This Alabama bedroom community is booming

This Alabama bedroom community is booming
Millbrook is attracting families and businesses through a mixture of small city comfort and urban conveniences. (Dennis Washington / Alabama NewsCenter)

Millbrook may fit the traditional definition of a bedroom community. But don’t be fooled; this Alabama city is wide awake.

“We’re seeing a tremendous number of people moving out of Montgomery and moving into here,” said Millbrook Mayor Al Kelley. “I learned early on that businesses need rooftops, and I made a decision a few years ago to go after those rooftops. I have found that the businesses really love to see those rooftops coming in.”

Nearly 17,000 people now call Millbrook home. And while a majority of them commute each day to work in Montgomery, Kelley said he and his team work hard to give residents plenty of reasons to hurry back home.

“We provide walking trails for people when they come home,” the mayor said. “I have also found over the past four or five years as we have developed more and more franchises that are coming in here that people stay close to home. People want to support their local businesses. The more of those restaurants that you have, the more of those boutiques that you have, the more they are going to stay right here and shop.”

Welcome to Millbrook, Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Much of Millbrook’s business growth is focused along the city’s busy state Highway 14 corridor. (Dennis Washington / Alabama NewsCenter)

Millbrook lies just 10 miles north of Alabama’s capital city, a short drive up Interstate 65 across the Alabama River in Elmore County. Ann Harper, the city’s director of economic development, said Millbrook’s healthy mixture of urban convenience and suburban amenities makes it attractive to people looking for a home and business owners looking for a place to thrive.

“We think part of growing our quality of life is being able to offer people the conveniences a bigger city might have,” Harper said. “We do have a lot of people that do commute outside of our city during the day, but they do come back at night and they’re here on the weekends, so we want to make sure that they have the amenities and that’s what we’re trying to do by offering them shopping and dining options here.”

Recruiting these families and businesses is a team effort. City Council President Michael Gay said he will never forget the day in 2003 he and his wife first visited.

“We came up to Millbrook and went into a brand-new neighborhood,” Gay said. “Two houses were in the neighborhood and we’re standing there wondering if we should make this investment. A police officer pulls up, gets out of his car and starts talking to us about Millbrook. He talks to us about the neighborhood, answering all of our questions about the town, suggesting where we need to go eat and telling us to check out Village Green Park because the kids would love it. When he left, Jennifer and I looked at each other and said, ‘This is where we want to live.'”

Elevating recreation

The state headquarters of the Alabama Wildlife Federation is at the spacious Lanark Estate in Millbrook, which is also home to the Alabama Nature Center, an outdoor conservation education facility offering activities for schools and the general public. (Dennis Washington / Alabama NewsCenter)

Much of Millbrook’s growth plan centers on recreation because Gay and others in the city know outdoor activities are an important part of life away from work. Walking trails can be found throughout the city and plans are underway to develop a mile-long downtown promenade along Mill Creek.

“We have tremendous amounts of green space,” Gay said. “You can still go in the middle of the city and look around at the trees and you’ll probably find a deer walking around. Not many places you can find that.”

The state headquarters of the Alabama Wildlife Federation is at the spacious Lanark Estate in Millbrook, which is also home to the Alabama Nature Center, an outdoor conservation education facility offering activities for schools and the general public.

“We’ve got a tremendous venue in the Alabama Wildlife Federation,” Kelley said. “They’ve got a beautiful facility. They’ve got 5 miles of walking trails. They’ve got a pavilion. They’ve got a nature center where kids can touch that snake or see that rabbit. The Alabama Wildlife Federation is a tremendous organization.”

The Fields at Seventeen Springs is the city’s newest outdoor development. When complete, the $45 million multi-sport complex will feature ballfields, tennis courts and pickle ball courts, along with a 100,000-square-foot field house for indoor events and meetings. Bill Myers, executive director of Grandview Family YMCA, said the facility will dramatically elevate Millbrook’s value in central Alabama.

The Fields at Seventeen Springs is the city’s newest outdoor development. (contributed)

“I think it’s going to change the face of Millbrook,” he said. “We think it’s going to improve the quality of life here in Millbrook and spur some economic development around here.”

Grandview Family YMCA is one of five partners on the project under construction on nearly 200 acres adjacent to the city’s bustling Alabama Highway 14 corridor. The city of Millbrook, the Elmore County Commission, the Elmore County Board of Education and the Elmore County Economic Development Authority are also heavily involved.

“There’s nothing like this in our area,” Myers said. “Partnerships like this between five agencies are very rare. We’re excited just to partner with the other groups to improve the quality of life for everybody that lives around here.”

Gay adds the project is the fruit created from years of deliberate efforts to build relationships with the partners.

“I’m most proud of the way everyone works together,” Gay said. “A few years ago, we had ideas and dreams. Then we started saying, ‘We can do this.’ And now, we are doing this. It’s going to be something that my generation and the next generation and future generations will enjoy.”

Reimagining downtown

This new mural is one of several projects underway to improve Millbrook’s downtown. (Dennis Washington / Alabama NewsCenter)

The city is also establishing a more defined downtown, something missing from this young municipality.

“Millbrook is a little different from our neighboring cities because we’re new,” Harper said. “We incorporated in the late 1970s and unlike our sister cities, Millbrook doesn’t have that traditional downtown with the beautiful buildings from the 1800s. So, we’re starting from a clean slate.”

Harper said that slate includes plans for a gathering place for residents to experience life and have a little fun, a process she said is exciting to watch unfold.

“We’re doing some neat things that are going to change the way things look,” she said. “I’m very proud of that team effort, which has allowed us to bring some new things online for our community.”

That team effort is responsible for a 4,400-square-foot senior center under construction. Millbrook Senior Program Administrator Olivia Venable said the building will include classrooms, garden space and a full kitchen to provide hot meals and activities.

“It’s so needed,” Venable said. “Staying engaged is the main thing our program offers, and with the community of seniors like Millbrook has, a designated place is much needed so that they can enjoy the benefits of being here in Millbrook.”

Venable said the project is just one of many examples of why she loves Millbrook.

“It is so wonderful to have something to be excited about,” she said. “Millbrook has space for people with good ideas, a good product, good service to bring it out here. The support of the people is phenomenal. I’m excited for the future of Millbrook.”

Kelley agrees. “Millbrook is a great location. It’s just a great place to live.”

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