Albany officials dream big with bus station slated for opening in conjunction with MLK Jr. birthday

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Sep. 17—ALBANY — The wheels of the buses will be going 'round and 'round soon as they pass through a new Albany transportation center, with construction on schedule despite delays caused by what could perhaps best be described as "the summer of rain" in southwest Georgia.

The new bus station has taken shape rapidly, and on Friday workers were busy on the interior of the station as well as the bus shelter area that will provide a dry place for riders to switch buses.

"We had some rain delays," Albany Transit System Director David Hamilton said during a tour of the site on Friday. "We had to make some adjustments to accommodate the fact that Greyhound will not have staff in the facility."

The Greyhound development is due to its purchase by another company, which changed the initial commitment to provide staffing, he said. Greyhound buses will still roll in and out, but passengers will have to make travel arrangements by telephone or through a cellphone app.

Operations at the facility will start some time in January, and a ceremony celebrating the opening will be held that month around the time of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The new transportation center is going up on the site of the former Trailways bus facility, which played a pivotal role in Albany's civil rights movement.

"Since this facility, and this area in particular, was very instrumental in the civil rights period, we thought it would be appropriate to have (the opening ceremony) during that time," Hamilton said.

Part of that history involves the late Ola Mae Quarterman, who was arrested in Albany in 1962 for refusing to move to the back of a city bus after paying her fare.

An outdoor plaza facing Jackson Street will be named for the Albany civil rights pioneer who died in 2007, and plans are to erect a statue of her when funds are available. The building also will include a section honoring students who staged sit-ins in the facility in 1961.

Efforts to erect a new bus station started in the early 2000s, but a number of factors, both of the unintentional and self-inflicted varieties, delayed plans to move forward. The initial plan for a two-story facility located on city-owned property near the Dougherty County Judicial Building was abandoned after protests from nearby business owners. Another reason the site was scotched was out of concern of the presence of Native American artifacts due to the proximity to the Flint River, although an archaeological study was never conducted.

Several other locations, including the land now occupied by the Flint RiverQuarium, were discussed over the years before finally turning full circle back to the present site on Oglethorpe Boulevard.

In addition to the history at Oglethorpe and Jackson, city officials say they hope the transportation center will drive revitalization in the Harlem District, a once-thriving business and residential district for the city's black population that has fallen on hard times.

"I think it's going to allow the transformation of the Harlem area," Albany City Commissioner Demetrius Young said. "It's also going to mean better service to the riders. It opens up that community to development opportunities. The biggest thing is it's going to allow us to reimagine that area. It has been an underdeveloped area for some time."

The rear of the bus facility is adjacent to the Ritz Cultural Center, which the commission has been contemplating as part of revitalization efforts.

Young said he would like to see it become part of the city's Recreation and Parks Department, offering cultural opportunities for kids who would benefit from activities other than sports that are a focus at other recreational facilities.

While the larger bus station proposed earlier in the process has been scaled back from the vision of retail and restaurant space, the commissioner said there will be room for something like a food kiosk to serve customers.

"Those are some of the possibilities," he said. "I'm really excited about it."

Hamilton echoed the hopes that the transportation center will help boost the outlook for the area.

"That's one of the things we've always talked about," he said.

"This will hopefully be a catalyst for the Harlem District. We would like to see some retail, some housing in the area.

"Any time you put $11.5 million into a community, you would hope it will spur some type of growth."