Harvey Robbins, the highly successful industrialist who built a local company into a world leader in flooring products during his career and dedicated countless dollars and time toward revitalizing his beloved town of Tuscumbia in his retirement, died Wednesday. He was 80.
Robbins cofounded National Floor Products Co., in Florence, with his father, Stanley Robbins, in 1957.
In 1994, he sold the company to Domco Industries.
Robbins then focused on property development and projects for Tuscumbia.
Literally pouring millions of dollars into the city beginning in the late 1990s, Robbins gave Spring Park a major makeover that included designing and building a replica train that runs along 4,000 feet of tracks, light show with dancing water set to music at Spring Creek, 48-foot-high waterfall and a bronze statue memorializing a Chickasaw princess.
“He gave back,” Tuscumbia Mayor Bill Shoemaker said. “He spent millions in the park and made it a landmark. He loved this city, and we have lost a great man.”
Robbins also purchased several downtown buildings and helped fledging business owners open shops downtown.
He created a downtown streetscaping project and brought back an old Tuscumbia landmark, Palace Ice Cream and Sandwich Shop.
The efforts have brought additional tax dollars to the city, which long has had a small revenue base. It also has made Spring Park one of the most popular locations in the Shoals.
Robbins also renovated the old Tuscumbia Depot and Fifth and Water Street, which now is a museum with a roundhouse and turntable.
David Bronner, chief executive officer of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, worked with Robbins when Bronner and local leaders were developing projects designed to help boost the Shoals’ economy more than 10 years ago.
Robbins ultimately provided the land for two Robert Trent Jones golf courses in Colbert County that were key to the project.
“His death is a really big loss for the community,” Bronner said. “Very few people look after other people before they look after themselves. Harvey was certainly an example of someone who did that.”
Robbins was born in Dayton, Ohio, but he and his family moved to Tuscumbia at an early age. He graduated from Deshler High School and went on to attend the University of Florida and University of North Alabama.
In 1952, Robbins married his high school sweetheart, Joyce Ann McKinney and they had three children, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. He fondly recalled days of courting his future wife over chocolate milkshakes at the old Palace store at Fifth and Main Street downtown. Those memories helped spur the idea for renovating the store at the same location and revitalizing Tuscumbia.
His successful efforts to boost the city brought national acclaim through feature stories in numerous publications and programs, including NBC’s “Today” show.
Robbins served on many local boards, including the UNA Board of Trustees, during his lifetime.
In 2000, he received the Community Investment Award from the Shoals Chamber of Commerce. The following year, the chamber named him and Joyce Ann citizens of the year and the TimesDaily proclaimed them newsmakers of the year.
Bernie Delinski can be reached at 256-740-5739 or bernie.delinski@TimesDaily.com.