Launch 2035 Initiates 3-County Regional Workforce and Labor Market Assessment Study

Launch 2035 and city leaders from Madison, Limestone and Morgan counties blasted off their first major initiative – a collaborative assessment study of the area’s regional workforce and labor market.

The announcement comes less than 90 days after six mayors from across Madison, Limestone and Morgan counties, formally signed an historic three-county regional agreement of collaboration and cooperation to work together for the future good of the regional economy.

Bill Marks: “Launch 2035 has found opportunities whereby coming together, all of our communities throughout the region can work together in a way that has never been done before.” (Photo/Kimberly Ballard)

From the high-tech boardroom round table at the Huntsville International Airport, Launch 2035 Chair retired Army Col. Bill Marks said Launch 2035 was formed in 2014 to encourage and facilitate a collective 20-year vision of Limestone, Madison, and Morgan counties that would ensure the North Alabama region continues to prosper.

“Launch 2035 has found opportunities whereby coming together, all of our communities throughout the region can work together in a way that has never been done before,” said Marks. “It is a signal to all our communities, our state, and future businesses that we are committed to ensuring our region functions at the highest levels of collaboration for years to come.”

Launch 2035 has three areas of focus: workforce, entrepreneurship, and land use planning.

“That’s where this privately funded assessment looks at our labor talent, presents leading practices in workforce development, and provides a deeper understanding of the opportunities we have in our workforce within our region,” Marks said. “It is a proactive effort to understand the current labor market and our ability to continue to grow for current and future employer needs in the region.”

Among the speakers at the announcement was Harry Schmidt, economic development consultant for the Tennessee Valley Authority Alabama Region.

“We are glad to be teaming up with regional partners, including local power companies and others, to continue to promote business success in the region,” Schmidt said. “We are pleased to support this workforce and labor study because one of TVA’s core principles is to work to improve the quality of life for people in the valley. One of the primary ways we do that is by job growth and identifying quality job opportunities for people.”

John Seymour, president and CEO of the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce, said changes in lifestyle means city leaders can no longer think just about their own communities but must start thinking about the whole region.

“Jobs in Madison County are different sometimes than the jobs in Limestone and Morgan County,” Seymour said. “We have to think about recruiting folks from across those lines to fill the positions that are available in our various communities. As a community and as a region, we have to think regional to be successful. I see this as an opportunity to look forward.”

“This study will help us grow our workforce in our communities and provide us with a great tool as we continue to work together as a region to bring more industry and business to the area,” said Jennifer Williamson, president of the Greater Limestone Chamber of Commerce. “It is also a great tool for us to use to support our existing businesses and industry.”

Other leaders at the announcement included Bethany Shockney, president of Limestone County Economic Development Association; Rick Tucker, executive director of the Huntsville Port Authority; and Lucia Cape, senior vice president of economic development at the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce.

Rick Tucker: “Seeing us working closer and closer together as a region has been inspiring.” (Photo/Kimberly Ballard)

“Launch 2035 contracted with Deloitte to do this labor analysis,” said Cape. “This study is looking forward because through the use of confidential interviews with companies, and discussing real time activities with employers, we can gear our workforce development and activities to meet a needed we know is coming. We look forward to getting these results, and we will work with our partners to make sure we have a workforce of the future.”

Rick Tucker has been part of Launch 2035 from its inception.

“Seeing us working closer and closer together as a region has been inspiring,” he said. “It is just another step in the region’s working together in a collaborative way to address the opportunities and issues facing our region. That is what we do here at the Port of Huntsville – serve this region; and we are glad to be a participant in this study, trying to address this important topic of the labor force in our marketplace. We look forward to continuing this collaboration throughout the region.”

Wes Kelley, president and CEO of Huntsville Utilities, was unable to attend but is also a partner in the initiative. Penny Townson, vice president of the Morgan County Economic Development Association, stood in for President and CEO Jeremy Nails who could not attend.

Among Launch 2035’s other initiatives are the team’s continuing work on the Singing River Trail – 70 miles of Native American bike, hike, and walking trails that connects the region .

“The Singing River Trail is an example of the continued growth and economic development we see in our region,” Tucker said. “That’s what businesses and community leaders from across the region want to see – a long-term impact of our investments and hard work.”

Tying Education to Business, Huntsville Committee of 100 Funds National Board-Certified Teachers

A leading Huntsville business advocacy organization is seeing its investments paying off.

Though, the group did not invest in financial markets, it invested in education.

Last May, the Huntsville Committee of 100 launched an exclusive initiative in May to fund 100 nationally board-certified teachers throughout the Huntsville City Schools, Madison City Schools and Madison County School systems.

It is the first time an Alabama business community has made an impactful investment in education in order to make Madison County more attractive to employees and employers.

According to John Allen, CEO of the Committee of 100, there are three tenets to its mission: promoting cooperative local government to ensure local business leaders are elected to positions that help make the community better; to advocate for long-term economic development; and to push for higher quality public education.

“We have 55,000 students in our schools every day and about 90 percent of them are in public education, so we know the value of a public education,” said Allen. “We were looking for a way to impact, support and encourage high quality public education.

“I asked former superintendent of Huntsville City Schools Matt Akin what a business organization like ours could do to change the conversation around achievement in our schools. His response was to nationally board-certify 100 teachers.”

In 2014, the Committee of 100 established the Creative Cities Fund at the Community Foundation of Greater Huntsville. It focused on conversations around creating high achievement in the local school system and setting a culture of high expectations.

The project was intended to drive innovation, education and economic development by raising funds year after year for that purpose and putting those funds back into community ideas quickly.

“We reached out to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and learned the national board certification process was a very vigorous, performance-based, peer-reviewed and critiqued, one to three year process a teacher has to go through,” said Allen. “One teacher compared it to writing a master’s thesis for each of the four modules of the process.”

“The certification process costs $475 per component with a registration fee, so teachers are looking at $2,000 per teacher to go through the process, money many teachers do not have,” said Michelle Accardi, director of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. “Board certification is one of the levers we use to elevate student outcomes and research shows that all other factors being equal, a kindergarten student with a board-certified teacher is 31 percent more likely to be on grade level at the end of the year. Those are spectacular outcomes.”

When they are certified, teachers receive a $5,000 stipend from the state and, in some schools, they get an additional $5,000.

“Students learn more from board certified teachers,” said Accardi. “Early childhood literacy has ties to efforts and outcomes at high school graduation and beyond.”

The Committee of 100 began collaborating heavily with the schools foundation, a convenient partner because they work with all three school systems and are engaged in the national board certification process.

Allen said, on average, there is a one- to two-month achievement gain in board-certified classroom students and classrooms of board-certified teachers.

Furthermore, a recent study shows that for every $1 invested in national board certified teachers, there is a $31 return on investment.

When the Committee of 100 started the program, Alabama had 2,700 board certified teachers, which is about 6.3 percent of all teachers in Alabama.

To put it into perspective, about 90 percent of physicians are board-certified nationwide but only about 3 percent of teachers nationwide are board certified.

“Our organization, community business leaders, and elected leaders have bought into this process and all the dollars go straight to funding a teacher,” said Allen. “Prior to May, Madison had 58 teachers who are board certified; Huntsville City had about 30; and the county had about 35. In Huntsville, there are currently 70 additional teachers going through process, and in Madison there is another 35 with 25 now participating from Madison County Schools.

“We are now working on conversations surrounding how do we grow the conversation to a statewide level and how do we make it sustainable. We found that having a board-certified teacher in the school, they become a magnet, a mentor and a leader in the school.”

Accardi said student outcomes improve with certification.

“We currently have 25 different certificates a teacher can elect to certify in,” said Accardi. “Across all the certificate areas, every time someone does research on it, you see an increase in student outcomes.”

She also said the Committee of 100 initiative is unique because, as a business community, they understand not just the increase in outcomes, but they see a significant return on investment on board certification when talking purely dollars and cents.

“You see huge savings in teacher retention with a national board-certified teacher almost four times as likely to stay in a school setting than those teachers who are not certified,” said Accardi. “It helps elevate your game as a teacher, and if you have a group of NBCTs working together in a school, it gives you someone to consult with on issues.”

Going through the certification process enables teachers to see improvement in their own practice, as well.

“The National Board Certification process has improved my teaching practice by helping to change the way I interpret and use student data,” said Aimee Thomas Scrivner, a second-grade teacher at Huntsville’s Academy for Academics and Arts. “It has not only helped me gauge (and thus improve) my effectiveness as a teacher through measuring student impact of specific lessons and strategies, but helped me to develop meaningful relationships with students, parents, and colleagues that ultimately benefit student development and learning.”

‘Career Signing Day’ Helps Aim Students Toward Building Sciences

National Signing Day is a big event in the lives of high school student-athletes and their families.

The kids announce where they plan to continue their education and take their athletic talents to the next level.

Well, in Huntsville, there is another kind of “signing day.”

For the second time, Huntsville City Schools is hosting a “Career Signing Day,” when students are recognized for continuing their career paths within the fields of building science.

Just look around and you’ll see the demand for builders and tradesmen.

Construction zones and caution tape continue to speckle the city, as developers race to keep up with the demands required to complete projects.

Developments designed to enhance the growing infrastructure of Madison County seem to be popping up everywhere, and with no signs of a slow-down, the need for skilled workers and tradesmen is greater than ever.

“We are partnering with people to create more opportunity for internships and practical experience,” said Todd Watkins, director of Career Tech Education for Huntsville City Schools. “We are going to have interviews prior to the event. We are really excited because it gives our students a chance to do interview sessions.

“Then they can actually graduate high school and go straight to work.”

Turner Construction’s Director of Business Development Tyce Hudson said his company is working closely with area schools to ensure that upcoming graduates are aware of their options, whether they choose to pursue a four-year degree or opt for going directly into the workforce from high school.

“We are trying to get the message out that there are very bright careers in the trade industry right now,” he said. “We see shortages in mechanical, electrical, and plumbing so the demand for those is probably the highest.”

Through the efforts of companies such as Turner Construction, Huntsville City Schools students enrolled in the Career Tech Education Department are able to get practical work experience outside of the classroom by working on actual workplace projects.

Watkins also lauds the district’s newest career tech center at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

The initial program will allow students to work in the hospitality and culinary industries shadowing staff, giving them the opportunity to leave the school campus and report directly to Space & Rocket Center CEO Dr. Deborah Barnhart.

Watkins said the increased employment opportunities coupled with the area’s demand for progress equals many more options in the building science arena, whether individuals choose to seek a 4 year degree or not.

“What kids are seeing,” he said, “is that they can be employable right out of school or they can also go to (a four-year college) or a junior college.

“Kids are starting to realize that career tech is not a one-way path.”

 

Stovehouse’s ‘Retailtainment’ Concept to Include Gaslight Alley Retail District

There is nothing new about restaurants and retailers using a little pizzazz to entice customers to buy or experience their products and services.

Mexican restaurants have Mariachi bands; traditional pizza parlors entertain customers twirling pizza crusts; New Orleans chefs shuck oysters and suck crawfish heads for their customers; and retailers have BOGOs and Midnight Madness sales.

Gaslight Alley’s design is inspired by decorated alleys and shops in St. Augustine, Fla., and Lovat Lane in London. (Rendering/Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate)

But, according to Haley Clemons, marketing coordinator for Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate Group, retailers notice contemporary shoppers and diners are putting more importance on the experience of eating and shopping than they have in the past.

“Businesses in the retail industry are adopting out-of-the-box strategies to attract new audiences that value entertainment and interacting with brands in creative ways,” Clemons said. “Known as ‘retailtainment’ … many concepts are drawing in traffic by going above and beyond the basic shopping trip.”

Yoga-wear stores hosting in-shop fitness classes, or beauty brands encouraging their clientele to participate in the creation of their own purchases, are examples of this.

The Stovehouse Food & Leisure Garden, which is at the heart of the old stove factory property, is the perfect example of a venue conceived on the idea of retailtainment.

They have taken compatible concepts such as casual dining, live music, outdoor games, and special events and brought them together to collaborate. This creates a casual, inclusive atmosphere at the Stovehouse that is extremely popular with millennials.

Stovehouse Phase II: Gaslight Alley

With the success of the Stovehouse Food & Leisure Garden, developers are beginning Phase II where they will essentially repurpose an entirely separate section of the expansive old factory for retail, taking care to maintain the property’s old-world architecture and atmosphere. The “old-world shopping district” is called Gaslight Alley.

“Encompassing several retail spaces along a beautiful cobblestone walkway, Gaslight Alley will be home to all kinds of concepts with the hopes of attracting boutiques, soft goods, home décor, hair salons, and more,” said Clemons. “The possibilities are endless, and the district has already captured businesses — some that are scheduled to make their debut later this year.”

The Burn Collective is already hosting events at Stovehouse and its space will be open soon. (Photo/Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate)

When finished, Gaslight Alley, whose design is inspired by decorated alleys and shops in St. Augustine, Fla., and Lovat Lane in London, will be an eclectic shopping experience and a hotspot for one-stop destination shopping and retailtainment.

Currently, several businesses have set up office space at Stovehouse. Spur, Onyx Aerospace, Star Lab, Liberty Learning, and the Stovehouse Properties team are all housed there.

“Gaslight Alley businesses will also be part of the growing West Huntsville entertainment district that connects to nearby Campus 805,” said Clemons.

Among the committed tenants so far are Charlie Foster’s Coffee, F24 Training and the Burn Collective Fit Studio.

Charlie Foster’s is a locally owned, multi-roaster coffee shop at the entrance to Gaslight Alley. There is the 1,850-square-foot shop with a 500-square-foot outdoor patio. They will sell coffee beans from around the U.S., but the most unique thing about Charlie Foster’s is their plan to offer jobs to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

F45 Training, across from Charlie Foster’s, is a 2,835-square-foot functional training center offering high-intensity group circuit training classes. They will provide themed workouts and bring in a live DJ to get people motivated. They will be opening before the end of the year.

On a more mainstream level, the Burn Collective Fit studio is in the breezeway connecting to Gaslight Alley. They offer individual and group training in cardio, sculpting, and yoga barre classes, as well as athleisure apparel, candles, and jewelry. They are relocating from Franklin Street downtown.

 

Happy Halloween! Cecil Ashburn set to Reopen by End of the Month

The upcoming reopening of Cecil Ashburn has commuters rejoicing as they look forward to cutting their driving time down considerably.

Business owners are also rejoicing, as they anticipate a return to normalcy and faster commutes for themselves and their clientele when two lanes of the road are scheduled to open by the end of the month.

Ben Patterson, general manager of Mellow Mushroom in Jones Valley, admitted that the restaurant has taken a hit, as diners have chosen to go elsewhere for pizza rather than brave the traffic from the other side of the mountain.

“It has definitely hurt business,” he said. “We have been down quite a bit since January.”

Widely known for its eclectic, funky atmosphere, Mellow Mushroom does have some pretty loyal clientele and Patterson added that although they did continue to see many of their regular diners at dinner and lunch, the overall numbers were down through the winter.

“We did have an ok summer,” Patterson said. “Our projections were a little off and we did a little better than we thought we would.”

As for their neighbors across the street at Terrame Day Spa, business has remained steady. Owner Charles Johnson said his business has fared well throughout the shutdown.

“We have been very fortunate because people make appointments with us and they are able to plan it out a little bit,” he said.

Since the closing of Cecil Ashburn in January, an average 10-minute commute can take as much as 25 minutes, and Johnson believes the inconvenience of the extra drive time weighs heavily on the consumer’s decision on where to eat and shop.

He said Terrame has fared well during the shutdown due to it being a largely appointment-based establishment with a very loyal customer base.

“Business has remained steady,” Johnson said. “But I know, with restaurants and other businesses, the plans are often made at the last minute.”

According to the city, the asphalt wearing layer, temporary striping and traffic control devices will be installed on the eastbound lanes prior to reopening two lanes to traffic.

Other work, including completing concrete ditches along the north side and completion of the remaining lanes on Sutton Road, will continue after October.

The $18 million project is expected to be completed by May 2020.

 

 

Career-prep: Madison Construction Academy, Turner Construction Prepare Students for Skills-based Trades

MADISON — To discover local construction career opportunities, students from James Clemons and Bob Jones high schools took a walking tour of the new Rocket City Trash Pandas stadium at Town Madison.

The tour was part of a workforce development effort by Turner Construction Co., which is building the stadium.

Turner Construction officials give the students an up-close look at the work on the new Rocket City Trash Pandas baseball stadium. (Photo/Steve Babin)

Students dressed in full site safety gear including bright yellow vests, hardhats and goggles got an up-close look at the entire construction site followed by lunch and a 15-minute presentation about career opportunities in the construction industry and its many related skills-based trades.

Students in their schools’ Construction Academy are taking classes in planning, design and construction. They were selected for the trip by their building sciences instructors for showing the most interest in, or curiosity about a career in building engineering and the many skills-based careers related to the construction industry. These can be carpentry, welding, electrical, heating and air conditioning (HVAC), plumbing, cabinetry, and the like.

“We are recognizing industrywide that the construction industry can’t build at the pace of growth due to a shortage in skilled labor,” said Dani Latham, human resources generalist for Turner Construction. “This skills gap means we are not replacing the aging workforce with young workers, a problem that seems to stem from the old stigma attached to the business as being dangerous and abrasive.

“That is no longer so today where safety is a top priority. Workers themselves are skilled craftsmen making very good money, and we are seeing more women in the business, often in supervisory positions that has helped to change the culture.”

Latham is implementing a workforce development strategy for Turner Construction designed to bring together educators and partners such as North Alabama Works!; Associated Builders and Contractors; and the North Alabama Craft Training Foundation. The goal is to help kids develop the skills needed for a career in construction while introducing them to the many advantages of the construction industry.

“We find that many high school juniors and seniors are just not college-ready,” said Latham. “They aren’t yet sure what they want to do, some have no interest in going to college, while others can’t afford it, but that shouldn’t take them out of the workforce or leave them without opportunities.

“Our goal is to get them career-ready, rather than college-ready by introducing them to a skills-based trade where they can learn a skill that will stay with them forever, even if they pursue other professions.”

After the tour, the students were shown a presentation about career opportunities in the construction industry. (Photo/Steve Babin)

She said a job in construction doesn’t have to lead to a career in construction, but it can provide a living wage while they are going to school or deciding what they want to do. Latham said some people find their calling, while others branch off into other areas such as carpentry or welding.

“The great thing about it is that many of them can make a good living working construction while pursuing something else altogether; and it can help pay for a higher education like law school or medical school,” she said.

Similar to the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education program for manufacturing, Madison Construction Academy offers a four-year apprenticeship program where students go to school a couple of nights a week, but work full or part-time in the same field they are studying. This allows them to apply what they learn at night in a real-world setting.

This connection between a classroom curriculum and tangible careers in the workforce exposes students to a variety of career opportunities that will ultimately meet the future needs of business and industry.

“In many ways, the construction industry is behind manufacturing in implementing a recruitment strategy for skills-based training,” Latham said. “We found that the old model of holding career fairs with a lot of written literature and an industry recruiter behind a table no longer works.

“There is very little engagement from young people in that process, so we are getting more targeted by going into classrooms and getting in front of students who are taking construction and building trades classes. We make sure they understand their options and, by bringing them out to the stadium site, they can experience it firsthand.”

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’s Burgeoning Regional Economy Part 2: Right-sizing Lifestyle with Quality of Life

(This is the second and final installment of a two-part story on the area’s growing economy.)

Recently, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle shared his vision for Huntsville in terms of an average sized pie. He, along with business owners and civic officials, stood at city center – what Battle calls Huntsville’s “living room” – and looked out in every direction to the edges of the pie’s crust.

What they see are active growth corridors ushering in a significant expansion of the original Huntsville pie, which is accelerating economic growth throughout the North Alabama region.

“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 success of Twickenham Square, a multi-use development built right in the heart of downtown Huntsville’s medical district and anchored by The Artisan luxury apartments and a Publix, has spurred the development of four more multi-use (multi-purpose or mixed-use) sites in the downtown area.

These developments require the right balance of residential, retail, and commercial space, usually surrounded by a pedestrian-friendly traffic pattern, walking trails and/or parks, and plenty of amenities and activities.

Sealy Realty’s Avenue Huntsville (and the new Avenue Madison); CityCentre at Big Spring with the new AC Hotel by Marriott; the long-awaited Constellation, breaking ground this fall on the old Heart of Huntsville site at Clinton Avenue; and a new development by Rocket Development Partners on the former site of the Coca-Cola plant on Clinton Avenue across from the VBC are either already established or coming soon to downtown Huntsville.

“People ask whether mixed-use/multi-use developments are replacing traditional malls and shopping centers,” said Battle. “But I think you have to look at each one individually. People are looking for more live, work, play types of environments, but I think what we are seeing today is a shift. Is it permanent? Probably some of it is, but I won’t be surprised to see it shift back.”

Max Grelier, co-founder of RCP Companies who developed the AC Hotel as part of CityCentre, as well as MidCity District on the old Madison Square Mall property, agrees.

“Retail centers are not dead. They’re just changing based on consumer behavior,” he said. “Old-style retail centers still play a role in our communities. A good ‘convenience’ style retail center is needed to support suburban neighborhoods.

“However, retailers across most retail center formats are shrinking their footprints and using technology and distribution to keep up with the trends and competition.”

But Battle points out that many online retailers, such as Duluth Trading Company who have been online-only retailers, are building mortar-and-brick stores like the one they opened at Town Madison in June.

And even online behemoth Amazon is now putting stores throughout the U.S.

“I just got back from Nagoya, Japan where they still have huge department stores that are very active because people want to look at what they’re going to buy, touch it, experience the kind of cloth it’s made of and see how it fits,” Battle said.

“When you look at Parkway Place, they are doing very well, and we recently added an apartment component to Bridge Street Town Centre to add a ‘live’ component to it and Research Park’s work and play.

“But when you look at the old Madison Square Mall, it could be found on a site called DeadMalls.com,” Battle said. “We built a lot of malls back in the 1960s and 1970s – probably too many. I think we are now right-sizing back to what we need. There’s still a place for pure shopping like Parkway Place, but I say you need both to succeed.”

Charlie Sealy of Sealy Realty has developed several residential properties including The Belk Hudson Lofts and The Avenue Huntsville, which also has a retail component in downtown Huntsville.

Sealy is also building Avenue Madison that will have a retail and parking component in downtown Madison. He said the trend for new developments will be weighted more towards multi-use developments in the future.

“However, the older style shopping centers and malls won’t be replaced anytime soon unless they are old, obsolete, and really in need of replacement anyway,” said Sealy. “These [mixed-use] developments are definitely what residents and consumers prefer now because of the experience they produce.”

Grelier said the mixed-use developments come in a variety of styles.

“These developments are a type of urban development strategy that blends residential, commercial, cultural, institutional, and/or entertainment uses to initiate more consumer interactions by creating walkable, livable, and experiential communities,” said Grelier. “Mixed-use developments can take the form of a single building, a city block, or entire districts.

“Traditionally, human settlements have developed in mixed-use patterns; however, with industrialization of the U.S., as well as the invention of the skyscraper, governmental zoning regulations were introduced to separate different functions, such as manufacturing, from residential areas.”

Joey Ceci, president of The Breland Companies, which is developing Town Madison and the new Clift Farm project on U.S. 72 in Madison, sees it differently.

“I think we are seeing the death of the supercenter more than malls,” said Ceci. “Those centers with huge parking lots and a row of big box stores lined up next to each other – for one thing people just don’t like that huge parking field and, two, from a developer’s standpoint, if something happens and a business closes or moves out, it is very difficult to repurpose that huge space left behind by a store the size of Target or TJ Maxx. You can use a big box space for a trampoline center or an entertainment center, but you can’t put a restaurant in there.

“Multi-purpose developments are making that space work better by integrating residential into it via restaurants and everyday neighborhood retail like a dry cleaner or hair salon. The idea is to take the new urbanist movement that everyone is following and make smaller blocks of space so that if, in 20 years, that block is no longer viable, knock it down and put something else there. It’s a matter of making it more sustainable over time.”

Sustainability is the focus at Town Madison where Madison Mayor Paul Finley is looking to more than the casual Rocket City Trash Pandas fan to help build out that development.

He’s getting some help from travel sports and softball/baseball recruiters and scouts who will enjoy the regional draw of the new Pro Player Park, just off Wall-Triana Highway.

“The new Pro Player Park and everything Town Madison offers will definitely get foot traffic to our hotels; however, workforce development secures regional success which will also help us locally in aspects of infrastructure and schools,” said Finley.

Finley also points to the success of the Village at Providence, one of the area’s very first mixed-use developments built in 2003, as an example of how popular pedestrian-friendly mixed-use communities have become.

“A mixed-use development offers a live-work-play experience right outside of your front door,” said Finley. “This is appealing to young professionals, established mid-lifers, and retirees alike. These developments are multigenerational that attract businesses to the area.”

“Mixed-use developments are replacing declining malls because they are often well-located within a region that affords them premium access and site metrics,” said RCP’s Grelier who is striving to make the old mall property economically viable again. “When this is the case, there is typically strong demand for several multiple property types such as hospitality, residential, office, restaurants, and retail.

“Single-use commercial centers are becoming more difficult to sustain given changing consumer behavior related to online shopping, and demographic trends focusing on experiences rather than traditional brick-and-mortar shopping.”

However, Grelier said when they purchased the old mall property in 2015, they had a strategy ready for MidCity.

“We began working with the city and Urban Design Associates (UDA) to create a mixed-use project that would meet market demand and help reverse the decline of the West Huntsville commercial corridor,” he said. “We also had a broader, more aspirational strategy in collaboration with the city to use the MidCity District as regional economic growth tool by addressing the ‘next-generation’ workforce demand in Cummings Research Park.”

Grelier said they engaged nationally known market research consultants to perform third-party market studies to guide them in developing programming for a proper balance of uses.

“We used the information from the studies to collaborate with the City and UDA to produce a complete district business plan that would maximize regional draw by creating diverse layers of use and programming at the property,” Grelier said.

“Much of the emphasis is on highlighting our local cultural assets and identifying destination venues like TopGolf, public parks, and an amphitheater to establish a foundation around art and culture.”

He said this is now happening through connections with Huntsville’s and Muscle Shoals’ regional music legacy to bring a world-class 8,500-capacity amphitheater to the development.

“We believe the amphitheatre will be very successful and play a vital role in the elevation of the region as a place you want to live,” Grelier said. “There’s a strong demand for weekend entertainment so the music initiative happening in North Alabama will not only keep locals from traveling to spend in nearby markets, it will attract more weekend tourism to our region.”

Sealy said there is a strategy involved in where they build these mixed-use developments as well.

“These developments are really a long-term strategy in the sense that consumer preferences are shifting this way, so we are building for what is more popular now and appears will be more popular in the future,” he said. “… We are trying to draw certain people and jobs from other cities.  These developments are a recruiting tool and regional draw when we are competing against bigger cities for the same talent.

“Some people, particularly millennials, desire this type of environment for living or work, so we need them to attract that population …. They will spread through the regional area, but they need a certain density of people to work, so they will be concentrated in the growth corridors where the population and jobs are the largest.”

And, now, there is something for just about everyone.

“You hear people say, ‘Huntsville has some pretty cool breweries downtown, I can have some fun on Friday night, go see a baseball game, spend the night, go shop at Bridge Street, play some TopGolf, and get brunch at Stovehouse on Sunday’,” said Ceci. “It makes us a lot like Chattanooga – a kind of weekend destination where people say, ‘Wow! Huntsville is a great place to go for the weekend. There is always something to do.’”

Sealy said the mixed-use strategy is rewarding.

“I enjoy working on mixed-use projects because there is a huge emphasis on architecture, walk-ability, streetscape,” said Sealy. “The multi-use developments are a bigger challenge, but it is a rewarding creative process.”

Battle said the revitalization of one area pays benefits to the entire city.

“The Live, Work, Play strategy has always been our city plan,” said Battle. “Revitalize one area using the profits of another area we have revitalized and watch the spread of that revitalization until eventually the whole city is revitalized from one end to the other in every direction.”

Redstone Federal, South Huntsville Business Main Announce Business Facade Grants

South Huntsville is about to undergo a facelift.

Or, rather, a façade lift.

Business owners in South Huntsville will be able to apply for money to improve/update their storefronts through the Façade Improvement Grant Program.

The program, sponsored by Redstone Federal Credit Union, was announced Monday by the South Huntsville Main Business Association.

“With the generous contribution of Redstone Federal Credit Union, we are proud to be able to provide this innovative approach to improving the aesthetics of our district,’’ said Bekah Schmidt, executive director of the South Huntsville Main Business Association. “Façade Improvement Grants have had great success in other Main Street communities, such as Birmingham and Gadsden.

“We look forward to seeing the impact this new Façade Improvement Grant Program has on our district.”

The program is designed to promote the improvement of commercial and multi-use properties in the South Huntsville Main district by helping property owners upgrade, rehabilitate, and preserve the façades of eligible structures in the South Huntsville Main district.

The program aims to make revitalization efforts affordable by providing one-third of matching grant funds up to $5,000. Qualifying applications must identify the source of the additional funds required to complete the project within a calendar year of the award date.

After surveying its business owners, the South Huntsville Main Business Association found that most of the South Huntsville building stock was built before 1980. The market study also indicated that both the consumers and b

Redstone is excited about this opportunity to serve small businesses, said John Cook, the credit union’s vice president of lending.

“Redstone is committed to walking alongside the area’s small businesses owners to provide the resources they need to not only survive, but to thrive and grow,’’ said Cook. “That’s why Redstone is excited to partner with the South Huntsville Main Business Association in supporting the Facade Improvement Grant Program.’’

Façade Improvement Grants are provided to owners who apply, and are selected, in recognition of the positive impacts that individual building improvements can have on overall appearance, quality, growth, and vitality of the district.

Additional benefits of the Façade Improvement Grant Program include:

  • Encouraging new private investment the South Huntsville Main District in the form of fixed asset contributions related to exterior building improvements;
  • Preserving, enhancing, and restoring the historical and architectural significance of buildings in South Huntsville;
  • Perpetuating a positive and proactive business climate in South Huntsville that encourages the revitalization of buildings and supports business improvement.

Interested business and property owners inside the South Huntsville Main district are invited to attend the Façade Improvement Grant Workshop on Sept. 23, at 3 p.m. at the Huntsville Hub. The deadline to apply for the grant allocation is Oct. 15, 2019.

More information, including the application and grant requirements can be found at shba.biz.

 

 

Lynne Berry Vallely to Receive Humanities Service Award

Lynne Berry Vallely has been honored for serving Alabama Humanities.

BIRMINGHAM — Lynne Berry Vallely has been named the recipient of the 2019 Wayne Greenhaw Service to the Humanities Award, the Alabama Humanities Foundation Board of Directors announced.

Vallely, former AHF chair and longtime member of the board, will be honored with the Greenhaw award Oct. 7 at The Colloquium at Birmingham’s The Club. The award, named in memory of the author and former board member, is given to a past or current AHF board member who has contributed significantly to serving Alabama Humanities.

“My long association with the Alabama Humanities Foundation has been one of the great joys of my life,” Vallely said. “It was a privilege to work with talented staff and board members to share Alabama’s rich heritage, particularly its fascinating literature and history.

“I am especially delighted to have been chosen for the award named for Wayne Greenhaw, who was a dear friend and mentor.”

A native of Huntsville, Vallely is a graduate of Lee High School and Vanderbilt University. She retired after serving as executive director of the HudsonAlpha Foundation.

She was the founding executive director of the Community Foundation of Huntsville/Madison County. She has served in the offices of former U.S. Rep. Bud Cramer and U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions.

“Lynne was an outstanding board member and chair, and she served our organization with great energy and enthusiasm,” said AHF Executive Director Armand DeKeyser. “Her leadership set the standard that will serve us well in years to come.”

Vallely was a member of the Alabama Humanities Foundation Board for 20 years and served as board chair in 2016. She was a member of the board of directors of The Nature Conservancy, Alabama chapter, and served as board chair 2009-2010.

She was in Class 1 of Leadership Huntsville and is a past board chair, 1992-1993. Vallely proposed and established Huntsville Hospital’s Community Health Initiative in 1996. She received the 2018 Women’s Economic Development Council’s Women Honoring Women Award.

Playing leadership roles in service to the community, Vallely has worked in positions that promoted Huntsville’s tourist attractions, preserved its historic sites and protected the area’s natural environment.