Tuscaloosa tornado threatened to wipe out years of progress in Alberta

Six minutes 10 years ago drastically altered the landscape of Alberta.


From wilderness area four miles east of downtown Tuscaloosa, to growing bedroom community for the University of Alabama, home to many of the area’s first chain restaurants, to a shopping and entertainment mecca, what had once been a crown jewel became badly tarnished in the ’70s and beyond, as population growth extended north and south. 

McFarland and University malls drained off shopping. Upscale renters moved to newer developments like the Ski Lodge development, off Skyland Boulevard. Rents sank lower, as did the quality of some of Alberta’s renters. Crime rates soared, and with it the stigma that Alberta was not a good place to visit, much less live.

Wolfgang Kneer, CEO of SWJ Technology, speaks with Tuscaloosa City Councilman Kip Tyner. SWJ Technology celebrated its opening with a ribbon cutting ceremony and tour at the new headquarters on University Blvd. in Alberta Wednesday, April 14, 2021. The technology company represents the positive changes that have come to Alberta in the aftermath of the tornado in 2011. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

Then in the early 21st century an ambitious $2.5 million streetscaping plan, cleaning up the area, bringing in full-time police presence, re-introducing a visually pleasing aesthetic — the faint echoes of once-splendid Leland Shopping Center mirrored, in later years, mainly by the determinedly blinking neon Moon Winx sign — and pushing landlords to improve and uphold properties, lent the community new polish. With police outreach and other initiatives stemming from Mayor Walt Maddox’s Hope Initiative, crime rates fell 24 percent from 2007 to 2009.

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