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 nearly 26,000 square feet of office, retail and dining space in addition to 260 multifamily units, 14 townhomes and a 100-key hotel.

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.”

On your marks. Get Set. Finish! Athleticism Not Required for Annual .12K Microthon

Butler Green, that .12 kilometer stretch of greenspace at Campus 805 between Straight to Ale and Yellowhammer Brewing, is the site of a most unusual “race.”

The annual Rocket City .12K Microthon steps off Oct. 18. The event is a benefit for the special needs arts program at Merrimack Hall.

And you do not have to be in athletic shape to compete!

In fact, if you can run huffing and puffing, walk upright, crawl on hands and knees, skip like the day is young, or roll triumphantly across the finish line, then you will receive a t-shirt; a finisher’s medal (bottle opener); a Golden Ticket to food and beverage at any participating Campus 805 brewery or restaurant; and a “0.12K” bragging rights sticker that says, “Hey I’m better than you.”

Run in waves, the races and overall festive atmosphere begins runs from 2-4 p.m. Registration cut off is 4 p.m. Oct. 15. To register, visit https://runsignup.com/Race/AL/Huntsville/RocketCityMicrothon)

Three years ago, Lesley and Darryl Burnette started the Rocket City Microthon in honor of their daughter Kate, who was a fan of Merrimack’s programs during her short life.

Merrimack provides visual and performing arts education and cultural activities to children and adults with special needs. In its first two years, the .12K has raised $40,000 for the center and is coordinated completely by volunteers.

There is a $15 Race Fee for the .12K race and other packages include:

  • The Golden Ticket Stand-Alone Package for $15
  • The Runners Package for $25
  • The Slackers Package for $50 does not require any physical effort whatsoever, and yet you get all the swag of crossing the finish line
  • You may add on a Beer Drinker’s Package with two extra Golden Tickets for $15

All county and state COVID-19 guidelines will be in place, including the starting line which is marked with six-foot spacing. The Campus 805 businesses will also observe social distancing in the food and drink lines.

 

Coronavirus Brings Down Curtain on 2020 Huntsville Ballet Company Season

The news was bittersweet: “No Nutcracker.”

A long-time Huntsville tradition and its host organization – Huntsville Ballet Company – are the latest victims of the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 has struck deep and wide within performing arts communities nationwide and, despite the sense of protective insulation, Huntsville-Madison Country organizations are also taking a major hit.

At a recent news conference,  The Community Ballet Association/Huntsville Ballet Company announced, in consideration of the health and safety of patrons, dancers, students, and staff, they are cancelling all performances and events for 2020.

It was a difficult and agonizing decision to make.

“As you can imagine, this is a sad, challenging time for everybody,” said Phillip Otto, the Ballet Company’s Artistic Director. “Unfortunately, the Huntsville Ballet cannot survive without grants and ticket revenue from performances.”

In their 12th season with the Huntsville Ballet, Otto and his wife, Ballet Mistress and School Director Rachel Butler, have spent a little over a decade developing the company into what it is today.

“It’s been a long road,” said Otto. “We’ve worked really hard to get to this point.”

Huntsville Ballet is one of only four professional ballet companies in Alabama. Founded in 1964, the company brought  the highest caliber of dance and performing ballets, such as “The Nutcracker,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “The Firebird” and “Sleeping Beauty.”

Each year, students at the Huntsville Ballet school get the chance to audition and perform with the ballet company in “The Nutcracker,” a time-honored Huntsville holiday tradition. A lot of hard work, rehearsal, and sweat equity go into preparing for that opportunity.

This year will be very different. For the first time in 51 years, “The Nutcracker” will not be presented.

“It’s hard because we’re not preparing for shows, so we don’t have something to work towards,” said dancer Ashley Jordan. “So, we’re just having to push each other. That helps a lot. Just knowing that what we do is something that we love to do.

Huntsville Ballet’s mission is to use the power of dance to inspire and nurture the art of classical ballet through artistic excellence, performance experiences, and outreach activities in the community.

Huntsville Ballet Company relies entirely on grants, donations, sponsorships and ticket revenue from performances. To help keep Huntsville Ballet viable, they have developed a fundraising campaign called “Bridge the Ballet” and has set up a GoFundMe page. Help Bridge the Ballet to a Brighter Future:

https://charity.gofundme.com/communityballetassociationofhuntsvilleinchuntsvilleballetcompanyhuntsvilleballetschool      

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.”

Publix to Anchor The Market at Hays Farm

One of the most prominent vacant retail developments in the Huntsville metro area is getting a $23.5 million investment, it was announced Friday.

Publix Super Market will serve as the grocery anchor for the Market at Hays Farm (formerly Haysland Square) development, according to developer Branch Properties.

“This is an exciting development for South Huntsville and a welcome announcement for all those residents who have eagerly hoped for a revival of the Haysland Square property,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “This is also what happens when the city invests wisely in infrastructure that promotes planned growth and development such as the $60 million spent on the South Parkway ‘Restore Our Roads’ project, the new Grissom High School, and the new Haysland Road Extension and greenway.

“We applaud the Hays family for seeing the promise of South Huntsville and for their investment in its success.”

The Market at Hays Farm boasts more than 150,000 square feet of small shops and junior anchor space available in addition to multiple outparcels to serve the needs of the growing South Huntsville community. 

Branch Properties has developed and owned more than 45 Publix-anchored shopping centers around the Southeast and worked in collaboration with Tailwinds Development, which has built more than 15 Publix-anchored centers over the last 20 years.

“Publix has always been a pleasure to work with, and we value our relationship with them,” said James Genderau of Tailwinds. “John Hays and his family, who have owned the property for over 50 years, were truly the reason we made this deal happen. John is a gentleman and man of his word”

Branch Properties Executive Vice President said, “The city’s development staff of Shane Davis (director of Urban and Economic Development), Kathy Martin (city engineer) and Jim McGuffey (manager Planning Service), were rock solid and always had their doors open for us. This team was led by Mayor Tommy Battle who really had a vision for South Huntsville  … We appreciate what (he) has helped us accomplish here”

Since June 2018, South Huntsville has seen $75 million of private investment. The Hays Farm development will include single-family homes, apartments and townhouses to complement retail businesses and a nine-acre city park.

“The much-anticipated Market at Hays Farm is the first of many great things coming to Hays Farm and the South Parkway,” said South Huntsville Main Business Association Executive Director Bekah Schmidt. “We welcome the new Publix to the South Huntsville community and look forward to small businesses and additional anchors coming to the Market at Hays Farm.”

Demolition will begin immediately with the center scheduled to open in the fall of 2021.

Trash Pandas Hosting Movies, Block Parties, Camps in Lieu of Baseball This Summer

MADISON — Just a couple months ago, Josh Caray planned on calling play-by-play baseball in the first season of the Double-A Rocket City Trash Pandas.

Instead, he’s helping the club Band-Aid what so far has been a lost baseball season across the nation in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You look forward to a baseball season, covering games and being around players and managers and riding the bus and seeing different cities seeing different ballparks and, you know, getting better at your craft and things like that,’’ Caray said. “And then all of a sudden, one month out (from the season opening), and have that all taken away from you over something you can’t control is frustrating.

“But then you look at what’s going on across the country and across the world and I realize it’s really not that bad. And I also appreciate the fact that, in comparison, we are fortunately in a much better position than a lot of other Minor League Baseball teams.’’

In lieu of baseball, the Trash Pandas hosted their first “Block Party’’ at the sparkling new Toyota Field last weekend. There have been kids’ day camps the past two weeks and the first On-Field Movie Night, presented by Paragon Research Corp., takes place tonight at 7:15; gates open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for kids. The movie is “Angels in the Outfield” – the Trash Pandas are the Double-A affiliate of the Los Angelse Angels. Folks can sit on the field (blankets only, no chairs) or in the stands. Concession stands and the Junkyard team store will be open.

Upcoming events include a Trash Pandas Instructional Baseball Camp June 15 and 16 and another Block Party on June 19, featuring live entertainment and fireworks.

On July 3, the Fourth of July weekend kicks off with an Independence Eve Block Party. Block Party tickets are on sale now at TrashPandasBaseball.com/Events and the Toyota Field Ticket Office.

A July 4 features a patriotic extravaganza will feature the “biggest fireworks display in the Metro!’’ Tickets go on sale today at 9 a.m.

For each event, Pepsi Gates will open at 5 p.m. and Trash Panda Nation full-season ticket holders will gain early entry at 4:30 p.m.

“There’s nothing like fireworks blasting off in the summer surrounded by friends and family,” said team President and CEO Ralph Nelson. “We can’t wait to deliver our slice of Americana to this great region with our summer lineup that will knock it out of the park.”

Admission to each event is $10. Kids two and under enter for free, and there is no charge for parking.

In accordance with CDC guidelines, the facility will operate at half-capacity for all events.  Fans are encouraged to purchase their tickets in advance

The events are added to a slate of activities the organization has produced since the latest amendments to the state’s Safer at Home Order.

“We’re adjusting and doing the very best we can,” Nelson said. “I mean, we’ve got very, very talented people in our organization who oversee entertainment and promotions and things like that, so we’ve been able to make this into a positive situation and it’s been a very negative situation with regard to baseball.’’

 

Independent Radio Voices Facing Budget Struggles to inform Listeners

If Wes Neighbors is reading the tea leaves correctly, independently owned local radio stations might have a bright future if the coronavirus doesn’t cause much more financial headache.

Neighbors, a financial consultant by trade, owns 97.7 The Zone that carries sports talk and live events such as Auburn football, UAH basketball, and high school games. He said the trend he sees is moving in favor of local content.

“I’m finding that people are ready to go back to the local shows,’’ said Neighbors, who also co-hosts The Drive with Steve Moulton weekdays from 5-7 p.m. “They want to hear their contemporaries on the air. I almost think it’s going in that direction.’’

In addition to 97.7 there are three other locally owned radio stations in Huntsville: Mix 96.9, owned by Penny Nielsen; WEUP-FM 103.1 and 1700-AM, owned by Hundley Batts Sr. and his wife Dr. Virginia Capers; and WTKI 105.3-FM and 1450-AM, owned by Fred Holland.

“It’s been a learning experience,’’ said Neighbors, a stockbroker by trade. “I thought I’d do a show two to three months and here I am.’’

Holland of WTKI is also an on-air personality and is the longest-serving talk show host in North Alabama with his first program airing on the station in 1992.

According to the station’s website, his 6-8 a.m. show “Talk Radio for Real Life’’ is “the evolution of talk radio from merely debating political theory to offering a vehicle for solutions to life challenges.’’

Holland had stints at other stations. He even did sales for two years.

But the urge to get back behind the microphone was too great and he took a show on WVNN. In 2010, he thought owning a station sounded good.

“I kept driving by this place (WTKI) and decided to make an offer,’’ he said. “They took it.’’

With three employees, including himself, and one part-timer, Holland said he’s a jack-of-all-trades at the station. But, he’s still going strong at 68 years old.

“I got the bug when I lived in Ottawa (Ontario),’’ he said. “The voice of the Rough Riders, Ernie Calcutt, he lived down the street. He gave me a tour of the station and I was hooked.’’

Holland said one of the biggest challenges of operating independently is his staffing budget. The station has just three employees, including himself, and one part-timer.

“Anything that needs to be done, like replacing the toilet paper roll, I’m the one who has to do it,’’ he said.

   Batts is the “Old Pro’’ among the local owners. He and his wife, Dr. Virginia Capers, bought WEUP — the state’s first black-owned station — in 1987. The couple has since added two more AM and one FM stations.

WEUP began broadcasting as a 100-watt AM station in 1958 from a trailer on the grounds of Syler Tabernacle Church with a mix of gospel, sermons, news, and rhythm and blues. It now broadcasts 25,000 watts from its building on Jordan Lane.

Batts, who also owns the Hundley Batts and Associates Insurance Agency, was inducted into the Alabama Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2019.

“I’m excited that someone would even put my name in as a candidate because I know the ABA does its research before they even give you a ‘hello,’ ’’ Hundley told the ABA at his induction. “So, I’m just tickled pink.’’

Neighbors said other than his relative lack of experience — he’s owned the station for just one year — budgeting is also a concern as it is for all independent stations. And not just during the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting stay-at-home order that recently was lifted.

“I would think one difficulty is the economics of scale,’’ Neighbors said. “If you’re a major station, there are deals you can make. If you’re with Cumulus you can get Tennessee football through Learfield and Learfield also has Alabama football. They might not have to pay as much for one or the other.’’

Another hurdle independents have to jump is they get very little advertising outside of the city from where they broadcast.

“We get some sales out of Guntersville and some out of Scottsboro and of course we love having those people,’’ Neighbors said from his downtown office not far from WTKI’s studio. “But our majority of sales come from a probably 10-mile radius of where I’m sitting right now.’’

In the midst of the pandemic, his station has lost some sales and has seen an economic downturn that mirrors the market — 35 percent from mid-March until the re-opening. He also said the station was working with advertisers during the current financial crises, his staff brainstormed ideas so they “wouldn’t have to talk about the virus every day,’’ and that some sponsors have “stepped up.’’

While acknowledging it was “hard to make money when there are no sports’’ Neighbors said his staff put in the necessary work to keep things moving forward.

“I wouldn’t say we’ve done well,’’ he said, “but I’m pleasantly surprised.’’

 

 

 

U.S. Space & Rocket Center Reopening to Public

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is reopening to museum members Friday and to the general public Saturday. The Rocket Center has been closed since March 13 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

To maintain social distancing, visitors will enter at the Rocket Center’s Davidson Center for Space Exploration. The Davidson Center, Rocket Park and Shuttle Park will be open, but some exhibits and all simulators will remain closed.

The traveling exhibit, “Playing with Light,” in the original museum building will be open.

Enhanced cleaning measures are in place, and other safety measures include:

  • Timed tickets are required for admission.
  • One-directional paths are laid out through exhibits.
  • Plexiglass shields are in place at visitor service and ticketing desks.
  • Masks are strongly recommended for visitors and required for staff.

Reopening hours are Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The museum will be closed Mondays for cleaning.

To purchase tickets, visit rocketcenter.com.

2019 ‘Banner Year’ for Huntsville/Madison County Tourism

The Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau has been given quite a reason to celebrate.

According to the 2019 economic impact report recently released by the Alabama Tourism Department, the Huntsville and Madison County area achieved the state’s highest percentage increase in travel and tourism revenue over the past year, reaching $1.62 billion in sales.

The area also secured the number two spot in county visitation rankings, bringing in roughly 3.7 million visitors and leap-frogging fellow Alabama tourism hot spots Birmingham, Mobile, and Montgomery.

2019 saw the economic impact of travel and tourism to Madison County reaching its highest levels ever, providing nearly 19,000 jobs, and saving residents roughly $925 in taxes as a result of travel expenditures.

These figures represent a 15.2 percent increase in traveler spending on hotels, restaurants, shopping and transportation.

In addition to the explosive growth the city has seen over the past year, the CVB attributed much of the 2019 increase to the successful efforts of partners such as the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, and the Alabama Bicentennial Commission in promoting two key events for Huntsville – the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing and the Alabama bicentennial. Celebrations around these anniversaries were major tourism drivers for the area.

“2019 was truly a banner year for the Rocket City,” said Judy Ryals, president/CEO of the CVB. “Not only did Huntsville continue to see growth in our hotel, dining, and entertainment options, but so many of our community partners rallied together to offer top-caliber events and programming around two nationally significant events – the Apollo 11 50th anniversary and our state bicentennial.

“It’s not every year that we get to enjoy such a global spotlight on our city. We worked hard and leveraged that attention to the best of our abilities, and it’s wonderful to see the return on those efforts.”

Madison Mayor Finley: Events to Fill Baseball Void at Toyota Field – When Allowed

It might not be Rocket City Trash Pandas baseball, but Toyota Field might soon be hosting events.

That’s according to Madison Mayor Paul Finley, who at Wednesday’s COVID-19 press briefing said, as soon as it’s allowed, plans are to open the new stadium to an array of events.

The Trash Pandas were scheduled to open their first season in Double-A on April 15 before the novel coronavirus intervened. There has been no decision regarding the start or cancelation of the Minor or Major League Baseball seasons.

“Regardless of whether baseball happens, or doesn’t happen, we’re getting ready to start doing a lot of really positive things,’’ Finley said. “A lot of people will be able to come to that venue and use it whether its camps for kids for baseball, whether it’s a wine and cheese festival, whether it’s movies in the park — we’re going to start having events there and doing it in a way that makes good sense when it comes to distancing and sanitation and so forth.’’

Finley also pointed out this is National EMS Week and said for those on the frontlines “we’re very appreciative of what they do.’’

On another note, he said masks would be available for anyone without one who attends graduation ceremonies for James Clemens and Bob Jones at Madison City Stadium on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Huntsville plans to hold graduations June 25-26 at the Von Braun Center’s Propst Arena. Madison County schools have set graduations for July 15-16.

Masks will be required at all ceremonies and distancing will be in practice.

As of late Wednesday, there were 13,052 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state and 285 in Madison County. There were 522 deaths in Alabama related to the disease and four in the county.

Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson said there were less than 10 patients in local hospitals being treated for the virus.

“We are remaining vigilant,’’ she said. “We’re watching the numbers as the community reopens.’’

Hudson continued to stress social distancing, hand washing, and cleaning heavily used surfaces.

She also said that while stay-at-home orders were in place most people were around 1 to 5 people in a household. Now that people are returning to work, that core group is more like 20 people. That 20, she pointed out, would average around three people in the household so now each worker is exposed to a possible 60 contacts.

“The more we open it the more germs can come our way,’’ she said, “which is why we focus on six feet apart.’’

Hudson also emphasized that all health care facilities are open and urged anyone who is not well to visit the emergency room.

“Don’t stay home if you’re sick,’’ she said. “Don’t delay essential care.’’