From Government Contracting to Broadcast TV: ProjectXYZ Has Always Been About Diversifying

It was just sitting there. Huntsville businessman Larry Lewis created a business entity called ProjectXYZ, but he had a government contracting job that kept him busy.

So, ProjectXYZ just sat on the sidelines waiting for someone to define it.

Larry and Kim Lewis: “ProjectXYZ was always about our intent to get involved in a variety of businesses and to diversify.” (Photo/Steve Babin)

In 2002, Lewis was dating Kim Caudle. Looking for a way to make extra money to support herself and her daughter, Caudle was working a fulltime job at the hospital and doing consulting work for the healthcare IT industry at night and on weekends. She was struggling because, despite her background in the business, large health care companies preferred to do business with another business, over an individual.

“ProjectXYZ gave me the company cover I needed for the first five years,” said Kim Caudle Lewis, the company CEO.

She and Larry have since married and in 2007, when the company Larry worked for was sold, he came over to work with her as president of the company.

Larry and Kim merged her IT skills on the health care side with Larry’s 30 years in the government contracting business, to expand their government IT work.

“Larry said, ‘We can go out and knock on a hundred hospital doors and get small contracts,’” Kim said. “’Or, we can concentrate on the government side and get larger contracts.’

“So, that’s what we did. We expanded the government contracting side of the business.”

In 2008, ProjectXYZ won its first big government contract – providing IT services to the Army’s Network Enterprise Center at Fort Gordon, Ga.

“I was very excited,” said Kim. “We were chosen as the prime on that contract and not a sub, so that built up our prime contracting capabilities. It also allowed us to build out our infrastructure, which further proved to the government we can do big government contracts.

“Plus, all the health care work we had done was outside Huntsville so that contract kept us focused here in Huntsville.”

For most government contractors, such success would be the end of the story but, for ProjectXYZ it’s just the beginning.

The Lewis’ have a partnership with Darnell “Super Chef” Ferguson and his Super Chef restaurant in Tuscumbia. Ferguson is known for his “Urban Eclectic” cooking style and has won competitions on the Food Network, while appearing on many popular TV shows including “Today,” “Rachael Ray” and a variety of shows on the Cooking Channel, the Travel Channel and HLN.

ProjectXYZ is in the planning stages to bring Ferguson’s restaurant concept to Huntsville this year.

They are also looking to venture into a retail business this year and Larry is launching a new investment company. But the biggest acquisition ProjectXYZ is working on is local TV station WTZT in Athens.

Early last year, Larry became intrigued by the fact there were few black and minority-owned television stations in the country. He started doing research about what it would take to buy one.

“We were actually looking to buy a larger station,” said Larry. “It was going to be a considerable purchase for us, but as it turned out, we were simply not able to stay in the game.”

Four months later, the Lewis’ received a phone call from Jamie Cooper, North Alabama’s longtime morning anchor and owner of WTZT-TV, a low-power Class A station known as ZTV11.

“Jamie wanting to talk to us about something and we suspected it was not about buying advertising,” said Larry. “Jamie had affiliated the station with COZI TV and negotiated with the cable companies to get on most (but not all) of the major cable carriers in North Alabama. That added a lot of value to the station.”

Not only that, but WTZT is only using one of four channels available, so there is plenty of room for growth if they expand those other four channels. They will have the option of affiliating one or more of the channels with a syndicated network like COZI, or they can keep them for customized programming.

“We are currently awaiting FCC approval and they said it would take 45 to 90 days to approve the transfer so we can take ownership,” Larry said. “We are hoping, in terms of time, to have that approval by the end of March and begin rolling out new programming by summer.”

He said they will continue to work to get the channel on all major cable carriers in the area, and Jamie Cooper will continue his live TV show and shoot new material to keep his “Country Rover” show on the air, a show he has been doing for 30 years.

“COZI provides 32 hours a week of programming and that leaves the rest to us,” said Larry. “I do a lot of stock trading and investments and people ask me about it all the time, so I would like to have some local financial programming; a sports show; community shows that focus on economic development and entrepreneurship; as well as information about nonprofit organizations and what they are doing throughout the area.”

He said once they take ownership of the station, they will be open to outside ideas.

“We want people to know it is the only locally owned TV station in North Alabama and the only minority-owned station in North Alabama,” Kim said. “We will cover happenings all over North Alabama, not just Athens or Huntsville or Decatur.”

The Lewises have been prominent business owners and long-time advocates for small businesses. Kim was selected to be the Young Professional member of the Huntsville/Madison Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors. Shortly thereafter, she was named to the executive committee and is now immediate past chair of the board, having served in that post all of 2019.

The couple purchased the BizTech building in 2014 and, in 2016, Larry became CEO of BizTech, Huntsville’s first and most successful technology business incubator.

“Project XYZ was always about our intent to get involved in a variety of businesses and to diversify,” said Kim. “The company has morphed over the years and its true we have a big investment in the defense industry, but we are continuing to venture out into all sorts of projects, in several industries, with different verticals.”

‘Feed your Rhythm;’ New VBC Dining Venue to Host Job Fair

In anticipation of its grand opening in March, Rhythm on Monroe will be hosting a job fair Feb. 3-4 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

As the Von Braun Center’s new dining venue, “Rhythm on Monroe brings a unique dining element to the boom in downtown Huntsville and the greater Tennessee Valley,” said Rhythm’s General Manager Stephen Ryberg. “We want everyone to ‘find their Rhythm’ and ‘feed their Rhythm’ at the corner of Monroe and Clinton.”

In partnership with Spur Staffing, Rhythm’s job fair is sure to hit a high note with locals in the service industry.

“We plan to hire between 75 and 100 team members and look forward to interacting with prospective candidates at the job fair,” said Ryberg.

Rhythm – aptly named for the variety of musical performances hosted at the Mars Music Hall – shows great promise as a full-service restaurant, featuring locally sourced ingredients and fresh urban fare.

The expansive menu will be developed and executed by Chef Andrew Vogt.

The rooftop bar will have a wide assortment craft brews, wines, and handmade cocktails. On the rooftop, guests can enjoy warming up by the fire pits, along with the evening sun as it sets over Big Spring Park.

“Rhythm will be the perfect spot for a preshow dinner, after-show cocktails, or just a great dining spot when you’re out and about,” said Steve Maples, VBC’s Executive Director.  “This is an exciting time, not only for the Von Braun Center, but for the Tennessee Valley.

“The City of Huntsville is developing at a rapid pace and is constantly attracting out-of-market visitors and enhancing the quality of life for local residents.  Adding a full-service restaurant to our entertainment center in the heart of the city is an important step in continuing that growth, and we could not have made this happen without the support of Mayor Tommy Battle and the City of Huntsville.”

Rhythm on Monroe is scheduled to open in March.  Available positions include culinary crew, hosts/hostesses, bartenders, servers, food runners and dishwashers.

It is recommended that those interested in attending  register online at http://bit.ly/RhythmJobFair.

Rocket City Trash Pandas are Hiring

MADISON – If you’ve wanted to work for a professional sports team, here is your chance.

The Rocket City Trash Pandas, the Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels, are holding a job fair Saturday, Jan. 25, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Bob Jones High School cafeteria. The school is at 650 Hughes Road in Madison.

“We are building a team of passionate, energetic, and driven individuals to deliver the best experience in Minor League Baseball,” the team said in a statement.

The Trash Pandas will be hiring for more than 100 positions in more than 30 game-day roles. Positions include ticket takers, ushers, servers, bartenders, vendors/hawkers, concessionaires, warehouse, cooks, housekeeping, production room, camera operator, concessions stocker, parking lot attendants, promo team member, game-day runner and more.

Candidates are urged to bring a completed application to the job fair. Applications can be found at www.trashpandasbaseball.com.

Anyone looking for an internship can also interview at the job fair and are encouraged to bring resumes.

Representatives of the Trash Pandas will be on hand to provide information and answer questions.

The Trash Pandas’ home Opening Day is April 15 against the Mississippi Braves at Toyota Field. Season tickets, mini plans and group outings are on sale now. Visit www.trashpandasbaseball.com or call 256-325-1403.

Hotel Indigo Coming to Huntsville’s MidCity District

A truly unique addition to MidCity District will be coming.

Hotel Indigo is joining the growing lineup at the $850 million mixed-use development in Huntsville at the intersection of University Drive and Research Park Boulevard, RCP Companies announced. This is a first-to-market hotel brand for the area and is developed by Chattanooga-based ViaNova Development.

Construction is scheduled to begin this spring and the targeted opening date is mid-2021.

Just as no two places are alike, no two Hotel Indigo properties are the same. Each hotel draws inspiration from the local neighborhood, culture and popular trends in food, drink and design to create a warm and vibrant atmosphere.

The Hotel Indigo Huntsville – MidCity will be the first Hotel Indigo property in North Alabama. With more than 100 hotels across 19 countries, Hotel Indigo is a branded boutique from InterContinental Hotels Group.

Every hotel is uniquely designed to capture the essence of the neighborhood with curated artwork and seasonal menus reflecting the local character and culture.

“Hotel Indigo offers guests an immersive experience that is truly reflective of the local community,” said Max Grelier, co-founder of RCP Companies. “By celebrating local art, music and food, Hotel Indigo delivers a genuine boutique hotel.

“Hotel Indigo’s commitment to the local culture is truly aligned with the MidCity District mission.”

Located along Nunnuhsae Park Drive, the 120-room five-story Hotel Indigo will provide guests with expansive views of the 40-acre public park and adjacency to Topgolf and the 8,500-capacity amphitheater.

In addition to the boutique hotel, the property will feature a restaurant offering locally sourced options, a comprehensive craft/beer cocktail menu, and indoor and outdoor spaces for gathering.

“ViaNova Development is extremely pleased about the opportunity to become one of the cornerstones of such an exiting and dynamic development,” said Vyomesh Desai, managing partner. “The growth in Huntsville has been amazing and we are proud to join the community …

“We are looking forward to bringing a truly boutique experience that embodies the cultural assets of the ‘Rocket City’ to the MidCity development.”

Recently ranked as the fourth-largest commercial real estate project in the U.S., MidCity Huntsville features first-to-market concepts in retail, dining, entertainment, residential and hospitality, including Topgolf, REI Co-op, Dave & Buster’s, High Point Climbing & the Adrenaline Zone, Wahlburgers, and world-class music venues.

Project XYZ to Purchase Jamie Cooper Television

ATHENS — A Huntsville-based technical solutions company is planning to purchase the area’s only locally owned television station.

Project XYZ is purchasing Athens-based Jamie Cooper Television, a Class A station broadcast on WTZT-TV.

Kim and Larry Lewis own Project XYZ, which provides expertise in the research, design, development, integration, and sustainment of innovative solutions in engineering, logistics, information technology, and alternative energy.

Gloria and Jamie Cooper have co-owned the station since 2003. Founded Nov. 2, 1988, the station is known under the branding ZTV-11 with the slogan “Local and lovin’ it!” and can be seen on numerous cable systems. The long-running morning show, “Cooper & Company,” will continue to air as well as the “Country Rover Classics.”

“We want to share what’s truly happening in the community, and we see a need for more local programming in this area,” said Kim Lewis. “We want to help meet that need.”

Gloria Cooper said she is looking forward to working with Project XYZ as they grow the station.

“We feel extremely blessed to have the opportunity to work with Kim and Larry Lewis as they grow ZTV-11 to new heights,” said Gloria Cooper.  “Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and we’re all staying ‘local and lovin’ it’.” 

 WTZT will continue to broadcast local programming, as well as programming from COZI TV, a division of NBCUniversal. The network airs classic television series from the 1950s to the 2000s.

The new ownership agreement is pending approval by the Federal Communications Commission.

Jim Parker Tribute is Saturday at Hobbs Island Pit Stop

During his senior year of high school in Amarillo, Texas, in 1961, Jim Parker met his future.

Jerry Gilmer, who led the band Fireballs in that era, was trying to teach Parker’s sister how to play the theme from the television show “Peter Gunn” on the guitar. Gilmer gave her brother a guitar.

“I bought some Black Diamond strings and played until my fingers bled,’’ Parker said. “I haven’t stopped.’’

Songwriter enthusiasts will want to circle this Saturday, Dec. 21, on their holiday calendar.

Parker, one of Huntsville’s most influential musicians, will be celebrated at Hobbs Island Pit Stop on what owner Pat Nickel has dubbed “Jim Parker Day.’’ From noon until 4 p.m., other area musicians will pay tribute to Parker, who will also play and sing. Nickel, also a longtime figure on the local music scene, will also perform.

Nickel called the event a “meet and greet.’’

“Jim will play for at least an hour,’’ Nickel said. “His friends will play and I’ll likely play, too.’’

Parker was part of 1960s’ bands The Illusions and The Kitchen Cinq. He transitioned into country music and co-wrote songs recorded by John Anderson, including the award-winning “I’ve Got a Feeling’’ as well as “Chicken Truck.’’

He moved to Alabama in 1985 when his uncle, the late Charles Pierce, said he’d build a house for Parker and his wife of now 43 years, Lisa. Parker entered the real estate business but never left music behind.

“(Anderson) got real successful,’’ Parker said, “and I got into real estate.’’

The Pit Stop is an eclectic convenience store on Hobbs Island. In addition to assorted food, soft drink, beer, fishing tackle and the like, the store offers pool, darts, live music, music lessons and sells local art.

Parker, who will turn 77 Saturday, lives in Madison. He founded the Huntsville sub-chapter of the Nashville Songwriters Association International and has hosted the dinner theater-style “Jim Parker’s Songwriters Series’’ at the Von Braun Center Playhouse for 15 years.

The Series’ first 2020 show will feature Ricky Ray, Alan Rhody, and Dark Waters Project on Jan. 10.

“He’s been an influence here, Nashville, Muscle Shoals and the area for a long time,’’ Nickel said. “I think we’ll have a big turnout. We hope to have a lot of influential musicians.’’

Local renowned artist Don Howard will be among the special guests.

Following the singer/songwriter event and as darkness closes in, there will be a bonfire and “drum circle’’ in the Pit Stop’s courtyard behind the store. The circle, a hands, drum and percussion jam session of sorts, will be led by another former 1960s local icon — Ivy Joe Milan of Ivy Joe and The Snowballs fame.

As for his birthday celebration at the Pit Stop, Parker said, “I always enjoy another year (on earth) moving around the sun.’’

 

New MidCity Theater to Have Largest Screen in Alabama

There are big things going on in Huntsville’s MidCity District.

And the latest is a story right out of Hollywood.

Well, maybe not right out of Hollywood, but it is all about movies.

The new Touchstar Luxury Cinemas MidCity is expected to open in summer 2021.

Touchstar Cinemas has announced plans for a flagship location at MidCity.

A new 50,000 square-foot movie theater will feature the largest screen in Alabama as part of its state-of-the-art premium experience featuring 14 wall-to-wall screens, 4k laser projection with 3D viewing, as well as Dolby Atmos and DTX immersive sound.

Touchstar currently operates the Touchstar Cinemas Madison Square facility that was originally an outparcel to the former Madison Square Mall. That theater will remain open while the new Touchstar Luxury Cinemas MidCity is being built. The closing of the current movie theater will be planned simultaneously with the opening of the new location.

Touchstar Cinemas MidCity will feature in-theater dining and VIP Suites with a private lounge and full-service bar. The seating in the 21+ VIP Suites will consist of movie pods – pairs of luxurious heated reclining seats with a privacy enclosure and push button call service. The VIP Suites will be available for private or corporate events.

“We will still have traditional concessions, an expanded dining menu, and the food delivery service that we currently provide at Madison Square,” said Karishma Dattani, CEO of Touchstar Cinemas. “Established in 2001, Touchstar Cinemas was the first to bring recliners to Alabama, and the comfort of these well-known fully reclining large seats and spacious daybeds will continue in the new theater.

“We are proud to bring the first theater of this caliber to the Huntsville and Madison communities, This opportunity allows us to expand our local presence and continue to be part of the revitalization and growth of North Alabama.”

Located adjacent to the hotels and entertainment core at the terminus of MidCity Drive, the theater plans to open by summer 2021. 

“Touchstar complements the culture-forward entertainment destination we are developing at MidCity,” said Max Grelier, co-founder of RCP Companies, the developer of MidCity District, “The new Touchstar theater will offer visitors and residents an elevated cinematic option that fits well with our commitment to create great experiences in every aspect of MidCity.”

Once complete, MidCity 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.

 

 

 

Rocket City Trash Pandas Offer 23-game Ticket Plans

MADISON — By popular demand, the Rocket City Trash Pandas have announced the sale of partial-season ticket mini-plans for 2020.

“As our fanbase knows, the Trash Pandas have been overwhelmed by sales of full season tickets, far beyond what we had anticipated; with more than 1,600 sold, there are fewer than 200 remaining,” said team President and CEO Ralph Nelson. “We are also well aware many of our fans can’t commit to attend 70 home games.

“Our fans constantly ask about partial-season ticket plans. We’ve heard them, and in response to those requests, we are offering three varied 23-game mini-plans.”

Each mini-plan consists of 23 home games, but none include Opening Day. Only full-season ticket holders are guaranteed a seat for Opening Day.

The mini-plans are for box seats only, and include these benefits:

  • Just a single-year commitment
  • 10 percent discount at the Trash Pandas Junkyard and Emporium team stores
  • 20 percent off parking

“These mini-plans make the perfect Christmas gift for all the baseball fans in your family,” Nelson said.

The three mini-plans are named Mercury, Gemini and Apollo and each has its own specialty. Specific dates for each plan are available on the team’s website www.TrashPandasBaseball.com.

The Mercury Plan is the All-American plan, including Memorial Day and the big 3rd of July game and spectacular fireworks show.

The Gemini Plan is perfect for families with 5 Sunday games and 4 Saturday games, as well as the final home game of the season.

The Apollo Plan is a weekend special with the most weekend games of the three plans. It also includes the second home game of the season.

Each mini-plan is priced at $345 per seat. All three plans are available for sale at the Trash Pandas Emporium at Bridge Street Town Centre, also by calling 256-325-1403, fans can email seasontickets@trashpandasbaseball.com or visit www.TrashPandasBaseball.com.

Von Braun Center Unveils LED Lighting System in Propst Arena

It was an event fit for a king.

Or, as in this case, fit for the reigning Southern Professional Hockey League champion Huntsville Havoc.

In last Friday night’s home debut for the Havoc, the Von Braun Center unveiled its LED lighting system in the Propst Arena.

The upgraded lighting will also enhance UAH hockey games, the annual Rocket City Classic featuring the University of Alabama’s men’s basketball team, and more.

“Over time, the previous lighting system became less efficient with bulbs requiring frequent replacement, as well as producing a noticeable background noise during events,” said VBC Executive Director Steve Maples.  “Additionally, the previous fixtures were extremely limited in the special effects and production capabilities compared to newer, sophisticated lighting systems.”

The upgraded lighting system enhanced Friday’s hockey game with strobing light effects, and full-red lighting to coincide with the team’s colors.  The lighting will also enhance UAH hockey games, the annual Rocket City Classic featuring the University of Alabama’s men’s basketball team, and more.

The new LED lighting system brightens the arena, further enhancing the fans’ experience.

Eaton’s Ephesus Lighting manufactured the LED system that also features 12 new LED video panels manufactured by Daktronics.

The scope of the new lighting system included the installation of 86 fixtures with programmable color-changing capabilities.  The system is estimated to deliver an annual energy savings of $45,132, along with a reduction of approximately $8,923 in annual arena lighting maintenance costs.  The $340,000 lighting upgrade is being paid for through the VBC’s capital funding.

The system features full color-tuning fixtures to enhance events with colorful light shows and other lighting experiences.  With this upgrade, the options for a completely integrated lighting system for events is unlimited and will result in an enhanced fan experience, as well as improved viewing opportunities of both live and televised events.

The new lighting system activates instantly and takes less time to become fully operational as compared to the previous metal halide fixtures. Also, the programmable controls allow operators the ability to immediately change lighting schemes.

The new LED lighting system offers a wide range of adjustable color temperatures, and consistent lighting capabilities giving VBC staff and performers out-of-the-box opportunities for creating captivating visual moments.

Welcome to Mars: VBC’s New Out of This World Music Hall

Rendering shows the interior of Mars Music Hall.

Welcome to Huntsville, Rocket City USA and home to all things related to space.

What better way to ring in the New Year than with a grand opening of a music venue with a name to match?

Introducing the Von Braun Center’s newest gem: Mars Music Hall.

It’s been just a little over a year since the August 2018 groundbreaking and progress has been right on target.

Held at the VBC’s Propst Arena, the special name reveal event Tuesday night had a tie in with the season’s introduction of the Huntsville Havoc hockey team.

“We’re getting really close to opening,” VBC Executive Director Steve Maples said of Mars. “It’s an exciting time to be in Huntsville.

A new LED lighting system in Propst Arena was unveiled. (Photo/Steve Babin)

“The City of Huntsville is developing at a rapid pace and is constantly attracting out-of-market visitors and enhancing the quality of life for local residents.  Adding this size and type of music venue to the heart of the city is an important step in continuing that growth.”

VBC Executive Director Steve Maples (Photo/Steve Babin)

Along with meeting the team and viewing a demonstration of the newly installed LED lights; the crowd was shown a video presentation and sampling of the 2020 concert lineup.

The video featured updated renderings by Matheny Goldmon of Rhythm on Monroe – a full-service restaurant and rooftop bar connected to Mars that will open in the spring.

“Rhythm will be the perfect spot for a pre-show dinner, after-show cocktails, or just a great dining spot without attending an event,” said Maples.

Rhythm, aptly named for the different types of musical performances hosted at the VBC on the corner of Clinton Avenue and Monroe Street, will serve locally sourced ingredients and provide fresh urban fare.

It will feature craft brews, a curated wine list, and handmade cocktails that guests will be able to enjoy while sitting near fire pits at the rooftop bar overlooking Big Spring Park.

Street view rendering shows entrance to Mars and Rhythm. (Matheny Goldmon)

Mars Music Hall will open its doors Jan. 3 with Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. The event is predicted to be a sellout. With a 1,575-person capacity, this intimate setting will offer great acoustics for a variety of events ranging from concerts to comedy acts and everything in between.

Among the acts announced for the concert lineup will be Black Jacket Symphony, Tig Notaro, Chris Janson, Graham Nash, Jo Dee Messina and many others.  To see the full lineup of announced performances and to learn about purchasing tickets, visit marsmusichall.com.

“I’m excited about this music hall,” said Maples. “Huntsville needs this music hall. The venue is so cool and has an intimate feeling.

“Nashville is excited about the music hall and is sending us a lot of bands.”