Trash Pandas to Reveal Jerseys, Offer an Experience for Fans

MADISON — When it comes to baseball, particularly the Rocket City Trash Pandas, Ralph Nelson believes in going big.

In fact, there’s nothing minor about the baseball team that set all sorts of Minor League Baseball merchandise records and recently passed the $1 million mark in sales.

And the Trash Pandas don’t even play until next April.

In the meantime, the team will unveil its five – yes, five – inaugural season uniforms and offer fans the chance to take the field in official, personalized jerseys.

The uniform reveal will be Thursday night in a big bash at Big Spring Park in downtown Huntsville. It all starts at 6 p.m. and local television personalities will model the full official uniforms, including the Salute to Military Sunday/Holiday uniform, modeled by Redstone Arsenal Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Billy Counts.

“We are going to tip our hats to the military every Sunday,” said Nelson, the team’s CEO and managing partner. “If we have games on Memorial Day or the Fourth of July, we’ll wear them then, too.”

Replica jerseys will go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. at the Trash Pandas Emporium in the Bridge Street Town Centre, next to the Apple Store.

Also in Thursday’s lineup are food trucks, music, “bouncy houses,” T-shirt giveaways …  and more, as Nelson hits another home run.

Nelson and his staff engineered a ground-breaking ceremony last year that drew hundreds of people, a team name release party that packed a local craft brewery and a logo/team colors celebration-fireworks gala that packed Madison’s Dublin Park.

So, naturally, this isn’t going to be your standard uniform unveiling – if there is such a thing.

“We decided to turn it into an ‘experience,’” he said. “It’s also another chance for us to integrate with the community.”

So, continuing its mission of fan involvement, the team is offering fans a chance to purchase authentic inaugural season jerseys and take part in the Authentic Jersey Experience.

“We are really excited about the Authentic Jersey Experience,” Nelson said. “The fans who take part will get their jerseys (next March) in the team locker room and go out onto the field before the players do.

“If you’re a baseball fan, this is what it’s all about.”

The package includes a Rawlings authentic Trash Pandas jersey and a ballpark/locker room experience featuring the use of a player’s locker, batting practice on the field, and a post-game “spread” in the players’ lounge, all courtesy of the Trash Pandas clubhouse manager. The jerseys will be custom made for each fan, including size, name and number.

The Experience will be available for purchase for $199 Thursday night through June 30. It can be purchased online or at the Trash Pandas Emporium after Thursday’s event. On July 1, the cost goes up to $249 and wraps up at the end of the year.

“Rather than just box up the jerseys (for the fans who bought them), we decided to offer them this experience,” Nelson said.

Yep, imagine that, Nelson thinking outside the box.

Navistar to make $125M expansion here; add 145 jobs

Navistar, which has an engine plant in Huntsville, will expand its operations here with the addition of a gear box and engine manufacturing facility.

The Huntsville City Council approved an agreement with the company for the $125 million plant that will create some 145 jobs. Navistar employs 126 workers at its diesel engine plant near Huntsville International Airport. The new facility will be adjacent to the engine plant.

Navistar’s International A26 engine built in Huntsville.
(Navistar Photo)

“The Huntsville facility is an important part of Navistar’s manufacturing footprint, and we look forward to the new opportunities this investment allows,” said Lyndi McMillan, Navistar’s director of business communications. “This proposed expansion would increase the company’s capacity to continue to build its International A26 engine as well as produce its next-generation big-bore diesel engines in Alabama.”

Construction is expected to start next year with completion scheduled for December 2021. It will begin operations by the end of September 2022, according to the agreement.

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.

Raytheon, United Technologies ‘Merger of Equals’ Creates Defense-Aerospace Giant

Raytheon and United Technologies have announced an all-stock agreement the two companies call a merger of equals.

It will also create the defense-aerospace giant Raytheon Technologies with an expected $74 billion in annual sales, second only to Boeing’s $101 billion. The transaction website is www.futureofaerospacedefense.com.

Both companies have a significant presence in Huntsville. 

“Today is an exciting and transformational day for our companies, and one that brings with it tremendous opportunity for our future success,” said Tom Kennedy, Raytheon chairman/CEO. “Raytheon Technologies will continue a legacy of innovation with an expanded aerospace and defense portfolio supported by the world’s most dedicated workforce.

“With our enhanced capabilities, we will deliver value to our customers by anticipating and addressing their most complex challenges, while delivering significant value to shareowners.”

The merger of Raytheon, a leading defense company, and United Technologies, a leading aerospace company, comprised of Collins Aerospace and Pratt & Whitney, will offer a complementary portfolio of platform-agnostic aerospace and defense technologies.

“The combination of United Technologies and Raytheon will define the future of aerospace and defense,” said Greg Hayes, United Technologies chairman/CEO. “Our two companies have iconic brands that share a long history of innovation, customer focus and proven execution. By joining forces, we will have unsurpassed technology and expanded R&D capabilities that will allow us to invest through business cycles and address our customers’ highest priorities. Merging our portfolios will also deliver cost and revenue synergies that will create long-term value for our customers and shareowners.”

Raytheon plans to consolidate its four businesses into two businesses: Intelligence, Space & Airborne Systems and Integrated Defense & Missile Systems. The new businesses will join Collins Aerospace and Pratt & Whitney to form the four businesses of Raytheon Technologies.

Hayes will be named CEO of Raytheon Technologies and Kennedy will be appointed executive chairman. Hayes will assume the role of chairman and CEO two years after closing. 

All the Bells and Whistles: $38.2 Million Luxury Apartment Development Planned for Balch Road

MADISON — Madison is about to see a $38.2 million, 258-unit luxury apartment development.

Florence-based Bobo Development Group plans to break ground in July on the project, which will be across Balch Road from the Huntsville Hospital Heart Center.

Construction is expected to take about 19 months and is being handled by Birmingham-based Capstone Building Corp., according to James Bobo II, chief executive officer of Bobo Development Group.

According to Bobo, the median household income for this particular area is $115,000 and those families didn’t have a lot of options when it came to high-end apartments with tech-based, future-forward, upscale amenities.

“One of the things I noticed was there was a lot of class C and class B products, and some older products that didn’t have the amenities that, number one, this area can support and, number two, that this area is looking for,” Bobo said. “That’s one of the gaps (the development) is going to be filling.”

The apartments will feature electric charging stations for cars and Dormakaba electronic entry systems for each unit, which will allow residents to enter their homes or gain access to the clubhouse by using their phone or a keycard.

“We are trying to get away from physical keys,” Bobo said.

For professionals on the go, the complex will also have a Parcel Pending electronic locker system at the clubhouse. There will be cold-storage capabilities so residents can have their groceries delivered and not have to worry about them spoiling under the unforgiving Alabama sun. Residents will simply have a QR code sent to their phone when an item arrives and all they have to do is stop by the locker and scan the code to collect their item.

Inside the apartments, residents can expect to see granite countertops, tile backsplashes, high-end floors, and tile showers.

“Huntsville is what I call a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) metro and I feel like they are not getting what they want, as far as some of these tech pieces at where they are living,” Bobo said. “So, I feel like some of the amenities that I mentioned earlier are going to fill a gap in what that particular type of demographic is looking for.”

Lumberjacks, Flannel Ribbon-Cutting Mark Rainy Opening of Duluth Trading Co.

MADISON — Duluth Trading Co., known for its durable, high-quality apparel and iconic TV commercials, opened its first Alabama store in weather befitting the company’s products.

Despite the rain, local dignitaries and excited patrons gathered in front of the store for the cutting of a flannel ribbon, followed by Timberworks traveling Lumberjack Show.

Duluth Trading Co. is famous for its apparel and TV commercials. (Photo by Tina Simon)

“We had a lot of people ask us whether the rain put a damper on our grand opening, but actually, bad weather fits our brand for practical, functional clothing,” said store manager Christopher Sailor. “Our customers will tell you a little rain never slows us down or affects the enthusiasm our customers have for our merchandise.

“In spite of the intermittent drizzle, we had a steady flow of customers throughout the day and we had a lot of people telling us how excited they were to have a Duluth Trading Company store here in the Valley.”

The Minnesota-based company was founded in 1989 as a catalog and, later, successful Internet-only retailer. They began selectively opening stores in 2016 and today have 54 stores across the U.S.

Though the store at Town Madison is the first in the state, Sailor said Duluth Trading already has a large concentration of customers in the area.

“Customer demand brought us to the Madison area,” he said “Madison is an expanding research, technology and high-tech manufacturing center, which fits Duluth’s solution-based culture and products.

Wood chips fly during the lumberjack show.

“We’re very excited to bring our unique retail experience, apparel and accessories to the loyal and hard-working Duluth customers in the area.”

Perched on a side street carved out of Graphics Drive and appropriately named Angry Beaver Way, the Duluth Trading Co. store is the first of many retail tenants to open on the old Intergraph campus section of Town Madison.

In addition to the large and enthusiastic customer base Duluth has here, Sailor said the location near the new Rocket City Trash Pandas baseball stadium is part of a broader regional draw for the store.

“Our new neighbors and visitors [across North Alabama and Tennessee] can depend on quality, unique products and a retail experience that puts customer service first,” he said. “Duluth is known for its high-quality, solution-based casual wear and workwear for men and women, but in addition to apparel, we also carry travel bags, dog gear, apothecary and more.

“We bring humor to every day universal truths and offer an outstanding customer experience, which really sets us apart.”

Aerojet Rocketdyne Opens State-of-the-Art Propulsion Facility in Huntsville

Huntsville can expect up to 600 new jobs according to Gov. Kay Ivey, thanks to Aerojet Rocketdyne’s opening of a 136,000 square-foot rocket propulsion advanced manufacturing facility.

Dignitaries cut the ceremonial ribbon at Aerojet Rocketdyne’s 136,000 square-foot rocket propulsion advanced manufacturing facility. (Photo by Jonathan Stinson)

“Between the capabilities of the Alabama workforce and your company’s innovation, our possibilities seem limitless,” Ivey said. “Aerojet’s continued expansion of its location in Huntsville will bring more than 600 new jobs and it clearly demonstrates their confidence in the Rocket City and the State of Alabama.”

In addition to Ivey and Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO Eileen Drake, many senior Alabama officials were on hand for a ribbon-cutting Friday, including Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks and State Director of Commerce Greg Canfield.

The facility is at 7800 Pulaski Pike and will produce products such as solid rocket motor cases and other hardware for the Standard Missile-3, Thermal High Altitude Arial Defense System and other U.S. defense and space programs.

It has also been designed for new program opportunities including hypersonic and the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program. 

Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO Eileen Drake addresses the crowd during the company’s ribbon cutting ceremony for its rocket propulsion advanced manufacturing facility.

“The AMF provides Aerojet Rocketdyne the capabilities we need to advance our nation’s security today and the further technologies that will allow us to meet the challenges of tomorrow,” Drake said.

In his remarks, Battle recounted some of the conversations he and Drake had about her vision for the company to be an employer of choice in its field and how Huntsville could play a role and work collaboratively with them to make that happen.

“Aerojet Rocketdyne has invested many, many times into this community,” Battle said. “And, as they have invested, their name is out there as an employer of choice.

“… Many of you don’t know, but this building was built by the Industrial Development Board of the Chamber of Commerce and it was built by that group for Aerojet Rocketdyne so we could make a facility here that would be second to none.”

The manufacturing facility is a continuation of growth by Aerojet Rocketdyne in the area. The company made Huntsville its headquarters for a new Defense Business Unit in 2016 and opened a 122,000 square-foot defense headquarters facility June 6. 

Drake cited Huntsville’s technical workforce of engineers and scientist, along with its close proximity to the company’s key customer base and government partners as making the city an ideal location for the Defense Business Unit.

“I still have the personal letter Mayor Tommy Battle sent me that said ‘Eileen, how about a rocket headquarters in the Rocket City. Think Big,’” Drake said. “I think we’ve thought big and we’ve kept our promise.”

Aerojet Rocketdyne’s new 136,000 square-foot Advanced Manufacturing Facility will produce advanced propulsion products such as solid rocket motor cases and other hardware for critical U.S. defense and space programs. (Aerojet Rocketdyne Photo)

Kroger Closing Drake Avenue Store

Citing millions of dollars in losses, the Kroger Co. announced it was closing its Drake Avenue store in Huntsville.

The closing, which will impact some 100 employees, is effective July 13. The company said the employees will be offered jobs at other area Kroger stores.

The company said the store has struggled financially, including posting more than $3 million in losses since 2015.

“Closing stores is always a last resort, and only considered after all other alternatives have been exhausted,” spokeswoman Melissa Eads said.

She said there are two other Kroger stores less than five miles away from the Drake Avenue store – one on Logan Drive and South Memorial Parkway and the other on Oakwood Avenue and the Parkway.

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.