Google Fiber is Looking for Trusted Testers to Upgrade Fiber TV

If you’re a Fiber TV viewer, Google would like to talk with you.

The company is looking for Huntsville residents to become “trusted testers” and try out its Google Fiber TV upgrade next month.

“We believe the best TV is online,” Liz Hsu, Google’s director of Product Strategy, posted on her blog. “While many of our customers have already made the switch from traditional TV to streaming services, some have hesitated to take the leap, even though Fiber TV service hasn’t kept up with all the features streaming services offer.

“Luckily, all you need to get the best TV today is great internet, which is something Fiber TV customers already have.”

Hsu said testers need to be Google Fiber TV customers “who are ready to take the next step to an upgraded streaming TV experience.”

The program – which is free – includes a Google WiFi upgrade of the entire home, streaming Chromecast with Google TV, and setting up the streaming service of the customer’s choice, including an option for a free trial of YouTube TV.

For information, visit https://goo.gle/2FTGrrK.

Q&A with Ben Lovett: Man Behind the Development of Huntsville Amphitheater

Q: Maybe there are more rock stars than I know who are involved in business ventures, but I am fascinated by your involvement on such a corporate level. Can you talk about that?

Ben Lovett: I have been an entrepreneur my whole life. I started my first business in event promotion on the rock scene about 20 years ago and then opened a record label publishing artists’ records about 15 years ago.

I see my life with Mumford & Sons as my artistic outlet, but there is a side of me that believes in having a day job. Owning these companies is great honest work.

I started doing venues about six years ago and started Venue Group with my brother Greg (Lovett). He has a very strong career in business and most recently he was CFO of Soho House & Co. before joining us as CFO at Venue Group.

Our dad was in corporate management and consulting for 45 years and we grew up in that environment, a household that brought a certain amount of buttoned-up ones and twos, crossing the Ts and dotting the I’s when it comes to industry and running a successful business.

Q: Are you actually involved in building these music venues from the acoustic and design standpoint or are you just a consultant to those who do?  

A: I roll up my sleeves and get into the intimate detail.

I think you don’t want any single element of the venue to let you down both from the artist’s experience and from the patron’s experience, because that’s really what it is all about.

When you attract a Jimmy Buffet or Travis Scott, or whoever it might be through a venue, you want them to say, ‘That was pretty good. I want to come back here and play when I am on tour.’

You can’t underestimate their (artist’s) experience whether it is the sound on the stage, the temperature in the dressing room, or the limitations of the production loading docks.

But from the patron’s point of view, you might have done a lot of things well. The sound was great, and the lights were great, but if it takes half an hour to get the car out of the car park at the end of the night, then patrons say to themselves, there was so much right about the experience, but there was something that let me down.

We are looking at the detail, both the artists’ and the patrons’ (experience) to make sure we are not going to fall short on this venue.

Q: Is Huntsville really the first of these venues you are building?

A: Yes, Huntsville Amphitheater is Venue Group’s first amphitheater in the U.S., and this is a very specific type of building, an open-air theatre.

We’ve joined up with some great veterans of the industry like Mike Luba and Don Sullivan, who brought back the Forest Hills Stadium in New York. He has been in this industry for decades and I have collaborated with him on a number of projects.

Given the importance and scale of this project, we decided to partner on it, so we’re not going into it completely cold. We’re leaning on our experience and it’s a good collaboration.

Q: Without sounding corny, but ‘‘of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world” – why Huntsville?

A: Huntsville is a wonderful place.

I think in my travels across the U.S., it has occurred to me that some of the secondary and tertiary markets and cities have a bit of insecurity about them, an inferiority complex. But as far as I see it, Huntsville has people of great stature and it not only deserves to be one of the great U.S. cities, but it is really on its way to being so.

I don’t think it is as hard to imagine building a world-class venue in Huntsville.

The city government is incredibly well run. Our first meetings with the current administration a couple of years ago with Mayor (Tommy) Battle, Shane Davis and John Hamilton – these people are smart, they are ambitious, and they are aware of the responsibility they have in public office. These are, I think, some of the best examples of city officials I have ever met, and I have met a lot of people on different project across the years in the U.S.

So that is a big part of it, and also, just the rate of growth right now in Huntsville is off the scale. You’ve got all of these new jobs, all of this new activity, but what are these people doing on the weekend?

I think the task we’ve been given is to stop people from running off to Birmingham or Nashville or Atlanta to spend their hard-earned money on the weekend.

Let’s keep them here in Huntsville, keep them happy, and let’s entertain them with incredible food and beverage options that will make Huntsville into a great city in the next chapter of the South.

Q: Are you aware of how hot it gets in Huntsville in July and August?

A: I am very aware of the heat and I must say from snowy New York, I think every day I could live in Huntsville full time!

Q: Back in my concert-going days, the only place to eat after a late-night concert was Krystal or perhaps you know it as White Castle. I heard you talk about how food is a centerpiece of the venue experience. Can you explain what that means for Huntsville?

A: Yes, the food experience has changed.

The food element is something that is very important to us, but probably not something people deem as important across the industry.

We think there is such an opportunity with 8,000 people coming out to West Huntsville multiple times a year, to enjoy a concert.

For many people, it will be their one night out that month or one big night out that year and it needs to be from start to finish, exceptional.

Most venues see the show as the main event.

But if you go beyond the show, those people are going to want to park efficiently. They will want to have dinner and some drinks. We see these things as a kind of equal match to the main event itself.

We want to work with people in Huntsville, within Madison County and around the region to showcase their delicious cuisine, whether it is a Poke Bowl or pizza, to those 8,000 people. We want to offer patrons the best options, and we want them to be great, so they become part of their memory of that event.

And we want people to know that is open and available 365 days a year. We want to make Huntsville an inbound destination when the show is on, and when the show is off.

On days when there is no concert happening, people will be able to go and enjoy Huntsville as a new destination where they can hang out with friends and sometimes see big scale arena performances.

Q: One last question about your music – for a British rock band, Mumford & Sons has a very American folksy sound. Where does that come from?

A: I think it is just a fascination with “the other” and it’s been that way for years.

If you think about the Rolling Stones coming to Muscle Shoals all those years ago, it was a British band wanting to learn and nurture themselves with southern American roots.

It’s gone back and forth. A lot of American bands have felt the same way about British and Celtic music, and some of it is that historic relationship culturally between the U.K. and the U.S.

It has led me to living here and growing a family in the U.S. I love this country and I love the South. I think there is an incredible romance about it, so I’m all in.

Q: Can we expect to see you playing here a lot?

A: Playing here is definitely on the agenda!

Construction Begins on 8,000-Seat Huntsville Amphitheater

Construction has begun on the long awaited state-of-the-art, 8,000-seat Huntsville Amphitheater at MidCity and the new West Huntsville Park. It also marks a 15-month countdown to an April 2022 opening.

The city’s amphitheater will soon rise from this red clay in Huntsville’s MidCity District. (Photo/Steve Babin)

The City of Huntsville and Venue Group, founded by Ben Lovett of the Grammy Award-winning rock band Mumford & Sons, made the announcement.

The project brings to life Huntsville’s long-time vision for an iconic major music venue that will serve the community and bring top music talent to the region. It is also a major contributor in the city’s Music Initiative to build a music and cultural-based economy throughout the region.

Huntsville Venue Group, a joint venture partnership led by Ryan Murphy, former CEO of the St. Augustine (Fla.) Amphitheater, will be operating the venue on behalf of the city. He will be assisted by leadership from the global Venue Group team including Lovett and his brother Greg, Graham Brown, and Jesse Mann, in partnership with industry veterans Mike Luba, Don Sullivan, Jeff Kicklighter and Al Santos.

According to Dennis Madsen, the city’s manager of Urban & Long Range Planning, who also oversees the Music Initiative, Lovett’s involvement is extraordinary because artists have a lot to say about the venues in which they perform.

“Artists themselves like to play in some venues because of the atmosphere and environment,” said Madsen. “I believe Ben Lovett’s motivation in starting Venue Group was driven by wanting to create more of those types of venues.”

Mayor Tommy Battle said the city has wanted to build more than an amphitheater. They want a facility that will help grow Huntsville’s music and culture economy.

“It will allow us to become a community of curators, where we can develop our own creative content that is unique to Huntsville that we can share globally,” said Battle. “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.”

Murphy believes the main reason Venue Group won the contract for the Huntsville Amphitheater was because they had a shared vision of a year-round operation and of making it a community asset.

“When I saw Huntsville doing this Music Initiative, I was so impressed. They are putting the road map together. They understand the economics of it and the importance of it,” he said. “I have to say they stepped up to understand that music is not just a quality-of-life issue that adds to the culture and arts in a city.

“Huntsville understands music is an economic driver and that it creates jobs.”

He said having worked in local government for 15 years, it is often hard for local government to understand the benefits of a music and culture economy because there is not a lot of long-term vision.

“We are creating something that is not just your run-of-the-mill amphitheater stage and lawn,” Murphy said. “The uniqueness of the architecture and the uniqueness of how it will be operated makes it much more of a community asset.”

Part of that uniqueness will be the Amphitheater’s integration into the new West Huntsville Park. The city will be preserving much of the natural trees and wooded areas and will be creating nature and hiking trails throughout the surrounding area.

There has been some early criticism that so elaborate a venue may well bring in 20 major concerts a year, but what about the remaining 345 days a year?

“That would be the biggest waste of taxpayer dollars, even if 20 big names a year was an economic driver, brought more quality of life to the residents, and provided jobs,” said Murphy. “What we’re going to create is a community asset. The Huntsville Amphitheater will be an extension of the new West Huntsville Park so that on any given day there may be multiple stages set up with multiple areas of engagement, much of it free.”

From a gospel Sunday brunch with barbecue and great gospel groups, to local Saturday afternoon music showcases, Murphy said the aim is to create a venue the community will get behind because they know on any given day year-round, they will find something really cool going on there.

“It will attract major concerts that have never been seen in North Alabama, but it will also be scaled appropriately with plenty of flexible space and will be affordable for nonprofits and local events to lease space to fit any occasion from farmer’s markets and graduation ceremonies to small arts festivals,” he said.

Another unique aspect of the Huntsville Amphitheater is the result of Lovett’s vision to build a new era of world class music venues combined with significant community growth and amenities. Among those amenities is food – good food.

Huntsville Venue Group is in talks with regional chefs and local food vendors to bring to life its prized food village that will operate year-round. The village will provide food and beverage options to patrons of the Amphitheatre and also serve as an additional amenity and social space for MidCity.

“One of the biggest trends in the past 10 years has been an elevation of the quality and variety of food offerings, especially around music,” said Lovett. “We believe there is a huge amount of opportunity in the hospitality side of entertainment to deliver food and drinks of such excellence that they stand on their own two feet as an offering not simply as a way to ‘tide you over,’ quench the thirst, or satiate the hunger temporarily.

“We have to aspire for higher standards than that. One of the reasons that Huntsville is so appealing to me and the team is it feels like going the extra mile is in the DNA of this city and we intend to go the extra mile when it comes to not just the concert experience, but the restaurants and bars that lay adjacent and that will serve customers year-round.”

Murphy also said Huntsville Venue Group is going to be involved in the entire community.

“Whether they are festivals downtown or smaller venues in town struggling to get back on their feet after COVID, we are going to help them, too,” he said. “The Huntsville Amphitheater will not open in isolation. We are watching the recommendation coming from the Initiative’s music audit, and we are going to help every step of the way.”

 

Huntsville Music Initiative: A Duet in Economy and Song

In 2019, the city of Huntsville played a duet in economy and song.

The Huntsville Music Initiative was launched, accompanied by a citywide music audit to celebrate the music industry’s significant impact on the city, with the understanding that impact could be significantly more.

One of the initial recommendations coming from the music audit was the need for a board of professionals and people in the local music industry, to help guide the city in implementing a strategy.

A jam session at Mad Malts Brewing is typical of Huntsville’s diverse music scene.

In January 2020, the Huntsville Music Board (huntsvillemusic.org) was established. Its members are chairman Brett Tannehill of WLRH radio; Celese Sanders, founder and executive director of Encore Opera Huntsville; local singer and songwriter Chuck Rutenberg as vicechair; Codie Gopher, founder of the Huntsville Hip Hop Tech Conference; Cricket Hoffman, founding member of Hip Hop Live and CodeName Underground; alternative pop artist Deqn Sue; Judy Allison, CEO/director of Purple19; Mario Maitland, founder of Huntsville’s Maitland Conservatory; and Mark Torstenson, co-owner and manager of The Fret Shop.

According to Dennis Madsen, the city’s manager of Urban & Long-Range Planning who also oversees the Music Initiative, Huntsville has always been creative in its approach to economic development.

Redstone Arsenal is No. 1 when it comes to Huntsville’s economic driver, but there are other means the rest of the city can support it by diversifying. Similar to the diversity of businesses in Cummings Research Park and the burgeoning automotive manufacturing industry in Limestone County, Madsen said there is a huge driving music industry opportunity in Huntsville that if nurtured, could really grow.

“A growing music industry will do great things for our quality of life and create a whole other job and economic sector in Huntsville,” said Madsen. “That was the big motivation behind doing the music audit and creating the Board.”

Madsen uses the city’s Industrial Development Board as an example.

“When we talk about recruiting industry, that board is filled with folks who really understand industrial development and they partner with the City to help drive industrial development,” he said.

“For years, Huntsville has people immersed in the music industry or related industries like communications and public relations and they are the people who can help guide Huntsville in making policies and in supporting development to grow the music industry here.”

One might think COVID stopped the concerto right in the middle of the third movement, but instead, the board took its meetings virtual the rest of 2020 and the list of accomplishments built a base to work on in 2021.

First, a Spotify playlist was established which shared local music from a variety of genres; and they also shared their own playlists as a great way to get more exposure for their own work.

The Board created a charter and a webpage and developed a resource guide for artists negatively impacted by COVID-19, currently on the City’s website, to share ways in which they can reach out and get help.

They also formed committees on things like marketing; education, looking at strategies for engaging in schools with low-cost instrument rentals; and they formed an events committee to create a calendar, that hasn’t been implemented yet, but will be a one-stop-shop and central clearinghouse for people wanting to know about local and regional music events.

Music Board member Mario Maitland, founder of the Maitland Conservatory in Huntsville, is on the education committee. He started his music school to offer students ages 2 to 76, a modern application of music and the arts.

“We focus on the careers that can be created from the arts. A lot of time, the arts get stuck in this box of, ‘It’s cute to take piano lessons or violin lessons’ and maybe one day you can play in church,” he said. “But we don’t really talk about, nor do we really expose people to, how to take traditional arts school training and apply it to modern careers in music production, film scoring, deejaying, video editing, even vlogging and podcasting.”

As a Music Board member, he said the ultimate goal is to get people thinking about music as a sustainable economic engine. And, once it gets going, music creates jobs and residual income in businesses connected to it.

“Everyone loves entertainment, everyone loves music, and they want to go out and enjoy it, but they are not really used to paying for it,” said Maitland. “We’re trying to promote this culture of paying for your music so that we can really push the whole idea of a music economy.

“We don’t want these individual music venues to exist as silos. We want them interwoven. That is how we help to cultivate the music scene. But then we want to take it a step further: How can we interconnect all of those things to really create a cohesive music economy?”

The board also met to establish a music policy handbook.

Among the most important policies is initial research into noise ordinances and how they impact artists planning musical events. It lays out a plan for how the board can work with the city to clarify those ordinances, and make it easier for artists, venues, businesses and residents to comply to those policies.

“Noise ordinances and policies are important because you will be faced with conflicts between venues and nearby businesses and residences,” said Madsen. “The Music Board will set a policy to mediate these things that says essentially, whoever was there first has the right to do what they were doing. Whoever comes in afterwards, has to take that into account and is responsible for attenuating the noise.”

Madsen said the city has been talking about an amphitheater in Huntsville for a long time. The idea of the MidCity Amphitheater dovetailed with the opening of the VBC Mars Music Hall.

“The Mars Music Hall has been incredibly well received not just by audiences but by artists who say it is a great place to play,” said Madsen. “We recognize the need for something along the lines of an 8,000-seat outdoor venue that can attract a certain level of artists who are on the national circuit.

“What came out of the music audit was an affirmation of that. This market is big enough for something like that, but it is also big enough for meeting a broader variety of event venues.”

The Music Initiative also seeks to partner with the unique independent music culture and history of places such as Florence and Muscle Shoals, and to share artists from there and Huntsville to encourage a cross-cultural exchange.

“But we are even looking beyond that,” said Madsen. “We are adjacent to what is known as the Americana Music Triangle that incorporates the major music cities in the Southeast. We will never be Nashville, but how can Huntsville become part of that broad music culture exchange so young and aspiring artists can cut their teeth in the regional music ecosystem and go on to hit the bigger stages.”

Another issue to come out of the audit was the need for more public events.

Impossible last year due to COVID, there are now discussions about restarting Big Spring Jam or, once we are on the backside of COVID, to create a signature Huntsville Music and Arts Festival.

Board member Codie Gopher has several ideas about this.

By day, Gopher designs attack helicopters on Redstone Arsenal, but his true love is music, and he is fully committed to developing and supporting local talent.

He founded the Huntsville Hip Hop Tech Conference more than five years ago, bringing in music leaders from around the globe, and has consistently focused on subjects such as hip hop tech production development, teaching music technology in Huntsville/Madison County schools, the global influence of hip hop, and the future of STREAM (Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics).

“Codie G. is a very influential member of the hip hop community here and he has been promoting the idea of 256 Day,” said Madsen. “256 is the local area code, but the 256th day of the year falls in mid-September, the happy zone for outdoor public events.

“It is the beginning of the private music industry starting to shape a new fall music festival, or maybe other festivals on a variety of scales, over the course of a year.”

Madsen points out that Huntsville already has a diversity of music ranging from the chamber music festival Twickenham Fest to the Hip Hop Tech Conference to the Huntsville Orchestra to the city’s robust blues, country and rock music scene.

With the city’s amphitheater coming to MidCity and an amphitheater planned for Home Place Park in Madison, as well as venues such as Toyota Field, Big Spring Park, the Mark C. Smith Concert Hall and others, the Huntsville Music Initiative seems to be hitting the high notes when it comes to musical and economic harmony.

Huntsville to Host the 2021 SEC Gymnastics Championships

BIRMINGHAM – The Southeastern Conference announced Tuesday it is adjusting the site of the 2021 SEC Gymnastics Championship from New Orleans to Huntsville due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19.

The 2021 SEC Gymnastics Championship will be held March 20 at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville. The event was cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was last held in New Orleans in 2019 before a crowd of 10,505.

“We enjoyed an electric environment with an SEC-record crowd in New Orleans’ Smoothie King Center when it hosted this event in 2019 and we look forward to returning there when we can provide our student-athletes a similar experience in the future,” said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. “A geographically central location is appropriate in the current COVID-19 environment. We appreciate the support from the Huntsville community and the Von Braun Center to provide an excellent venue for this year’s Championship.”

Huntsville is hosting the SEC Championship for the first time. For 20 years beginning with the inaugural event in 1981, SEC campuses hosted the Conference championship until it moved to a neutral site in 2001. It has since been held in seven different locations.

“We are honored to step up and host the SEC Gymnastics Championship in Huntsville,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “We promise participants will find a high-caliber venue and a welcoming community, and we look forward to seeing this outstanding competition in the Rocket City.”

It’s All Fun and Games for Kids (of All Ages): Main Event Coming to Bridge Street Town Centre

Remember the arcade from your days long ago, the big place with Galaga, Centipede, Pac-Man, pinball machines, Skee-ball and air hockey? Perhaps a pool table or two, as well, with a line of stacked “got next” quarters on the rail?

The Main Event is moving into the former Toys R Us/Babies R Us building.

Now imagine that for adults — and kids, of course — with much more space, bowling, laser tag, billiards and more than 120 arcade games, along with restaurants and beverages including cocktails and craft beer.

That’s what’s coming, with Main Event Entertainment opening a 50,000 square-foot complex at Bridge Street Town Centre.

“They looked at Huntsville and the growth Huntsville will have over the long-term,” said Nikki Columbo, senior vice president of Key Accounts for Bayer Properties, which manages Bridge Street Town Centre. “They’re projecting for 10 to 15 years and what they’re seeing is that growth (in Huntsville) will surpass other markets. They’re looking for long-term.”

This is the first location of Main Event in Alabama and it is slated to open by 2022 but no specific date has been given. It will be a family-friendly option for multiple age groups.

“We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the Huntsville community and bringing our unique family entertainment experience to the area,” said Chris Morris, president and CEO of Main Event. “Our brand promise is to provide guests an opportunity to make memories together while enjoying the best activities and games imaginable all in the comforts of one fun-filled location. We are committed to doing that every single day.

“The team at Bayer Properties was instrumental in making this a reality and we are thankful to be working with a top-notch group on our first-ever location in Alabama.”

Dallas-based Main Event has 44 locations in the United States ranging from 45,000 to 75,000 square feet. The company bills its centers as having state-of-the-art bowling, multi-level laser tag, gravity ropes adventure courses and more. It offers a variety of deals and specials, including happy hour, along with birthday, private and corporate parties/events.

Morris has a strong upper management background in the restaurant and entertainment industries. He has been with California Pizza Kitchen, On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina, CEC Entertainment (owners of Chuck E. Cheese’s and Peter Piper Pizza), NPC International and Applebee’s International. Morris has opened more than 200 units with five businesses.

Columbo said the scouting for Huntsville began prior to 2020. But the pandemic impact didn’t stop Main Event from moving forward toward opening.

“We kept moving forward and they reorganized as well,” she said. “Coming out of the pandemic they’re moving forward with one or two leases in the country and Huntsville is one of them. I think it’s safe to say they’re not going to open five in the next year. They’re going to open one or two, maybe three, and Huntsville is one of them.

“The essence of Main Event Entertainment and Bridge Street Town Centre fits perfectly. Bridge Street really draws from a large area of the Huntsville market. It draws from 25 to 50 miles, and our core customer is coming from that distance 25-30 times a year for the Bridge Street experience. One of the reasons they planted their flag in Huntsville is they saw traffic patterns and (growth) and saw this as a good opportunity.”

Main Event joins The Cheesecake Factory in announcing a new location at Bridge Street. The Cheesecake Factory will move into the 7,350-square-foot corner location on the south side of the property that previously housed Cantina Laredo. It will be across from P.F. Chang’s and adjacent to Barnes & Noble. Opening is “Winter 2021,” with no specific date announced.

Columbo said Bayer has other projects in the works for Bridge Street but declined to offer specifics. A mixed-use outdoor center, Bridge Street has more than 50 unique or specialty stores, more than 207,000 square feet of Class A office space, the 232-room Westin hotel, 150-room Element by Westin, and a 14-screen Cinemark theatre that is the busiest in Alabama. New developments include Watermark, a 244-unit luxury apartment complex, and the 131-room Hyatt Place hotel.

Madison’s Growth Widespread – yet Balanced and Managed

MADISON — Over the years, Madison has been referred to as Huntsville’s bedroom community.

For those who have lived in the area since the beginning of the space program, people were said to live or work, “out in Madison.”

It is a community that has for so long been considered a quaint little rural stop on the way to the Rocket City, that aside from a single event known as the “Affair at Madison Station,” it even missed mention in history books about the Civil War.

Well, Huntsville’s little bedroom community has awakened, and it has been coming for a long time.

In 1990, Madison’s population was approximately 15,000. In 2000, it had doubled to 30,000, and, according to the census, in 2019 it had grown to almost 50,000 people.

Today, Madison is one of the fastest growing cities in the Southeast. It has one of the highest per capita incomes and a school system recognized for scholastic excellence at the local, state, and national level.

Everywhere you look, businesses are throwing open their doors; new buildings are rising out of the distinctive “redstone” clay; residential communities are spreading out; roads are widening; and aging buildings, parks, and residential communities are being revitalized.

“It scares me when I hear people talk about Madison’s explosive growth because the explosive growth is happening throughout the entire area, the multiple communities in Madison County,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. “I prefer to say Madison is managing and balancing our growth.

“One of the things I think we’ve done a good job of is rather than taking every subdivision that wants to build, instead, manage the process with a focus primarily on the economic development side of retail and commercial, knowing it’s not going to be that hard to bring housing here if we balance our opportunities.”

While the mayor may be managing and balancing the growth as opportunities arise, the growth is so widespread it is visible along every street and in every neighborhood.

Starting with the skyline-altering Town Madison, the Rocket City could not ask for a more inviting gateway than Madison.

Minutes from a bustling Huntsville International Airport, named the Best Small Airport in the United States by USA Today’s 10 Best Reader’s Choice awards, and a line drive out of Toyota Field with its baseball diamond shimmering underneath the stadium lights lies the world-renowned U.S. Space & Rocket Center; Redstone Arsenal; and Cummings Research Park, home to dozens of Fortune 500 companies with their advanced manufacturing and high-tech capabilities.

Fanned out across both sides of a revitalized Madison Boulevard are luxury homes such as the Heights at Town Madison and The Station high-rise apartments at Town Madison.

Just announced and set to start construction soon is a mixed-use project developed by Novare Group out of Atlanta. Across from the Madison Golf Center on Lime Quarry Road within the Town Madison development, a 290-unit apartment complex with eight live and work units, will be built with approximately 5,000 square feet of commercial and co-working space for its residents, and more than 68,000 square feet of open space.

Popular restaurants and coffee shops such as Starbucks, Outback Steakhouse and J. Alexander’s are opening soon. Both have been stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Madison Mayor Paul Finley.

“Many of these restaurant venues are having to go back to the drawing board and redesign their restaurants based on today versus the world a year ago,” said Finley. “They are taking a little extra time to look at more outdoor dining, drive throughs, curbside pick-up and how to do take-out if they have never done it before. The take-out business has expanded dramatically, and they want the right type of store to meet the new demand.”

Boutique hotels Home2 Suites and the Avid will soon be joined by resort-style hotels and entertainment venues such as the Hotel Margaritaville.

Infrastructure, said Finley, is part of managing and balancing growth.

He explains that in 2010 and 2011, Hughes Road at U.S. 72, and Wall-Triana at U.S. 72 were the two highest traffic accident areas in Madison.

“When we put our efforts into redoing those two intersections for safety, adding double turn lanes and more, it became an economic development driver in those areas,” Finley said. “Two old shopping centers were revitalized so that Planet Fitness and several popular restaurants were created out in front.

“Two years ago, those same accident studies showed I-565 at the Wall-Triana exit as the highest accident area. It was also difficult to get to the Ruby Tuesday and Cracker Barrel once you got off at that exit,” Finley said. “We applied a grant and redid the design, but it is only about 30 percent finished.”

There are now three hotels at the Wall-Triana exit – the Clarion Pointe and two new hotels, the Avid and Home 2 Suites, as well as Twice Daily convenience store.

“With that being to first exit coming from the west to Town Madison, that intersection has to change,” said Finley. “We are looking at how improving it for safety, will also create economic development and improve accessibility.”

Across from Town Madison, Madison Boulevard is getting a heavy revitalization.

“There is a big reason for it,” the mayor said. “We have an agreement with businesses along Madison Boulevard that if you tear down a building, improve a building, or build a new building, or if we need to put in a traffic light to make the location safer or more accessible, then we’ll do that, but we want to see better signs from your business.”

One of the new kids in town in that busy area is Terramé Day Spa, Hair Salon & Blow Dry Bar. Terramé started in Huntsville 18 years ago and the Madison location is its third. The 16,660 square-foot building is the largest freestanding hair salon and day spa in Alabama, excluding hotel and resort spas.

Mike and Charla Johnson and Mike’s brothers, Jeff and Charles, are partners in the business and in the 5,000 square-foot commercial space they are building next door for lease.

Resilience and a determination to warrior on despite COVID-19, they plan to open by Feb 1.

“We are very happy they chose our city,” said Finley. “Terramé will draw daytime traffic to Madison and although we have a lot of people who come home to Madison after work, I am focusing on offering quality of life services that bring more people to Madison to shop, dine, and enjoy the day here.”

“That is managing growth,” he said.

Several road projects in addition to the Wall Triana and Madison Boulevard intersection are underway, including restriping Intergraph Way, widening Lime Quarry Road, and improving the intersection between the two.

They are lengthening Short Road in downtown to open a better thoroughfare from the new Avenue Madison project, and the City will begin work on the Balch and Gillespie roads intersections by the second quarter 2021.

Hughes Road and Sullivan Street are undergoing major widening projects expected to be complete at the end of 2021, according to Mary Beth Broeren, Madison City Planner.

“Hughes Plaza, across from City Hall, is undergoing a complete upgrade,” Broeren said. “A couple of existing tenants, Bicycle Cove and Interiors by Consign, will remain, but Absolute Nutrition just opened in November; and Fleet Feet, a physical therapy business, and a coffee shop will be new tenants in 2021.”

The Madison Chamber of Commerce is moving next door into a converted house, providing more space, better visibility, and easier access.

“That is big for us,” said Finley. “Finally getting the opportunity to revitalize that shopping plaza, getting a Fleet Feet and a nutrition store, with the Chamber right next door – all right across the street from City Hall is a big deal to us and making a positive impact.”

To the west of downtown Madison, the Argento at Oakland Springs developed by Sterling Development has been approved at the entrance to the Village at Oakland Springs on the south side of Huntsville-Browns Ferry Road.

“This mixed-use project will contain 262 apartments and approximately 18,000 square feet of commercial space, similar in character and design to the Village of Providence in Huntsville,” said Broeren. “Construction is expected to start this quarter.”

The extension of the Mill Creek Greenway is finished except for some last-minute landscaping; and the City has added parking and a complete park at the Bradford Creek Trailhead. Both Bradford Creek and the Palmer Park expansion will be complete in March.

“We are working on a renovation to Home Place Park to create an outdoor venue for small concerts such as the summer Concert in the Park series,” said Broeren.

Formerly held at the Gazebo on the Village Green on Main Street, the series has outgrown it.

“We will move them to Home Place Park between The Avenue Madison project and the high school football stadium where we will have a small amphitheater,” Broeren said. “Construction has started and should be complete by this summer, in time for the Concert in the Park series.”

“These park projects go toward quality-of-life improvements that are vital to our growth and prosperity,” said Finley.

 

Fifth Annual Von Brewski Beer Festival Returns

What’s better than one Von Brewski Beer Festival? How about four of them?

Changes due to the ongoing pandemic will turn the fifth annual suds bash into four events the weekend of Feb. 12-13 at the Von Braun Center. Prior festivals have been four-hour events in the VBC South Hall, attracting more than 1,600 each year to sample a variety of different beers on tap, swap ideas on tastes and enjoy live music.

This year’s festival in Mars Music Hall will be split into four events, each lasting three hours, with a 200-attendee capacity to meet social distancing recommendations. Between sessions, the venue will be cleaned, sanitized and restocked by the VBC team for the next event.

Attendees will be able to enjoy more than 70 taps offering local, regional and international brews, along with live music, pre-made pretzel necklaces and a cash bar for non-drinkers.

“We’re thrilled with the announcement that Von Brewski will be returning for another year,” VBC Marketing and Public Relations Manager Samantha Nielsen said. “Attendees from all over the region look forward to our festival, and we’re more than happy to implement every precaution in order to bring back our signature event.”

Sample pours will be served in disposable cups to limit touchpoints. Attendees will receive a souvenir, limited-edition Von Brewski glass when leaving the event. Along with the pretzel necklaces, which will be pre-made, tasty brats, pretzels and loaded nachos will be available for purchase. Different solo artists will perform at each session.

“It’s important to all of us at the VBC to provide a safe and fun event for our guests to enjoy,” Nielsen said. “While Von Brewski may look different this year, we’re excited to maintain the spirit of the beer festival and continue the tradition of bringing friends and brews together. A limited number of tickets are available for each event, so we’re encouraging anyone interested in attending to purchase tickets early — especially if you’ll be attending with a group.”

Tickets can be purchased in person at the VBC Box Office or online at ticketmaster.com. Tickets are $40, but increase to $50 on the days of the event.  A non-sampling ticket is $15. All attendees must be 21 years of age or older and have a valid ID.

BeeZr – An ‘Excellent’ Addition to the Downtown Vibe

A warm atmosphere awaits the customers to BeeZr. (Photo/Steve Babin)

BeeZr Gastropub + Social Exchange is the latest establishment settling on Northside Square in downtown Huntsville that gives the block a European vibe.

BeeZr is a play off “beezer,’ which is British slang for “excellent.’’ BeeZr, in the building that formerly housed Club Rush and Jazz Factory, counts as its neighbors English pub The Poppy and German-influenced eatery Domaine South.

The gastropub is a three-pronged setup featuring Chandler’s Ford Brewing, Champagne Taco Kitchen and Northside Coffee Roasters. BeeZr will also serve items from vegan food truck Hippea Camper.

Ron Jewell, founder and business development director of BeeZr, said he and his team “found the perfect location in the booming downtown arts and entertainment district in Huntsville. A historic multi-story building situated centrally on the courthouse square.’’

Eye-catching canvas psychedelic paintings adorn the windows. (Photo/Steve Babin)

The building’s windows are eye-catching with canvas psychedelic paintings viewable from Clinton Avenue between Northside Square and the courthouse.

“Clever architects, engineers, a visionary brewery designer, and construction experts produced a minimal-footprint, tall-stacked, custom-designed brewery configuration that will support up to 25 different recipes fermenting simultaneously,’’ said Jewell, who has a background in aerospace and engineering software and hardware.

Jewell, who worked at The Hungry Hunter while attending college at Auburn, and four others founded BeeZr: Doug Tibbs (chief zymurgy officer), Adam Loveless (design and dynamics director), Daniel Sikorski (Champagne Taco Kitchen czar) and Clint Brown (assistant brewmaster and libations director).

Associates include Keenan Tipton (Northside Coffee) and Garrett Hardee (Hippea Camper).

Chandler’s Ford Brewing is named for English neighborhood Hampshire, where Jewell lived in his early teens.

As for the brewery, Jewell describes the focus as on “fresh, delicious beer recipes delivering a bewildering variety of fermented beverages and will be complemented with a selection of champagnes, wines, and specialty mixed drinks.’’

Champagne Taco Kitchen will feature three standard taco offerings: a San Diego- and Mexico City-inspired Carnitas Taco, a cilantro-lemon aioli Grilled Halibut Fish Taco, and the Champagne Taco – a white, lump-crab with lime-saffron sauce taco.

In addition to the trio of taco offerings, rotating menu items will include a Sous Vide beef brisket steak sandwich, chorizo & cilantro quesadillas, a Chicago-inspired tomato-sausage pizza, New Orleans seafood gumbo and a six-hour Sous Vide rare New York Strip steak dinner.

Jewell describes BeeZr as singularly unique amidst the city’s craft beer establishments.

“We dreamed of a uniquely-motivated small restaurant where tapas-sized portions of decidedly different interpretations of our favorite foods are prepared flawlessly and precisely every time: tacos, pizzas, steak sandwiches, crab cakes, gumbo, charbroiled beefsteak, rack of lamb, charcuterie,” he said.

“We dreamed of a uniquely configured small-batch brewery capable of creating a large variety of ales and lagers, and served direct to tap without the degradation that accompanies every type of retail packaging. IPAs, barrel-aged stouts, kettle sours, mixed fermentation experimentals, and an extensive lagering program.

“We dreamed of a cool, comfortable, cavernous venue with a mixture of old and new, metal and wood, art & architecture, and music and food and beer. Austere and sublime and perfectly situated in the Huntsville downtown area.

“Then, the dream came true.’’

BeeZr is open daily from 7 a.m.-11 p.m. with kitchens hours from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. For more information, visit www.gobeezr.com.

 

 

 

 

Rhythm of the Air: VBC Partners with TVA and Huntsville Utilities to Improve Air Quality

The Von Braun Center has teamed with the Tennessee Valley Authority and Huntsville Utilities on a project to improve the air quality for one of the VBC’s newest additions, Rhythm on Monroe.

By implementing germicidal technology, the project includes replacing the current air filters with higher efficiency filters and installing UV-C germicidal lighting inside the venue’s HVAC systems.

“We’re always looking for different ways to enhance our facility,” said Johnny Hunkapiller, VBC director of Operations. “This installation adds an extra layer of safety and allows our guests and staff to feel more comfortable while inside our building.”

UV-C lighting is an ultraviolet light that renders microorganisms inactive. Commonly used in hospitals and laboratories, it also has been used in a variety of applications, such as food, air, and water purification systems.

UV-C technology is ideal for restaurants and other public facilities where maintaining a high level of air quality is essential.

“Although everyone has their minds on the current pandemic, this technology will remove myriad contagions for a long time to come,” said Joe Gehrdes, director of Community Relations for Huntsville Utilities. “We are grateful for our relationship with the VBC and TVA, and this opportunity through EnergyRight.”

TVA provides incentives to businesses and schools to install the UV-C germicidal lights and the agency provides financial incentives for approved UV technologies.

“The pandemic increased the awareness of cleanliness and hygiene around the world and TVA is pleased that we can assist, through a partnership with Huntsville Utilities, by offering an incentive for this technology,” said Brent May, TVA EnergyRight Business & Industry Program Manager, Alabama District. “UVGI systems are helpful to a wide range of businesses, including facilities like the VBC, where numerous public events take place.”

“The health and safety of our staff and guests are always our top priority,” said Samantha Nielsen, manager of Marketing and Public Relations for the VBC. “We’re proud to partner with TVA and Huntsville Utilities in our continued effort to provide a safe and clean facility to our guests, and we’re excited to incorporate this lighting technology into our systems.”