South Huntsville is open for business! Ribbon cut for South Parkway overpasses

Gov. Kay Ivey, with Mayor Tommy Battle to her right, cuts the ribbon to open the South Memorial Parkway overpasses. State and local officials also joined in the ceremony Tuesday. (Photo by Steve Babin)

After 2 1/2 years and snail’s-pace stop-and-go traffic, the ribbon was cut today for the South Parkway overpasses at Byrd Spring and Lily Flagg roads.

“We’re happy today to be able to open this stretch of South Memorial Parkway,” said Tommy Harris of the Alabama Department of Transportation, that came in a year ahead of schedule.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held atop the Byrd Spring Road overpass and it was attended by Gov. Kaye Ivey, Mayor Tommy Battle and other state and local officials.

Mayor Tommy Battle presents the “Restore our Roads” traffic cone to Gov. Kay Ivey (Photo by Steve Babin)

And it also enables the city to “keep the magic 18-minute commute,” Battle said.

“This is the largest project in the city of Huntsville, totaling $250 million,” Ivey said. “When we work together, we can make infrastructure and economic improvements.”

Battle also recognized the teamwork among state and local government and presented a highway cone commemorating the “Restore Our Roads Project No. 2” to Ivey.

“This road system is probably the best example of governments working together,” he said. “This effort enables our community to grow.

“This is a great day for our city.”

David Harris, vice president of Reed Contracting and representing the joint-venture team with Miller & Miller, was appreciative of the patience shown by merchants, motorists and residents.

And he offered some welcome news.

“I thank all the business owners, residents and travelling public for your patience,” he said. “By the end of the day, traffic should be flowing.”

Ribbon-cutting set for South Memorial Parkway

The overpass construction on South Memorial Parkway is nearing completion – a year ahead of schedule.

The wait is almost over!

State and city officials will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony July 31 to open the the mainline of South
Memorial Parkway, a major milestone for the $53.9 million improvements project between Golf Road and Whitesburg Drive.

Gov. Kay Ivey, Mayor Tommy Battle and other state and city officials will be on hand for the 10 a.m. ceremony. which will be on the northbound side of the Byrd Spring Road overpass,.

However, a spokesman for the Alabama Department of Transportation said the ceremony does not mark the completion of the project.

 

MidCity Huntsville posts Open Letter to Trader Joe’s

Open Letter to Trader Joe’s

Huntsville’s Rocket City legacy is based on the “right stuff” and the city’s newest entertainment/retail/dining complex is doing the “write stuff” to lure a business.

MidCity Huntsville has followed up a Facebook campaign with its own “Open Letter to Trader Joe’s”.

RCP Cos., the developers of MidCity Huntsville – the 100-acre mixed-use community on the site of the former Madison Square Mall on University Drive – posted the letter urging the food retailer to open a store here.

In fact, MidCity Huntsville even had an artist’s rendering of a Trader Joe’s at the complex.

The letter opens “Dear Captain Dan Bane & The Trader Joe’s Crew:

“You may have noticed a blitz on your website recently. That’s because the phenomenal people

of Huntsville, AL, want you to hear loud and clear how passionate we are about bringing Trader

Joe’s here.”

The letter to Trader Joe’s Chairman/CEO Dan Bane and his “crew” touts the city’s history, technology, education, rankings in national publications and lifestyle while also dropping a couple names that have joined the area, such as Jeff Bezos, Facebook and Toyota-Mazda.

It closes: “So this is an open letter to you, Captain Bane, and your outstanding Trader Joe’s Crew to set sail to Huntsville, the star of Alabama, and anchor down at MidCity. We’ll take care of the mini-lobster here.

“Over & Out,

“Your friends at MidCity Huntsville”

So, with or without Trader Joe’s, when completed, MidCity will include a total of 350,000 square feet of specialty retail, at least 150,000 square feet of high-tech office space, a wide range of inspired dining options, a 100+ room boutique hotel and 560 amenity-rich residential units. At least 70 percent of the businesses at MidCity will be new-to-market.

Rendering shows possible Trader Joe’s supermarket at MidCity Huntsville.

BAE expansion in Cummings Research Park to create hundreds of jobs

Rendering shows the BAE Systems planned 83,000 square-foot facility in Cummings Research Park.

“It’s rainy outside but we have sunny news today.”

And, with those words, Joe Newberry, past chair of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber, began Monday’s economic announcement.

BAE Systems announced a $45.5 million project to expand its operations in Huntsville’s Cummings Research Park. The expansion will bring hundreds of jobs and the new building is expected to be complete in 2019.

“This puts us close to our customers,” said Bill Staib, deputy vice president and general manager of survivability, targeting, and sensing solutions for BAE Systems. “There is an extremely rich talent pool here … and we’re going to tap into that.

“We’re going to start hiring this year.”

Plans include the immediate expansion of BAE’s offices on Discovery Drive and the development of an 83,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art manufacturing and office space facility on a 20-acre site at the intersection of Old Madison Pike and Jan Davis Drive. BAE is working with developer Samples Properties, Fuqua & Partners Architects and Pearce Construction on the project.

Staib said it will be about half manufacturing and half office space for engineers doing development work.

“We plan to grow beyond that,” Staib said. “BAE Systems is growing. We’re growing in Huntsville; we’re expanding in Huntsville … we’re hiring.”

He said the expansion will allow BAE Systems – the third-largest defense contractor in the world – to establish a closer working relationship with its critical customers in the U.S. Army and the Redstone Arsenal community. Work will consist of new programs and existing business, including the design, development, and manufacturing of precision munitions and aircraft survivability technology.

“We’ve been working on the project for eight years,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “BAE has people in Huntsville for six months looking over the community.”

Chip Cherry, president and CEO of the Chamber, agreed that deals like this take time.

“We met with BAE Systems’ senior leadership at the Farnborough International Air Show in 2016 to discuss the advantages of being in Huntsville/Madison County,” he said. “We are at the Air Show again this year meeting with more companies about establishing and expanding their presence in Huntsville.”

The news brought sunlight to the rainy day – a harbinger of things to come?

“We’ve got a great team to let people know Madison County is open for business,” said Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong. “I truly believe our best days are ahead.”

 

Huntsville International, Frontier Airlines woo leisure travelers with low-cost fares, non-stop flights

Huntsville International Airport announced a new carrier to serve the area.

Frontier Airlines will begin service in October and, in making the announcement, Rick Tucker, executive director of the Airport Authority, revealed introductory $39 air fares; non-stop flights from Huntsville to Denver International Airport; and the only non-stop service to Orlando International Airport.

In front of more than a hundred people on hand for the “Big Reveal” in the airport’s main terminal, Tucker said it is an exciting time to be here in our community and an exciting time to welcome Frontier Airlines to Huntsville.

“Known as an ultra, low-cost carrier, Frontier is going to be a tremendous benefit to everyone in our community,” Tucker said. “For business travelers and especially for leisure travelers – get ready for low fares!”

Huntsville International Airport Executive Director Rick Tucker announces the arrival of Frontier Airlines.

Guests at the event were provided with paper airplanes upon arrival. Two guests opened their paper airplanes to find they had won a $500 airfare voucher – one to Orlando and the other to Denver. The introductory air fares are available at flyfrontier.com.

“We are proud to bring our unique brand of ‘Low Fares Done Right’ to the Rocket City,” said Stephen Shaw, spokesman for Frontier Airlines. “Frontier’s new flights to Denver and Orlando will make air travel more accessible and affordable for everyone in Huntsville and northern Alabama.

“We look forward to making it easier for people to fly, and for people to fly more often.”

“This partnership is important to us because it fills a specific void for a low-cost carrier for our leisure travelers at HSV,” said Betty Fletcher, chairman of the board for Huntsville International Airport. “It is no secret that Huntsville has a lot of expendable income in the market, it also it is a known fact that we have a lot of very frugal engineers that have demanded fair, competitive, comparable fares.

“We can be certain that our community will respond well to and support Frontier Airlines.”

The Frontier Airlines network serves more 80 cities in the U.S., Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. Frontier has more than 1,000 nonstop and connecting routes.

“Couple that with stability, structure, and an excellent track record for supporting low cost carriers, and you have a recipe for success,” Shaw said.

MidCity Huntsville gets its High Point

High Point Climbing & Fitness held a groundbreaking for its facility in MidCity Huntsville

Just a year ago, the Rocket City was not on the top of the mind of the owner of the Southeast’s top climbing facility.

But, after some gentle persuasion by a top city official, that facility is coming to MidCity Huntsville.

“Huntsville was not on our radar until a year ago,” said Johnny O’Brien, co-owner of Chattanooga-based High Point Climbing and Fitness. “Shane Davis (the city’s director of urban development) pushed us … and it became a no-brainer.”

High Point held a ground-breaking ceremony Tuesday adjacent to Top Golf in MidCity Huntsville, the mixed-use development at University Drive and Research Park Boulevard. O’Brien said construction on High Point should start in August with an opening planned for next summer.

The company opened a gym in Chattanooga five years ago and it was named “the coolest climbing gym in the country by Climbing magazine in 2015,” O’Brien said. “And I’m most proud of this one (MidCity) and am excited to get started.”

High Point Climbing & Fitness Co-Owner Johnny O’Brien said it was a “no-brainer” to expand to Huntsville.

High Point will feature expansive bouldering and rope climbing areas along with a 2,400 square-foot “Kid Zone” that has climbing elements designed specifically for young climbers. The 25,000 square-foot facility will also offer weight training and cardio equipment, a yoga studio, gear shop and two event rooms.

“The outdoor wall caters to all climbers,” said co-owner and High Point President John Wiygul. “The Kids Zone will have a mini-Saturn 5 to climb.”

O’Brien stressed the family atmosphere at High Point.

“This is a multi-generational experience,” he said. “I love seeing families working out and playing together.”

High Point will offer various youth programs; including clubs and teams that compete in USA Climbing sporting events, and professional climbing instruction for beginner to expert level rock climbers.

“We want to exceed everyone’s expectations, from the friendly staff to the quality of the climbing walls, we want our gym in Huntsville to reflect every positive attribute the climbing community has to offer,” Wiguyl said.

The developer of MidCity Huntsville is RCP Companies. Recently ranked as the fourth largest commercial real estate project in the U.S., MidCity Huntsville features first-to-market concepts in retail, dining, entertainment, residential and hospitality, making it one of the most dynamic mixed-use developments in the Southeast.

Topgolf, Dave & Buster’s, High Point Climbing & the Adrenaline Zone, Rascal Flatt’s, Wahlburger’s, and world-class music venues are leading the way in establishing the MidCity as the hub for the Tennessee Valley’s workforce and growing regional population.

 

Growing pains – Is the Madison County area growing too fast?

The overpass construction on South Memorial Parkway is slated to be completed this summer – ahead of schedule.

We’ve seen the announcements of big-time companies opening here over the past couple years.

Toyota-Mazda.

Remington.

Polaris.

Facebook.

Blue Origin.

GE Aviation.

Along with these companies and many others come thousands of jobs.

And those thousands of people will be getting back and forth to those thousands of jobs on highways that weren’t built to handle the extra capacity.

And our elected officials know that, as well. After all, several of them know what it’s like to be on Memorial Parkway or I-565 or Hughes Road or U.S. 72 now, let alone in the coming months.

So, when can we expect some relief?

Unfortunately, there’s no immediate relief in sight.

Officials say some work is in the 10-year plan so that makes it 10 years down the road or maybe, if we’re lucky, it’s in year 5 of the plan.

In fact, one study cited that an I-565 widening project, if it had the necessary money today, wouldn’t be ready for us until about 10 years from now.

A major issue – around here anyway – in the recent gubernatorial campaign was Gov. Kay Ivey’s declaration that widening I-565 was a priority of her administration and the Alabama Department of Transportation.

More than 60,000 cars a day travel the freeway between I-65 and Huntsville (although sometimes it seems more like 600,000 cars on our version of Talladega) and this is before Toyota-Mazda ramps up with its 4,000-plus jobs and several thousand more spinoff jobs at its Huntsville-Limestone County plant.

Though ALDOT and the governor say I-565 is on a front-burner, they didn’t say how many burners were on the stove.

And, there was this caveat from an ALDOT spokesman: “We are actively looking at options for I-565 within the scope of budget limitations and other projects across the entire state.”

Hughes Road

Until recently, Hughes Road was the primary north-south artery for Madison.

Fortunately for the fastest-growing city in the state, County Line Road was widened to four lanes and connects U.S. 72 with I-565. It is handling, so far, the traffic flow on the western edge of Madison County.

Unfortunately, Hughes Road, on the city’s eastern side, is still two lanes from U.S. 72 to Brownsferry Road/Old Madison Pike. And, unfortunately again, it doesn’t connect with the interstate.

But, there are plans – according to the city’s 2013-19 Capital Improvement Plan – to widen Hughes Road to five lanes.

Memorial Parkway

Needless to say, it seems that work on Memorial Parkway – basically Huntsville’s lone north-south artery – is never ending.

From the overpass work on North Parkway a few years ago to the current overpass work on South Parkway, it seems Huntsville is the orange barrel capital of the world.

Well, good news. There is an end in sight.

The South Parkway overpasses should be finished in the next few weeks thus bringing an end to what Mayor Tommy Battle called “disruptive construction.”

Cecil Ashburn Drive

The road – a much-needed relief thoroughfare for commuters to bypass Governors Drive and more easily reach south Huntsville – opened in 2002.

However, with homes opening on the south side of Monte Sano and those motorists coming into the city to work, it didn’t take long for the two-lane road to be at capacity.

In fact, nearly 18,000 motorists daily travel the winding road between U.S. 431 and Bailey Cove Road.

So, now it’s time for the road to be widened to four lanes – though some have said that city leaders should have anticipated the growth on the eastern side of town and the road should have been four lanes from the outset.

Construction was set for May but it was pushed back due budget and bidding problems. So, some time this year or next year, Cecil Ashburn Road may be closed for more than a year while the widening takes place.

And those 18,000 motorists? Oh, they’ll join the nearly 30,000 motorists who currently drive U.S. 431/Governors Drive.

Ten Years in the Making: The Shoppes at Redstone Square

The Shoppes at Redstone Square on Zierdt Road is scheduled to open July 11.

Timing. Luck. Vision.

Nearly a decade ago, two visionaries – Jim Gendreau, owner of Tailwinds Development in Lake Mary, Fla., and Colliers International Director David Garnett – stood on a desolate corner at Huntsville’s westernmost point outside Redstone Arsenal Gate 7.

Perhaps Redstone’s most discreet entry/exit point, Gate 7 sits at the corner of a narrow, winding two-lane street known as Zierdt Road; and Martin Road, which disappears for most drivers for eight miles across Redstone Arsenal, then reappears three miles from the Huntsville International Airport and the Jetplex Industrial Park.

Make no mistake, 10 years ago there was nothing for nearly two miles south, north, or west of that corner in either direction except a Mapco Mart on the south side, frequented primarily by boaters headed five more miles south to a bend in the Tennessee River to launch their boats.

Where most people see nothingness, real estate developers see potential, and Gendreau and Garnett plotted to build something big there one day.

Something Big This Way Comes

Jump ahead seven years and numerous residential developments had grown up south of that corner including the Willows at River Landing, Legacy Cove, Riverwoods, and The Preserve at Wheeler to name a few. All along Zierdt Road north, are upscale apartments and homes along Lady Anne Lake at Edgewater and along Martin Road west at Natures Walk and Lake Forest.

Three years ago, Gendreau and Garnett, working closely with the City of Huntsville, purchased that same plot of land on which they stood 10 years ago, and built a 101,000 square-foot Publix-anchored shopping center called the Shoppes at Redstone Square. It is expected to open July 11.

“Shane Davis, director of urban development and engineering for the City of Huntsville, was instrumental in helping us get this done,” said Gendreau. “We build in cities all across this country and we have never worked with a city more competent and organized than the people and city leaders in Huntsville – and I’ll tell you something else – Publix loves Huntsville!”

According to Tricor, the leasing agency for Tailwinds Development, the new 45,000 square-foot Publix grocery store at Redstone Square will serve a much-underserved residential area and provide a convenient shopping stop for employees exiting Redstone Arsenal heading home at the end of the day.

“Previously, people leaving the Arsenal have to cross over the busy intersection on Madison Boulevard to stop at the Publix there,” said a corporate spokesperson for Publix. “It is an awkward and out-of-the way route for people living in the Zierdt Road/Martin Road area, or people headed back into Huntsville or Madison.”

In fact, the Publix in the Shoppes at Redstone Square is one of three – two new and one existing – Publix stores within five miles of each other in Huntsville and Madison. The company is renovating space for an even larger, 54,000 square-foot Publix behind Applebee’s at 302 Hughes Road in Madison, scheduled to open in late October. The store at 8000 Madison Boulevard across the intersection of Madison Boulevard and Zierdt Road will remain open as well.

“Publix believes in serving customers wherever they are,” the spokesperson said. “If it takes three stores in a 10-mile area to serve the residents, that is what Publix is willing to build!”

Currently, Tricor has leased space to a yet unnamed nail salon, hair salon, and dentist’s office; however, John Ashby, owner of Madison’s Mangia Italian Restaurant on Hughes Road and U.S. 72, will open a second Mangia location in the north end of the Shoppes at Redstone Square. Known for its pasta, salads, pizza and calzone, the new restaurant is a good 10 miles from their first location.

“We are excited because the Shoppes at Redstone Square should bring in an entirely different clientele for us,” Ashby said. “Located right outside Gate 7 of the Arsenal, we hope to draw a large lunch clientele, as well as new families and customers who love Italian cuisine, but have not had a convenient place to sit down and enjoy a delicious Italian meal in that part of town.”

“Tailwinds owns six parcels of undeveloped land in front of and surrounding the Publix shopping center,” said Gendreau. “Anyone interested in those parcels or in leasing space in the shopping center can contact Deidre at Tricor (deirdre@tricor.net) for more information.

“I’m sure the residents of Huntsville already know this, But the people of North Alabama have a gem when it comes to Huntsville! Everyone we dealt with at the City of Huntsville really knows what they are doing!”

Zierdt Road Construction Updates

One can’t appreciate the extraordinary growth of this part of town without acknowledging the Zierdt Road improvements. Until two years ago, the 3.5-mile stretch of road between Madison Boulevard and Martin Road was one of the curviest two-lane backroads in Huntsville, sneaking underneath I-565 along Huntsville’s razor’s edge boundary with Madison.

The $26 million Zierdt Road improvement project is in Phase IV of four. The two northbound lanes are complete with a non-working red light installed at Nature’s Way. The southbound lanes are 90 percent complete; however, the city is looking at another 30 months of construction to create a 12-foot multiuse path on the west side; seven lanes at the intersection of Martin and Zierdt Road; and six lanes at the intersection of Madison Boulevard and Zierdt Road, which will give access to the new Town Madison project and the new yet-to-be-named baseball stadium at that corner.

That construction begins this fall but, due to traffic issues, is not expected to reach completion until 2021.

Facebook likes Huntsville; company to build $750 million data center

It’s the perfect connection: A digital giant and a high-tech capital.

So, when Facebook announced it was building a large-scale data center, it was no surprise. The company will invest $750 million in the center that will bring an estimated 100 high-paying jobs to the area.

“This is indeed an exciting day for this company, for this area of the state, and indeed for the entire state of Alabama,” said Gov. Kay Ivey at the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce. “Announcements like this require positive visions and an environment where companies can grow and expand their businesses. Economic development happens because of the collaborative efforts between state and local leaders, and businesses that are attracted by all that Alabama has to offer.”

The announcement has been kept a secret since May 24 when the Huntsville City Council gave unanimous approval to Facebook’s project entity, Starbelt LLC, to purchase 340 acres in the North Huntsville Industrial Park for $8.5 million.

Surrounded by Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong, and other civic leaders and representatives, Matt VanderZanden, director of site selection at Facebook, said the technology giant selected Huntsville for several reasons.

“This location gives us great access to renewable energy and infrastructures, a strong talent pool and, very importantly, a tremendous set of community partners,” VanderZanden said. “Facebook data centers are terrific tools and real economic engines. Facebook is in it for the long game and we look forward to having a long, fruitful partnership with the Huntsville community.”

Battle cited the city’s innovation and high-tech reputation as a link with the digital giant.

“Facebook has built its business on connecting friends to family, businesses to customers, and people to the world,” Battle said. “This is one of the most innovative companies in the world and we’re proud to have them in one of the world’s most innovative cities.

“Huntsville is a city that constantly redefines what is possible. Facebook constantly redefines life online.”

The governor used a Facebook reference in her remarks.

“Every day, millions of people get on Facebook to connect with family and friends,” Ivey said. “I sure am glad that when Facebook was looking to grow their connections, they sent out a friend request to Alabama!”

Planes, drones, special missions aircraft on display at Sierra Nevada Industry Day

MERIDIANVILLE — A cost-effective solution for retrofitting old Black Hawk helicopters with the most technologically advanced electronics and equipment was unveiled recently by Sierra Nevada. The event was held during Sierra Nevada’s Industry Day at the company’s facility at the Huntsville Executive Airport.

SNC acquired the older model Air Force UH-60L Black Hawk through Huntsville’s Black Hawk Exchange & Sales Team (BEST) program. They removed the outdated analog gages and Marconi strip radar system and replaced it with an all glass cockpit, a fully certified state-of-the-art digital avionics suite, and mission-specific equipment including an external mounted camera, rescue hoists, and a 200-gallon auxiliary fuel tank. Now known as the Sierra Force Rotary-Wing Aircraft, the newly retrofitted helicopter is valued at an estimated $19 million.

“At the end of the day, each Sierra Force aircraft returns a significant portion of the production cost to the U.S. government,” said Bill Morris, vice president of business development for Sierra Nevada. “We make it possible for the U.S. Air Force to acquire the most cost-effective replacement aircraft available.”

Also, on exhibit was a King Air 350ER Mission Enhancement Kit.

King Air 350ER Mission Enhancement Kit with five-blade propellers that enable the aircraft to climb to 30,000 feet in 17 minutes.

“We bought the standard King Air as a green aircraft,” he said. “… using the Independent Research and Development (IR&D) program to determine what modifications were needed, we created a Mission Enhancement Kit that involves installing a new engine, an electronic braking system, and a light weight battery that removes 20 pounds from the aircraft, while increasing the capacity to fly at airspeeds up to 340 knots.”

Morris said Sierra Nevada replaced the four-blade propeller with five blades, which enable the plane to climb to 30,000 feet in 17 minutes instead of 40 minutes. It mitigates a lot of the noise from the engine so passengers can have a reasonable conversation without headsets.

“On an ordinary 90-degree day at 7,000 feet, you would have only about 30 minutes of fuel available,” said Morris. “With our newly designed kit, you can fly for eight hours under the same conditions – a significant increase for our Army forces who fly very long distances on manned surveillance and intelligence missions.”

The King Air and the SNC Scorpion Aircraft are fully-integrated multi-role special mission aircraft whose configurations include a lightweight interior, LED lighting, an extended nose to accommodate camera and sensors that surveil targets on the ocean up to 200 nautical miles; and a Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) satellite communications system on top that transmits data in real time to a ground station.

Also on display during Industry Day was a battery-operated surveillance drone. The aircraft is housed in a case with a Unified Ground Control Station, a hand-held controller and manned and unmanned teaming functions.

Powered by software designed by Kutta Technologies, the unmanned aircraft system can be dropped from an aircraft and deployed remotely from ground or air and has autonomous landing capabilities. It has a payload bay and a powerful camera that can see around corners. The drone can be programmed with waypoints or set to loiter and wait for updates from the controller.