Holiday Magic Pass Offers Discounts to Major Huntsville Holiday Activities

Visitors set their sights on Huntsville as a top destination for family travel, outdoor recreation, space history and – around this time of year – a premier vacation spot for holiday revelry.

To ease the burden for families to enjoy the wide variety of events without breaking the bank, the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), in partnership with area attractions, has released a holiday events coupon sheet providing discounts to six major holiday offerings in the Rocket City.

The free Huntsville Holiday Magic Pass is available online at huntsville.org and at the Huntsville/Madison County Visitor Center.  The Visitor Center is at 500 Church Street in downtown Huntsville and is open seven days a week. The Huntsville Holiday Magic Coupon Sheet is available to visitors and residents of Madison County.

“Although COVID-19 has affected travel and the way people are able to gather this year, Christmas is not cancelled in the Rocket City,” said Judy Ryals, president/CEO of the CVB. “Our partners are working hard to ensure guest experiences remain as safe as possible, while still keeping the magic of the season alive.

“We’re especially encouraging our locals – many of whom will be staying in town for the holidays – to get out and support these events happening right in their own backyard.”

The Huntsville Holiday Magic Pass features the following discounts:

  • $2 off admission to the Huntsville Museum of Art’s Skating in the Park
  • $2 off admission to Skate with Santa or a Winter Wonderland Skate at the Benton H. Wilcoxon Municipal Ice Complex
  • 25 percent off general admission to see Burritt on the Mountain decked out for the holidays
  • $3 off any show at the Intuitive Planetarium or general admission to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center
  • 10 percent off one store item at Harrison Brothers Hardware (excluding sale and consignment), plus free tour
  • 10 percent off the drive-through light show at the Rocket City Christmas Spectacular at Toyota Field

 To redeem the coupons, guests can either present the coupon or show the digital version on their mobile device, available online at huntsville.org/hsvmagic. Additional information on Huntsville holiday events including dates, operating hours, etc., can also be found on the Holiday Magic  page.

Turner Construction Reaches Milestone on Monroe Street Parking Garage

 Turner Construction Company has begun precast erection on the Monroe Street parking garage expansion and renovation in downtown Huntsville, the company announced Monday. The milestone signifies that vertical construction has begun.
The $14.4 million Monroe Street Parking Garage project includes the demolition of the two-story west section of the parking garage that fronts Monroe Street and the construction of a five-story parking garage with an additional entry from Clinton Avenue, containing approximately 725 parking spaces.

Construction is progressing on the Monroe Street parking garage. (Photo/Marty Sellers)

Construction began in July, with completion expected in August 2021. The City of Huntsville engaged Turner, who is collaborating on the project with Fuqua & Partners Architects and engineers SSOE GroupLBYD Engineers and Schoel Engineering.

This project is essential to the redevelopment of the Big Spring Park area, which continues to see new hotels. These include the new Autograph Collection by Marriott hotel, which will be connected to the new parking deck in the southwest corner. The Autograph joins several other hotel projects within walking distance of the nearby Von Braun Center multipurpose complex, which are being built to accommodate larger conferences and events.
“The expansion and renovation of the Monroe Street parking garage is a key project within the ongoing redevelopment of downtown Huntsville. Once completed, this piece of infrastructure will make it possible for residents and visitors to conveniently enjoy one of the many events at the Von Braun Center, Big Spring Park, or at one of the other attractions in downtown Huntsville,” Ricky Wilkinson, director of general services for the City of Huntsville, said in the statement. “The city is very appreciative of the partnership with Turner Construction Company and the rest of the project team for this project. We look forward to seeing the garage go vertical and begin to take shape.”
The garage will feature 3D-printed composite rain screen panels on the Monroe Street and Clinton Avenue entries, which will provide a modern skin for the garage, visually blending its new and old sections together with the Von Braun Center and Mars Music Hall.
“This parking deck represents a commitment to continuing Huntsville’s growth by bolstering its downtown attractions,” said Brandon Tucker, a project executive for Turner. “With start of the precast structure, the look of Big Spring Park will begin to change very quickly in the coming weeks. Turner is proud to be a part of this project with the city of Huntsville and its design partners.”
As part of the project, a parking-control system will be installed for the new entries on Monroe Street and Clinton Avenue, while existing parking control equipment at both Church Street entries will be replaced. This will bring state-of-the-art remote payment options and increased 24/7 accessibility to the deck, which previously required operation by a city employee. In addition, the deck’s new parking systems will incorporate parking integration for the forthcoming hotels, allowing parking densities to increase without taking away from the beauty of downtown Huntsville and Big Spring Park. Security cameras will also be installed at multiple locations in the new construction and the existing deck, and conduits will be created to accommodate License Plate Recognition cameras.
The existing parking deck was built in the late 1970s, and additional floors were added to the east half of the deck in 2005, which will remain standing.

Fantasy Playhouse Takes Center Stage in West Huntsville Corridor

At the southeast corner of Holmes Avenue and Triana Boulevard sits a 5.5-acre plot of dry grass. Don’t be fooled by its barren appearance for something big is coming soon.

Here lies the future intersection of where culture meets community.

As part of the “Spotlight on the Future” capital campaign kickoff, the board and staff of Fantasy Playhouse Children’s Theater & Academy and city officials announced the development of the Fantasy Playhouse Theatre’s $10 million campus.

The 35,500 square-foot theatre is part of Huntsville’s master plan for West Huntsville, serving as the anchor for the Holmes Avenue pedestrian expansion. The new theatre will have 355 seats and the campus will include retail space and a café. But, most importantly, the new facility will have adequate capacity to teach tech theatre, which also includes lighting and set design.

As part of the city’s economic development plan, Fantasy Playhouse Children’s Theatre is growing. Along with other local businesses making an early commitment to the endeavor, Huntsville has dedicated $2 million to bring the new theatre to life. Thus, setting the stage for the Hillandale-Terry Heights corridor; with Research Park on the west end, Five Points at the east, and UAH and Fantasy Playhouse Theatre serving as the two main anchor points in between.

“It offers an investment in the arts, attracting people to our city and making Huntsville a better place,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “The arts bring that creativity to us, making it necessary for us to grow.”

A new theatre and educational facility are long overdue.

“This building, strategically set on the corner of Holmes Avenue and Triana Boulevard, will be a community asset to the Terry Heights neighborhood, prioritizing theatre arts access for all by engaging local underserved communities,” said Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong. “It is proven that an appreciation of theater arts builds in children self-confidence, academic success, creative-thinking processes, and future investment in their  communities as adults. Arts appreciation lasts a lifetime.

“The Madison County Commission heartily endorses this project.”

Now in its 60th year, Fantasy Playhouse Theatre has introduced more than 500,000 people to the magic of theatre. Fantasy has been in its present location on Long Avenue since 1997 and, for the past six years, it has been on a major growth trajectory. As a result, they have been bursting at the seams.

“Our community is the most important part of why we do what we do,” said Karen Mockensturm, Fantasy’s CEO. “The new Fantasy Playhouse campus will be a high-profile, accessible arts and culture destination for families, building on our organization’s legacy and providing the exact theatre arts education programming opportunities that families relocating to our area expect for their children.”

Monday’s event was the kickoff for the organization’s fundraising campaign, titled “Spotlight on the Future”. While final numbers have yet to be determined, Fantasy’s officials said recent estimates for construction costs range between $11 million and $12 million. Torch Technologies, The Daniel Foundation, Alabama State Council on the Arts, Facebook, Kiwanis Club of Huntsville Foundation, PPG, several private donors and the City of Huntsville have already pledged support.

To enable a free community space where ARTS and STEM education combine to create STE(A)M, Facebook is donating $150,000 to a technical suite.

“We’ve been absolutely inspired by the vision of the Fantasy Playhouse and its innovative new arts campus,” said Katie Comer, Facebook’s Community Development Regional Manager. “Its impact on Huntsville will be profound, reimagining the opportunities beyond children’s theater, extending into technical education, workforce development and community building, which aligns perfectly with Facebook’s mission to build community.

“We’ve been so proud to be part of the Huntsville community since we broke ground on the Huntsville Data Center in 2018 and can’t wait for this new arts campus to open.”

 

 

Galaxy of Lights Opens 25th Season at Huntsville Botanical Garden this Weekend

Galaxy of Lights, an annual holiday light experience at the Huntsville Botanical Garden, will open Friday for its 25th season. Since its debut, Galaxy has become a regional holiday tradition, and this milestone year will be a tribute to the past and a celebration of new traditions to be made.

Galaxy began as a drive-through light show with 25 displays in 1996. Over the past 25 years, the event has expanded to include both walking and driving experiences in which guests explore nearly 200 light displays along a 2.5-mile route. The displays weave together holiday themes, classic characters, and scenes from the natural world.

This year, in celebration of the 25th anniversary, an immersive experience has been added to the route for Walking Nights. The experience will combine traditional light displays with modern lighting technology and special effects, resulting in a dynamic, sensory experience that transforms the Garden’s natural landscape with light.

“This is a milestone year for Galaxy of Lights, and we are thrilled to be celebrating with our community and volunteers in a really special way,” said Rebecca Turk, director of learning and public engagement at the Garden. “Galaxy has evolved greatly over the past 25 years, and this anniversary celebration will bring together the past, present, and future by introducing new elements into the Galaxy experience that guests know and love.

“It is a year to honor the past, cherish the present, and look ahead into the next 25 years of the beloved tradition that is Galaxy.”

The Galaxy of Lights experience has been adapted in accordance with health and safety guidelines from the Alabama Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Safety measures include thorough cleaning procedures, health and safety training for all employees and volunteers, requirements for face coverings, social distancing protocols, and use of timed-entry tickets to manage capacity during Walking Nights.

“The Garden remains committed to the well-being of the community, and we have implemented certain adaptations for the health and safety of all guests, volunteers, and employees at Galaxy of Lights,” said Turk. “But guests should rest assured that the magic of Galaxy will be as dazzling as ever.”

Galaxy of Lights Walking Nights will take place 5:15-8:30 p.m. Friday through Nov. 25. Tickets for Walking Nights must be purchased for a designated date and entry time. Guests can bring their dogs on Dog Walking Nights, Nov. 16, 17 and 23.

Galaxy of Lights Driving Nights will take place Nov. 27 to Jan. 2, from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Tickets for Driving Nights can be purchased in advance or upon arrival.

Galaxy of Lights tickets are available at the Garden front desk during regular business hours or online at hsvbg.org/galaxy. Proceeds from Galaxy of Lights go directly to support the mission activities of the Garden, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

City Council Approves Funding for Amphitheater

Huntsville’s ascent into the global music circuit took another step forward with City Council approval to proceed with plans to build a new 8,000-plus seat amphitheater.

Council voted 3-1​ Thursday to authorize the city’s Public Building Authority to move into the construction phase to build a classic Roman-style forum within a municipal park near the MidCity development.

The amphitheater project has been under development for the past several years, garnering public interest and support through the Mayor’s Music Initiative and citywide music audit in 2018. The amphitheater is being designed with amenities to support top talent and to showcase community events such as farmer’s markets, a food hall, craft fairs, educational events and the like. By locating the venue in a new City park, the forum will be accessible to the public year-round.

“This facility will help us grow our music and culture economy,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “It will allow us to become a community of curators, where we can develop our own creative content, unique to Huntsville, that we can share globally.

“In addition to arts festivals, markets, and world-famous musicians, we’ll be able to incubate our own talent, showing that our next great entrepreneurs don’t all have to be in space and missile defense.”

To manage the amphitheater and develop its programming, the city retained the Huntsville Venue Group, a global entertainment and hospitality partner with operations in London, Austin and New York.  The organization is led by Ben Lovett of the British band Mumford & Sons, in partnership with industry veterans Mike Luba, Don Sullivan, Jeff Kicklighter and Al Santos.

“It is, by far, one of the greatest milestones in my professional career to be such an integral part of this amazing project for the City of Huntsville,” said Ryan Murphy, president of HVG. “By design and execution, the Huntsville Amphitheater is going to help write the future of Huntsville, not only in terms of music, arts and culture, but also in its ability to create such tremendous creative and communal space that is inclusive, diverse, progressive and inspiring … this is just the beginning.”

The amphitheater is expected to open in early 2022. The estimated $40 million construction budget will be funded through the city’s capital plan and a percentage of future lodging taxes.

“Huntsville’s Amphitheater will set the stage to spotlight our city, our culture, and our talent on a global level,” said City Council President Devyn Keith. “I have full confidence in the Huntsville Venue Group and their commitment to ensure the Huntsville community and spirit is integrated into the DNA of the facility. From community programming to opportunities for local artists, this is a space that will be created for all of Huntsville.

“Moving forward with construction is a clear signal of Huntsville’s strong economy as we ensure we’re laying the groundwork for workforce recruitment, quality of life and job opportunity for our citizens for years to come.”

VBC Receives ConventionSouth’s Readers’ Choice Award

The Von Braun Center has received the 2020 Readers’ Choice Award from ConventionSouth, the national multimedia resource for planning events in the South. It is the third time the VBC has received the award.

“ConventionSouth readers and fans have voted to decide the best meeting sites in the South, and it is no surprise to us that Von Braun Center has been selected to receive our annual Readers’ Choice Award,” said ConventionSouth Associate Publisher Ashleigh Osborne. “The value in receiving this prestigious recognition is that it comes from the United States’ top meeting professionals who hold events in the South.

“These planners demand the highest level of customer service and quality facilities, and they have contributed in determining that Von Braun Center indeed displays the commitment to professionalism, creativity and service that they require.”

The Von Braun Center is among 380 convention and visitor bureaus, meeting facilities and hotels located across the South to receive this year’s Readers’ Choice Award, which originated in 2001. Throughout the year, meeting professionals nominated the meeting sites they believe provide exemplary service for group events. The nominated sites were then compiled onto an online ballot where meeting professionals and fans voted for the best of the best. With over 8,000 voters participating in the selection process and the highest social media interaction to date, this has been the most successful and engaging year yet!

“We are very proud to have been chosen as one of the best meeting sites in the South by the readers of ConventionSouth,” said VBC Director of Sales and Event Services Marie Arighi.  “It means so much to be chosen by our peers.  The VBC hosted over 487 events last year with over 675,000 people attending those events and we value each and every one.”

The VBC will be featured as an award recipient in the December 2020 Awards issue of ConventionSouth magazine.

Masks and More Masks: “Celebrating” Halloween in the Time of COVID

Witches, goblins, and ghouls.

Costumes, candy, and yard décor.

It is evident that Halloween is a popular holiday here in America.

What other time of the year can adults and children alike freely dress up, disguised as their favorite superhero or movie icon, and legitimately beg for candy?

But will this year’s Halloween be different from years past and if so, how?

In the time of COVID, if one thing has proved to be certain, it is uncertainty.

2020 has already proven to be vastly different than any other year. After six months living under the dark cloud of a global pandemic, it is possible that some of the many large gatherings that normally take place here in the Rocket City might take a back seat.

As far trick-or-treating or home-based Halloween parties, it is hard to say.

While no one has directly come out and said, don’t go trick-or-treating, it has been implied.

“Local hospital representatives have advised against any close contact activity,” said Kelly Schrimsher, communications director for the City of Huntsville.

The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) advises that all preventive measures and extreme caution be exercised in any instance where groups of people congregate.

“Congregate settings increase the potential for transmission of respiratory droplets,” said Dr. Karen Landers of the Huntsville’s COVID-19 team.

Despite the cautionary statements and recommendations, the natives are getting restless and, after many months of curtailed social encounters combined with a blisteringly hot summer, everyone is eager for the arrival of fall and the sense of merriment that Halloween brings.

Halloween falls on a Saturday this year, which is ideal for families and especially good for local entertainment venues.

But how will it play out here?

“We have several events going on this year and are hoping to add a few more,” said River Reed, event coordinator for Straight to Ale. “October’s Drag Brunch on the 25th is Halloween-themed and we (released) our Old Town Pumpkin Ale as a tribute both to the holiday and Huntsville History Month. Homegrown Comedy and Rocket City Art Hops, which are on the ninth and 15th respectively, also have a Halloween theme and we are encouraging attendees to come in costume.”

As far as hosting an event on Halloween, Straight to Ale hasn’t confirmed.

The state mandate limits eight people to a table and hosting a large group event, such as a Halloween party, presents a unique challenge.

“We do hope to have a costume contest and a few other Halloween-themed events, but we are working out the safest way to do so,” said Reed.

“Our events are all following all of our current safety protocols in the taproom,” said Kimberly Casey, marketing director at Straight to Ale. “This means all venue spaces are at half capacity, tables are spaced six feet apart, and masks must be worn when not seated at your table. Patrons can check out a detailed description of our policies before they visit at straighttoale.com/updates.”

In addition to the social gathering aspect, Halloween is a big deal for retail.

Since the National Retail Federation began keeping track in 2005, Halloween spending has almost doubled. In 2019, close to $9 billion was spent on costumes, candy, and decorations alone.

These figures do not factor in the additional revenue generated at bars, clubs, and other entertainment venues such as haunted houses, corn mazes, and hayrides. Without this substantial boost of holiday-inspired spending, it could mean another massive blow to the nation’s economy.

While nothing has been set in stone locally, it remains to be seen whether any mandates will come into play regarding Halloween activities and events.

In major cities, such as Los Angeles and Chicago, decisions have already been made and revised, or at least modified, in response to community push-back. In L.A., large-scale Halloween events at the big theme parks, such as Universal Studios and Disney have been canceled. At the city level, although the smaller neighborhood events and the door-to-door candy hustles are “not recommended,” city ordinances will not be enforced.

In the meantime, local retail establishments remain hopeful. Stores that specialize in Halloween décor and apparel are well-stocked with an assortment of costumes, just in case.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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