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.

UAH to Host Interim State Cyber and Engineering School; Massey Named President

The University of Alabama-Huntsville’s Bevill Center will serve as the interim site for the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering, it was announced Friday.

Also, former Madison County Schools Superintendent Matt Massey was named the school’s first president. The school is scheduled to open in August 2020 with 10th- and 11th-grade students from across the state attending.

“The University of Alabama in Huntsville is excited to be the interim location for the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering,” said UAH President Dr. Darren Dawson. “Our Bevill Center on campus will provide secure living arrangements for students, in addition to classroom space and food services.

“We appreciate the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers working with us to meet their training needs elsewhere on campus so that the School could begin residency and education on our campus next year.”

The announcements were made at a press conference at Redstone Federal Credit Union.

“It’s not only an exciting opportunity to be named president of the school, but to be a resource for teachers and administrators to implement cyber and STEM into their schools,” said Massey, who had served as the county’s superintendent for 4 1/2 years. “The result will not just impact 300 students in the school, but will exponentially reach students and educators all across the state.”

The city of Huntsville is donating property in Cummings Research Park for the school’s permanent location. The school is expected to open there in August 2022.

“The City of Huntsville is proud to be an ongoing partner in this cyber initiative by supporting Alabama’s cyber magnet school with a gift of property for a new campus,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “Once again, Huntsville will continue to be the epicenter for the state’s best and brightest to help Alabama and our nation meet the demand for a future workforce in cyber and engineering.”

The independent residential magnet school will provide students from across the state with educational opportunities and experiences in cyber technology and engineering. The school will also assist Alabama teachers, administrators, and superintendents in replicating cyber technology and engineering studies in their own schools.

“The ASCTE Board could not be more pleased with the continued and expanded partnership with UAH, and the tremendous gift by the City of Huntsville through Mayor Battle and the City Council to establish a permanent site in CRP for the school,” said Sen. Arthur Orr, president of the school’s Board of Trustees. “All in all, it is gratifying to see the Huntsville community realize the importance of this school to the area and state as we establish a world-class institution.”

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.”

South Huntsville Library: The Future of Libraries at the Sandra Moon Campus

With more than 20 years of continuous growth and service to South Huntsville, the Bailey Cove Library is bursting at the seams.

Research has shown that over the past year, more than 2,000 library cards were issued; more than 10,000 programs attended; and nearly 7,000 people used the public computers – JUST at Bailey Cove branch alone.

Housed in the converted space of an old hardware store, the library opened its doors in 1997. At a mere 10,000 square feet, the library has long since outgrown its space.

The issue of space resulted in plans being drafted for a 40,000 square-foot, high-tech community library and event space. The new library will be at Huntsville’s new Sandra Moon Community Complex on the old Grissom High School campus. When finished, it will be four times larger than the Bailey Cove Branch Library.

At a recent South Huntsville Business Association meeting, Huntsville-Madison County Public Library Capital Campaign Director Caroline Kennedy presented plans for the new library, unveiling the Fuqua and Partners masterful conceptualization.

“It will be a gigantic, state-of-the-art library, with lots of light and glass,” Kennedy said. “This is the future of libraries, what new libraries are going to be. It will be Class-A facility; there will be after-hours special events with separate access, event rental space, areas for classes, private study rooms, and meeting space.

“The library will continue to offer free meeting space for nonprofit groups. There will be a full-service catering kitchen, areas for food trucks, and outdoor events. It will be a real boost for the redevelopment of South Huntsville.”

As part of the state-of-the-art technology, there will be a dedicated “Maker’s Space” which will have a 3D printer, large format printer for sign and banner making, and sewing machines. Planned design features include plenty of natural light, an open/bookstore-style floor plan, art gallery, Friends of Library bookstore, a coffee shop with inside entry and an outside walk-up and outdoor, patio seating, indoor fireplace, and a children’s garden.

“The new library will be more user friendly and accessible to patrons,” said Kennedy. “Books will still be organized by Dewey system, but also by ‘neighborhood,’ sort of like what you would find at (bookstores).”

Construction is scheduled to take about 18 to 24 months with an opening date in early 2021. For more information, visit huntsvillelibraryfoundation.org/south

Auburn Receives $5.2M NASA Contract to Improve Liquid Rocket Engine Performance

AUBURN — NASA has awarded a $5.2 million contract to Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering National Center for Additive Manufacturing Excellence, it was announced Monday.

The three-year contract is to develop additive manufacturing processes and techniques for improving the performance of liquid rocket engines. The contract is the latest expansion of a longstanding public-private partnership between Auburn and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

“For decades, Auburn engineers have been instrumental in helping the U.S. achieve its space exploration goals,” said Christopher B. Roberts, dean of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. “This new collaboration between NASA and our additive manufacturing researchers will play a major role in developing advanced rocket engines that will drive long-duration spaceflight, helping our nation achieve its bold vision for the future of space exploration.”

The research and development covered under the new contract is part of NASA’s Rapid Analysis and Manufacturing Propulsion Technology (RAMPT) project, which focuses on evolving lightweight, large-scale novel and additive manufacturing techniques for the development and manufacturing of regeneratively cooled thrust chamber assemblies for liquid rocket engines.

“This partnership with Auburn University and industry will help develop improvements for liquid rocket engines, as well as contribute to commercial opportunities,” said Paul McConnaughey, deputy director of Marshall Space Flight Center. “The technologies developed by this team will be made available widely to the private sector, offering more companies the opportunity to use these advanced manufacturing techniques.”

NCAME will support the RAMPT project in creating a domestic supply chain and developing specialized manufacturing technology vendors to be utilized by all government agencies, academic institutions and commercial space companies.

Auburn and NASA established NCAME in 2017 to improve the performance of parts that are created using additive manufacturing, share research results with industry and government collaborators and respond to workforce development needs in the additive manufacturing industry. The center is also one of the founding partners of the newly established ASTM International Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence at Auburn.

Leading Auburn’s team as principal investigator for the RAMPT project is Nima Shamsaei, NCAME director. Serving as project manager is Mike Ogles, director of NASA programs in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering.

“This contract is a giant leap towards making Alabama the ‘go to state’ for additive manufacturing,” Ogles said. “We look forward to growing our partnership with NASA, industry and academia as we support the development of our nation’s next rocket engines.”