Construction of Mixed-Use Development on Governors Drive Set for Early 2021

Developers of a mixed-use “I-565 gateway” to Huntsville’s Westside have released a preliminary rendering of the project and anticipate a “first quarter 2021” construction start.

Preliminary rendering of the planned mixed-use development on Governors Drive in Huntsville’s Westside. (The Beach Company)

The property, some 13 acres of land on Governors Drive near the intersections with 13th and 14th streets, will be developed by The Beach Company, a Charleston, S.C.-based development company.

The multibuilding community will feature nearly 26,000 square feet of office, retail and dining space in addition to 260 multifamily units, 14 townhomes and a 100-key hotel.

Residential amenities will include a pool, a fitness area, a clubhouse and ample green space with a dog park.

The planned project will complement the neighboring Stovehouse complex and will feature pedestrian walkways between the two developments.

“This community addition will help continue the momentum of growth along Governors Drive through increased walkability and connectivity,” said Ned Miller, development manager with The Beach Company. “The project was thoughtfully designed to enhance the experience of the growing number of residents and businesses expanding to Huntsville’s flourishing Westside.”

Little Richard Mural Unveiled at MidCity – A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom!

Good Golly, Miss Molly!

Hoping to avoid “slippin’ and slidin’,” friends, officials and family gathered Tuesday night in MidCity District for a special unveiling.

The crowd braved the threat of rain to celebrate the colorful tribute that will serve to forever immortalize the life and music of Richard Wayne Penniman, famously known to the world as “Little Richard.”

Hosted by the MidCity Development team and with the blessing of the Penniman family, the unveiling of artist Logan Tanner’s vibrant mural in a formal presentation will allow Little Richard’s story to live on in the form of a visual masterpiece.

“It is a special moment for the Penniman family,” said David Person, the family’s representative. “On behalf of the family, I would like to thank all of you for being here tonight.”

Oakwood University President Dr. Les Pollard and Dr. Carlton Byrd, senior pastor of Oakwood University Church, spoke of Richard, his faith, and his strong connection to the college and to Huntsville.

“Richard had a special place in this city” said Dr. Byrd. “He was a person you would never ever forget. And if he knew you, he never forgot you.”

In 1957, Little Richard answered a higher calling. A calling which brought him to Huntsville.

A larger-than-life mural at Wahlburgers in Huntsville’s MidCity District celebrates the larger-than-life persona of Little Richard. (Photo/Steve Babin)

It was here Richard enrolled at Oakwood University to study for the ministry. Richard was inspired by E.C. Ward, then pastor of Oakwood. Richard entered to learn, and he departed to serve by becoming a traveling evangelist.

As an ordained minister, he officiated the weddings of Tom Petty, Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, and Little Steven Van Zandt.

As an entertainer with his glamorous sequin and rhinestone studded capes and suits, Richard was quite the visual showman as well as an exceptional performer. He was in the inaugural class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as his career spanned seven decades. He was an inspiration to performers such as James Brown, Michael Jackson, Prince, and Tina Turner.

Driving in from the east, the 40-foot-wide-by-30-foot-tall mural adorning the side of Wahlburgers at MidCity is impossible to miss.

Capturing the essence of Richard’s high-energy antics, the mural presents Little Richard at the peak of his popularity in the late 1950s. The colors are bold and bright, with contrasting hues of orange, yellow, teal, turquoise, with a touch of purple, all serving to convey the liveliness of Richard’s performances. The projection mapping display by LED Orange at the end of the presentation, brought the mural to life – in synch with his music.

It was said that Richard’s charisma also was the magnet that brought people to the word of God.

He was laid to rest at Oakwood Memorial Gardens Cemetery but his spirit will live on at MidCity.

 

 

 

 

Banking Industry Sees Digital, Mobile Services Increase During Pandemic

With the onset of the global pandemic, businesses rolled up their collective sleeves and grimly faced the arduous task of shifting gears.

And financial institutions quickly found themselves in the spotlight. When it comes to continued access to money, whether it be a loan, savings, or one’s paycheck, everyone feels the effect when that access is hindered.

The banking industry with its customers faced technological hurdles and economic hardships. But banks stepped up with solutions to protect their customers and employees as well as keeping themselves insulated against financial catastrophe – such as the crash of 2008.

“The current COVID pandemic focused a spotlight on the importance of providing uninterrupted services to all customers, including, personal, business and government,” said Tim Singleton, senior commercial lending manager for Bank Independent. “In many ways, the banking industry became hyper-vigilant preparing for multiple unknown economic factors.”

If one thing is certain, COVID-19 has been an accelerant for increased consumer usage of digital banking technologies.

Although most banks were already invested in digitalized and mobile banking services, the pandemic quickly prompted many of non-to-low-end digital users into the age of mobile banking.

Many banks, which had mobile banking tools and were already maintaining digital relationships with customers, had to quickly adjust to a sudden increase in demand for mobile services.

According to data collected by Fidelity National Information Services, there was a 145 percent spike in the average daily traffic for mobile banking platforms April 15, as compared with the March’s numbers. Along with the uptick in traffic, new registrations for mobile banking apps jumped 207 percent.

“Wells Fargo has seen increased digital and mobile logins, mobile deposit volume, checks deposited using mobile devices and online wire transfers since COVID-19 started,” said Stephen Norris, regional bank president for Wells Fargo. “All of this translated into more digital banking access and transactions than ever before.”

For Wells Fargo, those numbers are significant when compared 2019’s second quarter statistics. For April 2020, digital logins were up 21.5 percent, mobile deposit dollar volume was up 108.3 percent, and online wires transactions were up 49.6 percent. There were also 31.7 million checks deposited using mobile devices, which was a 35.9 increase over a year ago.

Naturally, there were learning curves and the need for increased bandwidth capacity.

“Our IT Department ensured an uninterrupted workflow for our team members who suddenly found themselves working remotely,” said Singleton. “The robust features built into Sync Mobile and Online found popularity with our customers.”

Bank Independent’s loan processing teams shifted gears by using the digital signature platform, in lieu of traditional signatures to close documents.

Since the pandemic exploded, customers have significantly changed how they do their banking. According to an FIS survey, 45 percent of consumers said they started using some form of mobile wallet following the pandemic’s onset. Once comfortable with usage, it is seen as another option, in addition to the face-to-face banking.

However, there are customers who prefer the return of “brick and mortar” banking.

“I think the industry will scramble to find the balance between digital and personal,” said Singleton. “Our customers have voiced their desire for things to return to ‘normal.’

“We have a plan in place that will accommodate our customers in a manner that is safe and secure for both the customer and our team members.”

 

 

 

Flu Season Could Impact Health Care Resources in Wake of Pandemic

The impending flu season could strain an already stretched health care system.

At last week’s COVID-19 update, Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers said the flu season could impact the pressures put on the area’s healthcare system.

“I do want to encourage everybody to start thinking about getting your flu shot,’’ he said. “Those will be available soon. It’s going to be very hard if people don’t get the flu shot and do get the flu.

“When they show up at any health care facility, we’re going to assume you have COVID until we know you don’t have COVID. So it will use up a lot of tests, take up a lot of your time, you’ll have to be quarantined, et cetera. My best advice is to get the flu shot.”

Meanwhile, the federal government reported it’s close to developing a vaccine for COVID-19 to be widely available in 2021. State officials are starting preparations for providing vaccines when they become available.

“We’ve got a large number of people from Madison County on a call (Tuesday),” Spillers said. “We’re going to be working with the state and probably over the next, I’d say within two weeks we’ll have a good plan. Long before the vaccine’s here, we’ll have a good plan not only for how we’re going to distribute, who we’re going to test, some idea of how many we think we might get, those types of things.”

As of Monday, the Alabama Department of Public Health reported 131,405 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 2,292 deaths. Those totals for Madison County were 7,267 and 67.

 

COVID-19 Causes Two High School Football Teams to Forfeit Games

Madison County officials announced last Wednesday a two-week trendline for the coronavirus had remained flat for the past month with around 40 new positive tests per week. The announcement was made at the latest COVID-19 news briefing.

Two days later, the coronavirus splashed back into local headlines with Madison City Schools Superintendent Ed Nichols announcing Bob Jones would forfeit two football games because nine players had tested positive.

The Patriots forfeited a region game to Florence and will also forfeit this week’s non-region game against Auburn while the team shuts down activities. The second forfeit will leave Bob Jones with records of 2-3 overall and 0-2 in Class 7A, Region 4.

The school system also delayed Monday’s expected reopening of on-campus learning for one week. There were reportedly 15 positive cases and 170 students and staff quarantined across the system.

However, Bob Jones isn’t the only football team sidelined by COVID-19.

Monday, days after Madison County Schools students returned to campus, system spokesman Tim Hall said Hazel Green would shut down its football season for 14 days after three players tested positive and 15 other Trojans are in quarantine. Hazel Green is off this week, but will forfeit a region game to Muscle Shoals Sept. 25 and will have records of 2-4 overall and 0-4 in Class 6A, Region 8.

Huntsville City Schools, which reported nine positive cases with 114 quarantined among its students and staff, also reopened campuses Monday to many of the system’s students.

 

Huntsville Chosen to Test Google Fiber’s 2-Gig Service

Google Fiber is looking for a few good people to test its new 2-Gig service.

According to a blog from Google Fiber’s Amalia O’Sullivan, director of product management, the company is testing the service next month in Huntsville and Nashville.

“Game changers, super users, and families who need more from their internet can join the Google Fiber Trusted Tester program to be among the first to put the extra speed to use,” O’Sullivan wrote. “Our testers help us make sure we’re launching the best products and services possible for our customers, and we appreciate their help!”

To apply to be a Trusted Tester (having a Google Fiber account is required), visit https://goo.gle/2GzPgau

The 2-Gig service costs $100 per month, that includes a new Wi-Fi router and Wi-Fi mesh extender. Google Fiber’s 1-Gig service is $70 per month.

O’Sullivan wrote the demand has increased due to the number of people working from home and students taking classes online because of the pandemic.

“This year has made this need for more speed and bandwidth especially acute, as many of us are now living our entire lives — from work to school to play — within our homes, creating unprecedented demand for internet capacity,” she wrote. “At $100 a month, it’s double the top download speed of our 1 Gig product (with the same great upload speed) and comes with a new Wi-Fi 6 router and mesh extender, so everyone gets a great online experience no matter where they are in the house.”

O’Sullivan said 2 Gig will roll out to all of Google Fiber’s Nashville and Huntsville customers this year, with plans to launch the service across most of the company’s Google Fiber and Google Fiber Webpass cities in early 2021.

 

With a Heart of Gold, Colin Wayne and Redline Make Products of Steel

TANNER — Decorated Army veteran seriously injured in Afghanistan.

Redline Steel has produced some 5 million products from its 110,000 square-foot facility in SouthPoint Business Park.

Traveling the world as a fitness model.

Entrepreneur and steel manufacturing guru.

Humanitarian and philanthropist in line to receive Huntsville’s “Key to the City”.

A person can accomplish a lot in just 31 years. Ask Huntsville native and social media extraordinaire Colin Wayne.

His company, Redline Steel, is ranked 110th among the Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Private Companies in America – and is the fastest-growing company in the state

. In addition, Inc. 5000 recognized Redline Steel as the No. 4 Fastest Growing Manufacturing Company nationally with a recorded growth increase of 3,215 percent from 2019 to 2020.

Quickly becoming one of the largest steel monogram companies in the U.S., Redline Steel is expecting to surpass $100 million in sales by the end of the year.

But, to Wayne, giving to the community is what moves him.

“I am an entrepreneur, but I have always been a humanitarian and philanthropist at heart,” he said.

Wayne’s journey to becoming a steel manufacturing expert has been nothing short of extraordinary.

He was seriously injured in a rocket attack eight years ago in Afghanistan and spent six months in physical therapy and recovery from lumbar fusion surgery on his back.

Transitioning out of the Army in 2013, he traveled the world as a fitness model gracing the cover of more than 50 men’s health magazines and promoting products for Under Armour and Nike.

Moving back to Huntsville in 2015, it was a fortuitous business transaction that led Wayne to steel manufacturing and eventually build Redline Steel into his own company in January 2016.

Colin Wayne makes a presentation to Huntsville Police Capt. Mike Izzo. (Redline Photo)

Since then, Wayne has paid his good fortune back to the local, regional, and national communities that have resulted in his success many times over.

His company donated $50,000 to the Huntsville Police Department and, in 2017, donated $25,000 to the American Red Cross. Redline Steel has also given back to Alabama farmers, veterans groups, schoolteachers, and truckers.

In the meantime, like hundreds of other businesses, Redline Steel has been adversely affected by the pandemic.

But, unlike hundreds of other businesses, he didn’t let it adversely affect his employees. Redline Steel employs more than 85 employees and based on current projections, Wayne expects that to reach over 100 by end of the year.

“When the coronavirus hit this spring, I doubled our workforce, and we did not lay anyone off, even during the worst of it,” Wayne said. “Then, to lessen the negative impact, I paid all our employees’ house payments in April.

“The coronavirus has been challenging because we have struggled like everyone else to find ways to combat it and keep going. It caused a lot of stress on the company’s growth because of the unknowns and we have had more unemployment the past couple months than we have had in over 50 years.

“People aren’t spending like they were before the pandemic, so we had to get creative to find different ways to monetize.”

He said now that almost every state including Alabama has mandatory mask requirements, they began getting a lot of requests for them through their website. They set up a partnership to make and sell face masks but – to him – that wasn’t enough.

“We donated over $4 million in products to provide support for essential healthcare workers and partnered with my friend, actress Megan Fox, to donate $3.2 million to medical support personnel and first responders,” he said.

From its 110,000 square-foot facility in SouthPoint Business Park just off Interstates 65 and 565 in Tanner, Redline Steel manages all manufacturing and fulfillment coming from their online retail store. In its first four years in business, they have moved some 5 million products. Their mostly steel-based products include personalized and monogrammed gifts, home décor, jewelry, children’s items, and accessories.

Colin Wayne takes a selfie with President Trump after a ceremony in Washington.

This year, President Trump invited him to the White House where he awarded Wayne with a signed commendation plaque. They also took a selfie together and Trump bought an American flag from his company’s Patriotic Flag Collection.

More recently, he was nominated for the 2020 Russell G. Brown Executive Leadership Award in Alabama for Small Businesses and will be receiving Huntsville’s Key to the City recognition for his charitable community involvement.

In August, Redline Steel launched three nonprofit campaigns.

“I look for causes whose missions align with my values and beliefs,” Wayne said. “My five-year-old niece was recently diagnosed with cancer and the Olivia Hope Foundation specializes in pediatric cancer.

“She is currently in remission, but she is still on oral chemotherapy and it is very difficult.”

The Olivia Hope Foundation was created in honor of 11-year-old Olivia Hope LoRusso, who lost a 15-month fight with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Redline Steel is offering exclusive home décor pieces with every donation. For information, visit oliviahope.org.

“We are also launching a campaign with Midnight Mission,” he said. “They feed the homeless and, of course, that is important to me because 70 percent of homeless people are war veterans.”

In August, a long list of Hollywood celebrities teamed up with Habitat for Humanity to promote a social media campaign called #Hammertime. Redline Steel became involved by making a special steel hammer to send to every person who donated $25 or more.

“And Habitat for Humanity,” he said. “They are a much larger organization obviously, but they are also a Christian organization that helps people in need to build homes.”

Moog Expands Huntsville Footprint with Regional Support Center

Another innovative technology company is expanding its presence in Huntsville. 

Moog – the name rhymes with vogue – has opened a regional support center at 360F Quality Circle in Cummings Research Park West.

The company cites the proximity to Redstone Arsenal and Marshall Space Flight Center as key to its long-term growth strategy to better support its aerospace, defense, and industrial customers. 

Martin Bobak, Moog’s vice president defense sustainment, said, “The Regional Support Center will also support growing defense sustainment activities in support of the warfighter.”

The New York-based company specializes in the design and manufacture of advanced motion control products for aerospace, defense, industrial and medical applications. 

The new facility consists of a large laboratory to support local research, development, and testing activities. It also offers abundant office space and essential collaboration space.

Huntsville native Mary Occhipinti takes on the role of Moog’s Huntsville operations’ site manager. She has supported a variety of Moog business groups for more than a decade.

“Huntsville is recognized as a thriving metropolitan area for both business and living,” she said. “With this opening, we have already doubled our local presence and plan to add additional technical positions in the days ahead.” 

For job opportunities, visit www.moog.com/careers.

Moog held a “soft opening” in late August but plans a more formal grand opening based on COVID-19 regulations.

Mayor Introduces $236M Balanced Budget for FY 2021

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle introduced his Fiscal Year 2021 budget which includes $236 million in general fund operations and $140 million in capital spending.

The budget represents the continuing commitment of city government to provide quality services and investments to a growing community while meeting the challenges of current economic events.

“We’ve taken a cautious, conservative approach to next year’s spending while still keeping up with growth and demand for services,” said Battle. “I am grateful to our department heads for their ability to keep this city moving forward while keeping a watchful eye on every penny spent.”

The general fund represents an $8.1 million increase over FY-20 and provides basic level funding for municipal departments. The bulk of any increase supports personnel needs to accommodate growth and staffing at new facilities. Support to the Huntsville City School system remains fully funded and capital projects will proceed as planned.

Finance Director Penny Smith said she is cautiously optimistic about revenue in the coming year. The city is still growing, housing sales are up, and the income base remains steady thanks to Redstone Arsenal, numerous large corporate employers, growth in the construction market and the abundance of new jobs being filled in the community.

“Sales and use taxes are holding steady, but we recognize we will still have COVID impacts and we’ve taken that into consideration,” said Smith. “Revenues from the hospitality sector and some retail are expected to remain down and the budget reflects those projections.”

Half of the FY-20 Fiscal Year was under the pandemic, forcing “normal” out the window and costing the city about $15 million in lost revenues. Thanks to mid-year cuts and adjustments, the city is ending the fiscal year on an even note.

“I am proud of how our departments adapted to meet these everyday challenges,” said Battle. “We placed a limited freeze on hiring and cut operating budgets 5 percent, forcing everyone to do more with less.”

The City did not cut the budgets of outside agencies during the pandemic but asked them to consider reducing their annual appropriation by 5 percent for FY-21. Nearly every agency cooperated with the request, an indication of the community’s shared commitment to get through this pandemic together.

“The proposed budget is structured to meet the goals and objectives demanded by our growing city, to keep our reserves healthy and uphold the conservative fiscal spending principles that have made Huntsville a leader in municipal fiscal management,” said Battle.

Highlights of the FY-21 Budget

  • New fire station for Huntsville’s western area
  • New fire ladder truck for Station 18
  • 2 new buses for Huntsville Transit
  • $10.2 million in street resurfacing
  • $14 million in roads maintenance, sidewalks and drainage
  • $26 million in new street construction
  • $46.7 million for municipal facilities (includes new City Hall)
  • $8.9 million for recreation projects
  • $24.3 million for outside agency appropriations
  • 1 percent cost of living increase for employees

The City Council will hold a work session Tuesday at 5 p.m. to review the budget and is expected to vote on the spending plan Sept. 24.

 

The Gun Sales of Madison County: A Booming Business

2020 might well be referred to as “The Year of the Firearm.”

“People want to defend their homes, their communities,” said Melanie Hammer Murray, owner of Bullet and Barrel in Huntsville. (Photo/Steve Babin)

Amid the uncertainty brought on by a pandemic coupled with civil unrest, gun sales have been on a steep, upward trajectory.

Firearm sales took off like a rocket with the arrival of COVID-19 in early March. Just in the first seven months of 2020, approximately 19 million firearms have been sold in the United states.

The states topping this year’s gun purchases are Illinois, Kentucky, Texas, Florida, and California. These four states have had the most background checks for the sale, transfer, or licensing of guns, to date.

Although background checks are key indicator of firearm sales, it also can encompass the sale of multiple firearms.

Thus far, the highest months for background checks have been June at 3.9 million, March at 3.7 million, and July at 3.6 million. According to the FBI, these three months have been top record breakers for background checks associated with the sale, transfer or permitting of firearms since the Bureau began keeping statistics in 1998.

What is especially noteworthy about this year’s gun buyers is the high percentage of first-time owners. According to the National Shoot Sports Foundation, it is estimated that 40 percent of those purchasing firearms are first-time buyers.

“People want to defend their homes, their communities,” said Melanie Hammer Murray, owner of Bullet and Barrel in Huntsville. “There are so many layers to this onion.”

In a “normal” year, there is a regular pattern of gun purchasing, one that peaks around the holidays and drops off around January and February, then May and June, and once again in August and September.

It is also a common trend for gun sales to rise during presidential election years. Fueled in part by potential firearm restrictions that may come with a new administration, gun sales often pick up the closer it gets to the November elections.

“It was quiet on the gun range during April and May; then the rioting started, and people just went crazy again,” said Russ Durling, owner of Last Resort Guns.

“Gun sales follow a four-year cycle,” said Russ Durling, owner of Last Resort Guns in Madison. “In July-August 2019, we were just at the three-year point and gun sales were really bad.”

This election year’s gun sales have been unusually high largely due to COVID-19, a highly contentious political divide, and the heated uprisings over racial inequality and police brutality.

“We expect to be quiet in January and February,” said Durling. “Then, COVID arrives and people got really panicky. There was a big surge in gun purchases, we were selling quite a lot of guns. It was quiet on the gun range during April and May; then the rioting started, and people just went crazy again.”

Although there has been a significant uptick in new gun ownership, the market is fraught with supply chain issues.

“The big challenge for all firearm stores is that there is not enough ammo or firearms,” said Murray.

Not only are raw materials and components harder to come by, COVID has completely changed up the production dynamics. Social distancing on the production line means staggered shifts, fewer employees, and far less production. This has resulted in the “perfect storm” of raw material storages and reduced firearm production, which comes with its own set of consequences.

“The production line was broken, COVID messed up the supply chain,” said Durling. “No supply; that induces panic buying. There was an ammunition shortage and people were hoarding. It’s a big problem – burgeoning demand and no supply.”

While there has a been a huge boom on firearm and ammo sales this year, Durling speculates that by next summer, business will be quite different.

“There’s lot of people that are going to be saddled with guns and ammo that they didn’t really want and they won’t be buying any in the future.”