Have you ever wanted the opportunity to get to better know the Mayor of Dothan?
In this episode of “Home Grown,” I’m going to speak with Dothan City Mayor Mark Saliba. We’ll discuss the current and planned growth of our city and get an idea of what Mark has in store for the future of Dothan.
Meet Mark Saliba
Mark Saliba is the Mayor of Dothan, presiding over our city at a time of historical growth. A lot of towns in the Wiregrass area are growing and expanding outward; how does the Mayor see that growth being successful?
For Mark, growth is an interesting thing. You can look at growth as good, or you can look at growth as not so good. While there are some things that people would prefer left as is, Mark thinks Dothan’s growth has been really good for our area. This is, in part, due to where the city is located geographically.
Tucked in the southeast corner of Alabama, Dothan is the regional hub for a lot of other smaller cities that are located throughout our area. In fact, Dothan is the largest city within a 75-100 mile radius. If you look at municipalities and how they grow, there are challenges that come with growth. As long as we’re cognizant of that, Mark says, city officials can figure out how to proactively be ready to start working on the challenges that come with growth.
Focusing On Expansion
As the city and smaller towns around it continue to grow, there are a variety of factors to consider. Is the outward growth of new homes and storefronts more important, or should there be more of a focus on revitalizing and better utilizing what's already existing? Mark believes there needs to be a little bit of both.
He believes the city needs to continue to look at their old corridors that need rehabbing and neighborhoods that need an infusion of something—whether that's retail growth or new housing.
In addition, new projects in the downtown area are also in the works. Unfortunately, COVID killed a lot of the city’s plans two years back. At the time, the city was talking about invigorating Dothan’s art, culture, and entertainment. Of course, the city has done a tremendous job with Dothan’s parks and leisure services. There are a lot of great entities out there, such as SEACT, SEADAC, cultural arts, the Museum of Arts, and more.
However, Mark says the city didn’t have a really big agreed-upon vision they were pulling together in the past. Two and a half years ago, city officials started talking about how that kind of effort could be the engine that would really spark and get things going in revitalizing the downtown. That has blossomed into real revitalization efforts & achievements in downtown Dothan.
Mark says the city is on the cusp of releasing the first phase right here in our downtown Civic Center block. He thinks everybody is going to be very pleased and excited about it. Hopefully, this revitalization is going to generate a lot of activity in business, job growth, and investment from outside private investment coming in.
Transportation And Connectivity
Dothan is a hub of many highways, so transporting ourselves around the area is pretty easy to do. This city is also a health care center of the region, with many people coming here for health care and doctor’s visits. When it comes to public transportation, does Mark see any options for the city?
Mark says that Dothan is a larger city than what our population count says. This is the reason why they’re always having to continue to look at the city’s infrastructure and make sure that the roads coming into town are taken care of. While Dothan is growing and changing, Mark believes we still have some work to do on public transportation.
When it comes to connectivity, the city has done a lot of work in the planning department to identify where we need sidewalks, where we want sidewalks, and paths for biking as well. This pedestrian plan is something the city will try to attain over the next several years. They're always applying for grants for sidewalks, biking, and more connectivity. A good example of this is coming from ACOM on 84 East.
From the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine all the way into downtown, the city has plans for a 10-foot wide biking and walking trail. They’ve already extended the path all the way up to Southeast Health and are starting on the piece in front of the Dothan Cemetery. The city is also applying for a grant, which they plan to connect the downtown all the way out to the ACOM campus to accommodate more travel in all forms.
The Dothan Zoning Code
Another issue that I wanted the Mayor’s opinion on is zoning. If there was one thing in our zoning code that he could change, what would it be? Mark said that what's on his mind at the moment is going to be controversial—and it has to do with Airbnb.
Alabama is very strong on property rights at the state, city, and county levels. If a homeowner has built in a traditional neighborhood and then, all of a sudden, the house next to them has become an Airbnb, he can see how it would be a little troublesome for some people. How the city handles that moving forward is going to be interesting.
Roads And Highways
Regarding the development and expansion we're seeing on the Ross Clark Circle, a lot of that funding came from funds that needed to be used and had originally been set aside for I-10 development. Is an I-10 connector ever going to happen? Are we ever going to have the interstate coming through this corner of the state?
Mark tells us that his father (also a Mayor of Dothan)—who was one of the people that helped to get that original money)—said “never say never.” While the Mayor is tempted to say that we're never going to get an I-10 interstate connector here, he doesn’t want to say that. Rather, he’s chosen to say that we are blessed with a lot of highways.
The city has decided that the best strategy is to continue to improve and update the infrastructure that Dothan has. It's less expensive, and roads have continued to get more and more expensive to build. Additionally, there doesn't seem to be statewide interest in getting that I-10 connector or interstate to our neck of the woods.
However, for the first time in a really long time, Mark sees that Dothan’s geographic location and lack of interstate connector could be a good thing. It’s caused us as a people to be more entrepreneurial, hard-working, and collaborative with our neighbors and other people around us.
Encouraging Small Business
With Dothan’s great location, small businesses here in Dothan are thriving and doing great. Mark believes we’re a great community for fostering a healthy environment for small businesses to grow, and it’s easier for these businesses to thrive. The city has a great partner in the Dothan Chamber of Commerce, which have ways of helping small businesses get started.
The Chamber of Commerce also gives them guidance and leadership. There’s even someone in the city that's like a concierge person, helping businesses that come in to get a license to get started.
Another question I asked Mark is how he involves residents in his decision-making process. Dothan is divided up into six districts, the Mayor says, so the best way for a citizen to engage is to really know who their commissioner is. He recommends getting on a first name basis with them and their school board representative as well.
These people are overseeing—and supposed to be in touch with—10,000 to 12,000 people. It makes it a whole lot easier for one person to do that, whereas as being mayor, Mark has to run in & care for all six districts. They have the opportunity to really know who their citizenry is, so that is the first line and level of communication.
Additionally, Dothan’s website is tremendous. If a person is interested in their child playing Little League baseball, for example, you can click on an email address on the website to easily get information. There’s also a widget in the left corner of the website where you can click “Report A Concern.” This will allow you to report a streetlight that’s out, a missed trash pickup, or whatever concern you have.
The message will then get sent out to the proper department heads, a report will be generated, and the department can follow up with the task once it’s done. It's all categorized so that the city knows how responsive they are being or where they need to make improvements.
There are almost 1,000 employees that work for the city of Dothan, and they’re one of the largest businesses in the city. They’re a customer service business, a provider of services, and their customers are the 77,000 people that are out there in the city.
As I’ve done with all the city officials I’ve interviewed, I asked Mark what he would want to accomplish and achieve if Jeff Bezos chose to bless Dothan with a $1 billion grant. Mark says that the downtown Dothan revitalization is not going to reach the $1 billion mark, though it's truly a large investment.
At one time, he really wanted Dothan to have some kind of minor league sports program here—whether baseball or a facility that could house a minor league team and have retail surrounding it. He would also love to have a place to hold concerts, such as an amphitheater. This touches on economic development and quality of life.
Lastly, Mark says there's a part of him that would really love to build another three or four brand new schools. Investing human capital is where Mark desires to invest his resources, especially in our young people.
There are a few things that Mark wants to achieve during his term as Mayor. For one, he would love to see the revitalization of downtown Dothan underway. Additionally, he believes funding Dothan’s public schools and education is extremely important.
However, Mark thinks we're at that place where the citizens of Dothan—not the Mayor or the commission—need to buy into that fact. At some point, it needs to be one of the highest priorities that we have, and it has to be a community decision. It can't be just the parents of the 7,000 to 9,000 kids that go to school; it has to be a majority of the 70,000 that realize the value and good quality education for our kids.
The Future Of Dothan
Looking ahead to 2023 and the next several years, both Dothan and the rest of the world are in unprecedented times. We’ve never seen an economy where people are spending money, but we can't get supplies. Inflation is going crazy, and federal and state dollars are flowing like they never have before. While it’s hard to predict what will happen, Mark believes that, over the next two or three years, Dothan will continue to have a good economy.
Of course, this will probably be propped up mostly by the amounts of monies that are going into our state government—which is filtering down to county and city. Those will spark infrastructure projects and jobs, and it'll work for a while. Of course, Mark is a little nervous about what happens four or five years from now, but this is his best guess. As far as Dothan itself is concerned, we're doing great and will be just fine.
Thanks To The Mayor
I really appreciate Mayor Mark sharing his time and giving us all of that information. He’s been doing a fantastic job and is very much appreciated by the Dothan community. Our city continues to grow and thrive, and Mark is part of it.
I hope you enjoyed getting to know one of our city’s officials. If you’d like to learn more about the elected officials that help our community run smoothly, make sure you subscribe to my channel so you never miss an episode of “Home Grown,” my show all about Dothan, Alabama, and the Wiregrass area. Stay tuned to see what I feature next!