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Cooper Land Development project transformational'

By Staff
Jan. 7, 2002
One of my favorite characters among professional economic developers usually begins his pep talks by reminding his audience that "development is a process, not an event." And so it is. But there are satisfying milestones marking the processes of growing an economy.
I count the announcement of Cooper Land Development's decision to create a 3,000 unit retirement community around the Long Creek Reservoir as the most significant economic development marker during my 40 years in Meridian. The Cooper Land Development announcement heralds a demographic and economic metamorphosis. Certainly I've never been accused of cheerleading, but this time I am applauding. In conversation I've actually used the word "transformational."
Economic engine
Why? Relocating retirees are a powerful economic development engine. Three thousand houses and townhouses represent how many people? If the average is around two per unit, that's at least a 15 per cent population growth for the city. And this growth will occur as new folks are drawn to our community.
But don't look for overnight miracles. The "buildout" on these kinds of projects can take five to seven years.
If you've looked over other Cooper developments you know these are upscale operations which attract folk with discretionary income-dollars to spend and with high service expectations. Just as Navy Meridian has enriched our local culture by drawing talented people from across our nation, I believe the Long Creek development will serve as a people magnet for Meridian.
I know there are those who assume retirees are old folks who drag down the economy and stifle community improvement. And you and I know some retirees who fit that perception. You can rest assured that the Long Creek development will draw some soreheads. Probably relatively proportional to our current half-full or half-empty ratio.
While I've not seen economic profiles on the typical Cooper marketing target, I suspect we're looking at active people who are late 50s-early 60s in age. Some retirees in that age range still work. Some in new careers, others as independent practitioners of their lifetime callings.
These will be people who will make a deliberate choice to live in Meridian. They will be investing their lives here. They will be making a new nest, building for the rest of their lives. Some will not connect or will drop out but others will make contributions to the life of our community that we can not imagine. Their skills, attitudes, values, and yes, their dollars, will "transform" Meridian.
There are many people who have helped in a variety of ways over a long period to create the conditions which attracted Cooper Land Development to Meridian. The host of infrastructure developments associated with the city-held lands encompassing Bonita Lakes-Long Creek have happened over many, many years.
While I don't limit "credit" for this milestone in anyway, I applaud Mayor Smith's commitment to the concept of relocating retirees. But for his personal interest, "retiree re-location" would have become an economic development afterthought.
Many infrastructure items  a new golf course, appropriate road access, utilities  remain to be built. And there are several remaining public policy items on the Bonita Lakes-Long Creek agenda. Transformational economic development also brings a clearer need to transform many of our local government policies and practices.
This one is the city's call. It's time to designate some part of the Bonita Lakes property as an arboretum, an area set aside to remain in its natural state. How much needs to be declared off-limits to development? I don't know but I'll bet professional horticulturists can provide some sound suggestions.
Now for Lauderdale County. The absence of effective planning and zoning in Lauderdale County is already painfully obvious. Our rural areas are becoming urbanized at a very rapid rate with little attention to planning. Big projects require urban infrastructure. Planning, zoning, providing for expected public services become fundamental to creating growth and to protecting what countryside we have left.
What policies and services will encourage maximum related development? What policies are needed to protect and preserve our rural landscapes? And how should this happen? I've questions but no answers. But I do know the answers will be important to our grandchildren.