From The Decatur Daily
by Cody Muzio
PRICEVILLE — When Mayor Melvin Duran steps out of his office on Marco Drive, he sees a dead-end road with acres of empty land.
But he envisions a bustling, multi-faceted downtown destination, one that is visible from the interstate. It could be five, 10 or 20 years in coming, but town councilmen and community leaders want to create a downtown center. This year, the town will begin an expansion of Marco Drive that connects it to Upper River Road, doubling its length, creating more room to build a commercial downtown, and providing an alternate route to the future Priceville High School.
At the same time, officials are making plans to move the library into a facility almost four times the size. In May, retailers will have sold alcohol in Priceville for a year, keeping more tax revenue in the town and drawing customers from larger cities such as Hartselle.
And just recently, the council approved a payment to GoDaddy.com not just to maintain ownership of its current website, TownOfPriceville.com, but also to purchase CityOfPriceville.com.
Priceville’s population continues to grow. It had 1,631 residents in the 2000 U.S. Census report and 2,658 in 2010.
“We’ll have to wait for the next census to really know,” Duran said. “But we’re definitely over 3,000 by now.”
“Since the 2010 census, we’ve grown by a third of our population,” town clerk Connie Childers said.
Although the legal definition of a city in Alabama only requires a municipality to have 2,000 residents, Duran said Priceville still is considered a town because of its form of government in which the mayor votes as a part of the council.
But, he said, Priceville needs to be prepared for the jump from town to city.
Why not take that step now? Town officials and residents alike said the transition needs to be deliberate.
“We’re trying to grow, but do it in a slow, manageable way,” Councilman Don Livingston said. “We want an attractive town. We want to make it grow, but keep it steady — a controlled growth.”
Jimmy Smith said he has lived in Priceville for 30 years and likes what he sees in the town’s future.
“We’ve got a good group of people running the city, and they’re careful with the direction it’s heading,” he said. “Right now, with the economy as it is, they need to take inventory of what they’ve got and lay the groundwork for what’s to come.”
Councilman Charles Black said leaders are becoming more aggressive.
“We’ve been kind of just letting things develop and transpire as they will,” he said. “But we’re moving toward a more proactive approach.”
He said the council is putting more emphasis on marketing and recruiting of businesses, as well as continuing to expand infrastructure to accommodate future demand.
Duran, who has been mayor since 1986, said Priceville already has seen change.
“The biggest difference is that when I started in Priceville, I knew everyone in the town,” he said. “There was no sewer, one police officer, no red lights, one fire station, no grocery store, and the school only went to the ninth grade.”
He said his vision has been to keep Priceville “family-oriented,” and that’s a challenge moving forward.
“It’s really hard to know how to manage staying that quiet, school-, family-, church-oriented community, but also have those businesses, services and everything else that goes into making a city,” Duran said.
His strategy is to keep attracting the same type of residents.
“We could grow to 15,000 or 20,000 people, and as long as we keep building single-family homes, we’ll stay the same,” he said.
Housing developer Bill Dinsmore said he has lived in Priceville 40 years, but his relationship with the town began before that.
“Starting in the mid-’60s, we built about 100 houses in Priceville,” he said. “When I first started, everybody said, ‘You’re crazy. Nobody wants homes out in the country.’ But we sold them as much as we could build them.
“When the ’70s came along, things slowed down all around, but we just kept moving along out here.”
Dinsmore said he doesn’t want to see the town grow too quickly, but he agreed with Duran that it can retain a small-town feel on the current course.
“Some people might feel like we’re all right the way we are, and we should let it go,” he said. “But as long as there’s slow, good, clean growth, we will be fine. And it’s all been clean growth, and I’m really proud of this town.”
Sam Heflin, a real estate agent and former councilman, said growth is strong despite economic trends, which he attributes to the assets Duran described.
“The people in Priceville want it to stay a bedroom community. It’s bigger than Mayberry, but it has that atmosphere,” he said.
Although Priceville doesn’t earn the “crime-free” reputation Andy Griffith’s Mayberry did, it isn’t far off.
According to state records, Priceville averaged 50.75 violent and property crimes per year between 2009 and 2012, and had no homicides. Decatur’s average was 2,971.5, with nine homicides.
Heflin said the biggest factor contributing to Priceville’s low crime rate and high quality of life is the abnormally high income of its residents.
Census bureau data from 2012 lists the country’s median household income at $53,046. The same figure was $43,160 in Alabama, $45,852 in Morgan County, $42,374 in Decatur and $78,693 in Priceville. The only Valley city with a higher average income is Madison.
Morgan County Schools superintendent Bill Hopkins Jr. said Priceville’s school system is one of the elements that makes it attractive for middle- and upper-middle class families, but the location and affordable residential subdivisions were what sold him on the town.
“I love being able to get on the interstate and be in Huntsville, Nashville or Birmingham in a short time,” he said.
Councilmen said 100,000 vehicles pass through Priceville daily.
“With our location,” Livingston said, “we could be another Madison. There is tremendous potential in Priceville.”
Marco Drive, which is elevated and runs parallel to the interstate, is the most visible location in town, he said, which makes it the ideal spot for the future epicenter.
Livingston said he wants to see development on both sides of the road and attractions such as a movie theater, department stores, a Sam’s Club, specialty shopping, dining options and a sportsplex that can be used to host regional tournaments. But even with so much development, he said the priority is maintaining the town’s community values.
“If you’re traveling down the interstate, we want you to see nice hotels and restaurants and shopping,” Livingston said, “but we don’t want any nightclubs or anything like whatever ‘bungalow’ you see signs for on the way to Tennessee.”
Hopkins expects new developments to continue Priceville’s rapid growth and vice versa.
“I think it’s twofold,” he said. “I think the new high school, for example, will attract new growth, but we’re only building the high school because the growth has already been there.”
“One of the visions I have is development of the land around the high school,” he said. “I would love to see that turn into kind of a neighborhood high school that students can walk to. We really don’t have that anywhere else right now.”
Dinsmore said as the town grows, conflict could arise between big- and small-town mentalities, but he believes the residents and officials will keep it on the right track.
“I think it has what it needs to keep its values,” he said. “I think it’s pretty well under control, and as long as they keep good subdivisions and good schools, the people will stay the same.”