Naming of Toyota Field was a Two-Year Drive in the Making

Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong, Madison Mayor Paul Finley, TMMAL President David Finch and Trash Pandas President/CEO Ralph Nelson. (Photo/Steve Babin)

MADISON — On a sunny, let’s-play-three day that begged for baseball, even though the calendar had turned mostly toward football and beyond, the Rocket City Trash Pandas got a name for their new home yard hard on the Huntsville-Madison city limit lines.

Toyota Field will usher in the inaugural season of the Double-A Southern League team in April 2020.

Toyota Field is a name for that’s been in the works basically as long as the team, and stadium, have been an idea.

Team President and CEO Ralph Nelson, along with local dignitaries, announced the name on Columbus Day at the stadium that is still under construction.

But the ship of what the stadium would be named, however, set sail about two years ago.

“The day after Thanksgiving in 2017 my wife, Lisa, and I were driving in the hills of Vermont to cut down a Christmas tree,” Nelson said.

The phone rang and it was David Fernandez, then the president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama.

“In the first minute, he said, ‘Let ‘s figure out a way to put Toyota’s name on your ballpark.’”

They did, and, after two years of crossing t’s and dotting i’s and other legal discussions, Toyota Field was born and became official with the announcement.

Rendering shows the Toyota Field name on the video board neat the Rock Porch in right field. (Photo/Steve Babin)

“It’s incredibly rare for a global corporation to acquire the rights to a minor league stadium,” Nelson said. “But as I’ve said so many times, this is not the minors. This community expects and deserves a major league operation. Toyota Field is very major league.

“In that first call, David told me he wanted Toyota team members to look with pride at their company name on a prominent community landmark. I told him unless he can buy the rights to that rocket ship (at the Space and Rocket Center), he’s come to the right place.’’

Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama employs 1,400 workers in Huntsville and is expected to add 400 more in the near future.

Among those speaking at the naming ceremony were Madison Mayor Paul Finley, Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong and David Finch, current president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama.

“Toyota Field is the new centerpiece of the region that showcases economic development, job growth and quality of life,’’ Finch said.

A “fence” of huge concrete baseballs greet visitors to Toyota Field. (Photo/Steve Babin)

The field’s entrance on the first base side will feature an area overlooking the park and will be called Bill Penney Toyota Plaza. Below is a grassy berm where fans can sit and watch the game. The stadium is ringed with roughly 5,000 seats with a capacity of 7,500. There’s a picnic area down the left-field line and VIP suites above the general seating.

Toyota is planning a showcase of its local products in center field.

“To see the project come to life has been amazing and the energy from the community is contagious,” Finch said.

 

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing Looking for a Few Good Applicants … 40,000 to be Exact

The hands-on assessment features seven car bodies with four stations to test an applicant’s ability to follow instructions and perform tasks in a comparable environment to an assembly plant. (Photo/Jonathan Stinson)

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing has to fill 4,000 jobs, with 3,000 of those expected to be hourly production positions, over the next two years, at its vehicle assembly plant in Limestone County.

Normally, a ramp-up of this size would take about three years, according to Jamie Hall, a Toyota advisor for staffing.

To meet its employment goals, MTMUS estimates it needs about 40,000 applicants since the company expects 7 to 10 percent of the applicants to make it all the way through the hiring process and receive an offer, according to Hall.

To make matters more challenging, as Hall puts it: “This work isn’t for everyone.”

But, MTMUS has a clever way of figuring out who will shine on the company’s assembly line thanks to a detailed hiring process and its hands-on skills assessment center.

A successful hire will have to pass three stages before receiving an offer.

Stages one and two take place online.

Step one is a regular job application.

Jill Corbin, a public relations specialist with AIDT, performs a simulation that tests her ability to install wire harnesses. The instructions are given to her on a screen and the car shell is wired to register which harnesses are plugged into which receptors. (Photo/Jonathan Stinson)

This is the first taste an applicant gets of what the job will be like thanks to questions about working overtime, rotating shifts and weekends. They also learn about the pay, MTMUS’ eye toward safe practices, along with other standard job application questions.

“We want candidates that this type of work is good for,” Hall said. “So, it’s a two-way street, because we can only be happy if both the candidate is happy and we are achieving what we need.”

If an applicant makes it past the initial application stage, then they’ll take an online assessment that’s looking for things like their ability to problem solve, use applied learning and measure their leadership potential.

If a candidate fails to pass this assessment, they have two options: They can wait a year and reapply, or they can take a remedial class and restart the process immediately after completing the course.

“If you don’t make it through that point, one of the things that we recognized … was if there is a way that we could train these candidates who didn’t pass the first go-around, maybe they could come back into the system very quickly if they had some additional coaching or training,” Hall said.

That training comes from  Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT) and the state’s Ready to Work Program, according to Hall.

If a candidate passes the online assessment, then they are scheduled for MTMUS’ Day of Work Orientation.

This on-site orientation includes the hands-on assessment, an in-person job interview and a job placement interview. Even though this part of the process takes a full day’s commitment from the applicant, it also means a job candidate doesn’t have to take multiple days out of their schedule.

“We want to make sure this is a one-stop-shop because what we learned is, if you get a candidate and you have to pull them multiple times, then you start to lose the candidate,” Hall said.

The hands-on assessment is the star of MTMUS’s hiring process. It features seven car bodies with four stations to test an applicant’s ability to follow instructions and perform tasks in a comparable environment to an assembly plant.

For example, background noise is piped into the warehouse, the temperature is kept at 75 degrees and applicants are decked out in full safety gear.

Another example of the various simulations. This exercise tests an applicant’s ability to install bolts into corresponding receptors with both their left and right hands at the same time. (Photo/Jonathan Stinson)

Each station takes about an hour, which includes instruction, a practice session and then a timed session preforming the task a candidate was just taught.

The tasks include installing various wire harnesses, tightening bolts, tracing various patterns with your left and right hands.

It sounds simple when it’s written on paper, but in the real-world environment of the assessment center, applicants quickly learn it’s not.

The Day of Work Orientation is the last hurdle before an applicant gets a contingent job offer pending a drug screen, physical and background check.

The center can process 36 candidates per shift or 72 per day.

“That is a big improvement,” Hall said. “Previously we have been able to asses 12 per shift.”

MTMUS plans to ramp up its major hiring effort for team members with a target to start the hands-on assessments in January 2020 and have those first applicants on the job by March or April 2020, according to Hall.

Candidates must be 18 years or older and have a high school diploma or GED.

The team leader jobs will open up at the end of October.

The plant will assemble a new, yet-to-be named Toyota SUV along with Mazda’s yet-to-be named crossover model.

Hexagon/Intergraph Celebrates 50 Years of Innovative Software, Mapping and Computer Graphics

There were a lot of headlines in 1969.

The Beatles played their last public concert on the roof of Apple Records and 350,000 young people gathered at Woodstock to protest the Vietnam War.

Bob Thurber: “Our work in hardware and software wasn’t an industry then – it was just the beginning of stuff.” (Photo/Steve Babin)

But while Boeing was debuting its 747 “Jumbo Jet” to the American public, NASA engineers had landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the Moon using the Apollo Guidance Computer. It’s laboriously handmade, read-only rope memory was equivalent to 72 KB of storage today.

Also in 1969, while millions of children watched the Utopian lifestyle of a space age cartoon called “The Jetsons” with its clunky robots and home automated conveyor belt, engineers were making it a reality, linking for the first time, several large-scale, general purpose computers into a network known as the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET).

It was against this backdrop that IBM engineer James Meadlock, his wife Nancy, and three young engineers Bob Thurber, Terry Schansman and Keith Schonrock left their jobs at IBM on Feb. 10, 1969 to start M&S Computing on South Memorial Parkway in Huntsville.

With the company that became known worldwide as Intergraph and now known as Hexagon, the now-retired Meadlock and his remaining team returned to the sprawling campus and world headquarters in what is now the new Town Madison, for a 50th anniversary celebration.

Hundreds of current and former employees and their families filled the three-level hexagon-shaped building with its towering glass windows and tiered mezzanine overlooking a private lake to hear Meadlock speak.

Intergraph co-founder James Meadlock left IBM in 1969 to help found M&S Computing, the forerunner to Intergraph. (Photo/Steve Babin)

According to Bob Thurber, co-founder and the original executive vice president of the company, IBM got the contract for the instrument unit on the Saturn launch vehicle because they had built the first digital computer on a missile.

“I came out of college with IBM in Huntsville, so when we finished with the Saturn program, we were the renowned experts on putting digital computers onboard missiles,” said Thurber. “We were able to leave IBM with our heads held high.”

Initially, Thurber said all the Army’s weapons systems needed computers on them, so M&S Computing became a consultant for them.

“One of the things we did in the IBM days was build an interactive graphics interface for the simulation of the Saturn launch vehicle,” he said. “You had to run simulations over and over and over again, but if something went wrong within the first 30 seconds of launch, you didn’t know it until you came in the next day. They needed a quicker interactive system to do it.

“That’s how we got started. By running simulations interactively, you could watch the trajectory on the screen and if it blew up or went off-course, you could just stop it, key in some different parameters, and run it again. You could do in a day what had been taking a month.”

That ability to visualize data led to their graphics mapping capabilities, and M&S Computing was the first company to do that as well.

“Our work in hardware and software wasn’t an industry then – it was just the beginning of stuff,” Thurber said. “There were only four companies in the business when we got into it, but we essentially created the core graphics for AutoCAD.”

Thurber said they sold their first three systems around Christmas 1973: an engineering drafting system for 2D drafting to a company in Houston; a system for municipal mapping to the city of Nashville; and a system to the Army Missile Command (AMC). All three were totally separate industries, but they all needed the same basic graphic capabilities.

“We lost a lot of money when we sold Nashville the mapping system,” Thurber said. “The city said to us, ‘Look, we would love to use this stuff, but we don’t want to build all these maps!’ We said, ‘Okay. We’ll do it for you’.

“We charged them $80 per map. The cost was $500 per map, but it really it forced us to make it a good mapping system and it gave us the experience we wouldn’t have gotten had we held their hand while they did it.”

In the end, Nashville was the first city to map its roadways to understand traffic flow, congestion points, etc. all thanks to M&S Computing’s mapping capabilities.

The company then known as M&S Computing rented office space in Huntsville until the 1974 tornado destroyed the Bendix Building on Alabama 20 in Madison. Using insurance money, they were able to reconfigure it to M&S Computing’s requirements.

“The only eating place near our office back then was a Waffle House,” Thurber said with a laugh.

That would be the first of a sprawling campus with more than 4,000 employees, that is today located amidst the bustling new Town Madison development.

In 1981, M&S Computing went public and changed its name to Intergraph. After Meadlock and Thurber retired from the company, Stockholm-based Hexagon purchased Intergraph in 2010 for $2.125 billion.

Meadlock, who lost his beloved wife and business partner Nancy, is quietly retired.

Thurber is active with Huntsville’s tech incubator BizTech, but he says for a company that was the first to develop intelligent applications on top of graphics, the software and computing industry has now moved way past him.

“I still come over and visit and when I see the demos of the work Hexagon is doing now, fifty years later, the capabilities are so much more than graphics,” he said. “But they tell me that our software, M&S Computing’s software, is so integrated into their design and construction process, it cannot be unseated.”

‘Career Signing Day’ Helps Aim Students Toward Building Sciences

National Signing Day is a big event in the lives of high school student-athletes and their families.

The kids announce where they plan to continue their education and take their athletic talents to the next level.

Well, in Huntsville, there is another kind of “signing day.”

For the second time, Huntsville City Schools is hosting a “Career Signing Day,” when students are recognized for continuing their career paths within the fields of building science.

Just look around and you’ll see the demand for builders and tradesmen.

Construction zones and caution tape continue to speckle the city, as developers race to keep up with the demands required to complete projects.

Developments designed to enhance the growing infrastructure of Madison County seem to be popping up everywhere, and with no signs of a slow-down, the need for skilled workers and tradesmen is greater than ever.

“We are partnering with people to create more opportunity for internships and practical experience,” said Todd Watkins, director of Career Tech Education for Huntsville City Schools. “We are going to have interviews prior to the event. We are really excited because it gives our students a chance to do interview sessions.

“Then they can actually graduate high school and go straight to work.”

Turner Construction’s Director of Business Development Tyce Hudson said his company is working closely with area schools to ensure that upcoming graduates are aware of their options, whether they choose to pursue a four-year degree or opt for going directly into the workforce from high school.

“We are trying to get the message out that there are very bright careers in the trade industry right now,” he said. “We see shortages in mechanical, electrical, and plumbing so the demand for those is probably the highest.”

Through the efforts of companies such as Turner Construction, Huntsville City Schools students enrolled in the Career Tech Education Department are able to get practical work experience outside of the classroom by working on actual workplace projects.

Watkins also lauds the district’s newest career tech center at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

The initial program will allow students to work in the hospitality and culinary industries shadowing staff, giving them the opportunity to leave the school campus and report directly to Space & Rocket Center CEO Dr. Deborah Barnhart.

Watkins said the increased employment opportunities coupled with the area’s demand for progress equals many more options in the building science arena, whether individuals choose to seek a 4 year degree or not.

“What kids are seeing,” he said, “is that they can be employable right out of school or they can also go to (a four-year college) or a junior college.

“Kids are starting to realize that career tech is not a one-way path.”

 

Stovehouse’s ‘Retailtainment’ Concept to Include Gaslight Alley Retail District

There is nothing new about restaurants and retailers using a little pizzazz to entice customers to buy or experience their products and services.

Mexican restaurants have Mariachi bands; traditional pizza parlors entertain customers twirling pizza crusts; New Orleans chefs shuck oysters and suck crawfish heads for their customers; and retailers have BOGOs and Midnight Madness sales.

Gaslight Alley’s design is inspired by decorated alleys and shops in St. Augustine, Fla., and Lovat Lane in London. (Rendering/Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate)

But, according to Haley Clemons, marketing coordinator for Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate Group, retailers notice contemporary shoppers and diners are putting more importance on the experience of eating and shopping than they have in the past.

“Businesses in the retail industry are adopting out-of-the-box strategies to attract new audiences that value entertainment and interacting with brands in creative ways,” Clemons said. “Known as ‘retailtainment’ … many concepts are drawing in traffic by going above and beyond the basic shopping trip.”

Yoga-wear stores hosting in-shop fitness classes, or beauty brands encouraging their clientele to participate in the creation of their own purchases, are examples of this.

The Stovehouse Food & Leisure Garden, which is at the heart of the old stove factory property, is the perfect example of a venue conceived on the idea of retailtainment.

They have taken compatible concepts such as casual dining, live music, outdoor games, and special events and brought them together to collaborate. This creates a casual, inclusive atmosphere at the Stovehouse that is extremely popular with millennials.

Stovehouse Phase II: Gaslight Alley

With the success of the Stovehouse Food & Leisure Garden, developers are beginning Phase II where they will essentially repurpose an entirely separate section of the expansive old factory for retail, taking care to maintain the property’s old-world architecture and atmosphere. The “old-world shopping district” is called Gaslight Alley.

“Encompassing several retail spaces along a beautiful cobblestone walkway, Gaslight Alley will be home to all kinds of concepts with the hopes of attracting boutiques, soft goods, home décor, hair salons, and more,” said Clemons. “The possibilities are endless, and the district has already captured businesses — some that are scheduled to make their debut later this year.”

The Burn Collective is already hosting events at Stovehouse and its space will be open soon. (Photo/Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate)

When finished, Gaslight Alley, whose design is inspired by decorated alleys and shops in St. Augustine, Fla., and Lovat Lane in London, will be an eclectic shopping experience and a hotspot for one-stop destination shopping and retailtainment.

Currently, several businesses have set up office space at Stovehouse. Spur, Onyx Aerospace, Star Lab, Liberty Learning, and the Stovehouse Properties team are all housed there.

“Gaslight Alley businesses will also be part of the growing West Huntsville entertainment district that connects to nearby Campus 805,” said Clemons.

Among the committed tenants so far are Charlie Foster’s Coffee, F24 Training and the Burn Collective Fit Studio.

Charlie Foster’s is a locally owned, multi-roaster coffee shop at the entrance to Gaslight Alley. There is the 1,850-square-foot shop with a 500-square-foot outdoor patio. They will sell coffee beans from around the U.S., but the most unique thing about Charlie Foster’s is their plan to offer jobs to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

F45 Training, across from Charlie Foster’s, is a 2,835-square-foot functional training center offering high-intensity group circuit training classes. They will provide themed workouts and bring in a live DJ to get people motivated. They will be opening before the end of the year.

On a more mainstream level, the Burn Collective Fit studio is in the breezeway connecting to Gaslight Alley. They offer individual and group training in cardio, sculpting, and yoga barre classes, as well as athleisure apparel, candles, and jewelry. They are relocating from Franklin Street downtown.

 

Huntsville’s Burgeoning Regional Economy Part 2: Right-sizing Lifestyle with Quality of Life

(This is the second and final installment of a two-part story on the area’s growing economy.)

Recently, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle shared his vision for Huntsville in terms of an average sized pie. He, along with business owners and civic officials, stood at city center – what Battle calls Huntsville’s “living room” – and looked out in every direction to the edges of the pie’s crust.

What they see are active growth corridors ushering in a significant expansion of the original Huntsville pie, which is accelerating economic growth throughout the North Alabama region.

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

The success of Twickenham Square, a multi-use development built right in the heart of downtown Huntsville’s medical district and anchored by The Artisan luxury apartments and a Publix, has spurred the development of four more multi-use (multi-purpose or mixed-use) sites in the downtown area.

These developments require the right balance of residential, retail, and commercial space, usually surrounded by a pedestrian-friendly traffic pattern, walking trails and/or parks, and plenty of amenities and activities.

Sealy Realty’s Avenue Huntsville (and the new Avenue Madison); CityCentre at Big Spring with the new AC Hotel by Marriott; the long-awaited Constellation, breaking ground this fall on the old Heart of Huntsville site at Clinton Avenue; and a new development by Rocket Development Partners on the former site of the Coca-Cola plant on Clinton Avenue across from the VBC are either already established or coming soon to downtown Huntsville.

“People ask whether mixed-use/multi-use developments are replacing traditional malls and shopping centers,” said Battle. “But I think you have to look at each one individually. People are looking for more live, work, play types of environments, but I think what we are seeing today is a shift. Is it permanent? Probably some of it is, but I won’t be surprised to see it shift back.”

Max Grelier, co-founder of RCP Companies who developed the AC Hotel as part of CityCentre, as well as MidCity District on the old Madison Square Mall property, agrees.

“Retail centers are not dead. They’re just changing based on consumer behavior,” he said. “Old-style retail centers still play a role in our communities. A good ‘convenience’ style retail center is needed to support suburban neighborhoods.

“However, retailers across most retail center formats are shrinking their footprints and using technology and distribution to keep up with the trends and competition.”

But Battle points out that many online retailers, such as Duluth Trading Company who have been online-only retailers, are building mortar-and-brick stores like the one they opened at Town Madison in June.

And even online behemoth Amazon is now putting stores throughout the U.S.

“I just got back from Nagoya, Japan where they still have huge department stores that are very active because people want to look at what they’re going to buy, touch it, experience the kind of cloth it’s made of and see how it fits,” Battle said.

“When you look at Parkway Place, they are doing very well, and we recently added an apartment component to Bridge Street Town Centre to add a ‘live’ component to it and Research Park’s work and play.

“But when you look at the old Madison Square Mall, it could be found on a site called DeadMalls.com,” Battle said. “We built a lot of malls back in the 1960s and 1970s – probably too many. I think we are now right-sizing back to what we need. There’s still a place for pure shopping like Parkway Place, but I say you need both to succeed.”

Charlie Sealy of Sealy Realty has developed several residential properties including The Belk Hudson Lofts and The Avenue Huntsville, which also has a retail component in downtown Huntsville.

Sealy is also building Avenue Madison that will have a retail and parking component in downtown Madison. He said the trend for new developments will be weighted more towards multi-use developments in the future.

“However, the older style shopping centers and malls won’t be replaced anytime soon unless they are old, obsolete, and really in need of replacement anyway,” said Sealy. “These [mixed-use] developments are definitely what residents and consumers prefer now because of the experience they produce.”

Grelier said the mixed-use developments come in a variety of styles.

“These developments are a type of urban development strategy that blends residential, commercial, cultural, institutional, and/or entertainment uses to initiate more consumer interactions by creating walkable, livable, and experiential communities,” said Grelier. “Mixed-use developments can take the form of a single building, a city block, or entire districts.

“Traditionally, human settlements have developed in mixed-use patterns; however, with industrialization of the U.S., as well as the invention of the skyscraper, governmental zoning regulations were introduced to separate different functions, such as manufacturing, from residential areas.”

Joey Ceci, president of The Breland Companies, which is developing Town Madison and the new Clift Farm project on U.S. 72 in Madison, sees it differently.

“I think we are seeing the death of the supercenter more than malls,” said Ceci. “Those centers with huge parking lots and a row of big box stores lined up next to each other – for one thing people just don’t like that huge parking field and, two, from a developer’s standpoint, if something happens and a business closes or moves out, it is very difficult to repurpose that huge space left behind by a store the size of Target or TJ Maxx. You can use a big box space for a trampoline center or an entertainment center, but you can’t put a restaurant in there.

“Multi-purpose developments are making that space work better by integrating residential into it via restaurants and everyday neighborhood retail like a dry cleaner or hair salon. The idea is to take the new urbanist movement that everyone is following and make smaller blocks of space so that if, in 20 years, that block is no longer viable, knock it down and put something else there. It’s a matter of making it more sustainable over time.”

Sustainability is the focus at Town Madison where Madison Mayor Paul Finley is looking to more than the casual Rocket City Trash Pandas fan to help build out that development.

He’s getting some help from travel sports and softball/baseball recruiters and scouts who will enjoy the regional draw of the new Pro Player Park, just off Wall-Triana Highway.

“The new Pro Player Park and everything Town Madison offers will definitely get foot traffic to our hotels; however, workforce development secures regional success which will also help us locally in aspects of infrastructure and schools,” said Finley.

Finley also points to the success of the Village at Providence, one of the area’s very first mixed-use developments built in 2003, as an example of how popular pedestrian-friendly mixed-use communities have become.

“A mixed-use development offers a live-work-play experience right outside of your front door,” said Finley. “This is appealing to young professionals, established mid-lifers, and retirees alike. These developments are multigenerational that attract businesses to the area.”

“Mixed-use developments are replacing declining malls because they are often well-located within a region that affords them premium access and site metrics,” said RCP’s Grelier who is striving to make the old mall property economically viable again. “When this is the case, there is typically strong demand for several multiple property types such as hospitality, residential, office, restaurants, and retail.

“Single-use commercial centers are becoming more difficult to sustain given changing consumer behavior related to online shopping, and demographic trends focusing on experiences rather than traditional brick-and-mortar shopping.”

However, Grelier said when they purchased the old mall property in 2015, they had a strategy ready for MidCity.

“We began working with the city and Urban Design Associates (UDA) to create a mixed-use project that would meet market demand and help reverse the decline of the West Huntsville commercial corridor,” he said. “We also had a broader, more aspirational strategy in collaboration with the city to use the MidCity District as regional economic growth tool by addressing the ‘next-generation’ workforce demand in Cummings Research Park.”

Grelier said they engaged nationally known market research consultants to perform third-party market studies to guide them in developing programming for a proper balance of uses.

“We used the information from the studies to collaborate with the City and UDA to produce a complete district business plan that would maximize regional draw by creating diverse layers of use and programming at the property,” Grelier said.

“Much of the emphasis is on highlighting our local cultural assets and identifying destination venues like TopGolf, public parks, and an amphitheater to establish a foundation around art and culture.”

He said this is now happening through connections with Huntsville’s and Muscle Shoals’ regional music legacy to bring a world-class 8,500-capacity amphitheater to the development.

“We believe the amphitheatre will be very successful and play a vital role in the elevation of the region as a place you want to live,” Grelier said. “There’s a strong demand for weekend entertainment so the music initiative happening in North Alabama will not only keep locals from traveling to spend in nearby markets, it will attract more weekend tourism to our region.”

Sealy said there is a strategy involved in where they build these mixed-use developments as well.

“These developments are really a long-term strategy in the sense that consumer preferences are shifting this way, so we are building for what is more popular now and appears will be more popular in the future,” he said. “… We are trying to draw certain people and jobs from other cities.  These developments are a recruiting tool and regional draw when we are competing against bigger cities for the same talent.

“Some people, particularly millennials, desire this type of environment for living or work, so we need them to attract that population …. They will spread through the regional area, but they need a certain density of people to work, so they will be concentrated in the growth corridors where the population and jobs are the largest.”

And, now, there is something for just about everyone.

“You hear people say, ‘Huntsville has some pretty cool breweries downtown, I can have some fun on Friday night, go see a baseball game, spend the night, go shop at Bridge Street, play some TopGolf, and get brunch at Stovehouse on Sunday’,” said Ceci. “It makes us a lot like Chattanooga – a kind of weekend destination where people say, ‘Wow! Huntsville is a great place to go for the weekend. There is always something to do.’”

Sealy said the mixed-use strategy is rewarding.

“I enjoy working on mixed-use projects because there is a huge emphasis on architecture, walk-ability, streetscape,” said Sealy. “The multi-use developments are a bigger challenge, but it is a rewarding creative process.”

Battle said the revitalization of one area pays benefits to the entire city.

“The Live, Work, Play strategy has always been our city plan,” said Battle. “Revitalize one area using the profits of another area we have revitalized and watch the spread of that revitalization until eventually the whole city is revitalized from one end to the other in every direction.”

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

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

Think football.

Think soccer.

Think multi-use.

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

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

View the city’s presentation here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Rendering by Chapman Sisson Architects)

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

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

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

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

 

Marshall to Lead Lunar Lander Program with Huntsvillian in Charge

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine delivered some welcome news Friday to the Marshall Space Flight Center.

In fact, there were two announcements:

One – he said the Marshall Center, which is in charge of developing the rocket program, will also manage the lunar lander program.

And, two, a Huntsvillian will lead that program.

“We greatly appreciate the support shown here today … for NASA’s Artemis program and America’s return to the moon, where we will prepare for our greatest feat for humankind – putting astronauts on Mars,” Bridenstine said. “We focus on a ‘One NASA’ integrated approach that uses the technical capabilities of many centers. Marshall has the right combination of expertise and experience to accomplish this critical piece of the mission.”

The program will be managed by Huntsville native Dr. Lisa Watson-Morgan.

“Imagine this: We are landing the next man and the first woman,” Bridenstine said. “The program that will be managed here … that landing system is being managed … by one of NASA’s best engineers, right here, and she just so happens to be a woman.”

Watson-Morgan, a 30-year NASA veteran engineer and manager, previously served as deputy director of the Engineering Directorate at Marshall.

“Lisa’s appointment to this key role not only reflects NASA’s confidence in her visionary leadership, but confidence in the proven expertise and world-class capability that define Marshall’s contributions to safely landing humans on the Moon and launching complex spacecraft to the Moon and Mars,” said Marshall Director Jody Singer.

Bridenstine also noted that some members of Texas’ congressional delegation were upset that work was being split between Marshall and the Johnson Space Center in Houston, after lobbying the space agency to get the lander program.

“I understand some of their concerns,” Bridenstine said. “I will say that this is not a decision that was made lightly. A lot of hard work has been done here in Huntsville over, really, well over 10 years now regarding landing systems.”

U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks thanked Bridenstine for recognizing the work performed at Marshall.

“Marshall Space Flight Center is the birthplace of America’s space program. It was Marshall scientists and engineers who designed, built, tested, and helped launch the giant Saturn V rocket that carried astronauts on the Apollo missions to the Moon,” Brooks said. “Marshall has unique capabilities and expertise not found at other NASA centers.

“I’m pleased NASA has chosen Marshall to spearhead a key component of America’s return to the moon and usher in the Artemis era. Thanks to Administrator Bridenstine for travelling here to share the great news in person.”

With years of expertise in propulsion systems integration and technology development, engineers at Marshall will work with American companies to rapidly develop, integrate, and demonstrate a human lunar landing system that can launch to the Gateway, pick up astronauts and ferry them between the Gateway and the surface of the moon.

The Johnson Space Center in Houston, which manages major NASA human spaceflight programs including the Gateway, Orion, Commercial Crew and International Space Station, will oversee all aspects related to preparing the landers and astronauts to work together. Johnson also will manage all Artemis missions, beginning with Artemis 1, the first integrated test of NASA’s deep space exploration systems.

 

Airport CEO: Huntsville’s Economic Future is Tied to Airport’s Success

By Rick Tucker

Rick Tucker

Huntsville is one of the fastest growing local economies in our nation. Boosted by federal and private sector investments, our region is on a strong economic trajectory. In fact, a recent population boom has put the Rocket City on track to potentially be the largest city in Alabama in the next six years.

Our airport represents a key component to continuing this trend because current and new industry considering locating to our region depend on passenger and air cargo operations that support their own operating needs. The local economy depends on our ability to connect with other communities across the globe, so Huntsville International Airport (HSV) is vital to maintain those bonds as the region’s gateway to the world.

But similar to other airports around the country, HSV needs infrastructure investments in order to continue to be able to meet the expected flow of passengers and goods in the future. Projected growth in the area and HSV’s desire to continue to propel this region forward is why in 2012 the airport completed a major $92 million terminal and landside project that included creation of a public waiting area, a security screening checkpoint, a baggage claim and a second parking deck. Those necessary upgrades that were a part of the 2002 Master Plan update have improved the passenger experience and the efficiency of the airport.

Although HSV has seen many improvements and aesthetically offers visitors a very warm welcome to our community, other portions of our terminal are between 30 and 50 years old and in immediate need of improvement. As determined by HSV’s current Master Plan update, the parts of the airport’s facility that passengers use every day, such as elevators, escalators, restrooms and concessions, need redevelopment and expansion to keep up with demand.

In addition, these anticipated terminal improvement projects are imperative to adhere to new federal standards and provide our passengers with facilities that meet their expectations like nursing rooms and pet relief areas.  The terminal improvement projects would reinvigorate HSV and set the stage for continued growth for our region for years to come.

We are grateful to Senator Shelby and our Alabama congressional delegation for recently securing significant FAA discretionary grants, however these funds are designated for specific federal government high priority airfield projects. The previously mentioned terminal improvement projects are considered a lower priority for federal discretionary grants. Therefore, our challenge is to find funding for these necessary terminal improvement projects that are currently on hold.

The good news is that there’s a solution that doesn’t require taxpayers to foot the bill.

If Congress would lift the cap on the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) — a small user fee paid only by air travelers on which airports depend to fund their infrastructure – HSV could begin this project immediately. The PFC is federally capped at a maximum of $4.50 and hasn’t been updated in nearly 20 years, making it ineffective and inadequate to serve 21st century airports that have experienced inflation just like everyone else.

For example, HSV’s current PFC dollars are already committed through 2030. By modernizing the PFC for the first time since 2001, Congress would allow our airport to generate funding from only the people using the airport, for the project referenced above – all without a dime of taxpayer dollars.

Starting these terminal improvement projects would have a major impact on our region’s economy. On top of the tens of thousands of jobs that Alabama’s airports already support, it’s estimated that these projects would create 608 construction jobs and inject $19.1 million into the Huntsville economy via construction labor wages alone.

Some will say that we should leave the PFC alone. However, those voices fail to acknowledge that maintaining the current PFC could result in stalled growth in Huntsville.

The airport has a major footprint on the local economy, with a total regional economic direct impact of 7,692 jobs equating to a payroll of $474,327,000 and a total multiplied impact of 24,293 jobs equating to a payroll of $942,828,000. Failing to upgrade our airport infrastructure could harm our economy and job growth.

We have recently experienced lower fares at HSV due to the addition of two new carriers and the competition that those carriers created in the market. The improved and expanded infrastructure projects will further encourage the airlines to grow and expand, therefore modernizing the PFC can have a positive and direct impact on passenger fares.

HSV is not alone, America’s airports need nearly $130 billion in infrastructure over the next five years in order to match the demand. It sounds like a staggering number, but the number of passengers traveling through U.S. airports has doubled since 2000 to approximately one billion annually. Conversely, the PFC that pays for critical infrastructure of those airports has not increased in nearly two decades. These airports in their current state were designed for half of that traffic so it is clear that something must be done to modernize airports.

Airports across the country and organizations such as Airports Council International-North America and the American Association of Airport Executives stand alongside numerous conservative organizations asking Congress to consider eliminating the PFC cap entirely or, raising the cap and adjusting it periodically for construction cost inflation.

There’s no doubt that Huntsville is a city on the rise. With a strong economy and a growing population, we are poised to continue to enjoy this success.

HSV has always worked to provide the community with an airport that acts as an economic engine by taking proactive measures that allow for immediate and long-term growth. However, to stay on this path we must ensure that our airport is able to meet the vital needs of the growing population and business community.

Modernizing the PFC isn’t just important for HSV – it’s critical for the future of our region.

(Rick Tucker is the CEO of Huntsville International Airport)

 

Riley Receives Russell G. Brown Leadership Award

“Fire and Ice” was the theme of the 34th annual Small Business Awards Celebration. (Photo/Steve Babin)

Randy Riley won the prestigious Russell G. Brown Leadership Award at the 34th annual Small Business Awards Celebration presented by the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce.

Amid the theme “Fire and Ice” and Von Braun Center North Hall decorations, more than 1,000 people attended to recognize the outstanding work businesses and individuals are doing in the community.

Riley is the CEO of Archarithms, a small, high-tech HUBZone company providing innovative products, solutions and services to the government and commercial customers.

More than 1,000 people turned out for the annual Small Business Awards Celebration. (Photo/Steve Babin)

“We are so proud of our contenders and winners, and we are thrilled to celebrate with each of them,” said Pammie Jimmar, the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber’s vice president of Small Business & Events. “It is no easy task to start and grow a small business, but our community is blessed with individuals who aren’t afraid to tackle tough challenges, and Huntsville continues to grow because of their dedication.”

This year’s judging was completed by the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce. The winners are:

  • Russell G. Brown Executive Leadership Award: Randy Riley, Archarithms, Inc.
  • Young Professional of the Year: Lauren Johannesmeyer, Google Fiber
  • Nonprofit of the Year – (tie): Greater Huntsville Humane Society, Top of Alabama Regional Council of Governments (TARCOG)
  • Professional Services Business of the Year: Palco
  • Culinary Business of the Year: Cyn Shea’s Café & Catering
  • Emerging Business of the Year: Outpost Technologies, Inc.
  • Government Contracting – Professional Services Business of the Year: HigherEchelon, Inc.
  • Government Contracting – Technology Business of the Year: Mission Multiplier
  • Service Business of the Year: Armstrong Relocation Company, Huntsville, LLC
  • Retailer of the Year: Haley’s Flooring & Interiors
  • Local “Creative” of the Year: Church Street Wine Shoppe
  • Medical Practice of the Year: Dunagan Yates & Alison Plastic Surgery Center
  • Woman-Owned Business of the Year: Nesin Therapy Services, PC