TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WBRC) - 10 years ago, you could not recognize McFarland Boulevard and 15th Street in Tuscaloosa after that EF-4 tornado passed through the city. It was truly heartbreaking.
If you go to the same place today, you’ll see the fruits of 10 years of labor at McFarland’s and 15th Street’s decade long transformation. “We didn’t let that day define us, we didn’t let that day paralyze our growth,” said Jim Page, Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama CEO.
Gloom and doom all around 15th Street and McFarland Boulevard a decade ago make it even more mesmerizing to witness a brand new Tuscaloosa today. “We can compare April of 2021 to April of 2011, and it is a different community in so many ways and we think it’s all for the better,” said Page.
One of those ways this area has bounced back is through businesses rebuilding and thriving. “It’s hard to tell you that because of the tornado business is so much better, all I can tell you is growth has been on our side and we are very blessed. “The community rallied helped us and supported us. “I just remember going from a regular day to absolute devastation. I mean there was nothing left,” said Full Moon Tuscaloosa owner, Brian Ahmed.
Ahmed will never forget April 27th, 2011. “After you go through something like this the shock is profound,” said Ahmed. Their vehicles were found upside down across the street. When the storm hit, 15 employees were inside at the time and they took cover in the freezer. “The staff that works at Full Moon is a part of the community. They are the community. When that tornado came through it destroyed everything, so it basically gave the community and the city a blank slate,” said Ahmed.
“We’ve really built back bigger and stronger over the last ten years, and I think it’s made this community a better place to live because of it,” said Page. The Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama helped create the EDGE. It’s a business incubator at the heart of where the tornado touched down on 10th Avenue near Rosedale apartments, that was left in shambles.
“Where the EDGE is located is a great example of how much has been built and how much investment has been poured in here,” said Page. In the past 10 years the Chamber CEO said over $1 billion worth of economic investments have helped revitalize this community. “Where the shops at Legacy Park are located that was a lot of rental housing most of that was destroyed or heavily damaged,” said Page. Now that spot where the intersection of McFarland and 15th Street is has nationally known retailers, creating a shopping hub for many. And when you shop, you usually eat. Full Moon has had some special people drop by since the storm.
“I’ll tell you one thing they are all famous in my eyes. If their picture is on the wall, they are somebody,” said Ahmed. There’s a lot of history in Full Moon. So many photos of former Alabama football players, and celebrities like Spike Lee and the late Kobe Bryant hanging on the walls. But perhaps the most sentimental photo of all, is the picture Brian the owner had taken after the tornado destroyed their previous location across the street. “If you survive such an unfortunate tornado, you have experience with how to deal with some of these setbacks,” said Ahmed.
“You know 10 years passes fast and you know people don’t know the public, all we had to go through to get to this point.” said Councilman Kip Tyner. Thousands of new jobs have been created since the tornadoes and more are on the way. “Unfortunately, the tragedy of almost ten years ago, this was the result of it because out of tragedy comes good things,” said Tyner. The good thing Tyner is referring to is, SWJ technology a German company that will service BMW, Lazy Boy, and Mercedes Benz in Alberta, adding 115 new good paying jobs to the area.
“This is absolutely the diamond right here that we were waiting for to fall into really begin Alberta’s comeback and we are on a roll,” said Tyner. Rolling on this journey to recovery, transforming the city of Tuscaloosa into something everyone can be proud of maybe even 10 years from now too. “If I could leave one word with everyone it’s resilience. I think this community has proven that in such a powerful way. Families have been resilient; businesses have been resilient,” said Page.