Study eyes $1 million to $3 million impact if Comer Bridge refurbished for pedestrians

Study eyes $1 million to $3 million impact if Comer Bridge refurbished for pedestrians

September 20th, 2015 by Ben Benton in Local Regional News

An economic impact study of the B.B. Comer Bridge in Scottsboro, Ala., says the span, if renovated as a pedestrian walkway, could bring in $1 million to $3 million a year and from 16 to 40 new jobs. The 1931-era span over the Tennessee River is targeted for demolition when the construction of new bridges alongside it are finished.

An economic impact study of the B.B. Comer...

Photo by Ben Benton /Times Free Press.

If you go

A presentation of the economic impact study authored by Anthony Dixon is planned for 3 p.m. CDT Monday at the Jackson County Commission’s work session. The meeting will be held in the Jackson County Commission board room at the Courthouse in Scottsboro.

 

SCOTTSBORO, Ala. — A preserved B.B. Comer Bridge could draw thousands of visitors to Jackson County, Ala., every year by making it a destination for heritage tourists, outdoor enthusiasts, music fans, competitive runners, rowers and cyclists, celebrations and festivals, a study concluded.

Those visitors could generate $1 million to $3 million in financial impact a year and 16 to 40 new jobs for the surrounding area, according to the study by Troy University professor Dr. Anthony Dixon.

In the 37-page study, funded in part by a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Dixon said growing interest in history and heritage is driving people to rural areas. Scottsboro's 1930s-era bridge over the Tennessee River offers those features in an area already filled with other historical attractions marking the halfway point between Chattanooga and Huntsville.

"The B.B. Comer Bridge has the potential to be a unique and special product which could be an important component of the tourism mix in Scottsboro [and] Jackson County," Dixon stated in the study.

Charles Holderfield, president of the Friends of the Comer Bridge Foundation, said the figures were "surprising to us."

"The study looked only at the impact of tourism events and 'new' visitors to the area," Holderfield said.

The study generated its financial impact figures from estimates for participation in annual Ironman events, regattas, mountain bike competitions, weekly summer music events, a Comer Bridge Day Festival and as a destination for people interested in bridge history and local heritage. The bridge also could serve as a trailhead for adjacent walking trail development.

The study projected that nonresident visitors will spend around $100 a day each if they spend the night. An estimated 78,000 visitors a year would stop in Scottsboro as they travel the proposed Chattanooga-Huntsville trail, the study estimates. Another 270 would participate in an Ironman race; 380 would take to the water for a regatta; 225 would ride in a mountain bike event and 2,000 would attend an annual festival, the study said.

Weekly music events would tally about 1,500 local people a summer, and as a heritage site, a preserved bridge would draw a projected 2,800 out-of-town visitors annually, according to the study.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on demolition of the old structure as the replacement bridge being built alongside draws closer to completion. That could be before year's end, according to officials.

"This bridge is one of Alabama's treasures — it was placed on the 2015 Places in Peril," said Julie Bowers, executive director of North Skunk River Greenbelt Association, referring to this year's list released by the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation. The association joined forces in the preservation effort with the friends group in 2013.

Holderfield said the Jackson County Commission is scheduled to hear a presentation Monday, with one to follow for the Scottsboro City Council.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or twitter.com/BenBenton or www.facebook.com/ben.benton1 or 423-757-6569.