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An abandoned village in southern Alabama is reportedly set to become a neighborhood for homeless veterans — giving new life to a small community that never recovered from the industrial flight of the late 20th century.
The 22-acre Cotton Mill Village was once the beating heart of Prichard, Alabama, a suburb of Mobile held aloft by the shipbuilding and paper mill industries.
But decades of factory closures, poverty, job losses and unemployment kneecapped the region and left it in ruins.
“It was a booming industry because of the industrial businesses that were here — but when those industrial businesses left, you saw the population decline, and … people started to leave,” Rodney Clements, founder of the Prosperity Community Development Council and vice president of Veterans Corps, told Fox 10 News.
But Clements — who is leading the project — said things are about to turn around for the “diamond in the rough” ghost town.
There are nearly 60 houses and 86 lots in the village, Clements said. And he knows of about 2,500 veterans who need shelter.
“They want to take them out of facilities, and they definitely want to put them in single-family dwellings to make life a little bit easier to live,” Clements told the outlet.
But the Prichard native said it’s not going to be just another development — he wants it to include parks and other features to make it a “fulfilling community that gives back, truly,” Clements said.
And he’s working with a number of others — including partnering nonprofits and a general contractor from Mobile — to restore the crumbling houses to their former glory.
“It’s just a community effort altogether,” said Clements, who is himself a veteran.
Workers have already renovated the first home — and it only took a month, according to Fox.
“That first house is going to be a true testament of what this potential community can have to offer,” Clements said.
“We want to build and remodel the [houses] back to the way they looked before they were damaged,” said Tyrone Pettway, general contractor for the project and CEO of Kingdome Renovations in Mobile.
“We know we’re not going to be able to do all of them like that, but for the most part we’re gonna do it to the most of the homes that we can,” he continued.
“Let this be an example of what can happen when a community comes together and know that there’s strength in unity, and we’re better together.”
Clements said the project’s next steps likely involve building out and improving infrastructure — the cost for which will probably be around $17 million.
Similar endeavors around the country have restored ancient residences or other buildings for use by homeless vets, such as when volunteers restored an Ohio home slated for demolition and handed it to a veteran earlier this year, according to News 5 Cleveland.
But it can be tough to find restoration projects undertaken on such a large scale.
But for Clements, it’s worth the work to restore what was once a “dark, dismal, abandoned and forgotten place.”
“The City of Prichard … I was born and raised here,” Clements said. “So everything about here is home for me.”