New retail project slated for Alexandria, Ala.

Jul. 11--There's a little spot of ground in the Alexandria Valley that's about to be turned and planted -- nothing new for the traditionally rural community.

By farming standards, the five-acre plot near the Alexandria-

Jacksonville Highway and U.S. 431 is perhaps meager.

For commerce, however, it's got the potential for a big yield.

Jim Downey, president of Downey and Graham LLC and owner of Downey Drug, said he has purchased the land adjacent to his pharmacy's U.S. 431 location and has plans to build a set of offices with a $3 million price tag.

Clearing for the first phase of the development, called Valley Crossing, is scheduled to begin today or Monday, Downey said.

"I am very excited about getting this under way," he said.

Phase one will consist of six offices housed in one building that measures approximately 16,000 to 18,000 square feet. The development is budgeted at nearly $2 million, he said.

Downey said he is going to build a new "ultra modern" pharmacy as one of the lead businesses in the building.

He also plans to attract a physician, dentist, optometrist, attorney, accountant and a few others to fill the space.

In his pursuit to fill the development with professionals, Downey already has been contacted by a physician, a chiropractor, and a bank that have expressed interest, he said.

The second phase -- slated for construction in spring 2009 -- will likely be the same size as the first, or bigger, said Downey.

"The building is a beautiful design. It is more than just a little strip mall," Downey said.

He said he expects the first phase of the project to be complete by October or November.

Calhoun County Commissioner J.D. Hess, who represents the area on the commission, said Alexandria is a thriving community with burgeoning businesses and residential developments.

"The two definitely complement each other," Hess said.

He said a similar situation has happened in White Plains in recent years.

"The difference is that Alexandria has a four-lane highway going through it," he said.

The road makes access to local businesses convenient.

In recent years, farm land has been developed into Food Land -- the supermarket -- and just a stone's throw away, Barrington Farms -- a recently developed subdivision, Hess said.

"A lot of the rich farm land has been taken by the subdivisions," he said. "Some would be for it, others would be against it, but you don't stop growth. It is going to happen."

At the corner of Alabama 144 and U.S. 431, Food Land, Cheaha Bank, Waffle House, Jacks, and several other stores have been developed and have been very successful, said Hess.

"It's full of people shopping," he said.

The commission also can watch the coffers for the county road budget grow because of the developments.

Hess said the state levies a 4-cent sales tax and the county adds 2 cents in unincorporated areas like Alexandria.

The county's tax revenue goes to roads and bridges, he said.

Hess said most municipalities add 4 cents to the state sales taxes, which may be a small incentive for doing business in the county instead of the city.

Hess said taxes might be a contributing factor in bringing business to the area, but they are not the underlying reason.

"The bottom line is that it is convenient for people. By nature of habit, you are going to want to shop where you live," he said.

Ideally the area would end up attracting a store the size of Wal-Mart or a Lowe's, he said.

With the combination of developing businesses and residential communities, Alexandria may soon be at the cusp of incorporation.

But talks of incorporation are far away, Hess said.

"They tried to incorporate the Saks area at one time," Hess said. "It's been mentioned in this area before, but it doesn't appear that residents want that."

Hess said many move to the area to be left alone.

But that doesn't make them uninvolved, Downey said.

The genesis of the Valley Crossing idea came from conversations with area residents, he said.

"The way the community came to us was just unreal, they were extremely supportive," Downey said.

"We're just trying to give back to the community."

If anyone should know, it's Downey, who started Downey Drug in 1971.

At the time he was the youngest man in Calhoun County to own a drug store. Now, he said, he is the oldest.

Downey Drug has two locations -- one on U.S. 431 and one on Alabama 202 in Wellborn Plaza -- another development he oversaw -- as well as Downey Medical.

"The people in that community are absolutely incredible," he said. "They are easy to take care of because they are so supportive."