‘Dingo’ Back in the Fold at WDRM; Joins ‘Dan and Josie Morning Show’

If you tuned into WDRM FM this week and thought you heard a familiar voice, your ears did not deceive you.

Brent “Dingo” Crank has returned to the country music station and joined the “Dan and Josie Morning Show,” which broadcasts weekday mornings from 5-10 a.m. and Saturdays from 6-10 a.m.

Dingo joins veteran show host Dan McClain and his partner, Josie Lane, to help listeners kick-start their mornings. Consistently rated No.1 in the market, the show focuses on family, patriotism, humor and the very best country music as well as the latest news, traffic and weather updates.

“I had the pleasure of working with Dingo when he was first hired at 102.1 WDRM, so I know first-hand his passion for the station, listeners and the country music format,” said Carmelita Palmer, market president for iHeartMedia Huntsville. “He made such an impact here that, even though he’s been gone from the market for more than eight years, I continue to have listeners request that we ‘bring back Dingo.’

“I’m thrilled that we are able to honor their request.”

Dingo returns to the Huntsville market from Louisville, where he most recently served as the morning show host on WQNU. Before Louisville, Dingo hosted morning shows in Phoenix, Myrtle Beach and Destin. He began his radio career at 102.1 WDRM and is a graduate of the University of South Alabama.

“I’ve had a blast doing radio all over the country – I’ve seen some amazing things, met some wonderful people, but nothing ever compares to home,” said Dingo. “It’s great to be back in the Tennessee Valley and back where it all started for me on 102.1 WDRM.”

With Dingo in the lineup, the station puts itself in a position to continue its hold on the important morning drive market.

“Dan and Josie have been dominating this market for years, but to add a new element like Dingo to the show puts us in a position to grow the WDRM morning show,” said Erich West, senior vice president of programming for iHeartMedia Huntsville. “I know listeners will enjoy Dingo’s upbeat energy and chemistry that he has with Dan and Josie.”

iHeartMedia Huntsville owns and operates WDRM-FM, WTAK-FM, WQRV-FM, WBHP/WHOS AM and FM, KISS-FM 106.5 and ALT 92.9.

 

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.

 

High Point Cutting the Ribbon on World-Class Rock Climbing Facility

High Point Climbing and Fitness will have its own high point at MidCity District.

High Point is hosting a ribbon-cutting Friday at 3 p.m. followed by a grand opening celebration from 3:30-9. Visitors will be able to check out the outdoor climbing wall and purchase memberships and day passes at special discounted rates.

The Huntsville gym will be one of only a few facilities in the U.S. that offers an indoor climbing gym along with an
outdoor freestanding wall.

“We are excited to build an iconic climbing gym in the progressive City of Huntsville, and to partner with RCP Companies to provide one of the first experiential venues at MidCity development” said co-owner Johnny O’Brien.

The indoor facility offers expansive climbing areas throughout the gym, along with a 2,700-square-foot Kid Zone that has climbing elements designed specifically for kids from 3-12 years old.

High Point Huntsville also offers a full fitness regimen including weights, cardio equipment and a yoga studio, along with a gear shop and birthday party rooms to provide members and guests with a full complement of amenities.

One of the most unique features is the 45-foot tall outdoor climbing with more than 6,000 square feet of climbing surface. It is in the public park adjacent to the indoor facility.

“The City of Huntsville approached us to build the outdoor wall, and they have been extremely entrepreneurial in their approach to the project and a great partner to make this iconic outdoor wall a reality,” said co-owner John Wiygul.

For information, visit www.HighPointClimbing.com.

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.”

A Kick in the Grass: New Use for Joe Davis Stadium Proposed

There may be some new life breathed into Joe Davis Stadium.

Think football.

Think soccer.

Think multi-use.

The City Council heard a presentation Thursday of plans to transform Joe Davis Stadium into a multi-use stadium, which could possibly be used to host high school football games and sporting events.

The presentation was in response to a City Council resolution in June, asking the administration to assess the condition of the vacant stadium.

View the city’s presentation here.

The stadium opened in 1985 as a multi-use facility (football games were played there in the first couple years; the stadium has also hosted concerts) and closed in May 2015.

The estimated price tag for the transformation is $8 million; the cost to build the stadium was about $7.5 million.

“In short, the answer is, yes, we believe that taking a portion of the stadium and converting it to a multisport athletic facility is a viable option and we could consider doing that,’” said City Administrator John Hamilton.

Designs show a stadium that would seat about 6,200 people and could play host to soccer, football, lacrosse and other activities. Hamilton said the ability to hold high school football in the stadium is a big piece to the plan.

The field would fit a FIFA standard soccer field – 120 yards by 70 yards. This would allow for large soccer events and possibly a minor league soccer team at the stadium. (Rendering by Chapman Sisson Architects)

“The biggest issue that can be addressed by using the stadium is lack of high school football stadiums,” Hamilton said. “We have five high schools in Huntsville and we only have one stadium (Milton Frank Stadium) that they all share. Most every high school in Alabama has its own stadium, so you’ve got one stadium for one school. Our community has one for five, so it’s really become an issue.”

The field would also fit a FIFA standard soccer field – 120 yards by 70 yards. This would allow for large soccer events and possibly a minor league soccer team at the stadium, possibly a National Women’s Soccer League franchise or games or a National Premier Soccer League franchise. There are NPSL teams in Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville and Chattanooga, as well as Asheville, N.C., and Miami.

The proposed renovations would include new exterior finishes and decorative fencing; new roofing; demolition of the skyboxes and renovating the press box, restrooms, locker rooms, concession stands and offices. The electrical system, fire alarm system and elevator would all be upgraded and repaired. Chapman Sisson Architects provided the existing Architectural Assessment.

“What we’ve presented is very preliminary right now, so we’d have to bring a full design contract and turn the concept into something that could be built,” Hamilton said. “That would be the first significant step.”

(Rendering by Chapman Sisson Architects)

According to the assessment by PEC Structural Engineering, “the overall concrete members appear to be in excellent condition.”

But, there were some issues with the stadium’s foundation. The report said “poor drainage has resulted in erosion issues under the lower tier seating and the foundations of lower tier seating is compromised.”

Mayor Tommy Battle believes repurposing the stadium could be another home run for high school sports.

“I was proud to be part of city government in 1984 when we built the stadium,” he said. “And I’m proud to present this effort to restore the old Joe into a community asset.”

 

Dave & Buster’s: Not just restaurant or game room – it’s ‘a full experience’

There are some 125 games ready to play at Dave & Buster’s. (Photo/Eric Schultz)

Even the old school games have new age twists.

Starting Aug. 19, the grand opening of Huntsville’s Dave & Buster’s Sports Bar — or restaurant and adult/family entertainment venue — patrons could play the iconic 1980s video game “Pac-Man” in the “Million Dollar Midway” at the newest business to open at MidCity District in Huntsville.

But this is not your father’s version of the classic arcade staple.

This century’s “Pac-Man” features a four-person Battle Royale where contestants eliminate others by eating them on a state-of-the-art big screen.

“Pac-man” is one of 125 games in D&B’s entertainment section.

“The technology involved really is the latest and greatest in terms of modernization,” said Eric Drescher, the store’s general manager and a 20-year veteran of the restaurant scene in the region.

The high-tech stuff contines throughout the Midway. There are the classic standards such Pac-Man, Pop-A-Shot and Skee-Ball. Some games have virtual reality and others are based on themes surrounding “Jurassic Park,” “Star Wars” and “Men In Black.”

As some 200-plus new hires went through training days before the grand opening, a walk through the Midway had a feeling of the last quarter of the 20th century blending into the new millennium.

At the back of the Midway, ticket winners can shop for prizes ranging from candy to PlayStations in the Winner’s Circle.

General Manager Eric Drescher stands ready to welcome customers as the new Dave & Buster’s is ready to open at Mid City District in Huntsville. (Photo/Eric Schultz)

D&B’s next calling card is the restaurant/sports bar area. A full bar divides one eating section from a full dining room and dissects a room that features garage-style doors that close off a meeting room for around 50 people.

Drescher said the setting is perfect for any type of private function, even midday.

“At lunch, we can get them in and get them out,” he said. “They have a great lunch experience and come back at night with their family and have a great game experience.”

Among the televisions that can be seen from every angle around the restaurant and bar are four that measure at 169 inches. The decorative walls reflect a state and regional flavor when it comes to sports teams.

“We have the best sports viewing in town,” Drescher said. “If there’s a game, on the chances are we have it and, if we don’t, we can get it.”

Drescher said if certain games — Alabama and Auburn football, for example — are being televised, the sound will also be turned up.

After all, he said, his restaurant is seeking to provide ultimate entertainment.

“Dave and Buster’s is such a different entity because of the games and high-quality food and amazing drinks.” he said. “It’s not just a restaurant. It’s not a game room. It’s a full experience …”

For more information, visit daveandbusters.com.

 

Governor’s Conference on Tourism Coming to Huntsville

Elected officials and tourism leaders throughout the state will gather in Huntsville for the 2019 Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism.

The conference, which is Aug. 17-20 at the Von Braun Center, brings the state’s travel and tourism industry together for professional development, networking, and collaboration on strategies to promote Alabama as a premier travel destination.

Approximately 200-250 guests, including representatives from statewide attractions, hotels, convention and visitors bureaus, marketing firms, and other hospitality workers, are expected to be in attendance.

“The conference not only gives Alabama travel professionals the opportunity to learn from experts in tourism and marketing, but to also raise money for in-state college scholarships and reward hard work through industry awards,” said Patti Culp, CEO for the Alabama Travel Council.

Judy Ryals, president/CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the city is excited about the conference.

“2019 is such a hallmark year for our city as we celebrate the state bicentennial, the Apollo 11 50th anniversary, new dining, retail, and entertainment developments, and so much more; this is perfect timing to welcome our tourism partners to see the growth happening in Huntsville and experience everything we have to offer as a destination,” Ryals said. “We look forward to the opportunity to showcase our community’s progress to industry leaders and highlight why Huntsville/Madison County is a key asset in the state’s tourism offerings.”

In 2018, the travel and tourism industry, which includes leisure and meeting visitors, was responsible for more than 17,000 jobs in Madison County. The 3.4 million visitors also pumped a record-breaking $1.4 billion into the local economy.

While in Huntsville, the visitors will attend receptions at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Campus No. 805 and , Alabama Constitution Hall Historic Park & Museum; play a round of golf at Robert Trent Jones – Hampton Cove; and tour the Huntsville Botanical Garden and downtown.

 

War Dawgs Bring Pro Basketball Back to the Rocket City

When Timothy Jones moved to Huntsville last October, he found a lot to love about the city. He also saw opportunity.

“Love the city,’’ he said, “love the vibe.’’

He saw not only a community with a thriving economy but one with a lively professional sports scene.

There’s the two-time champion Huntsville Havoc annually leading attendance among teams in the Southern Professional Hockey League.

And the Rocket City Trash Pandas have taken the area by storm with Minor League Baseball record-setting merchandise sales as professional baseball prepares to make its Tennessee Valley return in 2020.

But, he also noticed there was no pro basketball option for hoops fans.

“I thought it would be a wonderful place to have a basketball team,’’ he said.

Jones soon teamed with Chris Burge as founders and co-owners of the North Alabama War Dawgs. The team will play in the semi-pro American Basketball Association this fall.

The team is holding tryouts Saturday and Sunday from noon-3 p.m. at Jemison High School in Huntsville, where the War Dawgs will play home games. There is a $75 registration fee. There will be dance team tryouts Aug. 17-18 at Jemison. There is a $35 registration fee.

To create an account and for more information on both teams’ tryouts, contact Jones at timothyjones.oner@wardawgsbball.com.

Jones is a 1991 graduate of Gadsden High School. He retired from the Navy after 20 years in 2012 and worked for three years at Northrup-Grumman. He “linked up” with Burge, formerly of the minor league basketball Huntsville Force, and decided to give the ABA a try.

“The ABA is a very competitive league,” Jones said. “We’re looking to have a competitive team.”

The co-owners reached out to Force players to form the nucleus of the War Dawgs.

“They didn’t get a lot of press, but they had some great players,” Jones said. “Some of the guys have international experience.”

The ABA bills itself as the largest sports league in the world with more than 100 teams, including one from Japan that plays all games on the road. The league had four teams who played in Alabama last season — the Atlanta Raptors and the Port City Tornados, who both play home games at Vigor High in Prichard; the Magic City Surge, who play out of Birmingham’s Daniel Payne Middle School; and the River Region Generals, who call Montgomery’s True Divine Baptist Church home.

The city touts its community service and work with local youths. Jones said the club has reached out to civic leaders, groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and has developed a close relationship with the Jemison High School administration.

“A lot of people are showing us a lot of love right now,” he said, “But, it will be an uphill battle getting started and finding sponsorships.”

Dave & Buster’s Looking for Team Members for MidCity

Many employment opportunities are coming to town these days, and another one is happening now in Huntsville’s new MidCity.

The new development that has already seen the opening of TopGolf and High Point Climbing and Fitness is preparing for the opening of the unique adult entertainment venue Dave & Buster’s.

D&B’s bills itself as, “The only place to eat, drink, play and watch sports all under one roof!” The 26,500-square foot has targeted Aug. 19 for a grand opening.

“We’re looking for a little over 200 team members,’’ said General Manager Eric Drescher. “We’ve got all positions from front desk to kitchen to bartenders and servers.

“We also have technical positions.’’

Applications will be accepted at the restaurant in MidCity located at the old Madison Square Mall campus on University Drive.

Drescher said D&B’s offers the “latest and greatest” adult entertainment games as well as traditional games. There’s a full-service restaurant with what he called “amazing food’’ and a large bar that would “rival’’ any.

The venue also offers space for corporate events.

Drescher is a 20-year veteran of the Huntsville area food scene who “picked Huntsville,’’ he said, when given the opportunity open to D&B’s second location in Alabama.

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

Envision Huntsville as an average size pie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Western Corridor

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

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

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

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

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

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

The development is envisioned to become a regional destination.

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

Open Southern Border

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

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

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

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

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

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

Annexation of Morgan & Limestone counties

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northern Exposure

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

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

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

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

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

Quality of Life

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

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

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

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

Finley is ready for whatever challenges lay ahead for Madison.

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

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

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

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

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

Private Investment is Leading the Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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