Progress is turning the Rocket City into Crane City

Downtown Huntsville has a different look as the area evolves on a daily basis.

New store fronts are joined by new hotels and new restaurants as the city continues to build as the population grows. Nothing seems constant in the Rocket City lately except for one thing — cranes filling the skyline.

“It’s the new city bird,” cracked Harrison Diamond, the city’s business relations officer.

Huntsville’s new “city bird” populates the skyline. {Photo/Eric Schultz)

As one crane comes down others go up in the downtown area alone. This summer up to nine cranes were spotted on the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA campus as the car maker expands in the western part of the city.

Cranes recently went up where Huntsville Hospital is building its Orthopedic and Spine Tower and Shane Davis, the city’s director for urban and economic development, said more are literally on the horizon.

“There will be more in the next few weeks,” he said.

Two new parking decks. Three new apartment complexes. Four new hotels. New retail space totaling 50,000 feet. The city is getting a facelift, and construction cranes are now and will in the immediate future be familiar to Huntsvillians.

Constellation, a $180 million project that will have 1.5 million feet of mixed-use space for apartments, hotels, retailers, offices and parking decks, is about to become reality.

“Constellation is breaking ground in October,” Davis said. “It’s been talked about for years and it’s been approved.”

Huntsville developer Scott McLain has partnered with Equibase Capital Group LLC of Chicago to build Constellation at Memorial Parkway and Clinton Avenue. The old Heart of Huntsville Mall was once located at the site.

Davis said any fears of an economic downturn nationally hasn’t slowed down city planners’ ambitions to continue to build and recruit. He said he’s convinced Huntsville has “insulated” itself from talk of a coming recession.

“That’s why we’ve had the FBI, Sanmina, Blue Origin, Mazda Toyota and others come here,” he said. “We’ve put in place an economy that to get to its full strength is half a decade away.”

The economy is one draw for Huntsville. So is what Davis called “quality of life stuff” such as the VBC, Botanical Garden, the Space & Rocket Center and John Hunt Park.

And the ongoing building is part of a plan that began taking shape over a decade ago.

“Whole Foods,” Davis said. “I told the city council that (retail center) could be a catalyst to clean up the Parkway. If you think back to 2008 when Tommy Battle came into the mayor’s office, we began concentrating on the square.

“It’s been a process.”

Davis said residents will continue to see changes from downtown to Mastin Lake in northwest Huntsville.

They’ll also see cranes.

 

Huntsville Raising the Roof with Hotel Construction

Another hotel is ready to rise in downtown Huntsville.

The city council recently unanimously approved plans to build a Hyatt House on a vacant lot at the intersection of Jefferson Street and Holmes Avenue, across from the federal courthouse building.

The city has designs on having more than 1,000 hotel rooms available downtown for conventions and other large events within walking distance of the VBC.

“We’re getting there,’’ said Shane Davis, city director for urban and economic. “We need to get to about 1,500 rooms. Conferences need available rooms. The Monday through Friday traffic is already reserving existing rooms.’’

Southaven Associates LLC of Birmingham will build the Hyatt, which will add 145 rooms to the city’s goal. NAI Chase Commercial is the development coordinator and Visionquest Capital is the capital and financing partner for the $35 million project.

“Hyatt is one of the most widely recognized brands in the world,” Charlie Grelier Jr., president of NAI Chase Commercial. “We are thrilled to be part of this exciting new downtown development. The hotel is expected to become a top choice for business and leisure travelers due to its ideal location in the heart of the Entertainment District.”

The nine-story hotel will be at the corner of Jefferson Street and Holmes Avenue and will include a full-service restaurant, meeting areas and a rooftop bar.

The restaurant space will be at the lobby level in an open setting with access to a courtyard connecting the restaurant and hotel to the heart of the entertainment district with direct walkable access to additional retail, restaurants and pubs along with a newly constructed public parking deck,” said Mark Elrod Sr., NAI Chase vice president of retail.

Construction is set to begin Jan. 1 with completion date set for Dec. 31, 2021. Davis said construction could be shortened by five months if the weather cooperates.

The city continues to add to not only it’s hotel portfolio downtown but various other businesses such as restaurants. The square and city skyline hardly resemble what they looked like just a few years ago as building in the area continues.

The Hyatt will join other new hotels in downtown such as the AC Hotel that opened this year at the site that once housed the Huntsville Hilton.

Davis said city administrators aren’t fazed by talk from national economists warning a recession might be looming.

“On a national scale there is talk of a small recession,” he said. “(Mayor Tommy Battle) said it best when we recently went for a bond rating. The mayor said there might be a small recession, but we’re not going to participate.”

Davis’s comment was echoed by the financial backers.

“Huntsville is the perfect emerging southeastern market for our capital investment and growth,” said Michael Hanks, founder and managing partner of Vision Quest Capital. “We look forward to investing in its future.”

The city will also purchase land at the hotel site for some $600,000. It will be used to expand the Washington Park area to provide what Davis called a “gathering spot.”

The city will also pay for infrastructure and street improvements at the site that Davis said were budgeted prior to the introduction of the hotel project at an estimated cost of $750,000 to $1 million.

The city will also lease the Hyatt up to 205 parking spaces at the Clinton Avenue garage and a planned garage on Greene Street.

DaikyoNishikawa US Breaks Ground on $110M Plant to Supply Mazda Toyota Factory

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood that is Mazda Toyota Manufacturing US.

On Thursday, executives of DaikyoNishikawa US joined state and local leaders at a groundbreaking event on the MTMUS campus in Limestone County to launch construction on its $110 million manufacturing plant. It will be DNUS’s first U.S. manufacturing plant.

The DNUS facility, which will produce plastic automotive parts for the MTMUS assembly plant, will employ approximately 380 people at full production.

In May, DNUS became the first supplier to announce plans to locate on the site of the Mazda Toyota joint venture assembly plant, which will have the capacity to produce up to 300,000 vehicles annually.

“As our first manufacturing facility in North America, DNUS is proud to serve Mazda Toyota and call Huntsville our new home,” said Nariaki Uchida, president of DaikyoNishikawa Corp. “Together with our business and community partners, our aim is to be a good corporate neighbor and a premiere Tier I automotive supplier.”

By establishing the Huntsville operations, DNC aims to further strengthen relationships with major customers.

The DNUS project represents one of the latest in a string of supplier announcements tied to the MTMUS assembly plant in 2019. So far, a total of five MTMUS suppliers have pinpointed sites in North Alabama for production locations that will create almost 1,700 new auto-sector jobs, most of them in Huntsville.

The DNUS plant will supply resin auto parts, such as bumpers and instrument panels, to Mazda Toyota.

“DaikyoNishikawa is a key manufacturer in the growing cluster of Tier 1 automotive suppliers for MTMUS, and we’re excited to provide the skilled workers for this high-performing auto industry leader,” ​Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said.

“I’m proud to welcome another great Japanese company, DaikyoNishikawa … and I know that together we will build a lasting partnership,” Gov. Kay Ivey said. “Today marks another pivotal moment for Huntsville as it becomes the next vital production hub for the global auto industry.”

Construction on the 3.1 million-square-foot MTMUS facility is well under way, with as many as 2,500 construction workers expected on the site this summer. The Mazda-Toyota partnership is investing $1.6 billion to open the Huntsville assembly plant, which will employ up to 4,000 people.

Once the DNUS facility begins operations to coincide with the start of MTMUS vehicle production in 2021, DNUS will manufacture large resin parts such as bumpers and instrument panels for the automakers.

“By selecting Alabama as the site for its first U.S. manufacturing facility, DaikyoNishikawa joins a long list of world-class Japanese companies with growing operations in the state,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “We look forward to working with this high-caliber company to assemble a workforce in Huntsville that can fuel its growth plans.”

Auto Supplier Vuteq to Join Mazda Toyota Campus; Creating 200 Jobs

Another supplier will soon be breaking ground at the massive Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant campus in Huntsville.

Japan-based Vuteq, which has operated in North America for more than three decades, will hire approximately 200 workers for its first production location in Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey announced Wednesday.

Vuteq USA plans to invest more than $60 million to open a manufacturing facility to serve the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A.  auto assembly plant in Huntsville. The company joins a growing list of Tier 1 suppliers that have announced plans to set up operations in the region.

“The automotive cluster growing around Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A. is gaining another significant addition with Vuteq’s decision to open a manufacturing facility in Huntsville,” Ivey said. “Vuteq has established a large industrial footprint in the United States, and it’s great to see the company expand that presence to our state. We look forward to working with Vuteq …”

Vuteq USA will produce interior and exterior plastic-injected parts and various sub-assemblies for Mazda and Toyota at their shared assembly plant, now under construction on a 2,500-acre tract in the Limestone County portion of Huntsville.

“Vuteq USA Inc. is very pleased and excited to be opening our next plant in Alabama,” Kazumasa Watanabe, president of Vuteq USA, said in the governor’s press release. “Our company is thankful for the support provided by the city of Huntsville and state of Alabama as we begin a new chapter.”

Construction work at Vuteq’s site at 7306 Greenbriar Parkway, just outside the MTMUS campus, is scheduled to begin in October and completed in September 2020. A production launch is targeted for 2021.

“We’re pleased that Huntsville will be home to Vuteq’s first venture in Alabama and we welcome them to our growing network of automotive suppliers,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said.

Vuteq USA has begun hiring the first of its Alabama workforce, with full employment at the Huntsville facility projected to be reached in 2021.

Interested applicants can email the company at VuteqAlabamaJobs@vuteqky.com. The company is also working with AIDT, the state’s primary workforce development agency, for hiring and training support.

Within its Huntsville facility, Vuteq USA will host several other manufacturing companies, one of which will be Diversity Vuteq LLC, a minority joint venture, and others yet to be named.

The Mazda-Toyota partnership is investing $1.6 billion to build and equip its Huntsville assembly plant, which will have up to 4,000 workers producing up to 300,000 vehicles annually. Construction on the facility began this year.

MTMUS is expected to begin vehicle production in 2021.

By that time, a network of parts suppliers will be in place in North Alabama to support the Huntsville assembly operation. Counting Vuteq, five suppliers have already announced plans for facilities that will create nearly 1,700 jobs. Their combined investment in Alabama totals $440 million.

“Vuteq is a superb addition to Alabama’s rapidly growing network of high-caliber international auto suppliers,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “I’m confident that Vuteq will benefit from the capabilities of Alabama’s skilled workforce and the state’s business-friendly environment. I know we can build a solid future together.”

Vuteq, which has more than 13,000 employees, has a long-established relationship with Toyota and plans to build a strong partnership with Mazda.

Since 1965, Vuteq has supplied Toyota with various services including logistics and parts such as interior trim, door trim and cockpit assemblies, among other things.

Vuteq launched North American operations in 1987 at Georgetown, Ky., where Toyota operates an assembly plant. Vuteq has U.S. plants in Indiana, Texas and Mississippi and a facility in Ontario.

Pruning Cummings Research Park Infuses Vibrancy, Marketability

Any good gardener knows a first-class park requires long-term planning and seasonal pruning to ensure its vibrancy.

In 1962, Teledyne Brown Engineering (then Brown Engineering) lay deep roots on 100 acres off a dirt road that later became Sparkman Drive.

IBM, Lockheed Martin, Northrop-Grumman, and the University of Alabama-Huntsville quickly followed. Since then, Cummings Research Park’s 3,843 acres of prime Huntsville real estate has been a focal point of a 50-year master plan.

Cummings Research Park, with a 92 percent occupancy rate and 240 untouched acres to spare, is the second-largest research park in the nation and fourth largest in the world.

But to better understand the growth strategy at work in the park, it is best to differentiate between Research Park East and Research Park West.

“When we talk about current growth, we mean business growth from companies within the park, especially on the west side,” said Erin Koshut, the executive director of Cummings Research Park. “On the east side, market studies show we need to redevelop that area to create greater density and to replace 1960s and 1970s buildings with properties that align with today’s economy. That will infuse the older section with new vibrancy.

“By doing that, we won’t have to look at physical land expansion per se for a very long time.”

Within the master plan are five-year work plans. The city is currently working off a plan finalized in 2016; a new plan begins in 2021. The plan acknowledges that some of the original buildings and key properties in the oldest sections of Research Park East are no longer viable in the market.

“Without the revitalization, if a company wants to go in and invest in that part of the park, they wouldn’t get their return on investment,” said Koshut. “That is why the zoning ordinances were changed for Research Park East – to give back some of the land to the park and to reduce economic setbacks.”

Cummings Research Park East

Rendering of Bradford Crossing

One such property is at Bradford and Wynn drives on the former site of the St. John Paul II Catholic High School. Driven Capital Partners in California purchased the four-acre site and plans to redevelop it into a mixed-use site called Bradford Crossing.

“Article 55 of the new zoning ordinance is very specific and says if you have a retail element on the ground floor, there has to be two or more uses,” said Koshut. “We cannot build a standalone gas station or drop a superstore in there, but a multistory building with ground floor retail will create density on a small but efficient parcel of land.

“No decision has been made on what other uses will be included, but it could be office space, multi-family residences, a hotel, or a mixture of all three on upper floors.”

There are four big red circles marking areas of Cummings Research Park East targeted for potential mixed-use redevelopment. Currently, no groundbreaking date is set for Bradford Crossing.

“This is not just the (Huntsville-Madison County) Chamber or the city calling for these changes,” said Koshut. “We have landowners like the Olin King family at Crown Leasing who own property on Bradford Drive. They demolished the building that was on it and now have the land for sale. Business and landowners understand the flavor of changes happening in the older section of the park.”

Other planned redevelopments include converting Executive Plaza off Sparkman Drive into a multi-use facility, including an arena for the UAH hockey team and convocations; and Huntsville’s plans to donate up to $1.8 million in land to Alabama’s third magnet school, the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering. It has a temporary home at the Tom Bevill Center on UAH’s campus, but plans are to build a permanent location in Cummings Research Park East by 2022.

“This will give the whole park along the outskirts of UAH, a big infusion of vibrancy and marketability,” said Koshut.

Cummings Research Park West

The new Radiance Technologies facility will consolidate operations and employees.

Over in Cummings Research Park West, it is not about redevelopment but about taking what is there, making it better, and expanding the footprint. In fact, Cummings Research Park West will see three major projects and numerous moderate but significant business expansions this year.

By the end of the year, Radiance Technologies will be moving into a 100,000-square-foot facility at 310 Bob Heath Drive. The new facility will consolidate operations and employees, but with significant growth, Radiance will keep its 38,000-square-foot facility on Wynn Drive in Cummings Research Park East for a while.

The new $45.5 million, 83,000-square-foot BAE Systems building is sprouting from a 20-acre site at Old Madison Pike and Jan Davis Drive. It is scheduled to open in 2020.

The $45.5 million, 83,000-square-foot BAE Systems building is scheduled to open next year.

“BAE Systems has a long history with Huntsville dating back many years when they had only a couple of employees,” said Koshut. “We are proud to see them bringing in 200 employees, many new hires, and some recruited to Huntsville from the Northeast.”

Fifty-four-foot walls are up around the $200 million Blue Origin rocket engine production facility on Explorer Drive. Expected to open its doors in March 2020, Blue Origin is estimated to bring up to 300 jobs to the local economy.

Dynetics just expanded its footprint with the 78,000 square-foot Dr. Stephen M. Gilbert Advanced Manufacturing Facility; and IronMountain Solutions found a new home on Voyager Way.

“We have the first apartments, Watermark at Bridge Street Town Centre, built in Research Park,” said Koshut. “They consist of two four-story buildings and 240 apartments. Over half already leased before they open and of course a majority of those people work in Research Park.”

She said they would like to see an extension of Bridge Street Town Centre or at least retail that is congruent to Bridge Street grow into the commercial retail corridor between Bridge Street’s outdoor shopping promenade and Lake 4.

It’s All for the Employees

“There is a key component of all this expansion and redevelopment,” said Koshut. “It is driven by the wants and needs of employees.

“These companies want to recruit top talent to Huntsville, and they want to retain them. They require conveniences, activities, and amenities that have been available to them in cities where they are recruited from, many bigger than Huntsville.”

This includes access luxury apartments and single-family homes in or surrounding the park; creating a sense of vibrancy and community with activities such as the Food Truck Fest that draws some 300 people a month; free monthly happy hours in the park; and free Suzy’s Pops or Steel City Pops during the summer.

Later this summer or early fall, Koshut said the city will launch a pilot Bike Share project in Cummings Research Park West with three bike-share stations.

“As the city continues to invest in that program, we hope to connect many bike-share systems across the city so, at any time, an employee can hop on a bike and ride out to lunch,” said Koshut. “Young people enjoy being outside and easily get tired of being stuck in an office all day. Huntsville companies are recruiting people from cities that offer a quality lifestyle amenity.”

So, as new buildings are sprouting up all over Cumming Research Park, it always helps to keep the park neatly clipped and pruned to inspire growth and opportunities among the older, well-established buildings alongside the new and flourishing.

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing Sets Diversity Spending Target for Construction

As construction progresses on the Mazda Toyota vehicle assembly plant in Limestone County, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing is poised to make a large investment in minority and women-owned business enterprises.

The company said it plans to spend at least 20 percent of the overall cost of construction with those entities.

“Every aspect of MTMUS’s business must closely reflect our customers’ diverse backgrounds and experiences, including our team members, suppliers and business partners,” Mark Brazeal, vice president of administration of MTMUS, said in a press release. “Together with our general contractors and structural steel supplier, we have set an ambitious target that will set the foundation for MTMUS’s future to compete as a world-class manufacturer of vehicles.”

It’s difficult to put an exact figure on how much Mazda Toyota Manufacturing will spend. The total investment in the project is around $1.6 billion, but that includes non-construction costs like equipment and tooling.

Officials say construction of the plant is on schedule and they expect vehicle production to begin in 2021. (Huntsville Business Journal Photo)

Last year, Toyota alone had about a $3 billion diversity spend across the board, according to Victor Vanov, a spokesman for Toyota.

“That includes direct and indirect suppliers,” Vanov said. “What we mean by that is direct is like the specific car parts or components that go into our vehicles; on the indirect side, it might be things like janitorial services, printing, office supplies or maybe hiring a communications firm or consultant group.”

Construction sourcing has progressed and includes recent awards to diverse companies such as Aristeo Construction, a certified Woman-owned Business Enterprise general contractor; and Indiana Bridge, a Minority Business Enterprise structural steel supplier.

Officials say construction of the plant is on schedule and they expect production to begin in 2021.

The project is expected to bring around 4,000 new jobs to the area and the hiring process for some of those is already underway. Those interested can apply for jobs at MazdaToyota.com.

As far as construction is concerned, the company said there are about 2,500 workers on site building the facility with about 70 percent from Alabama.

When finished, the plant will span nearly 65 football fields or 3.1 million square feet; consist of 26,000 tons of steel with some 1,600 steel beams that, if stacked end to end, would reach a height of 80,000 feet – 15 miles.

Burgeoning Regional Economy Ensures Everyone a More Valuable Slice of the Pie

Envision Huntsville as an average size pie.

Standing at city center, look outward in all directions toward the far edges of the pie crust – north toward the state line where visitors from Tennessee get their first glimpse of the city. South where many Huntsville businesses draw daily commuters. East across the mountain, west from neighboring communities and all points in between.

For Huntsville and Madison city leaders, this vision of the pie’s edge does not represent boundaries but, instead, corridors of growth.

“That’s always been our vision for Huntsville’s future and the basis for our regional economic strategy,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “The first part of revitalizing your city is to take the center point, known as the living room of your city, and revitalize it to make it economically viable. Get one area going and stretch it out to other areas.

“Year after year, we have pinpointed growth corridors that help us grow both economically and residentially. The result is an economic revival like what you have been seeing in Huntsville and Madison the past 10 years.”

Private investment land developers have that vision too. During the 1990s, brothers Jim and John Hays and their nephew Jeff Enfinger of Enfinger Development opened a growth corridor to the southeast in Hampton Cove and the Hays Nature Preserve.

In 2000, that development led to the expansion of a residential growth corridor along Taylor Lane in Big Cove, and, by 2010, it had extended into the Goldsmith-Schiffman community.

Also during the 1990s, Huntsville opened a residential growth corridor off Zierdt Road in the Edgewater and Mountain Brook communities southwest of the city. In 2010, it expanded into the Williams community further south.

Battle said that by looking at the local economy like a pie, you will see their strategy unfolding.

“Instead of dividing the pie into fifteen different pieces that get smaller the more users you add, we made the whole pie bigger so we could divide it up differently with more restaurants, entertainment and activity venues, more places to spend retail dollars,” he said. “With a bigger pie, each slice is more valuable.”

The Western Corridor

The Town Madison development along I-565 between Zierdt Road and Wall-Triana Highway in Madison will open a gateway to the city.

Anchored by the new Rocket City Trash Pandas baseball stadium, the development is surrounded by residential, retail, commercial, and entertainment components that have thrown open a west side growth corridor that never existed.

“The location off I-565 is perfect catchment for a broad audience across the Southeast,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. “As the interchanges off the highway are completed, you can expect ease of traffic getting to and from the area.

“If people come for a game or event, we hope they stay and experience all that Madison has to offer, including our historic downtown that offers livability with local boutique shopping and dining.”

Finley also believes Madison’s central geography in North Alabama positions it perfectly to feel the positive impact from economic development in the whole state as well as southern Tennessee.

“Madison benefits from Huntsville’s growth with the FBI and other tech development workforce to our east, as well as from the Mazda-Toyota plant to our west. We look to collaborate with Limestone, Morgan and Marshall counties,” said Finley.

The development is envisioned to become a regional destination.

“Right on the interstate, convenient if you are coming from Cullman or Decatur, and where everybody who passes by can see it,” said Joey Ceci, president of The Breland Companies, which is developing Town Madison and the new Clift Farm project on U.S. 72 in Madison. “We are creating a regional destination with baseball, a food hall, and resort style hotels, similar to, but more diverse than Chattanooga.”

Open Southern Border

Recently, Enfinger and his uncles who are also developing McMullen Cove, announced the development of a multi-use Hays Farm development in South Huntsville that will replace the old Haysland Square and turn a 500-plus acre swath of undeveloped land into a new growth corridor to the south that will draw retailers and residents from Airport Road south to the river and beyond.

“There will be a commercial center all the way up to the Enfinger Building on South Parkway with a Village of Providence-type entertainment district surrounded by a city park, a ballfield, and 500-acre Hays Green with a passive walking park,” said Enfinger. “We’d like to maintain the natural green spaces. The Hays Nature Preserve in Hampton Cove has been a regional draw for a lot of people.”

In many ways, Ceci believes that with population growth and so many people commuting here to work every day from other counties, we already have an active regional economy at work.

“You see workers buying groceries, going out to eat and shopping during the workweek, even if they live outside the city,” he said. “I think there is some pent-up demand for some of the development that is occurring.”

Max Grelier, co-founder of RCP Companies who has developed the AC Hotel as part of CityCentre and developing MidCity on the old Madison Square Mall property, has been watching those employee migration patterns into Huntsville for more than a decade.

“We see the regional trade area as about 50 miles and incorporates the 14-county commuter hubs from which Redstone Arsenal and Cummings Research Park draw its employment,” said Grelier. “As a result, Huntsville has become the region’s primary center for healthcare, civic, cultural, shopping, and dining activity.”

Annexation of Morgan & Limestone counties

Add to all this, the annexation of a small portion of Morgan County to the southwest and a huge chunk of Limestone County due west of city center, and you can see the pie expanding!

“Yes, this annexation is a game-changer because it results in the ability to get infrastructure to certain areas and thus create major employment opportunities,” said Charlie Sealy of Sealy Realty. His company has developed several residential properties including The Belk Hudson Lofts and The Avenue in downtown Huntsville, and is building a sister community, The Avenue Madison. “These new jobs will be an economic driver for the economy and create an incredible multiplier effect.”

The annexation is a precursor to the economic development that follows it, said Grelier.

“Annexing was necessary for the economic development of the Mazda-Toyota plant and other larger manufacturers,” he said. “It’s also helpful in attracting investment into commercial real estate projects across the metro area.”

“We’ve only made a foray into Morgan County,” said Battle, “The annexation of Limestone County where Mazda Toyota made a $2 billion land investment has seriously expanded our metro and opened an industrial growth corridor that is a win-win for both parties.”

City funds, thanks to Huntsville’s AAA credit rating from the S&P and Moody’s Investment Services, have pulled their share of the weight. With the power to borrow $85 million for city and countywide projects, of that, Huntsville will allot $25 million for the Mazda Toyota project infrastructure; and another $55 million for capital plans and schools.

Northern Exposure

Included is the revitalization of North Memorial Parkway. Since widening the well-worn highway into a viable parkway traffic corridor, it has encroached on many properties there, making them less viable.

“They don’t have enough depth to sustain retail, so we’ve taken them out and we’re turning that area into a park with greenways and walking trails,” said Battle. “Perception becomes reality.

“Instead of seeing boarded-up buildings when you enter from the north, you see it more as an entryway into North Huntsville – an economically viable area to move into and to be a part of.”

Among the projects is the upgrading of parks that will be instrumental in bringing in sports teams from all over the Southeast, including recreational rugby fields and soccer fields that can also be used for lacrosse.

“We are putting money into the tennis center and into the golf course, which now has cross-country running and mountain bike trails. All of these things tie back to what we call ‘quality of life’ for our residents and activities for our guests,” said Battle. “Travel sports bring people and their families to our area from all over, where they compete, stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, and shop in our stores.”

Quality of Life

Town Madison’s $12 million Pro Player Park project with 12 synthetic baseball/softball fields, the $22 million Huntsville Aquatic Center, and the expanding Huntsville Tennis Center are already national attractions for travel sports competitions and events.

“To have a viable and growing economy, we have to offer a ‘quality-of-life’ that attracts people to the area, and quite frankly, we have a lot of jobs on the table too,” Battle said. “To recruit highly-skilled, higher income workers requires a quality of life that is equal to or higher than where they are moving from.”

Battle said “quality-of-life” is found in Lowe Mill, in craft beer, in a vast array of recreation facilities, disc golf, pickleball, art museums and public parks.

“But we still have work to do because people are coming from around the world to work for companies like Blue Origin, Facebook, Aerojet Rocketdyne, and Mazda Toyotas,” said Battle.

Finley is ready for whatever challenges lay ahead for Madison.

“As Madison grows our focus is making sure we are responsible with our citizen’s tax dollars by improving infrastructure and providing a good quality of life in every district of our community,” said Finley. “While areas to the West are experiencing booming growth and increased traffic, we need to not only keep pace with growth but foresee areas that will need improvements down the line.”

Huntsville is also adding hotels, apartments, and homesites as more people move into the city. With a goal of adding 1,000 hotel rooms within walking distance of the Von Braun Center, Battle said it will help draw larger conventions and business meetings.

“Part of the strategy for building smaller hotels instead of one big convention center hotel is to prevent people from living inside the hotel the whole time they are here,” said the mayor. “We want people to experience our city, eat in our restaurants, visit our museums, and shop in our stores.”

Enfinger believes that as we become a more affluent society, people’s wants, and expectations become more demanding.

“It looks like we are evolving in unison with the rest of the country as far as the type shopping we do and the kind of developments we build,” said Enfinger. “Our growth rate is higher than most cities, but I think we follow a national trend in the type developments we can sustain.”

Private Investment is Leading the Way

Private investment must still lead the way and developers such as Breland, RCP, Sealy, and Enfinger are leading the charge.

“When the City can support infrastructure needs or improvements, private investment can take those dollars further,” said Mayor Finley. “This is a win/win for both the City and for the investors. Ultimately, our citizens also reap the benefits of this growth and development.”

“Buy-in is good so far, but much harder than it may seem,” said Grelier. “Huntsville has a great story to tell, but many larger institutional investors are not aware of it or view the market as too small.

“Our team spends most of our time discussing and selling the regional market rather than the immediate project. A big part of Huntsville’s growth moving forward will be how the region is branded to compete for private investment and workforce internationally. It’s a regional story that should include our sister communities.”

He would also like to see the Gen Y & Z workforce move to the area because it’s a cool, fun place to live, and then find a job once they get here rather than moving here for the great job.

“Once this trend reverses, larger private investment and more economic development will follow quickly,” Grelier said.

From the city’s perspective though, Huntsville’s first mixed-use/multi-purpose development at Twickenham Square in 2014 has been a driver in enlarging the pie.

Join us for Part 2 of our series on Huntsville’s growing regional economy in the September issue of the Huntsville Business Journal as we investigate how multi-purpose/mixed-use developments are helping build Huntsville’s regional economy.

 

Huntsville Receives Commerce Dept. Rail Infrastructure Grant

The city has been awarded a $4.1 million grant to help build a bridge to serve the Mazda-Toyota Manufacturing plant.

In a statement, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced the Department’s Economic Development Administration‘s grant to the city will also provide opportunities for further industrial and commercial development adjacent to the site. The grant will be matched with $4.1 million in local funds and is expected to help create 320 jobs and generate $128 million in private investment.

“This bridge will help provide Huntsville’s thriving auto manufacturing industry with the critical infrastructure needed to ensure its future success,” Ross said.

“EDA’s recent announcement is excellent news for Alabama’s automotive industry,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “The $4.1 million grant will continue to boost economic development and improve rail infrastructure throughout North Alabama. I am grateful that the Department of Commerce and EDA continue to invest in our state, bringing jobs and long term economic benefits to the region.”

The bridge is needed to accommodate increased commercial vehicle traffic for the plant, which is slated to go on line in 2021 and employ some 4,000 people to produce up to 300,000 vehicles annually.

This project was made possible by the regional planning efforts led by the Top of Alabama Regional Council of Governments.

“Reliable infrastructure is crucial to Alabama’s economic success,” said Sen. Doug Jones. “This grant will be welcome news for the Huntsville community as it prepares for the arrival of our state’s newest state-of-the-art auto manufacturing facility. Investments like these are critical to Alabama as we continue to grow and attract new businesses.”

Turner Completes $3.12M Renovation of Thigpen Hall at Alabama A&M

Turner Construction has completed the management of a $3.12 million renovation of Alabama A&M’s Thigpen Hall.

Thigpen Hall, a three-story women’s residence hall built in 1955, typically houses more than 200 first-year freshman female students. The renovations included Thigpen’s 101 double-occupancy bedrooms, bathrooms, study lounges, laundry facilities and a computer lab.

Turner collaborated on the project of the 30,000 square-foot building with Nola Van Peursem Architects, Moody Nolan, Lee Builders, Mims Engineering and EE Group.

The building’s footprint did not change in the renovation including elements of its historical exterior. Thigpen Hall was unoccupied throughout the renovation process, which began in July 2018.

“Alabama A&M is proud of the partnership that we have with Turner Construction,” said Alabama A&M President Dr. Andrew Hugine Jr. “Turner has not only worked to restore and modernize Thigpen Hall, one of the historic structures on the campus, thus demonstrating the university’s commitment to historic preservation, but they also continue to invest in the future of Alabama A&M by providing our students with practical experience.”

Thigpen Hall was completed on time and under budget. Turner is continuing to support and manage upcoming projects at Alabama A&M University.

“This has been another excellent project delivered by the team,” said Tyce Hudson, account executive for Turner Construction. “We are excited to see the campus continue to improve. The future is very bright for Alabama A&M University.”

Luxury Apartments Coming to Clift Farm

MADISON – A luxury apartment complex will begin to grow from former farmland across from the Target shopping center on U.S. 72.

Birmingham-based residential developer Tynes Development broke ground this week on The Station at Clift Farm, its second multi-family development in Madison.

The development is in the 550-acre Clift Farm community on U.S. 72 at Balch Road in Madison. The luxury apartment concept will offer 316 one-, two- and three-bedroom units, all with elevator access. Leasing will begin next spring or summer.

The Clift Farm location is an expansion of Tynes’ high-end apartment brand, which began construction this year on The Station at Town Madison. The four-story, 288-unit off I-565 – adjacent to the Rocket City Trash Pandas’ baseball stadium – will begin leasing one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments in early 2020.

The Station is designed with subway tile backsplashes, stainless-steel appliances, walk-in showers, high-end countertops and simple, yet modern, light fixtures throughout each unit.

“As Huntsville and Madison continues to grow and attract the brightest minds, their recruits are looking for high-end apartments that support their health and well-being,” said Ingram Tynes, president of Tynes Development Corp.

“The Station at Clift Farm allows residents to return from a hard day of work to a beautiful space that inspires their wellbeing and nourishes their relationships with family and neighbors,” said D.A. Tynes, Ingram’s wife and the company’s interior designer. “As a working mom with three children, it is always my goal to design a space that makes coming home a peaceful retreat.”

The Breland Cos. bought the farm from the Clift family who has owned it since 1850. Although it will be a multi-use development with a town center and retail and restaurant components that support the Clift Farm community, developer Louis Breland said it will maintain a generational feel. The residential component will consist of luxury apartments and townhomes starting at $300,000, and single-family homes ranging from $400,000 to $600,000.

“The Station at Clift Farm will be the centerpiece of the Clift Farm project,” said Breland. “We are developing Clift Farm to be one of the premiere mixed-use projects in the Southeast. Miles of greenways and walking trails will connect residents to parks, grocery and many first-to-market restaurants and shops.

“We could not have a better partner than Tynes Development to set the tone for the high-quality experience we are creating at Clift Farm.”