely not in my career.”

She recalls the hospitality as a “breath of fresh air,” particularly compared to her hometown of Los Angeles. “I really love LA, but you just don’t get that level of friendly there,” she said.

Liz Kerrigan, the show’s executive producer, agrees, saying the residents’ convivial community spirit added an extra layer of charm to a city that had already impressed her.

“Looking at photos, I knew the town was adorable,” she said. “But a city can look one way and then feel different. Not here. The good vibes just make Wetumpka even cuter.”

Kerrigan was taken aback by leaders’ open arms and residents’ desire to pitch in. “I just didn’t expect people to be so grateful and so willing to help,” she said. “It was actually an emotional experience. Everyone was thrilled to work with us.”

That energy buoyed both the Russell Construction and filming teams, but there was still a lot of work to be done, and COVID-19 restrictions didn’t make things any easier. Despite the hurdles, Young is ready for the world to see what her company accomplished.

“The level and quality of craftsmanship required for this was so high. We had to be at our best, and the really tight timeline was a challenge,” she said. “There were many late, late nights and early mornings, but I’m very proud of what we did.”

Doing it all on camera brought an additional dynamic to an already tough project and, at first, Young wasn’t sure how it would go. She said not knowing in the beginning was a blessing.

“None of us understood how the TV part was going to affect things, which is probably best because it kept us from getting too nervous,” she said. The Russell team stood still to get microphones attached, take direction and remain patient throughout the process. “They all rose to that part of the challenge with grace,” Young said, “and I’m so appreciative of that.”

So are the producers, and Kerrigan believes things went as smoothly as they did thanks to the bonds they built together, ties with their foundation in that first warm welcome. “We could not have done the work we did without the connections made and without the level of welcome we continually felt,” she said.

Sison stressed that the city’s reaction inspired her and the rest of the show’s team to get more invested than normal. “Their outpouring of love motivated us to really want to help this town,” she said. “We’re always passionate about our work, but this was different. I don’t think I speak for just myself when I say we felt like we were a part of Wetumpka.”

As shooting moved ahead, those feelings grew deeper and got more meaningful. “We ended up with real friendships,” Kerrigan said. “On our last day shooting, our director of photography looked over at me and had tears in his eyes. I had tears in mine. We don’t normally cry on the last day.”

Kerrigan and Sison hope the emotion evoked in the show’s creation comes through TV screens, and that viewers get a sense of the Wetumpka they came to know and that interest in the city keeps rising. “I loved seeing the uptick of visitors with my own eyes, seeing others discover this kinda sleepy little town,” Sison said, “and it’s going to be great when the show airs. I hope even more people fall in love with Wetumpka.”

This aspiration has dual motivations. It’s rooted in the relationships formed – both producers wish their new friends success. But it’s also part of the show’s wider vision, Kerrigan said.

“The entire intention behind this series was to create forward momentum for change, to be a catalyst for an even bigger transition,” she said. “The desire was that the city would take this ball and run with it. What’s so awesome, is after being there, we know that Wetumpka will do just that. They will build on this and take it 1 million steps farther. Seeing what we imagined fulfilled is really rewarding.”

And if watching Wetumpka’s journey on “Home Town Takeover” spurs other small towns to pursue their own progress, that’s the ultimate prize. “We’re showing how positive change in small towns everywhere is possible,” Kerrigan said. “We hope this causes a national movement for small towns across America to come together and do the same thing, even if it’s on a smaller scale.”

Young echoed Kerrigan on the message “Home Town Takeover” wants to spread, noting her belief that the show presents a model that other small towns can replicate.

But this spring, eyes will be focused on one specific small town, and while Wetumpka leaders and residents have made their enthusiasm obvious, the show’s team seems every bit as excited as the city.

“We just feel so lucky to be able to shine a light on the people and the places of Wetumpka,” Kerrigan said. “We want a huge spotlight on them.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

12 hours ago

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers: ‘Shameful’ Pelosi blocking Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act — ‘Simply supporting infanticide’

Congressman Mike Rogers (AL-03) on Wednesday released a scathing statement regarding House Democrats blocking consideration of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.

Rogers announced that he has signed onto a discharge petition that would force Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to bring this legislation — H.R. 619 — up for a vote in the House.

“As a father of three children and a Christian, this legislation is so important to me,” stated Rogers, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.

135

All six Alabama Republicans in the U.S. House are cosponsors of H.R. 619, which was was introduced by Reps. Ann Wagner (R-MO) and Steve Scalise (R-LA) in January. The bill would ensure any baby born that survives an abortion would receive the same standard of medical care as a baby born under normal circumstances.

“I will never understand how any human would not support caring for a tiny, living baby that survives an attempted abortion,” he continued. “Anyone who is okay with not helping these babies is simply supporting infanticide. I will always stand up for the rights of the most innocent among us, and it’s shameful that Nancy Pelosi will not even bring this critical legislation up for a vote.”

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

13 hours ago

Alabama Senate passes bill banning biological males from competing in female sports

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate on Thursday passed HB 391, which would would prohibit biological males from competing in public school female sports — and vice versa.

The legislation, which only applies to public K-12 schools, would prohibit competition by one gender against another, unless the event specifically is intended to include both genders.

HB 391 was carried in the Senate by Sen. Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman) and is sponsored by Rep. Scott Stadthagen (R-Hartselle).

“A public K-12 school may not allow a biological female to participate on a male team if there is a female team in a sport. A public K-12 school may never allow a biological male to participate on a female team,” says the amended version of the bill passed by the Senate.

260

In sports where there are not separate competitions for females and males, such as football, both genders would still be able to participate together.

“This bill is significantly important to protecting the integrity of women’s sports,” stated Gudger. “Our sisters, daughters and granddaughters deserve to compete in fairly organized sports without being put at a disadvantage. I appreciate Representative Stadthagen for having me carry this bill in the Senate, and I commend him for his diligent work on this critical issue.”

More than a dozen states are considering similar restrictions on high school athletes to prevent what they view as an unfair advantage in competition.

The Senate’s vote on HB 391 was on party lines, 25-5. This comes after two Democrats supported and one Democrat abstained in a committee vote on the bill just two weeks ago. View a tweet thread from Thursday’s Senate debate here.

HB 391 now heads back to the House for concurrence or nonconcurrence. It originally passed the lower chamber in a bipartisan 74-19 vote.

“It is unreasonable for biological males to compete against females in high school sports,” Stadthagen commented. “Allowing this to happen does not put female athletes on a fair and level playing field with their biological male counterparts, and that is what this bill aims to resolve. I was pleased to hear that my colleagues in the upper chamber value the integrity and justness of female sports, and I thank Senator Gudger for handling this bill in the Senate.”

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

14 hours ago

Senate passes Alabama Second Amendment Preservation Act

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate on Thursday passed SB 358, which would create the Alabama Second Amendment Preservation Act.

Sponsored by Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa), the bill would outlaw state and local governments — including law enforcement agencies thereof — from enforcing any federal firearms act, law, order, rule or regulation that becomes effective after January 1, 2021.

The party-line vote by the Senate was 22-5.

312

“I took an oath of office when sworn into this body to defend the Constitution of this country and this state,” stated Allen. “As an elected official, I will do everything in my power to preserve the rights of Alabamians, especially those granted by the Second Amendment, and I will always push back on any proposals that seek to limit the freedoms bestowed upon us.”

“The Alabama Second Amendment Preservation Act ensures the people of Alabama are protected from any unnecessary overreach by the federal government and is meant to be a check on proposals that infringe on our right to self-defense coming from the Biden Administration or the Democratic controlled Congress,” he continued. “SB358 is about safeguarding our God-given rights to protect our families and homes. The Second Amendment says the right to bear arms shall not be infringed upon, and with this piece of legislation, Alabamians can feel confident that their rights are being protected.”

Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) and Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) argued that SB 358 would violate the Supremacy Clause. The Democrats said the act, as a result, would ultimately be ruled unconstitutional by the judicial system after costing the State of Alabama significant money to defend it in court.

“We don’t need a ‘Second Amendment Preservation Act’ in the state of Alabama,” said Singleton. “The constitution does that already.”

He noted “the bill really does no harm,” before adding that he does not like the message it sends.

You can view a tweet thread on Senate debate regarding SB 358 here.

The Alabama Senate’s vote came after President Joe Biden last week began rolling out executive orders on gun control.

RELATED: Speaker Mac McCutcheon: As Biden attempts to roll back Second Amendment freedoms, Alabama House Republicans stand in the breach to protect them

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

16 hours ago

Tim Vines confirmed as newest Auburn University trustee

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate on Thursday unanimously confirmed Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama CEO Tim Vines as an at-large member of the Auburn University board of trustees.

He will complete the final three years of the unexpired term of Gen. Lloyd Austin, who resigned from Auburn’s board in January after he was confirmed as the nation’s secretary of defense.

Vines has worked at BCBS of Alabama since 1994. He rose through the management ranks at Blue Cross until he was elected to his present position in 2018. The LaFayette native graduated from Auburn’s Harbert College of Business in 1988 with a degree in finance. He was also a member of the Auburn baseball team.

154

“In addition to his business and management credentials, the Trustee Selection Committee nominated Tim Vines for the position because of his dedication to Auburn University and its students,” stated Wayne Smith, who serves as board president pro tem.

This dedication includes Vines giving an annual scholarship to the Harbert College of Business. He is an Auburn Alumni Association lifetime member, a member of the James E. Foy Loyalty Society and a member of the 1856 Society. The Birmingham Auburn Club awarded Vines its 2019 Distinguished Auburn Alumnus Award.

He also served as the 2018 Auburn University summer commencement speaker, where he encouraged graduates, “Serve well by serving others. In life or in your chosen profession, ask what you can do to help others. … Whatever you do, make sure you do it with excellence.”

Vines’ term will expire on February 8, 2024.

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

17 hours ago

Alabama State Parks launching historic corporate giving, improvement campaign

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey on Thursday joined the Alabama State Parks Foundation, local corporate leaders and other stakeholders at Oak Mountain State Park to announce unprecedented efforts aimed at investing millions of dollars into park improvements.

The governor spoke about an $80 million bond issue for park improvements that must be approved by voters through a constitutional amendment in the 2022 general election if the state legislature approves it this session. House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) and Rep. Wes Kitchens (R-Arab) are sponsoring this legislation, which passed the House on Tuesday and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

“Alabamians love and cherish the State Parks, and we must make sure they are maintained and available for generations to come,” Ivey remarked. “I support the use of state bonds to make the needed enhancements throughout the state parks system.”

Additionally, the non-profit Alabama State Parks Foundation (ASPF) on Thursday announced the launch of its corporate giving campaign with a goal of raising an additional $14 million in the next five years for needed park improvements.

365

ASPF kicked off this campaign with pledges of $250,000 by Buffalo Rock Company and $100,000 from the Alabama Power Foundation.

“Since the creation of the Alabama State Parks Foundation in 2018, we have worked to improve and enhance our State Parks, and our corporate giving campaign is another significant and important step for our organization,” ASPF president Dr. Dan Hendricks stated. “I also applaud and thank Governor Ivey for her visionary leadership and support of the State Parks system.

“We believe this innovative public-private partnership will maximize our efforts to help the Alabama State Parks system maintain its place as one of the state’s true treasures,” he added.

The prospective bond issue and ASPF’s fundraising would fast-track projects to expand campgrounds, add cabins and improve internet connectivity, among other priorities.

A majority of funding for Alabama State Parks – 80-90% annually – is generated through user fees for rental, lodging, golf and other amenities in the parks. The system’s finances can also be impacted unexpectedly, such as the tornado that damaged Oak Mountain last month, Hurricane Sally damaging Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores last fall, and another tornado wreaking havoc on the campground and day-use areas at Joe Wheeler State Park in December 2019.

State parks attracted a record 6.27 million visitors in fiscal year 2020, and enhancing facilities or building additional ones should help that number continue to grow.

“Our state parks system is run as efficiently as ever, but there are plenty of needs in every one of the 21 parks — both the small and larger parks,” said Chris Blankenship, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation. “What Governor Ivey and the Alabama State Parks Foundation have done is create a funding framework for how we can modernize and enhance an already dynamic State Parks system and make it better than ever.

“We plan to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money, as well as funds so generously donated by the corporate community,” he concluded. “Our state parks offer so many amazing outdoors adventures for all Alabamians, and we appreciate so many people working so hard to help us continue that legacy.”

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