Historic Lincoln Mill to Undergo Major Redevelopment

There’s a renaissance going on in the Historic Lincoln Mill area just off downtown Huntsville.

The latest project will be is the historic Lincoln Mill property on Meridian Street. Developers plan to introduce several amenities to the 220,000-square-foot complex that will usher in a new era for the property, Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate and Lincoln Revival LLC, said in a statement Tuesday.

The restoration will also help bridge the gap between downtown and the north Huntsville educational corridor, further connecting Drake State Community & Technical College and Alabama A&M to the city center.

According to the statement, updates will be made to the property’s overall look and usability, and on-site food, beverage, and retail options will be added. Phase one of redevelopment began in May and the project is expected to be completed late next year. 

“Our vision is to enhance the beauty of this historical landmark,” said Wesley Crunkleton, principal of Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate and owner/developer of Lincoln Mill. “Lincoln Mill is an exciting undertaking because of its history—it represents Huntsville’s industrial past and technology-driven future. All of our developments take on their own identities and we can’t wait for Lincoln Mill to do the same.” 

Located minutes from downtown Huntsville, “Lincoln Mill stands apart in its ease of accessibility, proximity to the city’s main business district, and its unmatchable architecture, design, and historical influence,” the statement said. These features combined make it the ideal candidate for a revitalization—one that will showcase its distinctive spaces, its ability to further serve the community, and connect the area of downtown with north Huntsville’s educational center. 

“One of the greatest features of Lincoln Mill is its location,” said Crunkleton. “It’s situated in a growing retail corridor on Meridian Street that is already home to some of the city’s most popular businesses, such as Preservation Company, Holtz Leather, Brooks & Collier, and the coming L’Etoile Patisserie.

“Restoring Lincoln Mill is the next step in activating the district, adding connectivity, and further opening the area to new business opportunities housed in one-of-a-kind spaces.” 

What began in 1900 as Madison Spinning Co., eventually grew into one of the area’s largest and most productive textile mills. Over its lifetime, Lincoln Mill has seen growth, despair, rebirth, and transformation—giving way for industrial and scientific advancements that helped shape the City of Huntsville.

Through the renovations, Lincoln Mill will provide an attractive work environment, while preserving its legacy. The facility is being updated with amenities that reflect its tenants’ requests, aimed at improving the site’s function, productivity, tenant retention, and overall comfort. 

“Phase One of the project will consist of exterior improvements such as painting, lighting, landscaping, and adding additional parking,” said Crunkleton. Interior improvements will include direction signs, updated lobbies and an improved, larger elevator.

When Phase Two begins, attention will be focused on the historic Dye House, Crunkleton said. 

“The Dye House is an integral part of the property’s history,” he said. “It sits abandoned at the front of the site and we plan to utilize the space to house retail along with one or two food/beverage concepts that will benefit the campus and its tenants.

“All will be updated while maintaining the site’s historic integrity and vibe.” 

The project team includes Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate, Matheny Goldmon, Joe Still Building Co., and Lanier Ford. 

Year-to-Date: Huntsville Area has Seen More Than $1 Billion in New Capital Investment and 850 New Jobs

Did someone say there is an economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Well, the facts on the ground do not bear that out here, according to the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce. 

“With COVID-19, this has certainly been a challenging year, but in spite of all that is happening, Huntsville still continues to see job growth in all parts of our City,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “Whether it’s Torch Technologies in South Huntsville, Dynetics in Cummings Research Park, or TriRx in Chase Industrial Park, there are buildings going up and sites being delivered.

“When you combine that with the ongoing work at North Huntsville Industrial Park with Facebook and Toyota and the numerous projects at Mazda Toyota, it’s a remarkable statement to the resiliency of the Huntsville market and its industries.”

Year-to-date economic growth figures show the Huntsville metropolitan region has accrued more than $1 billion in capital investments from new commercial projects, company expansions, and from companies that have increased the scope of previously announced projects in 2020. That growth will also result in 852 new jobs across the region.

“Throughout 2020, Madison County and Huntsville have continued the work in bringing new and innovative business and industry to our community while also supporting expansions among our industry partners,” said Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong. “Our diverse economy continues to be robust year after year. With a focus on workforce development the future of the Rocket City and Redstone Arsenal will continue to drive the economy of Alabama and southern Tennessee.”

The bulk of the growth will come from four large Huntsville company projects and four smaller, but significant, projects this year. However, due to coronavirus restrictions limiting celebratory groundbreakings, grand openings and open house events, many of these projects have been operating under the public radar.

“We want to celebrate every expansion, but this year, it has been challenging to do that in a safe way,” said Lucia Cape, the Chamber’s senior vice president of economic development. “These companies are important to our community and to the people they employ, and we want to recognize their growth.” 

Rendering shows the Freedom-Torch-Invariant facility from the south parking lot.

Torch Technologies leads with $32.3 million in investment on two recent expansion projects that will bring 120 new jobs to Huntsville. 

First announced in April 2018, Torch has completed its Technology Integration and Prototyping Center (TIPC) with two-story office space and an attached 10,000-square-foot high-bay facility at the corner of Chris Drive and Vermont Road in South Huntsville. Constructed by its sister company, Freedom Real Estate & Capital, the center includes a 35,000 square-foot lab and solutions facility.

According to board member and Torch President & CEO John Watson the new facility will allow Torch to take on projects of greater complexity.

“These projects will range from developing instruments that will completely change how warhead testing is accomplished, to re-engineering products that protect our nation,” Watson said.

The second Torch expansion is part of a partnership with the Invariant, a Huntsville-based engineering services and software development company founded in 2001. 

Invariant President David Anderson: “We have been neighbors with Freedom Real Estate and Torch Technologies for several years and look forward to continuing those relationships.” (Rendering/Invariant)

Invariant is investing $430,000 in a 92,000 square-foot facility as part of a mixed-use facility being built by Freedom in South Huntsville. 

The facility will consist of office, research, development, and manufacturing space. They quietly broke ground in May and expect the facility to be complete by next summer. Invariant’s growth will produce 23 new jobs.

“We are excited to grow and expand into this new facility that will provide our employees the resources needed to ensure quality services and products are delivered to our customers,” said Invariant President David Anderson. “We are proud to be a part of Huntsville’s continuing success. We have been neighbors with Freedom Real Estate and Torch Technologies for several years and look forward to continuing those relationships.”

Japan-based freight and logistics provider Nippon Express USA will invest $19.1 million in its location on the campus of Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, U.S.A. over the next two years. They expect to hire more than 100 employees over that period.

After being acquired by Leidos in January, Dynetics will add up to 200 jobs associated with weapon development work, and has hired hundreds of people this year in support of the Human Landing System and other projects. The expansion brings the company’s local employment to 2,740. 

Those four expansions represent a total of 510 new jobs and $71 million in investment.

Four more companies, Aldez, TriRx Pharmaceuticals, Palco Telecommunications and Ridgeview Industries have also significantly expanded in Huntsville.

Aldez is an inventory management and distribution company and has a new facility near the sprawling Mazda Toyota Manufacturing facility. (Photo/Aldez)

Aldez is an inventory management and distribution company with a focus on the automotive industry. Its operations in the SouthPoint Business Park, a couple of miles from the Mazda Toyota plant, will provide maintenance, repair and operations crib management and distribution center services for the MTMUS facility.

“This new, state-of-the-art facility is a strategic move that will allow us to serve MTMUS manufacturing’s newest automotive facility in Huntsville, Limestone County, and enable further growth with their supplier base,” said Aldez COO Mike Byrne. 

“These economic development projects have changed the future of our county by their investments and job creation,” said Limestone County Commission Chairman Collin Daly. “The opportunities provided to our community through these projects will have a lasting impact for years to come.”

TriRx Pharmaceutical Services celebrated its one-year anniversary in Huntsville in May. According to Timothy C. Tyson, chairman and CEO, the Huntsville Liquids, Creams and Ointments Facility has grown from a small number of employees to more than 250 people as of June. 

“We would like to thank our employees, our customers, and our community for their amazing support,” said Tyson. “We continue to be focused on and dedicated to the patients we serve. This has been an exciting year accented by growth with a passion for delivering on our commitment to our customers. And we have just begun.”

Palco Telecommunications, a post-sales supply chain management company started in Huntsville in 1986; and Ridgeview Industries, Inc., a metal stamping and welded assemblies’ manufacturer for automotive OEM, have also among the announced expansions in Huntsville.

“It is exciting to see these quality organizations continuing to grow, building off of their previous successes and adding even more jobs in our community,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. “I am excited about the opportunities these companies bring for our region as we continue to grow together.” 

Construction of Mixed-Use Development on Governors Drive Set for Early 2021

Developers of a mixed-use “I-565 gateway” to Huntsville’s Westside have released a preliminary rendering of the project and anticipate a “first quarter 2021” construction start.

Preliminary rendering of the planned mixed-use development on Governors Drive in Huntsville’s Westside. (The Beach Company)

The property, some 13 acres of land on Governors Drive near the intersections with 13th and 14th streets, will be developed by The Beach Company, a Charleston, S.C.-based development company.

The multibuilding community will feature 342 multifamily units, including 14 townhomes; 9,000 square feet of retail/restaurant space; and 48,000 square feet of Class A office space.

Residential amenities will include a pool, a fitness area, a clubhouse and ample green space with a dog park.

The planned project will complement the neighboring Stovehouse complex and will feature pedestrian walkways between the two developments.

“This community addition will help continue the momentum of growth along Governors Drive through increased walkability and connectivity,” said Ned Miller, development manager with The Beach Company. “The project was thoughtfully designed to enhance the experience of the growing number of residents and businesses expanding to Huntsville’s flourishing Westside.”

Little Richard Mural Unveiled at MidCity – A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom!

Good Golly, Miss Molly!

Hoping to avoid “slippin’ and slidin’,” friends, officials and family gathered Tuesday night in MidCity District for a special unveiling.

The crowd braved the threat of rain to celebrate the colorful tribute that will serve to forever immortalize the life and music of Richard Wayne Penniman, famously known to the world as “Little Richard.”

Hosted by the MidCity Development team and with the blessing of the Penniman family, the unveiling of artist Logan Tanner’s vibrant mural in a formal presentation will allow Little Richard’s story to live on in the form of a visual masterpiece.

“It is a special moment for the Penniman family,” said David Person, the family’s representative. “On behalf of the family, I would like to thank all of you for being here tonight.”

Oakwood University President Dr. Les Pollard and Dr. Carlton Byrd, senior pastor of Oakwood University Church, spoke of Richard, his faith, and his strong connection to the college and to Huntsville.

“Richard had a special place in this city” said Dr. Byrd. “He was a person you would never ever forget. And if he knew you, he never forgot you.”

In 1957, Little Richard answered a higher calling. A calling which brought him to Huntsville.

A larger-than-life mural at Wahlburgers in Huntsville’s MidCity District celebrates the larger-than-life persona of Little Richard. (Photo/Steve Babin)

It was here Richard enrolled at Oakwood University to study for the ministry. Richard was inspired by E.C. Ward, then pastor of Oakwood. Richard entered to learn, and he departed to serve by becoming a traveling evangelist.

As an ordained minister, he officiated the weddings of Tom Petty, Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, and Little Steven Van Zandt.

As an entertainer with his glamorous sequin and rhinestone studded capes and suits, Richard was quite the visual showman as well as an exceptional performer. He was in the inaugural class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as his career spanned seven decades. He was an inspiration to performers such as James Brown, Michael Jackson, Prince, and Tina Turner.

Driving in from the east, the 40-foot-wide-by-30-foot-tall mural adorning the side of Wahlburgers at MidCity is impossible to miss.

Capturing the essence of Richard’s high-energy antics, the mural presents Little Richard at the peak of his popularity in the late 1950s. The colors are bold and bright, with contrasting hues of orange, yellow, teal, turquoise, with a touch of purple, all serving to convey the liveliness of Richard’s performances. The projection mapping display by LED Orange at the end of the presentation, brought the mural to life – in synch with his music.

It was said that Richard’s charisma also was the magnet that brought people to the word of God.

He was laid to rest at Oakwood Memorial Gardens Cemetery but his spirit will live on at MidCity.

 

 

 

 

Regions Grant Gives KTECH’s Virtual Reality Workforce Initiative Real-Life Implications

Virtual reality goes real-time at KTECH thanks to a $42,000 grant from the Regions Foundation, the nonprofit initiative of Regions Bank. The money will fund virtual reality equipment for KTECH’s new Virtual Reality Workforce Development Training initiative.

Founder and CEO Lee Marshall formed KTECH as the workforce training and development arm of her Kids to Love Foundation. Because workforce readiness is a top priority for Regions Bank, its initiatives naturally align with KTECH.

“It has never been more important to connect with people wherever they are,” said Marta Self, executive director of the Regions Foundation. “That’s exactly what VR does, and what KTECH is doing. This is about empowering students with new tools to help them prepare for successful and rewarding careers.”

The grant is an extension of Region’s work to prepare people in Huntsville and Madison County for advanced manufacturing and high-tech jobs.

KTECH introduced the use of virtual reality technology this summer amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as a 3D Virtual Tour recruitment tool. Students were able to explore KTECH’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) facilities while living under stay-at-home orders.

It introduced a new way of seeing what KTECH is about and gave virtual viewers an up-close look at instructors demonstrating how the equipment works. It also shows the instructors conducting KTECH training, so it puts the student right there in the workplace and classroom.

KTECH has been on the edge of innovation. It targets foster kids who have aged out of the foster care system, and also is a training vehicle for anyone in the community who can use the skills, including veterans.

They offer hands-on, interactive, one-on-one instruction and certification training in mechatronics, robotics, soldering and solid edge modeling. All four skills are in high demand in the advanced manufacturing industry.

After students receive their certification, KTECH connects its graduates with good-paying jobs in the manufacturing sector.

Now VR is incorporated into the Mechatronics classes, further enhancing the student’s classroom experience in preparation for future careers.

VR technology creates a 3D simulated environment that prepares students for a range of vocational and tech-based careers. Students can both learn a STEAM skill and experience the job environment in which they will find themselves upon completion. It supplements in-person training with remote learning from anywhere.

“Students use VR headsets to experience face-to-face interactions with realistic avatars for a more immersive experience in learning than workers have ever been able to do before,” said Marshall. “During COVID-19, we knew we had to pivot to propel our students forward, and Virtual Reality was the obvious choice.

“Cutting-edge virtual reality technology is used throughout KTECH and helps students pursue self-guided discovery in areas such as mechatronics, hands-on skills development, and more.”

According to several career-oriented websites, VR is ranked in the top five fastest growing technology careers, alongside cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.

“We are thankful the Regions Foundation sees how this Virtual Reality technology will advance our KTECH students,” said Marshall. “Putting state-of-the-art technology into the palm of a student’s hand, no matter where they are, is critical to the learning and workforce training process. Adapting and expanding digital offerings allows KTECH to grow in a ‘post-COVID’ world, preparing the workforce of the future.”

Sean Kelly, Huntsville market executive for Regions Bank. said, as the local economy recovers from COVID-19, more companies will discover the positive workforce climate available in Huntsville.

“KTECH and the Virtual Reality program will serve as important components to the success of the Tennessee Valley,” said Kelly. “We all benefit – individuals, businesses and communities – when we ensure the workforce is trained, prepared and ready to succeed.”

 

TVA Offers STEM Grants for K-12 Tennessee Valley Educators

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Valley Authority’s STEM Classroom Grant Program is taking applications with $800,000 in funding available for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics learning projects in classrooms and schools across the Tennessee Valley.

The education program is sponsored by TVA in partnership with Bicentennial Volunteers Inc., a TVA retiree organization, with TVA contributing $500,000 and BVI contributing $300,000 to the effort.

The 2020-2021 STEM grant application is open through Oct. 16. Grants may be requested in amounts up to $5,000 each. Eligible applicants are teachers or school administrators in public or private schools, grades K-12. Schools must be in the TVA service area and receive power from a local power company served by TVA.

Grant application submission and review will be managed by the independent Tennessee STEM Innovation Network.

“TVA recognizes that excellence in education is the key to developing our future workforce in the Valley and helping communities attract great jobs for the next generation,” said Jeannette Mills, TVA executive vice president and chief external relations officer. “This program directly supports teachers in advancing STEM activities in their classrooms to develop a talent pipeline for TVA, its customers, and the region.”

Last year’s program awarded $600,000 in grants to schools across the Tennessee Valley. The competitive grant program gives preference to applications that explore TVA’s primary areas of focus: energy, environment, economic and career development, and community problem solving. In addition, this year educators can also apply for a grant to support pandemic response or virtual learning materials to assist in STEM education.

For information and to apply, visit www.tvastem.com.

 

Area Commercial Construction Continues to Rise in Wake of COVID Uncertainty

There has been very little, if any, slowdown in commercial building in Huntsville and Madison throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the weight of uncertainty related to the pandemic has not disappeared, commercial builders and developers continue to work through it like Marshall Space Flight Center engineers work through the challenges of the space program – always moving positively forward; always working the problem from a pragmatic standpoint; and never accepting failure as a final outcome.

According to Shane Davis, Director of Urban & Economic Development for the City of Huntsville, new construction permits, and permit inspection requests have not declined throughout the pandemic and the City continues to see strong growth in all building sectors.

“In terms of the overall environment, we continue to see multiple new projects looking at the Huntsville market as a new or expanding location,” said Davis. “While COVID has slowed the number of potential new companies and their projects, active projects are very strong and diverse in varying business sectors.

“Ongoing construction activities have been hindered by reduced workers, intermediate quarantining, and delays due to the availability in building materials. But while these conditions have slowed the overall construction pace, all ongoing commercial and industrial projects continue to move ahead with a shift in completion deadlines and openings.”

He points to the very visible and very active downtown construction happening on what seems like every block.

“City Centre is under construction with Phase II – lofts, retail, and a parking garage,” he said. “Two new public parking garages are going up at Greene and Monroe streets. Both the Curio Hotel and Hampton Inn and Suites are in the midst of construction, and the new Huntsville Hospital Tower is taking shape.

Last year, Russ Russell Commercial Real Estate set a land sales record for downtown Huntsville at $56 per square foot for the Hampton Inn and Suites project. Located on the corner of Clinton Avenue and Monroe Street, the land is prime downtown real estate across from the expanded Von Braun Center.

“It is one of the few corners that has been vacant with no building on it,” Russell said. “Out-of-town developers look at these parcels of land with fresh eyes are willing to pay a premium because they can see it developed, where sometimes local people can’t because they drive past it every day.

“I set up an ugly tent with cold beer and rare velvet Elvis artwork, and you will be surprised how it brings that vision into full view,” he said.

Mitch Coley, division Manager at Robins & Morton, said they are working on a variety of projects in the greater Huntsville area. Some of the most visible include Huntsville Hospital’s Orthopedic and Spine Tower, Redstone Federal Credit Union, 106 Jefferson, Pelham Street Park and Redstone Gateway 7100 and 8100’s new office building.

“Mid-year there was a decline in new projects and delays in projects in the planning stages as owners and developers hesitated, wanting a clearer picture of what was ahead,” said Coley. “But the industry is seeing some of these projects resuming. The good news is that those projects haven’t gone away and that’s providing strong start for next year.”

He said they are seeing a decrease in the number of new projects reported as upcoming opportunities from architect and design firms, but they believe this will manifest itself in a market-by-market and city-by-city basis. Huntsville is not likely to be as affected by what would ordinarily predict a nationwide downturn because Huntsville’s market sector is so diverse.

“Looking back at the recession of 2008, the construction industry contracted,” Coley said. “It was different from what we’re facing today because of the lack of capital during the Great Recession, but it resulted in a pent-up demand for construction.

“There was still a backlog when COVID-19 surfaced. Although some clients expressed hesitancy to proceed with projects in the very early stages of planning mid-year, we’ve seen many of them resume.”

Russell sees positive signs everywhere. From the construction of the $40 million Autograph Collection by Marriott hotel being built to replace the southern portion of the Von Braun Center parking deck; to the long-awaited downtown Constellation development, which begins Phase I construction this fall.

In addition to these large-scale projects, downtown continues to see new businesses opening up and the redevelopment of existing spaces in the core, Davis said.

“The biggest impact on new commercial projects and hospitality projects has been the pause in project financing,” Davis said. “We have dozens of projects that still have approval from both the private equity and brand/retailer sides. However, COVID-19 has caused a pause in the start of construction due to the ability to close on the financial package.

“The ability for these projects to keep the private equity and national brand approvals shows the current strength of the Huntsville market.”

Don Beck, partner in The Shopping Center Group of Alabama concurs.

“The banks are lending money and it is cheap,” said Beck, whose company specializes in retail developments. “Bankers know the Huntsville market is good because its employment base is there with federal dollars coming from Redstone Arsenal and subcontracting coming from Cummings Research Park. With the jobs there, the banks are a yes for lending.”

On the other hand, many banks are showing hesitancy toward some restaurants and hotels.

According to Joey Ceci, president of the Breland Companies, “We have several cases where regional hotel and restaurant owners are ready to move forward but in those two industries, it is almost impossible to get financing, despite their financial statements looking fine. Accessing capital is very important to companies that are expanding so this has been a deterrent.”

SouthPoint Business Park (Photo/Hollingsworth Companies)

Outside of downtown, Davis points to growth and the success of other commercial projects throughout the region.

SouthPoint Business Park, off Interstates 65 and 565 and five miles from the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant, broke ground on its 11th facility at the 1.9 million square-foot industrial park that is already home to six companies. The new building is the region’s largest spec industrial facility and, according to Davis, it is almost full.

SouthPoint is a component of the larger regional economic strategy, and Davis calls out regional leaders and partners for that expansion, as they continue to focus on the bigger picture and work to be successful in those areas.

“Cummings Research Park remains the location of choice for big business,” Davis said. “Several entities have plans for expansion and the city continues to invest in new and updated infrastructure as part of implementing the updated Master Plan. Even with the COVID events, projects are in the works for 2021 and we believe will be a big year for CRP.”

At MidCity, construction slowed due to COVID, but retail, hospitality, and the initial multi-family components are still on schedule to start construction this fall.

“Most of the infrastructure construction, site grading, and utility relocations are wrapping up such that the redevelopment plan can go vertical,” said Davis. “We believe 2021 will be an exciting year for MidCity as the building architecture that has been shared through the Master Plan will come to life.”

One of the worst kept secrets in Madison County is all that red clay moving around at the corner of Town Madison Boulevard and Zierdt Road.

The newest Huntsville Starbucks location and Outback Steakhouse are moving forward, while Town Madison continues to build a retail center across the street from Toyota Field. The buildings are 50 percent complete and will welcome a chef-driven Italian restaurant to its tenant line-up.

“Economic development continues to be a primary focus for our Madison team,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. “Our YTD sales tax is up over 10 percent from last year despite the COVID-19 situation, and we continue to see success in growing our retail sales tax base.

“Town Madison, Madison Boulevard, The Avenue Madison downtown, Midtown, the (U.S.) 72 corridor, and County Line Road have all seen growth in restaurants, retail, and groceries,” Finley aidd. “Redevelopment of Hughes Plaza, Madison Boulevard and Hughes Road all continue to give Madison an upgraded, new and positive look.”

“Retail follows rooftops,” said Beck of TSCG. “The good news is that Huntsville is still growing; we still have a housing shortage; we still have over 10,000 jobs coming into the area; and there is still a lot of demand, even pent-up retail demand.”

Beck, who has developed retail projects throughout the region, said he is positive about the future as he sees developers moving towards mixed-use projects with a housing component and perhaps an office of medical office component fitted together with traditional retail.

“We are still seeing expansion downtown and on the south part of town with the Hays Farm development,” he said. “Scottsboro, Athens and northern Madison County, Hazel Green and Meridianville are showing continuous growth.

“Athens, for instance, is getting a second Publix where the old Kmart used to be. With its proximity to the interstate and Toyota Mazda, Athens is a great commuting city for Huntsville and Madison, and it should soon see a boom as it grows together with Madison.”

He also said smaller towns such as Hartselle and Priceville are seeing growth as well because the commute time to Huntsville or Madison is workable.

“If you moved here from Atlanta or (Washington) D.C., you have an entirely different perspective on commutes,” he said. “And it is less expensive to live in those smaller towns.”

The disconnect he said is with forced reduced sales volumes. Can retailers justify the construction costs and afford the rent?

“We don’t know the answer to that yet, but at some point, business must open back up and people have to get back work,” Beck said. “There’s no way these restaurants with construction costs being where they are, can at 50 percent capacity and a limit on the hours you can sell alcohol, justify new construction costs.”

He said while rent must go down, at the same time, landlords have mortgages and they have to make mortgage payments. The good part is that developers and landlords are being creative in finding ways to make it work.

“On pre-COVID leases, landlords are working on rent deferrals or rent reductions where the tenant pays partial rent for the time being, and when things get back to normal, going back to full rent and perhaps adding a longer lease time, like an extra year on the lease.

“As long as there’s housing demand, retail will be all right, but we also don’t yet know how the Amazon effect will affect big box retail,” he said. “There are still a lot of people who want to shop in stores. Shopping is a social event just like going out to play golf or tennis. But throughout this pandemic, Amazon has filled that space and we don’t know yet how much that convenience will carry over into everyday life once things get back to normal.”

Coley too said there is still a lot of uncertainty, but his company Robins & Morton believes most people are hopeful that we will gain control over the pandemic in the not-too-distant future.

“When you think that it can be two years or more from planning to completion for a project, you can understand why a lot of active construction hasn’t slowed down,” said Coley. “You’re always building for the future, and I think that’s what we’re seeing here in Huntsville.”

Renaissance on Meridian Street Brings New Businesses, Attitude

Downtown Huntsville continues to grow, not just upward, as all of the cranes creating the skyline would suggest, but outward as well.

 

Preservation Company opened next door to Holtz Leather in 2017 and is called “Huntsville’s home for historic architecture.” (Photo/Eric Schultz)

One evolving area of growth is north of the city’s center down Meridian Street, where entrenched tenants Brooks & Collier are getting some new business neighbors down the street from its location near Pratt Avenue and the I-565 interchange.

Holtz Leather Company and Preservation Company are in the old Lincoln Mill Commissary. L’Etoile, a French bakery, is a recent move-in and is taking online orders as it prepares for a fall grand opening.

Meanwhile, Greg Brooks of the longtime family-owned Brooks and Collier said the new establishments, and rumors that many more changes to improve the area are in the works, have already attracted new customers.

“I can tell a lot of the younger crowd, I guess millennials is better, right, are coming in,’’ said Brooks, whose grandfather T.E. Brooks and partner Ernest Collier founded the store as a Feed and Seed in downtown Huntsville in 1946.

“That’s a good sign. Half the people who come in now we don’t even know and I’m used to everybody coming in we would know.’’

Brooks and Collier, which has evolved from selling products to farmers to a cosmopolitan shop carrying a variety of items from patio and indoor furniture and hardscapes to grills, has purchased property across the street from its location for a to-be-determined development.

 

Holtz Leather Company offers products for men, women, home and office, corporate gifts and even guitar accessories. (Photo/Eric Schultz)

Meanwhile, Holtz Leather Company moved into a multilevel store at Lincoln Mill four years ago where the production facility is on-site. The company was founded by childhood friends and the now-married team of Rick and Coleen Holtz.

According to developer Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate Group, the shop offers product lines covering items for men, women, home and office, corporate gifts and even guitar accessories. Holtz also has a large selection of home accents, pens, pottery, hats, and candles.

“We’ve been primarily e-commerce before opening this retail store and still probably 90 percent of our sales come from online,’’ said Becka Christian, the company’s vice president. “But we’ve been really, really impressed with how the retail store has done.

“When we first opened we honestly thought, ‘If it just pays the rent that would be awesome. That’s all we need.’ It’s far exceeded that, which has been really exciting.’’

Preservation Company opened next door to Holtz Leather in 2017 by owners Jason and Christa Butler. Crunkleton describes it as, “Huntsville’s home for historic architecture,’’ and offers “unusually uncommon inventory that blends old and new design.design.’’

In keeping with the family vibe of Meridian Street, former Army officer Kevin Zurmuehlan and his wife Kristen moved in at Lincoln Mill and have a storefront grand opening for L’Etoile planned for October.

“We’re really excited about that,’’ Christian said. “They did a test taste and it was very good.’’

While Brooks wouldn’t reveal details that were discussed at a recent meeting with city planners,, he say add they should inject even more vibrance into the area. However, things have already been on the upswing despite the pandemic.

“I hate to say it,’’ he said, “but it’s the best year we’ve ever had. I think it’s part of the staying at home thing. People are working in the yard and the patio, grilling out a lot. We’ve been out of charcoal for close to a month.

“That’s part of the people hanging out and not going to a restaurant.’’

Who knows what continued improvements could bring to the current and future stores along Meridian Street in one of the oldest neighborhoods in town?

 

 

 

Construction Complete – Cecil Ashburn Drive Opens 4 Lanes of Traffic

Cecil Ashburn Drive opened four lanes of traffic Thursday, resetting a 3.4-mile transportation corridor that will support commuter growth in Huntsville’s southeastern sector.

The $18.1 million project was part of Mayor Tommy Battle’s 2012 “Restore our Roads” initiative that jointly funded more than $250 million in major road improvements with the Alabama Department of Transportation.

Construction began on Cecil Ashburn in January 2019 when Carcel & G Construction shut down the former two-lane road to fast-track roadwork. The expedited timeline allowed the city to reopen two lanes of new road 10 months later. Since that time, crews have been working to complete the project before the end of 2020.

“We are pleased to give this road back to our community, four months ahead of schedule and under budget,” said Battle. “This is a beautiful, scenic road that will serve us for decades to come.”

The road’s extra capacity will allow Cecil Ashburn to accommodate more than 34,000 daily commuters. A number of safety improvements were included in the design and construction including the addition of 8-foot-wide shoulders for cyclists and pedestrians. The result is a safer, quicker and higher capacity route that connects East Huntsville’s Big Cove/Hampton Cove area to downtown Huntsville, Redstone Arsenal, Cummings Research Park and beyond.

“Our goal was to increase capacity and improve safety on Cecil Ashburn,” said City Engineer Kathy Martin. “I want to thank the mayor for such a unique opportunity to work on this challenging project with a dedicated team. Not everyone gets to work on such a dynamic project within their career.”

Martin credited City Project Engineer Alan Clements, City Inspector Woody Maples, and Carcel & G Superintendent Greg Wynn for their work in making this project a success.

“Wynn’s determination and attention to detail made all the difference to bring this project in on schedule and within budget,” she said.

MidCity District Adds 40-Foot Mural to Honor Little Richard

Good golly, MidCity!

MidCity District, the mixed-use development on University Drive, is adding a 40-foot by 30-foot mural of late rock ‘n’ roll icon Little Richard to its public mural gallery.

Born Richard Penniman and a graduate of Oakwood University, he devoted his life to music and his faith. Little Richard was a pioneer for living bold and was named “the architect of rock ‘n’ roll”. He died in May at the age of 87.

In a statement, his family said, “The family of Richard Penniman, known to the world as Little Richard, appreciates the extraordinary gesture by the RCP Companies and MidCity Huntsville to create a mural in tribute to our loved one. Richard had many fond memories of Huntsville.

“He loved his alma mater Oakwood College (now Oakwood University) and enjoyed his return visits to the college church, especially when his friend and mentor E.C. Ward was the senior pastor. Richard also enjoyed being one of the headliners for the 1994 Big Spring Jam. An estimated 15,000 fans attended his performance that night.”

He created the famous “Tutti Frutti” line, “A wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom,” while washing dishes in his home town of Macon, Ga., before he became a household name across the globe. He was among the first 10 inductees into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

“The idea of a Little Richard tribute was introduced by Bryan Mayo of Rocket CityScope; we decided to pursue artists immediately” said Max Grelier, co-founder of RCP Companies, the developer of MidCity District. “In a short amount of time we were able to connect with Little Richard’s family, get their blessing, secure a talented local artist, and allocate funding for this colorful addition to MidCity District.

The $850 million MidCity District development will include 350,000 square feet of retail, dining, and entertainment space; approximately 400,000 square feet of high-tech office space; 1,400 residential units; and approximately 650 hotel rooms.

“We are looking forward to unveiling this mural to our North Alabama community in several weeks,” said Grelier.

Artist Logan Tanner will paint the mural on the east-facing facade of the Wahlburgers building.  The project is expected to be completed in about four-five weeks, Tanner said.

Tanner has worked on murals throughout the Tennessee Valley including at Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment. His whimsical and vibrant style is a perfect match for Little Richard’s equally colorful legacy.

“As Richard’s survivors, we support any worthwhile effort to celebrate his legacy and innovative contributions to American music and culture,” the family’s statement said. “And we are very appreciative of the artistic efforts of Logan Tanner, the creator of the mural planned for MidCity Huntsville. Mr. Tanner’s art captures Richard’s vibrancy and creativity tastefully and with elegance.

“Thank you for this honor, and God bless you as you move forward with this tribute.”