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.”

Madison Chamber Calls for Nominees for Best in Business Awards

MADISON — It’s an opportunity to call out your favorite businesses as the Madison Chamber of Commerce ask for nominations for the Best in Business Awards 2019.

Now through Sept, 6 at 5 p.m., businesses can be nominated in 12 categories for their outstanding services, products and customer service.

“We are excited to be kicking off the Best in Business Awards 2019,” said Chamber Executive Director Pam Honeycutt. “We have introduced some new categories this year to best represent our growing membership. We look forward to learning more about all of the great businesses that make up the Chamber.”

Every year, the Chamber re-evaluates the categories to ensure businesses are not competing in like categories.

“We did away with Home & Living and added Professional Services, Essential Services, and Arts, Entertainment & Hospitality this year,” said Honeycutt.

There will be one overall Best in Business 2019 award given along with nominee and winners in Nonprofit, Small Business with four or more employees, Health & Wellness, Start-ups, Community Servant of the Year, Culinary Business of the Year, Excellence in Leadership & Service, and Medical Practice of the Year.

Nominees must be a member in good standing of the Madison Chamber of Commerce for at least six months. The winners will be announced at the Best in Business awards banquet Oct. 22 at the Insanity Complex Entertainment Center off Hughes Road.

To nominate businesses, visit  http://survey.constantcontact.com/survey/a07egj7kwh8jzbqlz9v/a013ojzrw4zk6/greeting.

 

Times Plaza Coming to Life; Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar Grilling Next Month

The sounds and smell of fresh burgers on the grill will soon be wafting out on South Memorial Parkway.

Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar will initiate the action at the new Times Plaza center next month with Super Chix Chicken & Custard scheduled to follow in October. Also on the bill of the work-retail-dining center are Stone Age Korean Steakhouse and Just Love Coffee.

Bad Daddy’s burgers are made from scratch. (Photo/Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar)

Charlotte-based Bad Daddy’s is an iconic brand with a dedicated following and this is the company’s first store in Alabama.

“They have been searching for a way to enter the Alabama market, and we are thrilled they chose Huntsville as their introduction,” said Anusha Davis, Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate leasing agent. “We have a community that readily embraces new concepts and our city’s growth is attracting more well-known brands to join developments like Times Plaza.”

Bad Daddy’s is a scratch kitchen serving premium angus burgers and quintessential American fare. 

So, what makes Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar so appealing?

“Simply put, Bad Daddy’s elevates the standard beer and burger to a whole new level,” said Amy Nedwell, director of marketing for Bad Daddy’s. “We are a high-intensity scratch kitchen serving chef-driven menu options made to customer specifications. Best of all, we have something for everyone because we go beyond beef.

“Our appetizers, salads and veggie burgers have won us much praise, and we make sure Bad Daddy’s has something to satisfy everyone’s taste buds.”

Classic rock tunes combined with guitars, old road signs, records and neon give Bad Daddy’s a family-friendly “grunge” feel that pairs with its towering entrees.

Local beers will be available on tap as well as a signature cocktail menu. There’s even a selection of adult milkshakes. Kids are also welcome to treat themselves thanks to a children’s menu featuring sliders, hot dogs, grilled cheese, tenders and more.

 

Dave & Buster’s: Not just restaurant or game room – it’s ‘a full experience’

There are some 125 games ready to play at Dave & Buster’s. (Photo/Eric Schultz)

Even the old school games have new age twists.

Starting Aug. 19, the grand opening of Huntsville’s Dave & Buster’s Sports Bar — or restaurant and adult/family entertainment venue — patrons could play the iconic 1980s video game “Pac-Man” in the “Million Dollar Midway” at the newest business to open at MidCity District in Huntsville.

But this is not your father’s version of the classic arcade staple.

This century’s “Pac-Man” features a four-person Battle Royale where contestants eliminate others by eating them on a state-of-the-art big screen.

“Pac-man” is one of 125 games in D&B’s entertainment section.

“The technology involved really is the latest and greatest in terms of modernization,” said Eric Drescher, the store’s general manager and a 20-year veteran of the restaurant scene in the region.

The high-tech stuff contines throughout the Midway. There are the classic standards such Pac-Man, Pop-A-Shot and Skee-Ball. Some games have virtual reality and others are based on themes surrounding “Jurassic Park,” “Star Wars” and “Men In Black.”

As some 200-plus new hires went through training days before the grand opening, a walk through the Midway had a feeling of the last quarter of the 20th century blending into the new millennium.

At the back of the Midway, ticket winners can shop for prizes ranging from candy to PlayStations in the Winner’s Circle.

General Manager Eric Drescher stands ready to welcome customers as the new Dave & Buster’s is ready to open at Mid City District in Huntsville. (Photo/Eric Schultz)

D&B’s next calling card is the restaurant/sports bar area. A full bar divides one eating section from a full dining room and dissects a room that features garage-style doors that close off a meeting room for around 50 people.

Drescher said the setting is perfect for any type of private function, even midday.

“At lunch, we can get them in and get them out,” he said. “They have a great lunch experience and come back at night with their family and have a great game experience.”

Among the televisions that can be seen from every angle around the restaurant and bar are four that measure at 169 inches. The decorative walls reflect a state and regional flavor when it comes to sports teams.

“We have the best sports viewing in town,” Drescher said. “If there’s a game, on the chances are we have it and, if we don’t, we can get it.”

Drescher said if certain games — Alabama and Auburn football, for example — are being televised, the sound will also be turned up.

After all, he said, his restaurant is seeking to provide ultimate entertainment.

“Dave and Buster’s is such a different entity because of the games and high-quality food and amazing drinks.” he said. “It’s not just a restaurant. It’s not a game room. It’s a full experience …”

For more information, visit daveandbusters.com.

 

Good Eatin’ Ahead as Huntsville Restaurant Week Kicks Off

Some tasty offerings during the Huntsville Restaurant Week press conference at Stovehouse. (Photo/Steve Babin)

Guests were met with the delicious aroma of roasting garlic and were served complimentary spicy veal meatballs and seafood Fritto Misto from Mozzara’s Italian Kitchen at the Stovehouse during the official kickoff for the eighth annual Huntsville Restaurant Week, Aug. 9-18.

Mayor Tommy Battle laughed that Restaurant Week is 52 weeks a year at the Battle house as he and Madison Mayor Paul Finley joined the Huntsville-Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau in highlighting the culinary events ahead.

“As Huntsville grows, so does our local dining scene, and we’re excited to have so much to offer to visitors,” said Judy Ryals, president/CEO of the Convention & Visitors Bureau, “There are culinary experiences in Huntsville that can’t be found anywhere else: from dining under the National Historic Landmark Saturn V rocket at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s Biergarten, to the one-of-a-kind settings at venues such as Campus No. 805, Stovehouse, MidCity, and so many others.

Judy Ryals

“Huntsville is truly a destination that attracts visitors seeking unique dining and travel experiences.”

More than 50 local eateries and breweries will participate in “ten tasty days of deals” beginning Friday to encourage people to try some of the new cuisine that has come to Huntsville in the past couple of years. Straight to Ale, Old Black Bear, and InnerSpace breweries are also participating with specialty Restaurant Week craft beers.

“As the coordinator of Huntsville Restaurant Week, it has been my pleasure to see this promotion grow,” said Pam Williams, Tourism & Education sales manager for the CVB. “Each year it is surprising to see how many new places have joined the Madison County culinary scene, and 2019 is no different.

Pam Williams

“Ultimately, the CVB’s goal for Restaurant Week is to showcase the Madison County dining scene to visitors, and to remind locals to try something new.”

Patrons will find lunch specials featuring two courses at fixed prices of $10 and $15; with three-course dinner specials in the $10, $20, $30, and $40 range. Restaurants can choose one or any combination of those specials and offer other specials beyond these categories.

The event also features a special “Bonus Bites” category for establishments that do not offer a traditional lunch or dinner, but offer breakfast, desserts, appetizers, or small bites exclusively.

At Stovehouse in Huntsville, Madison Mayor Paul Finley, left, and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle encourage visitors to take in the best food the area has to offer during Restaurant Week. (Photo/Steve Babin)

The CVB has partnered with OpenTable, an online restaurant reservation platform and the official online reservations provider for Huntsville Restaurant Week. With just a few clicks, patrons can view all participating restaurants and secure a reservation.

The CVB’s #iHeartHsv blog will feature dedicated food and beverage content throughout the month in hopes of attracting “foodie” visitors from out of town.

For information on the events of Huntsville Restaurant Week, visit huntsville.org/events/restaurant-week/.

Bon appetit Madison County! There’s some good eatin’ ahead!

Dave & Buster’s Looking for Team Members for MidCity

Many employment opportunities are coming to town these days, and another one is happening now in Huntsville’s new MidCity.

The new development that has already seen the opening of TopGolf and High Point Climbing and Fitness is preparing for the opening of the unique adult entertainment venue Dave & Buster’s.

D&B’s bills itself as, “The only place to eat, drink, play and watch sports all under one roof!” The 26,500-square foot has targeted Aug. 19 for a grand opening.

“We’re looking for a little over 200 team members,’’ said General Manager Eric Drescher. “We’ve got all positions from front desk to kitchen to bartenders and servers.

“We also have technical positions.’’

Applications will be accepted at the restaurant in MidCity located at the old Madison Square Mall campus on University Drive.

Drescher said D&B’s offers the “latest and greatest” adult entertainment games as well as traditional games. There’s a full-service restaurant with what he called “amazing food’’ and a large bar that would “rival’’ any.

The venue also offers space for corporate events.

Drescher is a 20-year veteran of the Huntsville area food scene who “picked Huntsville,’’ he said, when given the opportunity open to D&B’s second location in Alabama.

Burgeoning Regional Economy Ensures Everyone a More Valuable Slice of the Pie

Envision Huntsville as an average size pie.

Standing at city center, look outward in all directions toward the far edges of the pie crust – north toward the state line where visitors from Tennessee get their first glimpse of the city. South where many Huntsville businesses draw daily commuters. East across the mountain, west from neighboring communities and all points in between.

For Huntsville and Madison city leaders, this vision of the pie’s edge does not represent boundaries but, instead, corridors of growth.

“That’s always been our vision for Huntsville’s future and the basis for our regional economic strategy,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “The first part of revitalizing your city is to take the center point, known as the living room of your city, and revitalize it to make it economically viable. Get one area going and stretch it out to other areas.

“Year after year, we have pinpointed growth corridors that help us grow both economically and residentially. The result is an economic revival like what you have been seeing in Huntsville and Madison the past 10 years.”

Private investment land developers have that vision too. During the 1990s, brothers Jim and John Hays and their nephew Jeff Enfinger of Enfinger Development opened a growth corridor to the southeast in Hampton Cove and the Hays Nature Preserve.

In 2000, that development led to the expansion of a residential growth corridor along Taylor Lane in Big Cove, and, by 2010, it had extended into the Goldsmith-Schiffman community.

Also during the 1990s, Huntsville opened a residential growth corridor off Zierdt Road in the Edgewater and Mountain Brook communities southwest of the city. In 2010, it expanded into the Williams community further south.

Battle said that by looking at the local economy like a pie, you will see their strategy unfolding.

“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 Western Corridor

The Town Madison development along I-565 between Zierdt Road and Wall-Triana Highway in Madison will open a gateway to the city.

Anchored by the new Rocket City Trash Pandas baseball stadium, the development is surrounded by residential, retail, commercial, and entertainment components that have thrown open a west side growth corridor that never existed.

“The location off I-565 is perfect catchment for a broad audience across the Southeast,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. “As the interchanges off the highway are completed, you can expect ease of traffic getting to and from the area.

“If people come for a game or event, we hope they stay and experience all that Madison has to offer, including our historic downtown that offers livability with local boutique shopping and dining.”

Finley also believes Madison’s central geography in North Alabama positions it perfectly to feel the positive impact from economic development in the whole state as well as southern Tennessee.

“Madison benefits from Huntsville’s growth with the FBI and other tech development workforce to our east, as well as from the Mazda-Toyota plant to our west. We look to collaborate with Limestone, Morgan and Marshall counties,” said Finley.

The development is envisioned to become a regional destination.

“Right on the interstate, convenient if you are coming from Cullman or Decatur, and where everybody who passes by can see it,” said Joey Ceci, president of The Breland Companies, which is developing Town Madison and the new Clift Farm project on U.S. 72 in Madison. “We are creating a regional destination with baseball, a food hall, and resort style hotels, similar to, but more diverse than Chattanooga.”

Open Southern Border

Recently, Enfinger and his uncles who are also developing McMullen Cove, announced the development of a multi-use Hays Farm development in South Huntsville that will replace the old Haysland Square and turn a 500-plus acre swath of undeveloped land into a new growth corridor to the south that will draw retailers and residents from Airport Road south to the river and beyond.

“There will be a commercial center all the way up to the Enfinger Building on South Parkway with a Village of Providence-type entertainment district surrounded by a city park, a ballfield, and 500-acre Hays Green with a passive walking park,” said Enfinger. “We’d like to maintain the natural green spaces. The Hays Nature Preserve in Hampton Cove has been a regional draw for a lot of people.”

In many ways, Ceci believes that with population growth and so many people commuting here to work every day from other counties, we already have an active regional economy at work.

“You see workers buying groceries, going out to eat and shopping during the workweek, even if they live outside the city,” he said. “I think there is some pent-up demand for some of the development that is occurring.”

Max Grelier, co-founder of RCP Companies who has developed the AC Hotel as part of CityCentre and developing MidCity on the old Madison Square Mall property, has been watching those employee migration patterns into Huntsville for more than a decade.

“We see the regional trade area as about 50 miles and incorporates the 14-county commuter hubs from which Redstone Arsenal and Cummings Research Park draw its employment,” said Grelier. “As a result, Huntsville has become the region’s primary center for healthcare, civic, cultural, shopping, and dining activity.”

Annexation of Morgan & Limestone counties

Add to all this, the annexation of a small portion of Morgan County to the southwest and a huge chunk of Limestone County due west of city center, and you can see the pie expanding!

“Yes, this annexation is a game-changer because it results in the ability to get infrastructure to certain areas and thus create major employment opportunities,” said Charlie Sealy of Sealy Realty. His company has developed several residential properties including The Belk Hudson Lofts and The Avenue in downtown Huntsville, and is building a sister community, The Avenue Madison. “These new jobs will be an economic driver for the economy and create an incredible multiplier effect.”

The annexation is a precursor to the economic development that follows it, said Grelier.

“Annexing was necessary for the economic development of the Mazda-Toyota plant and other larger manufacturers,” he said. “It’s also helpful in attracting investment into commercial real estate projects across the metro area.”

“We’ve only made a foray into Morgan County,” said Battle, “The annexation of Limestone County where Mazda Toyota made a $2 billion land investment has seriously expanded our metro and opened an industrial growth corridor that is a win-win for both parties.”

City funds, thanks to Huntsville’s AAA credit rating from the S&P and Moody’s Investment Services, have pulled their share of the weight. With the power to borrow $85 million for city and countywide projects, of that, Huntsville will allot $25 million for the Mazda Toyota project infrastructure; and another $55 million for capital plans and schools.

Northern Exposure

Included is the revitalization of North Memorial Parkway. Since widening the well-worn highway into a viable parkway traffic corridor, it has encroached on many properties there, making them less viable.

“They don’t have enough depth to sustain retail, so we’ve taken them out and we’re turning that area into a park with greenways and walking trails,” said Battle. “Perception becomes reality.

“Instead of seeing boarded-up buildings when you enter from the north, you see it more as an entryway into North Huntsville – an economically viable area to move into and to be a part of.”

Among the projects is the upgrading of parks that will be instrumental in bringing in sports teams from all over the Southeast, including recreational rugby fields and soccer fields that can also be used for lacrosse.

“We are putting money into the tennis center and into the golf course, which now has cross-country running and mountain bike trails. All of these things tie back to what we call ‘quality of life’ for our residents and activities for our guests,” said Battle. “Travel sports bring people and their families to our area from all over, where they compete, stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, and shop in our stores.”

Quality of Life

Town Madison’s $12 million Pro Player Park project with 12 synthetic baseball/softball fields, the $22 million Huntsville Aquatic Center, and the expanding Huntsville Tennis Center are already national attractions for travel sports competitions and events.

“To have a viable and growing economy, we have to offer a ‘quality-of-life’ that attracts people to the area, and quite frankly, we have a lot of jobs on the table too,” Battle said. “To recruit highly-skilled, higher income workers requires a quality of life that is equal to or higher than where they are moving from.”

Battle said “quality-of-life” is found in Lowe Mill, in craft beer, in a vast array of recreation facilities, disc golf, pickleball, art museums and public parks.

“But we still have work to do because people are coming from around the world to work for companies like Blue Origin, Facebook, Aerojet Rocketdyne, and Mazda Toyotas,” said Battle.

Finley is ready for whatever challenges lay ahead for Madison.

“As Madison grows our focus is making sure we are responsible with our citizen’s tax dollars by improving infrastructure and providing a good quality of life in every district of our community,” said Finley. “While areas to the West are experiencing booming growth and increased traffic, we need to not only keep pace with growth but foresee areas that will need improvements down the line.”

Huntsville is also adding hotels, apartments, and homesites as more people move into the city. With a goal of adding 1,000 hotel rooms within walking distance of the Von Braun Center, Battle said it will help draw larger conventions and business meetings.

“Part of the strategy for building smaller hotels instead of one big convention center hotel is to prevent people from living inside the hotel the whole time they are here,” said the mayor. “We want people to experience our city, eat in our restaurants, visit our museums, and shop in our stores.”

Enfinger believes that as we become a more affluent society, people’s wants, and expectations become more demanding.

“It looks like we are evolving in unison with the rest of the country as far as the type shopping we do and the kind of developments we build,” said Enfinger. “Our growth rate is higher than most cities, but I think we follow a national trend in the type developments we can sustain.”

Private Investment is Leading the Way

Private investment must still lead the way and developers such as Breland, RCP, Sealy, and Enfinger are leading the charge.

“When the City can support infrastructure needs or improvements, private investment can take those dollars further,” said Mayor Finley. “This is a win/win for both the City and for the investors. Ultimately, our citizens also reap the benefits of this growth and development.”

“Buy-in is good so far, but much harder than it may seem,” said Grelier. “Huntsville has a great story to tell, but many larger institutional investors are not aware of it or view the market as too small.

“Our team spends most of our time discussing and selling the regional market rather than the immediate project. A big part of Huntsville’s growth moving forward will be how the region is branded to compete for private investment and workforce internationally. It’s a regional story that should include our sister communities.”

He would also like to see the Gen Y & Z workforce move to the area because it’s a cool, fun place to live, and then find a job once they get here rather than moving here for the great job.

“Once this trend reverses, larger private investment and more economic development will follow quickly,” Grelier said.

From the city’s perspective though, Huntsville’s first mixed-use/multi-purpose development at Twickenham Square in 2014 has been a driver in enlarging the pie.

Join us for Part 2 of our series on Huntsville’s growing regional economy in the September issue of the Huntsville Business Journal as we investigate how multi-purpose/mixed-use developments are helping build Huntsville’s regional economy.

 

White Bison Coffee-Twice Daily Opening in Town Madison

MADISON – Combining convenience and coffee, the state’s first Twice Daily-White Bison Coffee store will open in Town Madison this fall.

The new concept store from Nashville-based Tri Star Energy merges Twice Daily’s convenience store and White Bison Coffee’s artisan coffee beverages and fresh, handcrafted café menu.

This will be the first brand-in-brand retail location for Tri Star Energy outside of Tennessee.

“We are thrilled to bring White Bison Coffee and Twice Daily to the people of Alabama,” said Steve Hostetter, CEO of Tri Star Energy. “Whether it’s enjoying coffee with friends, grabbing food on-the-go or fueling up, we’ve got you covered. We pair convenience with quality to accommodate our guests and their busy lives.”

The White Bison Coffee concept offers expertly roasted, handcrafted specialty coffee drinks –– featuring single origin pour-over coffees, cold brew, nitro coffee, espresso beverages and more. Guests can also enjoy freshly baked pastries and handmade breakfast and lunch items including sandwiches, salads and Bistro snack boxes.

In addition to traditional convenience items, Twice Daily’s premium offerings range from grab-and-go snacks, including organic brands, to a selection of staple groceries. There is also a fresh deli case with handmade and healthy options featuring fruits, sandwiches, salads and snacks. Additional offerings include donuts and pastries, freshly prepared breakfast & lunch sandwiches and an extensive beer cave featuring local and craft beers.

For information, visit whitebisonTN.com and twicedaily.com. They can also be followed on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Huntsville Entrepreneurs Open Cicerone-Certified Brass Tap Beer Bar

The Brass Tap is set to open Monday. (Photo by Steve Babin)

Craft beer lovers will have a full-bodied experience awaiting them Monday when Huntsville entrepreneurs Chris Ray and Kurt Morganweck open the Brass Tap Beer Bar.

Located in the Shops at Merchant Square on Bob Wallace Avenue and South Memorial Parkway, the Brass Tap will offer more than 300 beers from around the world, 56 craft beer taps, four Nitro taps, a chef-designed menu, and expert cicerone-certified beer servers.

Half of the Brass Tap flavors will be dedicated to the 10 or so local Huntsville/Madison breweries to help promote their customer-favorite brews and to support community awareness about the local brands.

However, the Brass Tap promises more than a variety of hopsy-maltsy tastes. You will also enjoy a better understanding of why you love the yeasty brew so much!

First, the Brass Tap uses a unique direct draw keg-to-faucet dispensing process that stores all 60 kegs at a perfect 38-degree temperature, guaranteeing a more consistent, higher quality pour.

Customers can enjoy their favorite beverage outdoors.
(Photo by Steve Babin)

“Kurt and I are craft beer lovers, but we wanted to do something different that would keep it local by promoting local breweries, educate the beer drinker, and provide a high-end, quality experience for customers,” said Ray. “We wanted to become cicerone-certified beer experts and we wanted our manager and our servers to be Level 1 cicerone-certified servers. That way, with so many different brands available, they can answer questions and make the best recommendations to customers.”

A cicerone is the beer equivalent to a wine sommelier – experts in their profession.

“We distinguish ourselves as a high-end beer bar with a unique flair that is different from anyone else in town, but our goal is to become the ultimate craft beer bar in Huntsville,” he said.

Whether you are a long-time beer drinker, a beer aficionado, or a first-time beer-drinker, you are guaranteed a fun and tasty education from the Brass Tap who can help you explore different types of beer. You will always receive your beer in the proper glass designed specifically for that type of beer – a pilsner glass, pint, chalice, mug, stein, flute, etc.

The Brass Tap offers seating on two patios with garage doors that can be raised or lowered according to the weather; and a chef-inspired menu that complements the variety of beers offered including salads, tacos, burgers, flatbreads, wings, and steak.

The Brass Tap has a number of events planned for local businesses and workers including Medical Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Wine Down Thursdays and Teachers Day Out on Fridays. On these days, The Brass Tap will offer extended Happy Hour specials for members of the business community as well as residents.

In addition to beer, the Brass Tap has a full spirits bar and wine selection including a Sangria. They partnered with Four Roses Kentucky bourbon for in-house Manhattans and Old Fashions.

“We also have Tap Out Margaritas … and boy do they go down well with tacos,” said Ray.

The pub also features 14 TV screens and a large accent wall with lighting and a projector to show large sporting events, as well as welcome local musical artists, trivia nights and bingo.

Clift Farm: Breland Companies Bought the Farm That Jack Built

MADISON — In 1850, the population of rural Madison was less than 500 residents. Alabama farmers were producing nearly 565,000 bales of cotton and nearly 29 million bushels of corn a year.

John Henry Clift bought a small piece of rural farmland in what was then called Madison Station.

Since then, six generations of the Clift family have farmed that land for cotton, corn, soybeans, fresh fruits, and vegetables, mostly for local consumption.

Construction is underway on the Clift Farm development.

It was Jack Clift, known as Pawpaw to his many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, who moved home from Atlanta after World War II and took over the family farming business. Jack, who turned 100 years old in December, expanded the farm to more than 600 acres off U.S. 72 between Wall Triana Highway and Balch Road in Madison.

Several years ago, he sold off a sliver to developers who built the shopping plaza where Planet Fitness sits today.

Last fall, Jack officially sold the remaining 550 acres to The Breland Companies who, with his blessing, will develop it into a pedestrian-friendly residential community, park, and retail center.

The Breland development recently broke ground across the highway from the Target Shopping Center and Madison Hospital, but according to Joey Ceci, president of The Breland Companies, the development will in every way, honor and represent the Clift legacy.

“Jack has always been a conservationist at heart,” said Ceci. “His original vision for the land was to keep it agricultural, but he realized later in life that it was going to be sold. He wanted to be an active participant in the process and after much discussion with his family, he entrusted the development and preservation of his property to Louis Breland.”

“To understand this property, you need to understand the history of the Clift family and what faithful stewards Jack and Lillian Clift have been for this land,” said Breland. “I have ridden every inch of this property with Mr. Clift to understand its history and his vision for this wonderful piece of land.”

The goal is to create a community that will have a timeless feel, that will preserve many of the existing natural attributes, while providing retail, dining, residential, office space, multifamily homes, and medical opportunities.

“There is a lot of retail in that area already, but this one is different from those you are seeing at MidCity Huntsville and Town Madison, which will draw a regional audience,” said Ceci. “This one will be mostly residential and will have a relatively small, town center retail and restaurant component that supports the Clift Farm community.”

He said it will have a very real element of green space: a passive park area planted with wildflowers and fruit trees as opposed to soccer fields; a man-made pond surrounded by greenways, and a lot of walking trails. The residential component will consist of townhomes starting at $300,000 and homes ranging from $400,000 to $600,000.

In March, the Madison County Commission approved $8 million for Breland to spend on the development, to build roads and a utility infrastructure for the project.

“We have already done a little bit of groundbreaking, but we are currently building arterial roads and putting in that infrastructure,” said Ceci. “Breland is building a third lane into the property from (U.S.) 72 to alleviate the already heavy traffic in that area, and we have brought in traffic engineers to help us install a couple of red lights.”

An expanded farmers’ market is part of the Clift Farm development plan.

The front of the development along U.S. 72 will be retail and restaurants. The back will include three-story luxury apartments and townhomes with an overall pedestrian environment similar to Huntsville’s Village of Providence. Several out-parcels of land may be developed as medical office space, located conveniently across from Madison Hospital.

One of the most unique aspects of the project, according to Ceci, is that they carved out a modest plot of land on which Clift’s son and grandson will continue small-scale farming and they are building an enlarged farmers market where they will continue to sell fresh fruit and produce from the very land they continue to harvest.

“You have heard restaurants talk about farm-to-table ingredients? In this case, if you order a salad, you can almost sit there and watch the guys go pick it for you,” said Ceci.

Breland expects to begin selling residential lots possibly at the end of this year or early 2020. Some of the retail will likely open in April or May next year.