Mayor's Minute: May 2016

Life is not fair.  Life is too fragile. These two truths converged unmercifully at 5:13 p.m., on April 27, 2011, when a deadly EF-4 tornado with winds of 193 mph swept into the southwestern edge of this city, and took aim at the heart of Tuscaloosa. In a matter of six minutes, 12 percent of the City was destroyed.  

Tuscaloosa’s world changed forever, yet, out the darkness, a confident hope emerged. 

 

With hope as our compass, we cleared debris, provided for the needy, and mourned for those lost. Tuscaloosa demonstrated to the world that hope was not something dreamed about in far-away places or reserved only for fiction. Our hope was tangible and alive, connecting us in ways that only our maker could have imagined.   

With 53 fatalities, 1,200 injured and thousands of homes, businesses, schools and churches destroyed, our City met the destruction of Mother Nature with the best of humanity. 

Five years later, our progress is amazing, especially when you consider the uncertain future we faced at that time. Beyond clearing 1.5 million cubic yards of debris, which is equal to the amount of filling up Bryant-Denny Stadium from the grass to the lights five times, we had to overcome challenges on multiple levels. Those challenges included, but not limited to the following:   

  1. 71 percent of the homes destroyed were rental with a median income of less than $25,000 annually.
  2. One-third of the businesses destroyed were constructed before 1972, thus, they were nonconforming with zoning and building codes.
  3. Tuscaloosa had $629 million in infrastructure needs in the 12.5 percent of the City destroyed. 

We met those challenges with the goal of coming back stronger, safer and smarter.  

Our first and most important decision was to engage our community, which led to the Tuscaloosa Forward Plan. This comprehensive, citizen-driven initiative combined the best and most innovative ideas into the recovery zone. In the past few years, the Tuscaloosa Forward Plan has created vast improvements to the Rosedale, 15th Street and Alberta communities. 

The City has committed $130 million to the total recovery investment. $99 million will be invested in infrastructure, $10.2 million in housing and $14.4 million in economic development including $4.69 million in small business loans. As a result of the City’s commitment, we have played a leading or supporting role in projects like The Shoppes at Legacy Park, the City Walk, the Alberta Gateway Innovation and Discovery Center and Fire Station Four. 

For each person who lost so much on April 27, 2011, recovery is personal and hard to define. That being said, each of us at the City is committed to doing our part to rebuild our community in a way that honors all those who lost so much.  

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