Jan Dempsey

The Jan Dempsey Community Arts Center will be expanded and renovated

Two city projects are entering the design phase after service agreements were approved by the Auburn City Council this week.

The projects — the renovation and expansion of the Jan Dempsey Community Arts Center and streetscape improvements along Martin Luther King Boulevard — aim to bring upgrades that benefit the residents of Auburn.

Renovations to the arts center will include work to make Jan Dempsey compliant with the American Disabilities Act, such as the widening of classroom doors and an overhaul of the restrooms, among other things. After planning for those improvements, the consultants, Davis Architects Inc., will focus on expanding program space.

Program space to be expanded will be the current performance space, often used by the Auburn Area Community Theatre, and the addition of space for a ceramics studio.

"We're going to expand that performance space, and we're going to leave it where it can be used for a lot of different uses," said Parks and Recreation Director Becky Richardson. "I can't say how much the performance space will be expanded until we get into the actual design."

Adding space for a ceramics studio at the Jan Dempsey Arts Center will allow for the relocation of the current studio from the Dean Road Recreation Center. Moving the studio will free up needed space at Dean Road to better accommodate the city's special needs programming.

"Right now, we only have the gym, one classroom and the conference room. This will definitely make it more usable," Richardson said.

She added that the city's programs are continually growing and needing more space.

"Having more space at the arts center will be really good," she said. "Right now we've got different arts groups trying to slip in at the activity room at the Harris Center (next door to Jan Dempsey) ... so as the programs at the Harris Center continue to grow, it makes it harder and harder to do that."

The overall budget for the renovations and expansion of the arts center is $2.8 million, and the council approved a design services agreement with Davis Architects this week at a cost of $272,572.50.

Also approved by the City Council was an agreement with Foresite Group LLC to provide design services for the Martin Luther King Drive Streetscape Project in the amount of $126,600.

The project will bring improvements to Martin Luther King Drive from Shug Jordan Parkway to North Donahue Drive. This 1.1-mile project will add new pedestrian lighting, sidewalks, landscaping, medians and drainage.

This streetscape project is one to come out of the Northwest Auburn Neighborhood Plan, which was finalized and adopted by the City Council in 2018. It outlines the need for improvement along MLK Drive to connect gaps in the sidewalk and provide better connectivity. The project will also connect to the multi-use path that already exists in that area.

Also on the agenda, the council approved an alcoholic beverage license for a new steakhouse that will soon open in Auburn — Big Mike's Steakhouse.

The steakhouse will be located at 610 Shug Jordan Parkway, in the old Stinky's Fish Camp building.

At the council's packet meeting last week, Assistant City Manager Megan Crouch said the restaurant is a small chain with popular locations in South Alabama, like Orange Beach.

"It's a small Alabama-based chain," she told the council. "Our citizens are excited about it. (Big Mike's) has been looking in the market for some time, and from the economic development perspective, we've been working with them for some time."

No opening date has been announced, though the restaurant is hiring, according to its Facebook page.

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