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Greenville hoping to land ‘super armory’

Thousands of soldiers from across the state may soon be invading the Camellia City.

Greenville Mayor Dexter McLendon said on Monday that the city has taken the first step toward becoming the home to an Alabama National Guard “super armory.”

A super armory is a central training point for units across the state.

“Nothing is set in stone, but we’re working on it,” he said.

On Monday night, the Greenville City Council authorized the purchase of 40 acres of land located near Manningham Loop and Interstate 65 between exits 128 and 130. The plan is for the city to buy the property for $60,ooo from Soterra, LLC and swap it with the National Guard for Fort Robert E. Steiner, which is the old armory that the National Guard closed in 2011.

If the National Guard does not elect to locate its new armory in Greenville, the land deal with Soterra would be off.

“This is just the first step,” McLendon said. “It’s not saying for sure that it’s going to happen, but we have to have everything in place to let the National Guard people know that we are ready to make this deal happen. This is something we have been working on for three and half or four years, and really since the old armory closed.”

Fort Robert E. Steiner was in Greenville for 58 years before it was closed in 2011. It was one of 13 armories across the state that was closed.

Maj. Gen. Perry G. Smith, Alabama National Guard adjutant general, said a variety of factors, including the age and condition of the facilities, ability to respond statewide to disasters, cost analysis and the locations of units in relation to their headquarters were considered when determining which armories would be closed.

The Alabama National Guard said the armories were closed to save approximately $7 million.

The other armories that we closed were located in Georgiana, Grove Hill, Hartselle, Heflin, Linden, Lineville, Millport, Moulton, Ozark, Thomasville, Wetumpka and Union Springs.

The National Guard has been exploring building super armories in select areas, and McLendon believes Greenville is a prime location for one of these armories since it is centrally located between Birmingham and Mobile and New Orleans and Atlanta.

In 2013, Alabama National Guard spokesman Capt. Andrew Richardson said there are plans to build an armory in Greenville “at a future date.” He said officials with the National Guard have spoken with city officials.

While Richardson did not use the term “super armory,” he did say that most of the National Guard’s future armories will “house more than just Alabama National Guard units,” and that “in an effort to better utilize space and resources (the National Guard) will partner with other government agencies and departments.”

McLendon said that if the city could land one of the super armories it would be a “game changer.”

“We’re talking about 250 to 500 soldiers being in town every weekend,” he said. “They’ll be eating in our restaurants, staying in our hotels, buying gas. From an economic standpoint it would be huge.”

McLendon said if a new armory in the city could create as many as 40 jobs and spur development at the city’s south exit, which has remained largely undeveloped aside from a single restaurant and several service stations.

“I think you’d see businesses locate there to be close to the armory and catch that business,” he said. “I’ve talked with the hotel owners and they tell me we’d need two to three more hotels to accommodate the increased traffic this would create. I think you’d see those hotels build on the south exit.”

McLendon, who as a city councilman was instrumental in helping bring Cambrian Ridge to the city and making Greenville a popular stop for golf enthusiasts, said he believes landing a super armory would have an even greater impact.

“If this all comes about, I think this is probably the biggest thing that will have ever happened to Greenville,” he said. “… This is just the first step, and there will be other steps, but hopefully one day we’ll see that building out there, cut a ribbon and do all that and look back on this deal and realize that it led to something pretty special. This could be a game changer for Greenville.”