The coronavirus isn't stopping progress on the $55 million Lauderdale County Agricultural Center.
The 170-acre project is being developed along Florence Boulevard and will host a concert hall, arena, hotels and other things. Parts of Florence Boulevard are already having lanes added by the Alabama Department of Transportation to handle the influx of traffic to the new center.
"Rick Hall, he died a year or two ago and he sent me a letter. I've got it framed and it says 'we claim to be the hit recording capital of the world, and we don't even have a place to have a concert.' He sent me that thanking me for that, and that's going to change. I'm looking forward to it," said Sen. Tim Melson.
Melson said the agricultural center will be much more than an entertainment spot.
"We have a new workforce development center that's going to be about $20 million that UNA and NWSCC will work at, and the county high school system plans on building a new tech center next to it, so it's not just going to be just that. It's going to be a boom in other ways, too, besides concerts and events. It's going to be training workers for TVA and other places, so we're excited," said Melson.
Once complete, the project is estimated to bring in $31 million in annual direct spending to the area, according to an economic impact study. Melson said there were some concerns moving ahead with the project in a pandemic.
"It was used by some opponents as 'we shouldn't be doing this in a pandemic.' If we hadn't found an answer to the pandemic in another 18 months, I don't know what we would do. Surely to goodness, we will find a way to live with this. There are a whole lot of people that will be concerned, but don't forget this disease, as bad as it is, science is racing to find a way to treat it, and I think we're going to be just fine," said Melson.
Melson said they already have contractors lined up to start framing out the buildings once the land is fully cleared.
The project is expected to be done in October 2022.