Saturday, February 6, 2010

City’s Riverfront to be developed soon

By John Cargile

Details: NORTHPORT – The face of historic downtown Northport along the Riverfront is about to change drastically, according to Northport Mayor Bobby Herndon.

“Good things are about to happen,” the mayor said last week coming on the heels of the sale of over three acres of property to local businessman Todd Palmer.

Chris Todd, who owned the property, sold part of a 5-acre tract to Palmer two weeks ago, paving the way for the Riverfront development.

The two players now on the Riverfront development are Palmer and another local businessman, Danny Butler. Sources close to them said they are most likely to form an LLC company and develop the property.

“That would be good,” the mayor said. “I only know what I have heard, but they already have an arrangement with a hotel for the first spot (cotton gin property) for 120 rooms. They are waiting on something to happen, but I stay out of the negotiations.

“I have met with several retail outlets and discussed the city’s master plan with them. Once construction begins all the other retail businesses will pile in.”

Herndon said Butler, who contributed to his mayoral campaign, bought the old cotton gin property from Stonegate Realty in 2008. Butler is listed as contributing $2,500 to Herndon for the mayoral race in 2008.

“He was given the option to buy all of the city’s property along the Riverfront,” Herndon said. “I cannot be in on the negotiations because Butler and others use my surveying company to do business.”

The city owns 16.9 acres of property it would like to sale. It could be the final piece of the puzzle for the Riverfront development to take off. But, some of the property the city owns came from a federal grant, and some or all of the money would have to be paid back to the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act.

Palmer, who owns Inspirational Gift Company, a wholesale clothing importer in Tuscaloosa, became the latest player along the Riverfront with the purchase of the property owned by Ball. Ball owns the property and the Dock Side Apartments on Main Avenue.

A call to Palmer’s office was not returned.

Ron Davis, who is the city’s attorney, said he was not in on the negotiations between Palmer and Ball. Davis said he had excluded himself from negotiations on the Riverfront property because he had a client who was interested in buying from Ball. The client was Palmer.

Davis represented Palmer, however, last August when Palmer bought 3,200 acres of property on the Black Warrior River at Locust Fork for $5 million. Palmer bought the property from the Birmingham Water Works Board. Davis also said he is no longer a partner with Rosen, Sledge, Cook law firm. He is in practice for himself now.

A source told the Gazette Palmer also owns Fireworks Fanatics, which sells fireworks during the Fourth of July and New Years. One of his mobile fireworks outlets was placed on city-owned property at City Hall in 2009.

Records show Palmer’s Inspirational Gift Company located at 912 29th Avenue in Tuscaloosa is a $16 million company. Palmer’s company also is licensed to sell athletic merchandise, including University of Alabama apparel.

Jim Standridge is the attorney who represents Butler, who owns multiple pieces of real estate and businesses.

Efforts to contact Butler were unsuccessful.

An employee said Butler is a quiet, reserved person who does not like to be in the spotlight.

A source, who did not want to be identified, said Butler owns a number of properties and businesses, the latest being the Fosters Water Treatment Plant. The source said Butler also owns the L&B Travel Plaza, the buildings in downtown Tuscaloosa consisting of Capones, Jupiter Bar and Grill and Browns Corner on the corner of University Blvd, and Greensboro Avenue. He also owns an automobile brokerage company that buys and sells used cars.

Last summer, Butler purchased the Bama Belle from Nikki Medeiros. He hired Bobby Wyatt and Sandi Wyatt to manage the riverboat. Sandi Wyatt is the wife of Heath Wyatt, who along with his brother and father, Bobby Wyatt, owned Steamer’s Seafood Restaurant in Northport before the twin boys moved it to downtown Northport on the Riverfront. Wintzell’s of Mobile now owns the restaurant, and Keith and Heath Wyatt are now partners at Brown’s Corner Dueling Piano Bar and Grill. Butler owns the property.

Herndon said the Riverfront development is going to happen soon.

“We need it,” he said. “We need it with the economy like it is. It’s going to be exciting and it’s something that should have been done years ago.”


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