Thursday, January 8, 2015

The most significant real estate investment in Prattville

A huge thank you is due to the Historic Prattville Redevelopment Authority and its chairman, Tom Newton for their purchase of the Pratt Gin Manufacturing facility at a foreclosure sale on December 29.

The $1.7 million investment will surely draw the ire of some short sighted people on our community, but this is much more than a real estate investment. This is saving the most significant piece of real estate in our community. It is a source of both civic pride and civic identity.  For a native of Prattville, the gin shop is like your great grandmother's chicken & dumplings, it is always there and it brings back memories of special times.  The Gin Shop is our reason for being. It is what makes Prattville unique; it is the reason we are the Birthplace of Industry in Alabama.

Most cities and towns in Alabama are built around a courthouse square. Instead Prattville's downtown is centered around the gin shop, much like the industrial cities of New England. This makes Prattville unique, not just in Alabama but in the South as a whole.

It is no accident that the gin shop, and thus Prattville is located where it is. Daniel Pratt recognized that the fall line of Autauga Creek could provide the power to run his factory (as well as the factories that followed). The Gin Factory operated for over 150 years through several owners. For most of my lifetime, the shift change and lunch whistles could be heard all over town, always a reminder of Prattville's beginnings as a company town.

The global economy makes the production of cotton gins unprofitable in the United States and eventually Continental Eagle moved production to Asia and Africa.

HPRA's purchase of the property opens a new world of possibilities. Tom Newton has stressed that the right developer will be able to repurpose the property. He should know, he is an experienced real estate developer in his own right and has a lifetime of experience in Prattville. This was indeed a team effort and there were a number of people and groups involved in this massive project.

One developer, Pratts Mills Partners of Atlanta, had proposed loft apartments. This is a fantastic idea and, hopefully one that will be perused.  This should be seen as the beginning rather than the end. Since retail follows rooftops, expect to see an entertainment district that will compete with anything Montgomery, Birmingham or Atanta has to offer. Expect a public/private partnership as not only restaurants and shopping come to roost, but park facilities and  wouldn't this be a great place for a new library in Prattville. The end result will be a revitalization of downtown bordered by the gin shop on one end and Pratt Park on the other, with homes (new and old) in between.

The purchase of the gin shop means great things for Prattville and the preservation of one of the most historically significant properties in Alabama. It may seem expensive, and will likely get more expensive, but the end result is priceless.