Madison County Moving to Meet Continued Growth

An elevator shaft stands tall as crews move dirt and erect structures over nearly eight acres of land at the corner of Oakwood Avenue and North Memorial Parkway, the latest project taking shape in the city landscape that is changing daily.

 This project — on the site that was housed grocery chain stores Albertson’s and Bruno’s and most recently a Halloween haunted house – will become the Madison County service center.

 The 60,000-square foot complex will house county offices of the tax assessor, tax collector, license director, voter registrar, sales tax and probate judge.

“This is scheduled to be open first quarter of 2021,’’ Madison County Commissioner Dale Strong said. “There will be right at 400 free parking spaces for Madison County residents to do their business.’’

Strong recently visited a major project — the new FBI campus in the center of Redstone Arsenal.

Strong said he was also briefed by Robert Hamilton, the FBI Senior Executive at Redstone Arsenal. Hamilton is leading the transition of multiple FBI offices there.

 “There is right at $700 million currently under construction and 500 employees working for the FBI,’’ Strong said. “They are anticipating for 2020 there will be 1,000 people who will be hired.

“We’re going from 500 to 1,500 by the end of 2020; so that’s really exciting.’’

The FBI has announced plans to bring as many as 4,000 job to the new site over the next eight to 10 years.

Strong also said there is $350 million worth of transportation projects either under construction, in design, or recently completed in the county.

“That’s the efforts of a lot of hard work not only here locally by mayors and county commissions, but also with our legislative body in Montgomery and also with our folks in (Washington) D.C.,’’ he said. “We’re looking in the next three years to have somewhere around 14,000 new jobs to be filled with a 1.8 percent multiplier, which leads you to about 25,000 jobs.

“Then, if you look at the retail commercial businesses like McDonald’s and Walmart, we probably are looking at a somewhere around 50,000 in the next three years in employment numbers.’’

Strong, who graduated from Sparkman High School, will deliver the annual State of the County address Jan. 28.

“These are exciting times,’’ he said. “This is the best economy my generation has ever seen.’’

Qualis Acquires Bonham Technologies

Qualis, an integrator of technical and engineering services to the Department of Defense and NASA, has acquired Bonham Technologies, a diversified Service Disabled, Veteran-Owned, Small Business.

Bonham, which like Qualis is Huntsville-based, provides technical, programmatic and logistical support services for combat weapon systems and associated support equipment.

Founded in 2004 by retired Army Col. Louis Bonham, BTI has provided a wide-array of UH-60 fleet support and systems integration, test and evaluation, and training support for ground vehicles.

“The acquisition of such a reputable company as BTI will significantly enhance Qualis’ unmanned and rotary wing aviation capabilities in the competitive Huntsville market,” said Qualis President Roderick Duke.

“We wholeheartedly welcome Lou and team,” said Qualis Founder and CEO Elizabeth Morard. The acquisition “marks a meaningful growth milestone in Qualis’ history to add this capable group of people to the Qualis family.

“I appreciate the initiative and dedication of Rod and team to make this happen.”

BTI has become a proven aviation contractor throughout its history providing aviation and missile weapons systems support to organizations such as the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation and Missile Center, formerly known as the Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center at Redstone Arsenal. Over the past decade, BTI has provided innovative solutions to the rotary wing industry with both integrity and a commitment to excellence.

“This acquisition will be advantageous for Qualis’ strategic direction as we continue to expand our aviation service offerings,” said Duke.

Redstone Gateway Continues Growth as Government Contractors Seek Prime Office Space

Two more office buildings are on the rise at Redstone Gateway as government contractors warm to the office park’s amenity-rich environment and proximity to both Redstone Arsenal and Cummings Research Park.

Rendering shows the 42,000 square-foot office building under construction at Redstone Gateway. It is expected to open by the end of the year.

Corporate Office Properties Trust, in partnership with Jim Wilson & Associates, developed the 4.6 million square-foot, mixed-use development as a Class-A office park near Gate 9 at I-565 and Redstone Road.

Redstone Gateway includes seven office buildings totaling 569,000 square feet; a full-service, 120-room TownePlace Suites by Marriott hotel; and The Shops at Redstone Gateway consisting of over 19,000 square feet of retail space, three restaurants and a conference center.

The existing office buildings are 100 percent occupied.

“The growth of availability at Redstone Gateway continues to be an asset to government contractors locating close to their customer base on Redstone Arsenal,” said COPT Chief Operating Officer Paul Adkins. “This pre-lease, along with other recent leases, highlights the value proposition of Redstone Gateway.”

Currently, there are seven buildings under construction at Redstone Gateway, expected to add another 662,000 square feet to the development.

One of those buildings is a 100,000 square foot, four-story office building along Rideout Road. There will be 113,000 square-feet of office leasing space available upon completion end of the year.

The other is a soon-to-be 42,000 square-foot single-story office building located at 6000 Redstone Gateway at the corner of Redstone Gateway and Market Street, within the Redstone Gateway development.

It, too, should be complete by the end of 2020 but will just keep pace with the demand as it is already 75 percent pre-leased to a government contractor. Approximately 13,000 square feet will be available for lease upon completion.

Rendering shows 100,000 square-foot office building with construction expected to be complete by the end of the year.

James Lomax, director of Asset Management for COPT Huntsville, said the buildings support Redstone Arsenal, clearly an economic engine for North Alabama.

“We’re excited about the rapid development at Redstone Gateway as Huntsville’s modern office park,” said Lomax. “Redstone Gateway is the most forward-thinking office development in North Alabama, creating an amenity-rich environment and walkable environment focused on employee satisfaction and efficiency.

“We’re excited to continue this phase of development and are thankful for the support from the whole community in North Alabama.”

COPT, whose Huntsville office is at Bridge Street Town Centre, specializes in developing and operating office buildings in locations that support the U.S. government and its defense contractors.

The company designs, builds and operates specialized office and data center facilities that provide technically sophisticated, mission critical environments. Maryland-based COPT often chooses locations adjacent to government agencies and prime contractors.

New Technology and New Response Model Creates Need for New 911 Call Center

After 22 years, the 911 Call Center is getting a new home.

During the past two decades, not only has the Huntsville-Madison County area outgrown its own infrastructure, the call center has been bursting at the seams.

“Nobody does 911 better than we do” – Ernie Blair (Photo/Steve Babin)

Along with the Huntsville-Madison County 911 Call Center, there are seven other agencies that house their communication activities within the building. Madison County Sheriff’s Office, Madison County Fire Department, Huntsville Police Department, Huntsville Fire and Rescue, City of Madison Police Department, City of Madison Fire Department, and Huntsville Emergency Medical Services all have a presence at the 911 Call Center.

A key advantage is seamless efficiency in communication and response. And Huntsville-Madison County 911 was one of the first agencies to embrace this multi-agency model.

To this end, the new 911 Call Center will be twice the size of the original.

Complete with larger conference and training rooms, all with state-of-the-art technology. A dedicated IT lab that has raised tables and lab benches.

There’s a ton of rebar and lots of concrete in the mix, too. The main call center area is built underground with steel reinforced concrete and will be able to withstand an F5 tornado.

“It’s been ‘a minute’ since the groundbreaking on that freezing day in December 2017. Sometime in mid-spring the dream will become reality. We’re looking at April or May 2020, May being the latest timeframe,” said Ernie Blair, CEO of the center. “Then, we’ll need three months to move, once we get certificate of occupancy.

“We’re using this opportunity to upgrade our technology. Technology is changing so fast; we’re running to catch up. The ways that people communicate has changed – 85 percent of 911 calls are now made by cell phone.”

The new 911 Center will have larger conference and training rooms and a dedicated IT lab. (Photo/Steve Babin)

The area’s explosive growth and development has impacted the center’s completion timeline.

“We’re still under budget and were ahead of schedule until three to four months ago,” said Blair. “All the resources are stretched; general contractors are having a hard time keeping the subs on the jobs.”

As far a deadline for being out of the existing facility, there isn’t one.

“We don’t have a deadline,” said Blair. “There are two groups looking to buy the old building: the City of Huntsville and Huntsville Utilities. The latest I’ve heard is that they’re working together.”

Blair, though, has confidence in the center and the personnel.

“Nobody does 911 better than we do. We are the largest center in the state and one of the few combined centers,” said Blair. “We’re important to the quality of life and public safety, everyone is saving a life every day.

“It’s the coolest job anyone could have.”

 

 

Singing River Trail a Merger of Native American History and Smart Technology

Native Americans called it the “River that Sings” and many tribes were said to use the Tennessee River to “sing” their dead into the afterlife.

Two hundred years was not that long ago in the grand scheme of history and, in 1819, Creek and Cherokee tribes lived up and down the river leaving behind a rich legacy in places where rockets and genomics, missiles and cyber security now dominate.

The past and the future are coming together in a historical and high-tech way as the Land Use Committee of Huntsville’s Launch 2035 debuts the first quarter-mile of North Alabama’s 70-mile-long Singing River Trail along Governors House Drive in Huntsville.

In what is one of the most ambitious legacy projects Launch 2035 has undertaken, the Singing River Trail project hit a major milestone last month debuting a $225,000 master plan funded by municipal and county governments, regional businesses, and congressional officers. The plan by Alta Planning + Design lays out a 70-mile bike-hike-walk trail that will physically connect Huntsville to Madison, Athens, and Decatur.

Fully embracing the Native American heritage, the plan reveals a route starting at Bob Wallace Avenue in Huntsville. It will follow Madison Boulevard and bear south at Zierdt Road to Triana, crossing over County Line Road to Mooresville. Another leg will bear north off Madison Boulevard toward Belle Mina, and dip south to the river at County Road 6 crossing into Decatur. On the Decatur leg, it will turn north along U.S. 31 toward Athens.

Although it is expected to shift in some places, especially along U.S. 31, the master plan reveals a trail that will offer estimated economic benefits of $10,890,000; transportation benefits of $866,000, and health benefits of $1.4 million.

It will also offer $23,631,000 in indirect economic spending; $7,079,000 in earnings from direct economic spending; and provide approximately 900 temporary and 100 permanent jobs per year.

“We see the master plan as the first milestone in this legacy project,” said John Allen, CEO of Huntsville’s Committee of 100, the backbone of the Launch 2035 effort to forge a coalition between city and business leaders in Madison, Morgan and Limestone counties. Their purpose is to build an economy that is inclusive of communities across the entire region that benefits the entire region.

“Land-use planning is one of the three legs of the stool on which Launch 2035 has its focus. If you look at Huntsville regionally, the Tennessee River passes through all three counties and four major cities.”

Joe Campbell, legal counsel for Huntsville Hospital, is on the Launch 2035 Land Use Committee. He had been working on a connectivity idea for the Huntsville and Decatur campuses of Calhoun Community College.

They had discussed a trail or bike system that would connect the two campuses, making him the perfect person to spearhead an expansion of that concept to include the bike-hike-walk trail that connects the entire three-county region.

“I have been amazed at the response,” said Campbell. “Everyone we talk to says ‘Yes’.”

One of those yeses is the Smithsonian Institute.

“One of our law partners came to our firm from having worked for the Smithsonian institute,” Campbell said. “Upon talking to her, she put John and I in touch with Kevin Gover, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

“She mentioned they have a storehouse of American Indian artifacts and said if we were to do a Native American museum along the trail, there was a chance the Smithsonian would be interested in loaning us all sorts of exhibits for it.

“John and I were stunned to be honest, when we met with him, thinking we needed to convince him that what we wanted to do would be beneficial to the museum. But instead, his response was that this may be the kind of venture the Smithsonian had been looking for. They have been wanting to take the Smithsonian outside of the four walls of their building and take it to the people!”

Campbell said Gover brought up possibly incorporating the Trail of Tears into the project.

“He suggested we set it up as a smart trail. Pinpoint sites that were part of the Trail of Tears, that were heavily populated villages along the way, or that held historical significance,” Campbell said. “If we do that, the Smithsonian would provide exhibits and facts from those events.”

Campbell said he and Allen came away excited about the possibilities, able to envision a technologically advanced digitally-enabled walking and biking trail where people are listening on their headphones to historical recordings that tell the story of the area at different locations, along with signage and exhibits where they can stop and take in what occurred there.

Another consideration is to have sensors and other technology that warns walkers and riders. For example, because of recent rains, a specific route through the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge was too wet. It would then recommend a different route. This would be helpful to people planning out a 20- or 50-mile route.

Allen agrees that in terms of funding, nearly everyone they talk to loves the idea and they already have sponsors in all aspects of business from Huntsville Hospital to the TVA and Rotary, banks, colleges, and more.

“The trail also has health benefits that are part of our workforce retention programs,” he said. “It’s not just something our community has to have as an amenity to keep workers here, it’s something to do that’s cool, attractive and a magnet for our talent pool.”

The city was about to authorize the building of a new car bridge and Campbell said they stepped in and negotiated putting in a bike lane.

“They did it and will consider it for any future roads as well,” Campbell said.

“When you look at the economic impact, you realize how it will change the dynamics of communities along the route,” he said. “For instance, I pitched the idea at a quality of life panel at a chamber leadership meeting and afterward, a commercial developer on an economic development panel wanted to talk to me about the restaurants they’re trying to bring in. He wants to discuss where the trail will run because for some clients, it may be more feasible to locate on an off-road location you can access by bike or walking than along a five-lane high traffic area in town.

“I did a presentation to the Rotary Club about it and they have taken us on as their five-year project.”

Allen said the question became, ‘How are we going to manage that from a municipal perspective?”

They started with looking at other successful trails as a baseline for what the Singing River Trail could be.

One of those is the 62-mile Silver Comet Trail that runs from Smyrna, Ga., outside Atlanta, to the Alabama state line where it connects to the Chief Ladiga Trail, winding for 33 miles through the countryside to Anniston.

They have also studied the Razorback Regional Greenway, a 38-mile off-road shared-use trail in northwest Arkansas; and the Wolf River Greenway Trail from Memphis to Germantown, Tenn., which is a little over seven miles.

Decisions about the trail’s width, whether to pave it or use crushed gravel, who will maintain it, and providing security are all still in the planning stages.

“We’ve had the National Park Service at the table talking about these things,” said Campbell. “But you know different parts of it will be under different jurisdictions so each community will be responsible and will have to step up.

“Right now, our target is to get it on the ground.”

City Receives $1.3M Grant to Renovate Butler Terrace Area

The announcement didn’t come gradually or with the drama that accompanied the rollout of the top four teams participating in the college football playoff, but for the city’s civic leaders the news was just as exciting and filled with suspense for the future.

Huntsville is one of four cities nationwide to receive a Choice Neighborhood Planning grant. The Rocket City joined Rome, Ga.; Trenton, N.J.; and Omaha, Neb.; in receiving the award.

The cities were notified in September and Huntsville officials unveiled plans Thursday on how the $1.3 million grant will be used.

“We’ll renovate west of downtown and around Butler Terrace,’’ said Scott Erwin, the city interim director of community development.

Plans call for new affordable housing, commercial opportunities and entertainment options.

Erwin said the blueprints are designed to renovate “distressed public housing’’ and improve blight in a one-mile radius around Butler Terrace, which was built in the early 1950s. The area is from Bob Wallace and Memorial Parkway west to Triana Boulevard and I-565.

A packed house gathered at First Baptist Church to hear details of the renovations, which are a joint venture between the City of Huntsville and the Housing Authority. Council President Devyn Keith and Councilmembers Frances Akridge, Will Culver and Jennie Robinson, along with Urban and Long Range Planning Manager Dennis Madsen, Real Estate Development for the Housing Authority Quisha Riche and Camiros Planning Coordinator Bill James attended the meeting.

Camiros is a Chicago-based company with experience in planning, zoning, urban design, economic development and landscape architecture. The firm has worked with Choice Neighborhood Planning grant cities, including Mobile.

“Today was about introducing Camiros as partners,’’ Erwin said.

He said community members and not just city authorities will have a voice in the planning of renovations and upgrades.

Residents in areas affected by new construction, he said, won’t be dislocated immediately since the project is only in the planning process. However, residents may have to eventually move for a period of time.

If that happens, Erwin said, the city will relocate residents temporarily and those who were moved will have first options on returning to their community once renovations are complete.

The Choice Neighborhood Planning grant lasts for three years. Once planning goals are met, Huntsville can compete for a $30 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant to complete construction.

Erwin said residents in areas including Butler Terrace, Lowe Mill and Terry Heights and Campus 805 are welcomed to voice their opinions.

“They’re engaged in this,’’ he said. “They will have input in this.’’

The Choice Neighborhoods Initiative is a program of HUD. Its goal is to transform neighborhoods of extreme poverty into functioning, sustainable mixed-income communities.

The Catalyst Receives Grant for Small Business Training Program

As Huntsville and Madison County continue to grow, there’s been an exponential surge in small business development over the past several years.

Drake State President Dr. Patricia Sims: “More qualified workers increase the quality of life in our community.” (Photo/Lori Connors)

Here in North Alabama, small businesses and entrepreneurial ventures have been welcomed with open arms.

Economic development is essential for community growth and stability. To that end, the U.S. Small Business Administration recently awarded The Catalyst Center for Business and Entrepreneurship a $350,000 Management & Technical Assistance Program grant.

“I’m delighted to come here and participate,” said SBA Deputy District Director L.D. Ralph at the announcement hosted at Drake State Community and Technical College.

“We are excited about this endeavor,” said Drake State President Dr. Patricia Sims. “The overall, overarching goal is to meet the workforce needs and those needs are growing. We are part of the workforce solution.

“More qualified workers increase the quality of life in our community.”

Over the past 21 years, Ralph has enjoyed a strong affiliation with the Catalyst Center, then known as the Women’s Business Center of North Alabama.

“It’s been a long-term, beneficial relationship,” he said.

The program’s assistance encompasses a wide spectrum of services to include one-to-one customized coaching, business training, and networking/matchmaking opportunities. A key goal of the program is to help firms compete for federal, state and local contracts as a prime contractor or subcontractor.

To participate in the free training program, small businesses must be:

  • Owned and managed by economically and/or socially disadvantaged individuals
  • Located in areas of high unemployment or low-income
  • Certified 8(a) participant or HUBZone small business
  • Economically disadvantaged and woman-owned

Resources are provided through SBA’s network of strategic partners, including The Catalyst, Drake State Community and Technical College, Neighborhood Concepts, Regions Bank, Redstone Federal Credit Union, and Live Oak Bank.

Drake State will provide a certificate program in Entrepreneurship. Neighborhood Concepts and Redstone Federal Credit Union are partnered to provide loans through the Business Assistance Microloan Program.

Live Oak Bank will provide support to 7(j) companies relative to mergers and acquisitions and growth through contract mobilization. Regions Bank will provide facilities, coaches and assistance designed to reach low-to-moderate income entrepreneurs within North Alabama.

For information, visit catalystcenter.org

Huntsville Announces Holiday Closures, Delays; Thursday Garbage Collection Moved to Friday

The City of Huntsville’s municipal offices will be closed for the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday, Nov. 28-29.

The following services will be affected:

Garbage Collection:  Thursday’s residential curbside collection will be picked up on Friday, Nov. 29.

Public Transit:  Thursday’s Shuttle B​us and Handi-Ride services will be closed. Transit service resumes on Friday, Nov. 29.

Parks & Recreation:  Recreation centers and facilities will be closed on Thursday and Friday and will reopen on Saturday, Nov. 30.

Animal Services:  The Animal Shelter and Animal Services will be closed from Thursday through Sunday.

Municipal Court:  Closed Thursday and Friday.

Public Safety:  Police and Fire will remain on duty throughout the holiday weekend.

Huntsville Prepares for the Future: Parking Problems or Problem with Perception?

Change is hard but it has never stopped Huntsville from rising to a challenge.

In the same way we adjusted to becoming the Rocket City in the 1960s; to becoming a booming defense industry maven in the 1990s; and a five-county regional economy over the past decade; Huntsville is looking yet again to the future and sometimes – just sometimes – we get a whiff of frustration as the construction holds up traffic, a red light seems to be holding longer than it used to, or there does not appear to be enough parking at a popular new shopping venue!

Parking spaces have become precious commodities.

As Huntsville continues to grow and expand, city planners are trying to get ahead of the headaches seen in large, fast-growing metropolitan cities by redesigning it as they go for the future, and a central tenet of this strategy involves Land Use.

Land Use is the management and modification, or “urbanization” of a natural environment into residential, commercial, and public “urban open” sectors.

In the past, especially in the past 50 years, Land Use has been geared toward making room for urban sprawl and commercialization at all costs. Shopping centers have focused on gigantic asphalt parking lots where drivers battle constantly for the closest parking spot. Stores sit back off the main thoroughfare to accommodate it, while anxious holiday drivers follow on the heels of customers exiting the storefront like automotive stalkers until they reach their vehicle, either sniping the spot or deciding to try for one that’s closer.

Most of the time however, these parking fields are more than half empty, always built larger than required, leaving an asphalt eyesore and a tremendous waste of land.

In the past few years, Huntsville city planners have been studying Land Use analyses to help reshape Huntsville’s character and to better manage Huntsville’s land and natural environment to fit a more contemporary view of how people live, work and play.

The Shops at Merchants Walk and Shops at Merchants Square on Bob Wallace Avenue are based on “New Urbanism.” While the tenants and some customers perceive there to be insufficient parking, Merchants Square was designed to sit close to the street with some ground-level parking, backed up by a three-floor parking deck.

Jessica Partington, property manager for RCP Properties which developed both shopping centers, said the overwhelming success of the developments has put the need for additional traffic and parking solutions front and center.

“The Shops at Merchants Square has been wildly popular, which is something we will never be upset about, but perhaps a bit more popular than we anticipated,” she said. “When Chuy’s opened, it was a record-breaking opening for them nationwide and no one anticipated how popular it was going to be.

“Of course, we are not upset by that but with that came some unexpected challenges.”

She said that as of now, the parking ratios required for that venue are not showing they are under-parked in terms of code compliance, but there are a couple of things at play.

“Employees are required to park on the upper level of the deck but because there is not what most people perceive as being much parking at ground level, we find that people don’t always go all the way up the deck,” she said. “And on weekends, we find there are parking spots at that last hook in the parking deck and up top that people miss.”

Partington said there is a lot of construction work during the day and construction vehicles in the deck that take up a lot of room and are taking up some spaces that would normally be available.

“But we are nearing the end of that, so it won’t be a problem much longer,” she said. “Also, Aspen Dental will have their own ground-level parking and when they are finished, people can park there at night and on weekends when the problem seems to be worse.”

According to Kelly Schrimsher, director of communications for Mayor Tommy Battle’s office, Huntsville is experiencing some growing pains that can be easily addressed by changing people’s perception.

“The Shops at Merchants Square and the Shops at Merchants Walk on Bob Wallace Avenue are the perfect example,” Schrimsher said. “There is actually plenty of parking. You just have to look at it from a more efficient Land Use perspective and tie it to where the future will be taking us.

“We are rethinking parking requirements to better fit a model for the not so distant future where people are walking more, are driving more electric cars, where more people are using services like Uber, and where people will walk outside the store or restaurant and ‘dial their car’ to come pick them up. Although it may sound farfetched now, it is not so far away from reality.”

Rendering shows an example of a crosswalk idea for Bob Wallace Avenue.

The city is also working on a couple of solutions they believe will help alleviate the Bob Wallace traffic and parking issues as well.

“We are building a decorative pedestrian crosswalk from the much larger parking lot at the Shops at Merchants Walk that will be visually appealing and substantial enough to slow the traffic down on Bob Wallace so people can safely cross back and forth,” said Shane Davis, director of urban and economic development for Huntsville. “The city is acquiring material quotes for the intersection improvements and expect to have it completed in early January. It will also really dress up the area.”

Made of “stamped thermoplastic material” with a brick, stone and slurry concrete design, Davis said it will provide for improved pedestrian crosswalk safety, more driver awareness at the intersection, and overall improved aesthetics of the area.

Over the next year, visitors to that part of the city will also see sidewalks up and down both sides of Bob Wallace from the Parkway to both shopping centers, and down the road there are plans for an equally decorative crosswalk across Memorial Parkway at the Bob Wallace intersection.

“The city also has a plan to connect Regal Drive on the Parkway Place side next to Belk, to the Shops at Merchant Square,” said Partington. “Those through-roads will alleviate some of the traffic flow and allow people to walk a little bit, which we are doing more of in Huntsville.”

“It is a little bit of educating people and preparing them for what we know is coming in the future,” said Schrimsher. “Downtown Huntsville residents have been going through this same evolution since its revitalization began.

“The days of fighting for a parking spot right in the front door and every individual business having their own asphalt parking lot is being phased out and shared parking is being phased in,  If you live downtown, strangers may park in front of or near your home. And they are using parking decks and Uber rather than driving their car everywhere.

“But people who choose to live downtown in areas like Twickenham Square and Avenue Huntsville, do so for the convenience, the amenities, and the pedestrian-friendly environment. They do not have to jump in the car to drive to the grocery store or a restaurant or to have their hair cut or grab a cup of coffee. If they live in these areas, they adjust to it and even enjoy it.”

According to the city’s statistics, Huntsville is a sprawling city overall, but it has population density pockets such as downtown of more than 5,000 people per square mile, making it comparable to cities such as Pittsburgh, Pa., and St. Paul, Minn.

Interestingly, Five Points is an excellent example, originally developed in the early 1900s as a “streetcar suburb” that was not designed for the automobile and is still, today, easily walkable because of it.

Compare that to Cummings Research Park, which was established in 1962.

Designed for driving, originally, there were no restaurants, retail or residential originally allowed within the park.

That began to change when, 1982, the city purchased land and it evolved into Cummings Research Park West. In 2007, Bridge Street Town Centre was developed and it now includes more than 80 restaurants and stores and two hotels. An apartment building has since opened and a third hotel will open soon.

Some sections of Research Park East are being rezoned for small, very condensed multi-use developments, multistoried and sitting close to streets so as not to waste land. The parking will be enough, but it will not be a sprawling field of asphalt.

Tenants can expect some retail-like coffee shops and cafes, and perhaps even hotel rooms on the upper floors to alleviate having to jump in your vehicle for every errand.

Residents are already seeing bikeshares in Cummings Research Park for quick and emissions-free runs.

There are more pedestrian-friendly multi-use developments such as the Village of Providence, downtown’s Twickenham Square, Town Madison along I-565, and MidCity on the old Madison Square Mall property, following a popular trend across the U.S. where people are demanding less pollution, less asphalt, less traffic and more outdoor-friendly landscaping, easier accessibility, and more walkability.

“We recognize that our residents need more mobility options, especially when it comes to urban development,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “With each new project, we look to create safe and unusable connectivity for pedestrians and cyclists as well as public transit and motor vehicles.”

Booz Allen Digital Soldier Program Aims to Make Soldier ‘Unbeatable’

In a conference room at Booz Allen’s fifth-floor Bridge Street office, anyone wearing virtual reality headgear can instantly be standing in the open door of a military plane flying above a training facility on the United States base of the instructor’s choosing.

Open architecture is aimed at reducing weight and providing faster upgrades to equipment on the battlefield. (Photo/Booz Allen)

A first-timer wearing the contraption looks around the inside of the plane, steps to the edge of the door and is gripped by an uneasy sensation after looking down. Minutes later, the same first-timer shoots “bad guys’’ in an urban environment resembling those seen on battle footage from the Middle East, a realistic M4 that is surprisingly light providing the firepower.

There’s more, and it’s all part of Booz Allen’s Digital Soldier initiative the company displayed to media members. Company site leader and Senior Vice President Lincoln Hudson, a veteran with defense department expertise, said Vice President of Global Defense Joel Dillon and Principal of Global Defense Stephanie Boone-Shaw were on a “road show’’ of sorts.

“Joel and Stephanie are demonstrating some of the capabilities Booz Allen has invested in,’’ Hudson said. “They’re demonstrating these technologies and showing everybody what Booz Allen has to offer.’’

Simulation — which Dillon said could be a big money saver for defense — is just part of Digital Soldier.

A primary talking point is “open architecture,’’ which is intended to make adding, upgrading and swapping components easy. For example, Dillon, a jumpmaster and highly decorated Army officer (Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal with Valor Device and Oak Leaf Cluster are on an impressive resume that includes a master’s from Stanford and bachelor’s from West Point) talks about the “Christmas tree’’ effect.

“Soldiers have all of these great pieces of equipment,’’ he said, “but they’re hanging off them like an ornament.’’

With body armor and all the trappings, a soldier carries an added 130 pounds. That’s more than the bulky equipment soldiers had in World War II.

Open architecture is aimed at reducing that weight and providing faster upgrades to equipment on the battlefield.

“The Army has got to modernize, got to really transform how they do business,’’ Boone-Shaw said. “The acquisition process takes too long, is way too slow. Our enemies and Near Peers have watched how the military fights and the tactics while we’ve been at war for a couple of decades.

“They also have access to technology that allowed them to catch up with their capability to the U.S. The U.S. has to maintain the advantage.’’

Speed, integration using open architecture and combining fast-improving technology such as GPS and satellites, mission adaptability and maintaining military superiority are some of the buzz words and phrases involved in Digital Soldier.

But, Dillon said, Booz Allen sets itself apart from other firms by taking a “holistic’’ approach to consider the individual. He compared the approach to the way an NFL team maintains assets such as a valuable player through everything from nutrition and condition to the best equipment and devices. These allow for better and faster decision making on the battlefield.

“I don’t know if there’s anything more valuable than the sons and daughters of our citizens,’’ he said.

Digital Soldier, Dillion said, has been initiated to give those sons and daughters their best chance at readiness, lethality, and survivability. Combining technology and making it work “synergistically’’ can produce a soldier who will be “unbeatable on the battlefield.’’

“We want to give them the best training and best equipment to get them home safely.”