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By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
    Alton Mayor Brant Walker is looking forward to 2019, hoping to top the stellar year the city enjoyed in 2018.
    “How do we follow this act up?” he said.
    Alton came in for three bits of recognition that led to national headlines. One was the city being picked from among 15,000 cities by the Small Business Revolution Powered by Deluxe, which led to a series of Hulu network web broadcasts featuring Alton and many of its businesses.
    “That set off a firestorm in the city. Our building permits were going well, but that was like a tremendous accelerator,” Walker said. “The camaraderie — it pulled the entire metro area together and was one of the most phenomenal things I’ve been through in my entire life.”
    In 2017, Alton was recognized as an Age Friendly Community by AARP. The honor skyrocketed in 2018, when AARP followed that up by naming Alton as one of the top 10 cities to live in the United States. The honor recognizes communities that are considered livable and sustainable for retirees. Alton’s partner in the effort was Senior Services Plus, a city-based, regional senior advocacy agency.
    Then, Forbes magazine rated Alton as the best place to retire to in Illinois.
    “I can tell you that in about 16 months, we had almost $38 million in building permits pulled,” Walker said of the overall impact.
    Several buildings have been purchased or are being renovated, some by partnerships led by Alton attorney John Simmons, Walker said. Among those properties are the Millers Mutual building, the Grand Theater and, more recently, the Historic Stratford Hotel.
    Alton Center Business Park has also grown with new tenants. Imperial Manufacturing was expanded and another business, Advanced Outdoors Solution (AOS), was added, he said.
    “That property alone now has over 800 jobs in the city,” Walker said.
    Elsewhere, the U-Haul company bought the shopping center where the Kmart store closed on Homer Adams Parkway.
    Nearby, Andy’s Auto Body located an operation in the former Rothman store on Washington Avenue.
    And not far away, Best Western Premiere made its debut after the former Atrium Hotel (Holiday Inn) was renovated on College Avenue.
    On the Alton riverfront, last year was also one of the best ever for the Liberty Bank Amphitheater, which attracted national acts like Allison Kraus and the Beach Boys. The Annual Food Truck Festival held there for four years is now rated as the largest in Southern Illinois.
    So, what’s ahead this year? Walker sees a continuation of Alton Square redevelopment; the wrapping of OSF Saint Anthony’s Health Center’s new $14 million cancer campus; and major infrastructure projects, among them Washington Avenue from Broadway all the way to Homer Adams Parkway will be resurfaced and have sidewalk and ADA compliance work, and College Avenue will be redone from the business district east to the SIU School of Dental Medicine campus.