Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, Northport Mayor Bobby Herndon and Probate Judge Rob Robertson were positive and forward-looking Thursday morning at the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama's State of the Community event at the Tuscaloosa Rivermarket.

The annual gathering gives area leaders an opportunity to speak frankly about their respective governments, to highlight recent triumphs and discuss current and future challenges.

The three elected officials took questions from Moderator Matt Feller, the Chamber's Vice Chair of Public Policy and Advocacy, then each man took a few minutes to address any topics they wanted in front of the sold-out crowd of Chamber members and guests.

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Maddox fielded questions about his Elevate Tuscaloosa plan, ongoing and upcoming road improvement projects, the future of the Tuscaloosa County Park and Recreation Authority and how the city will spend $20 million in federal dollars provided by the American Rescue Plan.

He highlighted several projects funded by the 10-year $280 million Elevate tax plan, including the Northern Riverwalk, which is projected to open in December, the 2022 expansion of the Western Riverwalk, and the development of the Saban Center. Maddox said the master plan for the STEM-centered learning hub will probably be revealed in May or June under the direction of its first executive director, Audrey Buck.

"For those who want to know what the Saban Center is, think the McWayne Center except we're going to do it better," Maddox said. "Miss Terry [Saban] told us two days ago we're going to make it more elite."

In his final remarks, Maddox touched on the city's focus on increasing public safety, recruiting and retaining a knowledge-based workforce and vying for the state legislature to adopt a simplified sellers use tax, which would allow the city to collect exponentially more tax revenue for purchases made online.

Herndon also had a great deal to highlight and look forward to.

He pointed to rapid population growth in Northport, which has grown to be Alabama's 17th largest city with a population of nearly 32,000 residents, according to new data from the 2020 Census.

He praised the city for recruiting a stellar staff, including recently hired City Administrator Glenda Webb and City Engineer Tera Tubbs, both of whom left positions in Maddox's administration to work on the other side of the Black Warrior River.

The Northport mayor also said the city will soon contract out master planning to eventually realize the city's dream of building a municipal water park and sports complexion more than 150 acres of land they recently acquired off Rose Boulevard.

"Hopefully that will be coming to fruition very soon," Herndon said.

Robertson praised the county's more than 500 employees for their tireless service during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like Herndon, he pointed to huge population growth in the last decade. According to Census data, the county has added more than 32,000 residents since 2010, roughly half of whom live outside the Tuscaloosa or Northport city limits.

The probate judge and chair of the Tuscaloosa County Commission also praised a number of local agencies for their multi-jurisdictional cooperation. Robertson said from the Tuscaloosa County Industrial Development Authority to PARA to the multi-agency Tuscaloosa Violent Crimes Unit, the major players in the area all work together for the betterment of all three communities.

For more coverage of Chamber events and follow-up stories after Thursday's State of the Community event, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.

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