City of Tuscaloosa leaders broke ground on River District Park, which will serve as the anchor point for several new developments along the Black Warrior River, including the newly introduced Saban Center on Jack Warner Parkway.

A $7.5 million investment made possible through Elevate Tuscaloosa is helping fund the new multi-use park. It will serve as what Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox called an "anchor point," as the trailhead for the 1.75 mile-long Western Riverwalk expansion and for a pedestrian bridge over Jack Warner Parkway that will connect to the Saban Center.

"Today I am grateful and thankful to represent District 1," said D1 Councilman Matthew Wilson. "Today is an example for us that the possibilities of vision can come true. Today this groundbreaking sets forth opportunities for all of Tuscaloosa."

Other key speakers at the event included Mayor Maddox and Miss Terry, wife of Bama Head Football Coach Nick Saban and co-founder and CEO of the Nick's Kids Foundation. Miss Terry said one of the primary uses of the park will be to allow the Saban Center to host programs both inside and outside the facility.

"I picture children, families, classes, schools coming here for a day, for a weekend to view the traveling exhibition of mummies, to view the science/technology portion to learn how batteries are made, taking a break walking along the river, having a picnic, staying and watching the Children's Theatre production," Miss Terry said. "No longer will we have to go to Birmingham or Atlanta to experience something like this."

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Maddox said that the genesis of this project came from a 2017 business trip to Chattanooga, followed by a 2018 Chamber of Commerce benchmarking trip. Several chamber representatives mentioned the need for a "postcard" location for Tuscaloosa similar to cities they visited.

The project became feasible after the Tuscaloosa bicentennial celebration, which was the first time the city truly utilized the area that will soon become the park. After a discussion with Miss Terry about a particular "downtown hub" she saw in a trip to South Carolina, Maddox knew what to do with the space.

"When I was growing up... There were two places you never went. That was downtown and the riverfront," Maddox said. "And our riverfront keeps expanding. In fact, I'd call it a renaissance."

The park itself will extends from the Black Warrior River to Jack Warner Parkway. It currently serves as additional parking near the amphitheater. The finished park will integrate technology into several sections, and will be able to host large events through the City and through the Saban Center, which is scheduled to finish construction in 2025.

"It feels good to be the mayor of a city where you have people like Nick and Terry Saban who put their heart and their treasure into making Tuscaloosa better," Maddox said.

He went on to say that he believes that River District Park will continue what the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater started, investing in a barren area that made it difficult to attract private investors. Since the Amp was completed, Maddox said the City has seen over $100 million in private investment.

Maddox emphasized that continuing to invest in these new projects will also keep college students interested in the Tuscaloosa area after graduation.

"The workforce of the future chooses their community before they choose their job," Maddox said. "We have the University of Alabama, Stillman College and Shelton State. We want that intellectual talent that's coming to study here to stay here. A high quality of life is the best thing that you can do to make that happen."

Construction on River District Park will likely take 16-18 months, according to Maddox, with a tentative completion date of 2023.

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