Shady St. Trailhead Park will connect north Montgomery neighborhoods to downtown and beyond

As seen on the Montgomery Advertiser

A new restaurant and bar could help the city do that. The former Sandbar at Montgomery’s Riverfront Park will be transformed into Red Bluff Bar and operated by Jud Blount, founder and proprietor of Vintage Hospitality Group. The city entered into a lease agreement with Blount and Vintage Hospitality Group, whose portfolio includes Vintage Year, Vintage Café, MGM Greens, and City Fed and Ravello (opening soon). Blount was named Restaurateur of the Year and Executive Chef Eric Rivera was named a finalist by the Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality Association.

More than $50 million is being invested in Montgomery as part a new city initiative to renew neighborhoods, revive infrastructure and build unrivaled facilities throughout the community.

There’s a lot of work left to do. Volunteers from Maxwell Air Force Base will spend Saturday clearing invasive vines and digging up chunks of brick and concrete that mark the spots where homes once stood. An outdoor classroom is being built on the site where Billingslea School once stood.

What will the trail include?

There will be butterfly pollinator plantings, more than 40 trees creating a more secluded, green environment, and places to explore the ecology of riparian or river-adjacent areas where standing water is part of the environment. 

City workers watch tadpoles swim at a park under construction in north Montgomery.

In the short term, designers envision the pavilion and trails being used by the church as well as nearby workers and residents, but the city is building a parking area for people who want to drive in and explore the space. Then there’s the big picture: Wider plans call for it to be connected to a series of other green spaces through five miles of gardens and walking-biking paths that stretch from north Montgomery, to the riverfront, to Maxwell Air Force Base.

Architectural drawing illustrates what citizens can expect at the Stady Street Trailhead & Park.

Reed said that process will include more investment in downtown’s riverfront area, including amphitheater expansions and upgrades, a children’s play area, “state of the art” lighting and audio, and more events and entertainment. He said Vintage Year owner Jud Blount has taken over the former Sand Bar on the riverfront and is turning it into a new restaurant.

Partners aplenty for this trail project

The city allocated $100,000 for the initial part of the Shady Street project, which was designed in-house. Yet, Reed and others stressed that private and community partners like the Rotary Club, the Lion’s Club, River Region Trails, and Blue Cross Blue Shield have played a crucial role in expanding the possibilities.

“This new park is laying the groundwork for a much greater network of trails and pedestrian infrastructure across the city,” said Will O’Connor of River Region Trails. “Mayor Reed has supported that effort in funding a portion of our master plan that will make sure that our efforts are equitable, and fair and that they cover and touch all of the city and help us to prioritize which projects are most important.”

Lois Cortell, the city's senior development manager, pulls debris from water at a new park under construction in north Montgomery.

Lois Cortell, the city’s senior development manager, said the current project has been in the works for about two years so far with the help of several city departments. She called this week’s reveal a “sneak peek” of what’s ahead. “Give us a little more time, maybe six months, but we’ve made huge progress,” she said.

Speaking more broadly, Reed said there are plans for more investments in other neglected parts of the city as part of an initiative called Montgomery Forward. He said some of those are long-term projects that will unfold over years.

“Takes a little bit longer than than what we can put on Instagram,” he said. “But you have to lay the foundation, and it takes partnership … to really make this work.

“There’s a big emphasis for us in doing this in parts of Montgomery that people don’t expect us to do it.”