“What is it about Muscle Shoals, just a little village on the Alabama border? Why does that music come out of there?” asks English musician Steve Winwood in “Muscle Shoals,” the 2013 award winning documentary.
“Each time a person went to Muscle Shoals, they came out with a hit record,” says another about the town’s legendary FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Artists who’ve recorded there include Aretha Franklin, Little Richard, Otis Redding and more recently Jason Isbell, Demi Lovato and The Blind Boys of Alabama.
Music fans and recording artists still flock to Muscle Shoals. The “little village on the Alabama border” is becoming an even better place to live, work and visit, thanks to the efforts of the community and DesignPlace, a DesignAlabama initiative that provides communities assistance with design, planning and community identity.
Design experts demonstrate how to enhance quality of life and community development through the design arts, and design professionals meet with citizens and city leaders who provide input. Ben Wieseman, founder of Place Associates, served as Muscle Shoals DesignPlace facilitator.
The DesignPlace event was held late last year in Muscle Shoals and the design team recently presented its report that focuses on six areas to address that will enhance the community, says Muscle Shoals Mayor Mike Lockhart.
“We are a unique town that is relatively new and without a traditional downtown,” says Lockhart. Developing a new town center is one of the six areas identified.
The town’s underutilized Southgate Mall could be part of a redevelopment project to create a town center. The project would include developing a central green space, sidewalks and smaller green spaces, adding retail businesses and a hotel, and improved connectivity to nearby FAME Studios. The town center plan also calls for incorporating the regional Singing River Trail into the street design. The indigenous Yuchi Indians called the Tennessee River “the singing river.”
Another area of focus is Steenson Hollow, a residential neighborhood along the Tennessee River in the northern section of Muscle Shoals that provides infill and development opportunities. Steenson Hollow could expand to include different housing types, more commercial development and pedestrian access to the river.
The creation of workforce housing around the industrial park is also included in the report. The design team conceptualized a development with a new pond and stormwater facility, a public park and new housing development.
Activation of space around City Hall is another one of the six areas of interest. The project would be focused in the area of Avalon Avenue, the primary street in Muscle Shoals. Residents expressed a need for a gathering space. The large open area behind the existing amphitheater stage could be used for musical performances, art shows, farmer’s markets and other events. The plan also calls for new office buildings.
Connectivity and walkability were also addressed. The design team looked at an area known as “the Cube” that contains City Hall and several schools. The objective is to create a safe way for all students to walk or bike to school.
In addition, increase the connectivity and visibility of Fame Studio, which attracts tourists worldwide and is a key business, cultural institution and regional landmark. The plan would connect FAME Studio to the proposed Singing River Trail along Avalon Avenue, and access to the proposed new design of Southgate Mall. A music history museum is also proposed, as well as implementing an effective brand strategy.
*Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of DesignAlabama