We Are Evolving – From Vision to Implementation!

By Shayla Beaco, Senior Director of City Planning Contributors: City Planning Staff

Everywhere you turn, Mobile is showing positive signs of growth in each corner of our city. A new Publix grocery store in Midtown, an improved Bel Air Mall, a hotel at McGowin Park, and the Federal Courthouse   construction on St. Joseph Street in our downtown are just a few examples of the many projects that adorn our great city. These new developments represent confidence in our local economy, expanding business opportunities, and underscore flourishing local market conditions. While Mobile has greatly benefitted from a number of key community and economic development wins in recent years, what we’ve lacked during the last several decades is a long-range growth plan that provides a clear course for development and reinvestment.image02

Beginning in March of 2015, the City initiated efforts to formulate the Map for Mobile: Framework for Growth. During this process, we received input from almost every area of Mobile, ranging from very organized neighborhood groups to active involvement from our development community. The Map for Mobile is the first all-inclusive plan initiated in over 20 years. It identifies core critical needs for Mobile, shaping a long-term vision of the community, while offering practical growth solutions that align with our core development principles.

Designed to function as a living document, Map for Mobile outlines a multi-year action plan. The associated action plan outlines four planning horizons: ongoing, near-term, mid-term and long-term horizons which help us to ensure progress as well as to stay in concert with the City’s capital improvement plans and other focused planning studies and district plans. Many of these studies and special plans are currently underway – providing specific strategies to achieve Mobile’s vision for growth. This plan is updated on an annual basis to review strategies and actions for implementation and is then presented to the Mobile Planning Commission for approval.

Led by the City’s long-range planning team, our many department heads along with key staff meet on a regular basis to review the progress of implementation. This cross functional team tracks over 71 initiatives identified in the plan to ensure measurable results and outcomes. One of the very first steps in implementing the vision and principles set forth in the plan now focuses on the reform of City codes and ordinances, particularly land use, zoning and subdivision regulations – most of which date back to the 1950’s and 60’s. In June of this year, the City engaged White & Smith, LLC, a nationally recognized planning firm to conduct a complete overhaul of our development regulations. Organized as a law firm, White & Smith has completed over 150 planning and code projects in 36 states across the country.  Understanding our changing market conditions, particularly as we benefit from new growth opportunities in this post-recession era, it is evident that our primary objective should now focus on creating realistic planning Map for Mobile – Focus on the Future Workshop: March 30, 2015 outcomes that will support our local market. Ultimately, we look to create a simplified user experience that is easily navigable, offering predictability in the overall regulatory review process.

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Source: AL.com

As an “early win” for this 24-month process, the City is in the process of reevaluating our current landscaping requirements. Known as a “Tree City” we are certainly proud of the heritage oaks that line our historic corridors. However, they create very costly challenges in our efforts to maintain our already crumbling infrastructure. In short, our sidewalks, storm water systems, and in some instances road conditions, are compromised by the root systems of aging trees. To ensure that we are now making the right long-term decisions regarding tree selection and placement, the Right-Tree Right-Place Taskforce was established by Mayor Stimpson to inform decisions regarding enhancements to our current landscaping ordinances. When completed, this newly revised code will precede the adoption of the zoning overhaul to address current landscaping issues, but will also illustrate the City’s efforts to ensure an all-inclusive and practical decision-making process.

We are also committed to continuing our efforts to ensure ongoing citizen and stakeholder engagement as this expectation has been set by the many Mobilians that have participated in the Map for Mobile process thus far. As a 300-year- old city, quality urban design is a very important component of our plan. Citizens throughout Mobile have stressed the importance of preserving our unique character and neighborhood identity; therefore, our final product will reflect this community priority. Stay tuned for neighborhood workshops to be held in November. Visit www.mapformobile.org for forth coming meeting details and announcements

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We consider this overall effort to be a once-in- a-lifetime opportunity for our community in that we are currently living with the decisions of our planning leadership made over 50 years ago. With community input and buy in, our planning team has now been given the responsibility of creating policies and regulations that will impact our community for years to come. We do not take this task lightly and look forward to the opportunity to bridge our efforts to grow and build a better Mobile!

 

 

City streamlines procurement process to include diverse suppliers

by Archnique Kidd, Supplier Diversity Manager

archnique kiddA year ago, Mayor Stimpson established the City of Mobile’s very first Supplier Diversity Program to specifically help minority, women and disadvantaged business enterprises (DBEs) overcome challenges that make it more difficult to win contracts and work on City of Mobile projects. To implement this new program, he established two new roles within the City: Chief Procurement Officer and the Supplier Diversity Manager. He first selected Don Rose, formerly with the United States Coast Guard and the Bay Area Food Bank, as the Chief Procurement Officer. The Mayor then asked me to join their team as the City’s very first Supplier Diversity Manager.

For the past 14 years, I have worked for the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System overseeing minority and women owned business certification, compliance, training and outreach. Now, it’s my responsibility to oversee certification, compliance, training, and outreach for the City of Mobile. Anchored by the Federal, State and Local Disadvantaged Business Certification Program, the City’s programs are designed to identify DBEs, service-disabled veteran owned (SDV), and woman owned business (WBE) according to discrete certification standards. We work hard to mitigate the effects of past and present social-disadvantage and economic-disadvantage by increasing the opportunity of DBEs in the procurement of goods and services by the City.

My vision is to develop a program that will deliver and capture value through supplier diversity. We are growing the capacity and improving accessibility for Mobile’s business community, especially for socially and economically DBEs to support the work of City government. Since its inception, the Supplier Diversity Office has launched its first online vendor portal, hosted its first Vendor Town hall and will be holding its Second Annual Industry Day on September 29th.

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For the first time in the history of the City, vendors can now conduct almost all City business online. All current vendors are already registered in our portal, and all new vendors can now self-register at https://mobileselfservice.tylertech.com. At Industry Day next, we will discuss the online vendor registration and vendor self service as well as upcoming contracting opportunities for the 2017 Capital Improvement Plan. This will be an opportunity for potential contractors to meet with City staff, ask questions and learn more about future projects.

I encourage all vendors interested in our supplier diversity program to give me a call at 251-208-7967 or send me an email at Archnique.kidd@cityofmobile.org. If you are a minority, woman or disadvantaged business enterprise, I want to present you every opportunity to work with the City of Mobile.

 

 

City’s Fiscal Stability Grows

by Paul Wesch, Executive Director of Finance 

As this is being written, Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson has submitted his 2017 fiscal year budget to the City Council for its review and adoption.  It may be a fitting time to consider the role of the Finance Department in managing the fiscal affairs of the City.

The Finance Department performs those duties that you might imagine, including the collection of taxes, payment of bills, preparation of financial statements, investment of funds, and budgeting.  We also manage the human resources functions of the City, administer the payroll, and help direct several of the employee pension funds.

However, under Mayor Stimpson’s direction, financial management has taken on   an additional focus.  Financial governance must include strategic efforts to identify and measure areas of inappropriate spending, plan for improvement in those areas, and implement change.

Executive Director of Finance, Paul Wesch
Executive Director of Finance, Paul Wesch

In the years leading up to this administration the City spent all of its cash reserves in the general fund, ending with a $4.3 million negative fund balance as of September 30, 2013.  Long term debt had increased from under $200 million to over $300 million.

Despite excess spending and borrowing during this period, there had been no general raises for employees, police and fire vehicles had not been replaced in anywhere near the level necessary to maintain their useful lives, and the lack of investment in infrastructure, such as roads and sidewalks, had created a $250 million backlog in necessary repairs and improvements.

The Stimpson administration immediately began an overhaul of the City’s finances.  With no tax increases, the City experienced an operating surplus of $19.4 million in 2014 and $23.1 million in 2015.

Employees were provided with raises in each of those years.  For 2017, the budget includes funding for uniformed police and fire raises employee, sufficient to eliminate a long standing disparity in public safety compensation when compared with that of other Alabama cities.

Sound fiscal stewardship has allowed the City to build and maintain a $20 million general fund rainy day reserve, to devote more than $20 million towards the purchase of police cars, fire trucks and garbage trucks, and to begin the replacement of two nearly 60-year-old fire stations.

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As important, the City has pared unnecessary expenditures enough to budget the second straight year of a $21 million annual capital improvement plan to begin repairing and replacing the City’s aging infrastructure.

Best of all, the City’s growing fiscal stability has been achieved with absolutely no borrowing.  Indeed, in almost three short years, the City’s once burdensome debt has been reduced by about $45 million.  During the same period, unfunded liabilities for future pension and health care payments have been reduced by more than $100 million.

There is much more work to be done in restoring Mobile’s financial health.  Our citizens have been very generous in their commitment of tax dollars to the delivery of basic City services,  The Finance Department will continue doing what it can to budget and spend those resources wisely.

 

Infrastructure is expensive

by Dianne Irby, Executive Director of Planning and Development

Infrastructure is expensive!  All across America, cities and states are dealing with aging infrastructure.  Not only is the City of Mobile the rainiest city, but it is further compounded by the fact that we have not had dedicated planning and investment to address our growing backlog of broken infrastructure and deferred maintenance within our public facilities.

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As Executive Director of Planning & Development, I have the pleasure of working with the Mayor’s administration and with City Council on several key initiatives. My role is to provide leadership and oversight of our City Planning, Engineering, and Real Estate & Asset Management Departments.  Everything from our Comprehensive Planning process “Map for Mobile”, to a Zoning overhaul, to a full city facilities condition assessment are among those key initiatives.  But the most visible one is probably the Capital Improvement Plan – CIP.

To continue to transform and grow our City, Mayor Stimpson has focused on fixing the broken infrastructure throughout the City. We have developed and are executing a plan to allocate more capital improvement and equipment monies than ever before.

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Fix Mobile is synonymous with building and re-building Mobile. Sound financial management within a municipality involves multi-year planning and budgeting. Without the longer view, decisions focus only on the problems of today.  Real, sustainable growth involves both near term and longer term planning.  The multi-year focus has several benefits:

  • Allows for baseline assessments and identifies current conditions while encouraging discussion of future needs and potential policy changes
  • Given the baseline assessment, initiatives can be developed and pursued, and the fiscal implications can be discussed.   There are always trade-offs with limited funding. Visibility of funding sources and justification for projects is transparent and fully vetted.
  • Enables better on-going management and monitoring of implementation and provides continuous “check-ups” so adjustments can be made and priorities can be revisited
  • These multi-year plans are iterative and designed to be reviewed annually, leaving room for on-going input.

Mobile Botanical Gardens Improvements

For Mobile, in fiscal years 2016, 2017, and 2018, the capital improvements plan (CIP) allocates funding for projects throughout the City/Districts based on $21M dollars per year tied to the extension of the penny sales tax. Everything from sidewalks, parks, road resurfacing, street light replacement, museum and library roofs to stormwater management, drainage and litter improvement projects are underway. This is a rolling 3-year program with a total of $63M being planned in this first 3-year process.

It should be noted, this is the first time the City has embarked on such a robust and well-defined long term planning process for capital improvements. So we chose to use the services of a Program Management firm (Hawksley/MWH) to assist staff in all departments with capital planning and execution, knowing that rapid development of project estimates and oversight of design and construction would require additional resources, cost control, scheduling, and QA/QC. We are bringing in best practices from work in other municipalities to complement our City staff and local resources.

We developed a decision making process to validate and prioritize project selection. Engineering, real estate, parks and recreation, traffic engineering, legal, procurement, architectural/engineering, and community housing and development departments were at the table with the Mayor’s office and City Council members for the deliberations and development of the 2016 and 2017 plans.  The process is on-going and will be undertaken again in the spring of 2017 for the 2018 fiscal year.

Our goal is to develop and grow our ability as a City to sustain a programmatic approach to rebuilding our aging infrastructure. We have appreciated all the feedback from citizens and have information on the website at www.fixmobile.org with an interactive map and highlights of current project activity.  I hope you’ll take the time to review what’s happening throughout the City.

 

 

Summer in Mobile Through The Eyes of A Photographer

Mobile’s Renaissance Man Eugene Walter once wrote, “Summer in the deep South is not only a season, a climate, it’s a dimension. Floating in it, one must be either proud or submerged.”A local photographer took to the streets this summer to discover that dimension in Mobile.

 

Mayor Stimpson’s Top 7 Favorite Spots in Mobile

Mobile offers many incredible spots for people of all ages to enjoy year round. From parks to museums, you can always count on finding something to do. Being born and raised in Mobile, I have difficulty narrowing down my favorite spots to only a handful but here are my top seven.

 

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7. Gulf Quest Maritime Museum

Being a port city, educating our community about our port is crucial. Every person should know what is going on along our waterfront. Gulf Quest does just this. With multiple exhibits helping educate on how ports work and what goes on inside them helps teach our community how the Port of Mobile operates.

 

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6. Mobile Carnival Museum

With Mobile being the birthplace of Mardi Gras, I have always found it fascinating to go back and look at where it all began. The photos and artifacts from the early days have always amazed me to see how far we have come as a city and how our Mardi Gras celebration has grown.

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5. Cathedral Square

Nothing beats a Saturday morning visit to the farmers market or a Wednesday night concert in Cathedral Square. With these events plus small fountains for children to cool off during the summer, I always enjoy a trip here.

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4. Battleship Memorial Park

I have always loved my trips to the USS Alabama as it serves as a reminder of my appreciation for those who have served to protect our freedom. Along with the battleship and memorials, the park also boasts an impressive collection of aircraft. While you’re there, be sure to catch a tour by Gulf Coast Ducks for a unique look at our city.

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3. Gulf Coast Exploreum

Education among our youth is crucial and that is why I have always admired the Exploreum as it brings a fun, hands-on approach to learning. They make science fun for young kids and help them become more engaged.

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2. Cooper Riverside Park

Our waterfront is truly spectacular. I love relaxing at Cooper Riverside Park and watching the ships go by our constantly busy port. Being that it is right in the heart of downtown, it is never too far from the office to take a relaxing walk at the end of the day.

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  1. Mobile Botanical Gardens

A trip to the gardens is always a special one because there are only so many places in Mobile that offer such gorgeous flowers and beautiful landscape. I have always found a walk through the grounds to be incredibly relaxing and I can never get enough of the wonderful sights it brings.

 

 

6 times Mayor Stimpson inspired us during the State of the City

The State of the City of Mobile has never been stronger. Here are some of the highlights of Mayor Stimpson’s 2016 State of the City speech.

Final touches on my State of the City speech.

A photo posted by Sandy Stimpson (@mayorstimpson) on

In such exciting times, it seems as if anything is possible. If you doubt that for a second, just remember that we even had ice skating in downtown Mobile for more than 6 weeks.

All across the city, you will find stories like this – stories where city employees and concerned citizens are taking the initiative to do what needs to be done to transform Mobile.

I say it all the time: There’s no great city that doesn’t have a great downtown. But we’re very fortunate to be seeing signs of renewed confidence in every corner of our city.

Ms. Mason & Ms. Davis met Mayor Stimpson at the State of the City & County Luncheon yesterday! #beliefinu @mayorstimpson

A photo posted by UMobile Student Success Center (@umobilessc) on

The interest level in Mobile from prospective employers and investors has never been higher. We have some truly incredible prospects on the horizon.

We must pick up the tempo.  Every day that we’re not engaging in fulfilling the vision, is a lost day.  We can’t afford to waste a moment.

Our location, natural resources, and people make us unique. We have been called to fulfill a higher destiny. This is our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to grow and thrive as a united city. ONE MOBILE is OUR VISION. We can be a united city – a model for the world.

Read Mayor Stimpson’s entire 2016 State of the City speech here.