Being in the Birmingham-Hoover Metropolitan Area gives Helena the best of both worlds, the ease and joy of small town living along with easily accessed urban amenities. In 2007, Business Week has named Helena the 13th “Best Place to Raise Your Kids” and Money Magazine listed it in “Best Places to Live: Top 100”. It has the eighth lowest crime rate per population in the Unites States and in 2008 the Alabama League of Municipalities awarded Helena a Municipal Achievement Award.
The community clearly has a lot going for it, but there’s always room for improvement. That is where DesignAlabama stepped in with its DesignPlace, a three-day charrette that provides communities assistance with design, planning and community identity.
Brainstorming ideas and generating solutions is what DesignPlace is all about. The team of design professionals met in Helena recently and released their findings on how the city can become an even better place to live, work and visit.
Based on community input, the team identified several areas to target. These include enhancing a key local attraction called Amphitheater Park, infill opportunities in the historic district known as Old Town Helena and transforming the WPA-built Nash Bridge into a park. In addition, develop wayfinding, gateways, and rebranding strategies.
“The community is constantly growing, and it has a great deal of internal assets,” notes Ben Wieseman, Principal at Place Associates, who served as facilitator of the Helena DesignPlace. Helena’s population is currently 23,000.
Also on the Helena design team: Amy Smith, founder of Studio A Design; Angela Stiff, Managing Partner and Creative Director of Copperwing Design in Montgomery; Jason Fondren, Planning Studio leader for Birmingham’s KPS Group; architect Andrew Bryant with Design Initiative; and Suchithra Prabhu, an associate at Williams Blackstock Architects in Birmingham. Both Smith and Wieseman have done previous plans for the city of Helena, which was beneficial to the DesignPlace process, says Mayor Brian Puckett.
Puckett identifies Amphitheater Park as the No. 1 priority, followed by rebranding the city and creating Nash Bridge Park. Also important is quality of life. “We thrive on that small-town culture, and we want to maintain it,” adds Puckett.
A new 50×100 pavilion is proposed for Amphitheater Park, along with parking, play areas, trails, grass areas and a boardwalk that would run along the vehicular bridge on Highway 52. The pavilion was inspired by the former mill structure that once stood nearby. A new concession and restroom facility is designed to complement the pavilion. In addition, walkways within the park are proposed that will connect to the future Buck Creek Trail system, which will offer several miles of trails and connect to several schools and other parks.
Nash Bridge on Highway 52 is proposed to be a new park and canoe launch area. The bridge was constructed of stone from the old coke ovens at Lee Springs Park in 1941. This is a county bridge, so the Nash Bridge Park project is a city/country partnership and Puckett says Shelby County has already invested $150,000 in the project.
As Puckett points out, Helena has many appealing attractions, but people must be able to easily access them. A new signage system will help visitors find destinations. The signs also provide a tangible brand for Helena at designated locations.
Additionally, gateway sites are proposed on three major routes to help bring visitors into Helena. It is recommended that gateway signs be enhanced with landscaping and lighting. Rebranding will promote Helena’s story as a vibrant community offering natural beauty, historic sites, and first-rate schools. All within the Birmingham-Hoover Metropolitan Area, in a community that retains its small-town character.
Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of DesignAlabama