Rocket City Trash Pandas Announce Single-Game Ticket Sales Date

MADISON — The Rocket City Trash Pandas have announced that individual game tickets – including Opening Night – will go on sale to the general public March 14 and March 15 at the Toyota Field box office only. Online sales of single game tickets will be offered beginning March 16.

Grand Opening Weekend for the ticket office and The Junkyard Team Store will take place from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. March 14; and, noon to 6 p.m. March 15. The opening of The Junkyard will offer numerous Inaugural Season merchandise items for the first time.

“We can now answer the number one question Trash Pandas fans have asked for more than a year: ‘When do single-game tickets go on sale?’,” said President and CEO, Ralph Nelson, “We appreciate the patience, enthusiasm and support our fanbase has shown throughout this journey and we are excited that this day is finally upon us.

“Like all Trash Pandas events leading to Opening Day, this will be a party – all weekend long.”

Aside from the chance to purchase tickets, the weekend will feature live music, family entertainment, and allow fans to experience Toyota Field for the first time. Ticket purchasers will have the opportunity to sit in their seats, as the concourse level will be open to the public.
Ticket prices are: Box seats: $16 in advance; $18 day of game; Reserved seats: $14 in advance, $16 day of game; General admission (standing room, Budweiser Berm and Inline Electric Rock Porch): – $8; Standing room with SportsMED Stadium Club access: $25. Children 2 and under are admitted free.

Ticket purchases are limited to 12 per game for each customer. For those desiring to purchase more than 12 seats for a game, they should contact the Trash Pandas Group Sales Department at (256) 325-1549.

Season tickets, 23- game Mini-Plans and group outings are on sale now. Call (256) 325-1546 to order; or, visit www.trashpandasbaseball.com.

The Toyota Field Opening Day is April 15 against the Mississippi Braves at 6:35 pm.

HudsonAlpha Launches Biotech Mentoring Program for Entrepreneurs

The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology has launched a mentoring program to help strengthen biotech and life sciences entrepreneurs as business leaders in North Alabama, capitalizing on the wealth of business talent in the region.

The program, called Navigate, was established last fall and is modeled after MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service program which has been mentoring entrepreneurs for more than 20 years.

Through careful, thoughtful and deliberate selection, Navigate matches growing entrepreneurs with teams of c-suite executives, experienced entrepreneurs and subject matter experts from North Alabama to provide them a group of confidential and conflict-free advisors.

“HudsonAlpha founders Jim Hudson and Lonnie McMillian were both serial entrepreneurs and mentors to countless entrepreneurs, including some of the Navigate mentors,” said Carter Wells, vice president for economic development at HudsonAlpha and director of Navigate. “Navigate is a way for us to bring the entrepreneurial and mentor spirit that created HudsonAlpha to entrepreneurs looking to grow in the life sciences community.”

Navigate’s first class of mentors includes a who’s-who of business executives, serial entrepreneurs and civic leaders. The current mentors are:

  • Paul Gierow, Founder, GATR Technologies
  • Matthew Parker, PhD, Associate, Maynard Cooper
  • Kevin Gold, Operating Partner, Integrated Openings Solutions
  • Steve Hettinger, Former engineer, manager and public servant
  • Irma Tuder, Founder and CEO, Analytical Services, Inc.
  • Pat Shields, Senior Financial Advisor, Morgan Stanley
  • Gary Bolton, Vice President Global Marketing, Adtran
  • Barry Derrick, Product Manager, Adtran
  • Danny Windham, COO, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology
  • Peggy Sammon, CEO, GeneCapture
  • Rex Vaughn, President, Madison County Farmers Federation
  • Michelle Stark, Marketing Director, Red Sage Communications
  • Brian Pollock, CEO and Founder, Kailos Genetics
  • Tom Young, CEO Kord Technologies
  • Richard Marsden, Shareholder, Maynard Cooper

“I’ve been involved with HudsonAlpha for a number of years as a board member and ambassador, and I’m excited for the opportunity to bring my experience as an entrepreneur and business leader to the innovative companies at the Institute,” said Irma Tuder, founder of Analytical Services Inc.

After completing its pilot phase, the program will be available to companies across North Alabama. Companies must be involved in biotech or life sciences for consideration. For information, email mentor@hudsonalpha.org.

‘Super Block’ Along University Drive Getting $27 Million Facelift

A welcomed and long-awaited facelift is coming to a stretch of one of Huntsville’s primary thoroughfares.

A 45-acre block off University Drive at Independence Drive and Lancewood Drive will be revitalized in a $27 million acquisition by  Philadelphia-based Penn Capital, an integrated private investment company.

The former GuestHouse Suites are part of the $27 million redevelopment project. (Image provided by Penn Capital)

The company has purchased the former GuestHouse Suites from the Huntsville Hospital Foundation as part of the acquisition. The project includes renovating and redeveloping three properties along University Drive across from the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

In addition to the former GuestHouse Suites at 4020 Independence Drive, Penn Capital is revitalizing the former North Ridge Apartments and the Continental Apartments adjacent to it. The project totals 458 apartments along University Drive and creates a 45-acre “super block” of 546 apartments. It is strategically aimed at revitalizing the surrounding community, which has suffered from blighted conditions over the past 10 years.

According to Penn Capital founder Ed Rogan, the properties fit the company’s investment strategy to invest in Sun Belt markets from Texas to Florida where there is tremendous economic growth.

Penn Capital plans to invest $5 million to redevelop the former GuestHouse Suites at 4020 Independence Drive.

Penn Capital wanted to come into Huntsville, he said, because of the job growth around the new Toyota production plant, and the aerospace and military presence.

“We look for projects in good areas or even areas that have had some distress issues like these three properties,” Rogan said. “A lot of people would have passed on this project because it isn’t visually appealing, but we have a vision where our work revitalizes the community and surrounding neighborhood and improves the standard or living and quality of life for people.”

Just two miles east of the MidCity Huntsville project, the former North Ridge Apartments complex has been renamed Madison Grove. It consists of 105 buildings and 390 apartments, all two-story townhouses.

“The buildings are in good condition, well built in the mid-1960s,” Rogan said. “They have solid foundations and great structures, but it had become known for a lot of crime.

“We came in and secured the premises by putting up a fence and security cameras to keep out trespassers, put in new lighting to light up the grounds, and the police department hired off-duty police officers to patrol the property. Then we began work improving and upgrading the exterior façade and doing some landscaping to give it curb appeal.”

Madison Grove includes 105 buildings and 390 apartments, all two-story townhouses. (Rendering provided by Penn Capital)

Rogan said they are working with Huntsville’s Blue Star Crime Free Multi-Housing Program to help residents, owners and the managers of rental properties to keep drugs and other illegal activity off their property.

“We are also renovating the interiors with all new appliances and the amenities required to take it from what was a D-class property with a lot of crime, deferred maintenance, and poor living conditions, to a safe and attractive Class-A property for middle class families,” he said.

Rogan said the property did not come without some challenges, however.

“Because of the age of the property, the structures are not up to today’s building codes and even the electrical infrastructure needs to be rewired,” he said.

But, they are working with the city to upgrade it.

“We have the same interests in that revitalization will increase the tax base tenfold, increase the quality of people living there, and create a safer living space,” Rogan said.

The former Continental Apartments will be renovated into The Ave. (Image provided by Penn Capital)

Penn Capital is doing the same with the Continental Apartments, which they have renamed The Ave. It is a two-story, 88-unit apartment community consisting of 66 studios and 22 two-bedroom/two-bath apartments.

“The Continental and hotel are vacant, so we have been able to move quickly to replace all the roofs and windows,” Rogan said. “We are doing a complete redevelopment with new exterior facades and landscaped grounds. It will have high quality, Class-A finishes that will attract higher-end tenants.”

He said the Continental is a unique building from the mid-1960s which was built to house visiting generals and high-ranking military officers who were visiting Redstone Arsenal.

He said they are well built with a good strong infrastructure, structural concrete and steel girders in the ceilings that can be used to increase ceiling height and create trendy styles like exposed-beam ceilings. It will become a smart property, fully outfitted with WiFi and a great opportunity for housing students and families.

Penn Capital plans to invest $5 million to redevelop the aging hotel at 4020 Independence Drive. The original extended-stay already has kitchens that will lend themselves well to studio apartments – a good fit for college students.

“The hotel has a 5,000 square-foot lobby on the first floor that we are renovating and putting in an exercise center, leasing office and clubhouse with a new swimming pool, outdoor kitchen and dog park,” Rogan said. “On the second floor, they are putting in a new shared workspace so people living in the surrounding complexes can come there and use the business center.”

Rogan said the work is expected to be completed on all three properties in about 10 to 12 months and a ribbon-cutting for all three is planned in about 18 months.

Huntsville Real Estate Market Ends 2019 on High Note

The Huntsville Real Estate Market set a record pace throughout 2019, ending the year on a high note, according to a report released today.

The Huntsville Area Association of Realtors’ Fourth Quarter Real Estate Economic Report, conducted by the University of Alabama in Huntsville, found sales grew by more than 15 percent compared to the same quarter in 2018, with 1,995 homes sold in the quarter.

“We witnessed major growth in our industry last year, as more choose to make Madison County their home,” said HAAR President Sha Jarboe. “While this is great news for our city and industry, it also presents challenges as inventory reached historic lows in December with less than 1,000 available homes for sale.

“This report reinforces the need for attainable housing in our area and, as community advocates, Realtors stand ready to work with our local builders to make sure they have the skilled labor they need to meet our area’s construction needs. We also look forward to our continued collaboration with local leaders to support sensible laws that support the American dream of homeownership.”

Here are some key takeaways from the report:

  • Prices of homes sold continued to rise significantly from 2018. Median sales price rose 11 percent to $239,643 and average sales price increased 7 percent to $258,014. The price escalation can be seen in the decline in the number of homes sold in the less-than $150,000 homes and significant increases in the $200,000-$250,000 (20.5 percent) and the greater-than-$350,000 range (18.5 percent).
  • Average monthly pending sales rose to 456, up 16.6 percent from the 2018 fourth-quarter level.
  • Inventory of homes available for sale fell to the lowest level since 2001 with only 993 homes listed at year’s end.
  • The average days on market for the quarter was 35 days, down from 38 in the third quarter and from 48 in the fourth quarter 2018. At this level of sales, there was an average of only 1.3 months of supply during the quarter.

For information and to see the full report and other reports, visit haar.realtor.

Huntsville-Madison County Chamber Announces Best Places to Work Contenders

And the nominees are …

The Huntsville-Madison County Chamber has announced the contenders for the 2020 Best Places to Work Award.

The award recognizes businesses that create an excellent workplace culture through employee engagement, strong leadership and excellent communication.

The winners will be announced at the annual awards luncheon April 15 in the Von Braun Center North Hall.

The categories and contenders are:

MICRO: 10-24 employees
Aleta Technologies, Inc.; Applied Technologies Group, Inc.; Boecore, Inc.; Corporate Office Properties Trust; Cortina Solutions, LLC; Croy Engineering; Flint River Dental; H2L Solutions, Inc.; Mb Solutions; Mission Multiplier Consulting; New Beginnings Family Law, P.C.; On-Line Applications Research Corp.; Phased n Research, Inc.; Practical Energetics Research, LLC; Redstone Government Consulting, Inc.; Resolution, LLC; River Tree Insurance Services, Inc.; Roto-Rooter; Seabrook Solutions, LLC; Still Serving Veterans; Stratagem Solutions, Inc.; TVA Huntsville Customer Service Center; Women4Women OBGYN.

SMALL: 25-50 employees
Arcarithm, Inc.; Crossflow Technologies, Inc.; Davidson Homes, LLC; EOS Defense Systems USA, Inc.; Good Samaritan Hospice of Madison; Huntsville-Madison County Senior Center; Invariant Corp.; JHNA; KBM Enterprises, Inc.; KODA Technologies, Inc.; MartinFederal Consulting, LLC; Matt Curtis Real Estate, Inc.; Mission Driven Research; MTA, Inc.; Nesin Therapy Services, P.C.; Noetic Strategies, Inc.; PPT Solutions, Inc.; Reliant Technologies, Inc.; Sentar Inc.; Signalink, Inc.; Verity Integrated Systems, Inc.

MEDIUM: 51-100 employees
Brockwell Technologies, Inc.; Canvas, Inc.; Cepeda Systems and Software Analysis, Inc.; Conditioned Air Solutions; deciBel Research, Inc.; Geocent; Hill Technical Solutions, Inc.; Ignite, Inc.; LINE-X, LLC; MDW Associates; Monte Sano Research Corp.; QTEC Aerospace; Thompson Gray, Inc.; Trideum Corp.; TriVector Services, Inc.; Troy 7, Inc.; Willbrook Solutions, Inc.

LARGE: 101-250 employees
AEgis Technologies Group; Avion Solutions; Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc.; HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology; IERUS Technologies; Intrepid; IronMountain Solutions, Inc.; Leonardo DRS; Manufacturing Technical Solutions, Inc.; MITRE Corp.; nLogic, LLC; nou Systems, Inc.; S3, Inc.; SEA Wire and Cable; Simulation Technologies, Inc.;
Technology Service Corp.; Trident Technologies; Turner Construction; Woody Anderson Ford.

X-LARGE: 251-plus employees
Five Stones Research Corp.; Integration Innovation, Inc. (i3); Intuitive Research and Technology Corp.; Modern Technology Solutions, Inc. (MTSI); PeopleTec, Inc.; The Orthopaedic Center; Torch Technologies; Yulista Holding, LLC.

Sitdown with Success: Louis Breland: An Old-School Developer Leading New-school Developments

This month’s installment of the Huntsville Business Journal’s series “Sitdown with Success” features developer Louis Breland. “Sitdown with Success” spotlights local entrepreneurs who describe their successes and failures.

Tell us about your very first touch with Town Madison and how you got involved.

We had developed a lot of property on Madison Boulevard that we still own, and we used to have offices out there.

Louis Breland (Photo/Steve Babin)

I was looking out the back window one day at a gorgeous tract of land I had my eyes on for a while. I knew Intergraph founder Jim Meadlock owned it and he didn’t need to sell it. But this day there was a tractor clearing trees! I’m thinking, “Holy smokes! I should have been calling on this property!’’

I knew Mr. Meadlock was a really nice man and I had his phone number, so I called him up and said, “Mr. Meadlock, did you sell that property because I see a tractor over there?”

He said, “No Louis, it’s just some farmers clearing trees for me. Do you want to buy it?”

I said absolutely, and negotiations started there.

It looks like such a huge and complex development. Did you know that going in?

Town Madison is actually a relatively simple development. Except for having to put in interstate ramps and things like that are complicated and takes a long time, but Breland has always done fairly large residential communities. My first Huntsville development, Autumn Ridge, is probably 800 homes.

I’ve watched cattle farms turn into major cities, so I recognized that Town Madison is in an incredible location – 2½ miles of interstate frontage and a gateway to the city. It had everything you could want in terms of a location. Town Madison started out as just a great piece of real estate at a great price.

Jim Meadlock and Intergraph owned most of the property and the rest was smaller parcels owned by four or five individuals, so we had to arsemble all of it.

You mentioned Autumn Ridge as your first Huntsville development. You came to Huntsville from Mobile?

I started a homebuilding company in Mobile in 1976 and we were building throughout Mobile, Gulf Shores and Baldwin County on the eastern shore.

A friend invited me to come to Huntsville around 1982 or 1983, to see all the activity. President Reagan had poured money into the Huntsville and Madison County market to support the military buildup for Star Wars.

The market was just exploding! The market is really good now; it was better then. There was very limited competition and there was room to put in subdivisions and build houses. And buyers were lined up.

Within the week, I decided to move here, and we closed our Gulf Coast operation. By comparison, the coast was a very tough market: in Baldwin County, you could barely sell a house.

From the day we started in Huntsville it was on fire – successful from day one. You had a tough market nationally but here there was a shortage of housing and lots of land available for development.

To get started in the development and home building business, do you just start buying land?

Correct. Within just a few months we bought a 400-acre tract of land on South Parkway (Autumn Ridge) and a big tract of land at Zierdt Road where the Edgewater community is now.

You have been involved in this part of town for a long time.

Wayne Bonner of Bonner Development developed Edgewater, but I was one of the first to buy land from him to build houses. Lady Anne Lake was just a bunch of trees back then.

Mountainbrook was one of the first developments at Edgewater. I bought 100 lots that became Mountainbrook and Heritage Woods.

What has it been like being in the homebuilding and commercial development business and still come out on top, with all the volatility over the years?

Louis Breland with Toyota Field in the background. (Photo/Steve Babin)

You have to remember, back then, interest rates and energy were not predictable. Oil goes from $50 a barrel to $150 a barrel; inflation starts in, the Feds raise interest rates and you go from 8 percent to 10 percent to 12 percent, 14 percent and then back to 10 percent. There’s nothing in the real estate business – nothing – predictable. It is always changing. But the difference between then and now, I believe, is that 100 percent of energy came from the Middle East and we had no real energy policy in place.

It was just crazy what fluctuations in energy and interest rates would do. It was always a roller coaster.

And interest rates are like oxygen for a homebuilder and interest rate volatility is very hard on us. It cuts off your oxygen and the higher the rates go – it starts choking you and you have no control over it – period.

But despite this, we thrived here in the Huntsville market. We probably had 30 to 35 percent of the homebuilding market here – 30 to 35 percent of all homes sold were Breland Homes. We were by far the largest builder here.

Has the business changed much?

Extremely different.

Back then there was no one to buy lots from. We bought 100 acres, built the lots, developed all of the infrastructure like roads and utilities; built the homes, sold homes, and we financed them. So we were very integrated – from raw dirt to turning on your stove for the first time at move in.

Now, if you just want to be a homebuilder and not get into development, you can just go buy lots from someone.

How did you survive the financial and real estate collapse back in 2006 through 2008?

I’m old school.

That housing boom was not real world. In the world I grew up in, you had to have real credibility. You had to have real equity and real money which meant you had to put 30 sometimes as much as 50 percent in cash down to get a deal to make a development happen.

I did not participate in that because I could never understand how somebody who couldn’t qualify to borrow $100,000 could borrow $100 million.

We saw some of it coming.

We owned one of the largest privately held self-storage companies in Alabama, Mississippi and South Florida.

In 2006, we sold it for almost $100 million, so we were very liquid. When it collapsed, we had a lot of inventory, but we were liquid, so we bought over 100 communities in great land locations out of bankruptcy at giveaway prices. And we did not go back into the market.

I told everybody here, “This is either the most incredible buying opportunity in real estate, or the largest sucker hole we’ll ever go through – but we’re going to go for it!”

Rocket City Trash Pandas Set Date for Toyota Field Ribbon-Cutting

MADISON — The Rocket City Trash Pandas have set the date to cut the ribbon at Toyota Field and also announced a slate of games at the stadium involving UAH, Alabama A&M and local high schools.

The ribbon-cutting will be April 6 between games of a doubleheader featuring Madison’s high school baseball teams. Festivities begin at 4 p.m.

“One cannot imagine how thrilled our organization is for this day,” said Trash Pandas President and CEO Ralph Nelson. “This isn’t just a day of pride for the Trash Pandas organization, but it’s also a celebration for the City of Madison, Mayor Paul Finley, the City Council, and, most of all, our fans.

“Toyota Field is the best stadium in Minor League Baseball and we can’t wait for our fans to see it.”

The Bob Jones Patriots will host Hartselle High School at 4 p.m. in the first game of the doubleheader. The James Clemens Jets take on Austin High School in the nightcap, following the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Admission is $6; parking is $3.

“This schedule of baseball and festivities comprises a very special day for everyone who has been involved with the team and venue since the ground-breaking nearly two years ago,” Nelson said. “Toyota Field is a testament to the hard work and support of so many people who shared a vision and a dream.”

The doubleheader wraps up a series of games slated for Toyota Field before the Trash Pandas open their inaugural season April 15.

There will be four college games and a high school game in March, leading up to the ribbon-cutting festivities.

Alabama-Huntsville hosts Montevallo in a three-game Gulf South Conference series March 20-21. The March 20 game starts at 1 p.m.; a doubleheader on March 21 starts at 11 a.m.

The next day, March 22, Alabama A&M will take on arch-rival Alabama State in a Southwestern Athletic Conference game at 1 p.m.

All seats to the UAH and Alabama A&M games are general admission and cost $5; parking is $3.

On March 28, Grissom High School will play Decatur High School with first pitch slated for noon. Admission is $6; parking is $3.

The Trash Pandas’ home opener for Southern League play is Wednesday, April 15 at 6:35 p.m. against the Mississippi Braves at Toyota Field. Season tickets, mini-plans and group outings are on sale now.

Visit www.trashpandasbaseball.com or call 256-325-1403 to order.

Construction on Schedule for North Huntsville Library and Berachah Park

The site is shaping up on Sparkman Drive for the new North Huntsville Library and Berachah Park.

Contractors are on schedule for a fall completion of the joint $10.8 million project – a partnership between the City of Huntsville and the Huntsville/Madison County Public Library.

“The city is proud to make this investment in North Huntsville,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “Residents need and deserve high-quality places to learn, collaborate, connect and play.

“This project accomplishes these goals with a beautiful new library and park that will serve the community for decades to come.”

The complex is being built at the site of the outdated Bessie K. Russell Library branch, which occupies just 1,700 square feet, at 3011 Sparkman Drive.

The new 19,000-square-foot facility is designed to meet the information-seeking needs of residents with state-of-the-art technology, a café, children’s reading areas, interactive literacy center and a makerspace for entrepreneurs.

“Libraries connect people to resources that build community,” said Kim Lewis, North Huntsville Library Capital Campaign Chairperson. “The new library will serve as a community hub, with two meeting rooms, multiple study areas and an after-school program space for children.

“It will also feature some of the latest technologies such as a workforce development lab, a Makerspace with 3D printers, and an automated sorting machine.”

“We are so excited to show the North Huntsville community what their library can do,” said Laurel Best, Executive Director of the Huntsville/Madison County Public Library. “We will be able to expand the great service of Bessie K. Russell and offer more people an opportunity to use our computer and Internet services, participate in children’s programming and learn STEM-related activities and equipment in the Makerspace.”

For City Council President and District 1 representative Devyn Keith, the new library and park is personal.

“As a kid, I remember coming into the Bessie Russell trailer to do my Accelerated Reader points,” said Keith. “It amazing to have to have a chance to be part of this expansion and investment by the city and generous donors so that children will have a place that inspires and opens doors of opportunity.”

The library will be next to a new city park which will feature walking trails, pickleball courts, multipurpose fields, a pavilion and children’s play areas.

The project architect is Fuqua & Partners and the general contractor is Lee Builders. They expect to complete work on the site in October.

From Government Contracting to Broadcast TV: ProjectXYZ Has Always Been About Diversifying

It was just sitting there. Huntsville businessman Larry Lewis created a business entity called ProjectXYZ, but he had a government contracting job that kept him busy.

So, ProjectXYZ just sat on the sidelines waiting for someone to define it.

Larry and Kim Lewis: “ProjectXYZ was always about our intent to get involved in a variety of businesses and to diversify.” (Photo/Steve Babin)

In 2002, Lewis was dating Kim Caudle. Looking for a way to make extra money to support herself and her daughter, Caudle was working a fulltime job at the hospital and doing consulting work for the healthcare IT industry at night and on weekends. She was struggling because, despite her background in the business, large health care companies preferred to do business with another business, over an individual.

“ProjectXYZ gave me the company cover I needed for the first five years,” said Kim Caudle Lewis, the company CEO.

She and Larry have since married and in 2007, when the company Larry worked for was sold, he came over to work with her as president of the company.

Larry and Kim merged her IT skills on the health care side with Larry’s 30 years in the government contracting business, to expand their government IT work.

“Larry said, ‘We can go out and knock on a hundred hospital doors and get small contracts,’” Kim said. “’Or, we can concentrate on the government side and get larger contracts.’

“So, that’s what we did. We expanded the government contracting side of the business.”

In 2008, ProjectXYZ won its first big government contract – providing IT services to the Army’s Network Enterprise Center at Fort Gordon, Ga.

“I was very excited,” said Kim. “We were chosen as the prime on that contract and not a sub, so that built up our prime contracting capabilities. It also allowed us to build out our infrastructure, which further proved to the government we can do big government contracts.

“Plus, all the health care work we had done was outside Huntsville so that contract kept us focused here in Huntsville.”

For most government contractors, such success would be the end of the story but, for ProjectXYZ it’s just the beginning.

The Lewis’ have a partnership with Darnell “Super Chef” Ferguson and his Super Chef restaurant in Tuscumbia. Ferguson is known for his “Urban Eclectic” cooking style and has won competitions on the Food Network, while appearing on many popular TV shows including “Today,” “Rachael Ray” and a variety of shows on the Cooking Channel, the Travel Channel and HLN.

ProjectXYZ is in the planning stages to bring Ferguson’s restaurant concept to Huntsville this year.

They are also looking to venture into a retail business this year and Larry is launching a new investment company. But the biggest acquisition ProjectXYZ is working on is local TV station WTZT in Athens.

Early last year, Larry became intrigued by the fact there were few black and minority-owned television stations in the country. He started doing research about what it would take to buy one.

“We were actually looking to buy a larger station,” said Larry. “It was going to be a considerable purchase for us, but as it turned out, we were simply not able to stay in the game.”

Four months later, the Lewis’ received a phone call from Jamie Cooper, North Alabama’s longtime morning anchor and owner of WTZT-TV, a low-power Class A station known as ZTV11.

“Jamie wanting to talk to us about something and we suspected it was not about buying advertising,” said Larry. “Jamie had affiliated the station with COZI TV and negotiated with the cable companies to get on most (but not all) of the major cable carriers in North Alabama. That added a lot of value to the station.”

Not only that, but WTZT is only using one of four channels available, so there is plenty of room for growth if they expand those other four channels. They will have the option of affiliating one or more of the channels with a syndicated network like COZI, or they can keep them for customized programming.

“We are currently awaiting FCC approval and they said it would take 45 to 90 days to approve the transfer so we can take ownership,” Larry said. “We are hoping, in terms of time, to have that approval by the end of March and begin rolling out new programming by summer.”

He said they will continue to work to get the channel on all major cable carriers in the area, and Jamie Cooper will continue his live TV show and shoot new material to keep his “Country Rover” show on the air, a show he has been doing for 30 years.

“COZI provides 32 hours a week of programming and that leaves the rest to us,” said Larry. “I do a lot of stock trading and investments and people ask me about it all the time, so I would like to have some local financial programming; a sports show; community shows that focus on economic development and entrepreneurship; as well as information about nonprofit organizations and what they are doing throughout the area.”

He said once they take ownership of the station, they will be open to outside ideas.

“We want people to know it is the only locally owned TV station in North Alabama and the only minority-owned station in North Alabama,” Kim said. “We will cover happenings all over North Alabama, not just Athens or Huntsville or Decatur.”

The Lewises have been prominent business owners and long-time advocates for small businesses. Kim was selected to be the Young Professional member of the Huntsville/Madison Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors. Shortly thereafter, she was named to the executive committee and is now immediate past chair of the board, having served in that post all of 2019.

The couple purchased the BizTech building in 2014 and, in 2016, Larry became CEO of BizTech, Huntsville’s first and most successful technology business incubator.

“Project XYZ was always about our intent to get involved in a variety of businesses and to diversify,” said Kim. “The company has morphed over the years and its true we have a big investment in the defense industry, but we are continuing to venture out into all sorts of projects, in several industries, with different verticals.”

Finley: State of Madison is Strong; Outback, Panera, Marriott, Hub Coming to Town Madison

MADISON — It wasn’t a stretch for Madison Mayor Paul Finley to make a Super Bowl reference Friday night in his annual State of the City Address.

“This is the second opportunity I have had to give the State of the City Address and on behalf of the City of Madison and the Madison City Council, I am able to say again that the state of the city is strong and continuing to get stronger,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley from beneath the Saturn V rocket at the Davidson Center. “I am so proud to be the mayor of Madison … and if you want some examples, let me give you a couple…,” upon which images of former Bob Jones High School star Reggie Ragland, and Madison Academy’s Jordan Matthews popped up on the big screen to thunderous cheers from the audience.

Madison Mayor Paul Finley delivers his State of the City Address. (Photo/Steve Babin)

Ragland started at linebacker for the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs against Matthews’ San Francisco 49ers.

“That’s just cool,” Finley said to even more applause.

Finley also made two “super” announcements at the address that had not yet been revealed.

The first is the city’s upcoming acquisition of the 28,000 square-foot Three Springs juvenile facility on Browns Ferry Road.

The second special announcement concerned Town Madison, the home of the Rocket City Trash Pandas and Toyota Field.

“I’m excited about Three Springs but I am equally excited about Town Madison,” Finley said.

In addition to the recent announcement about J. Alexander’s restaurant coming to Town Madison, Finley said they are also expecting a 200-room Marriott near Toyota Field; Outback Steakhouse and Panera Bread Company will open on the Zierdt Road side of the development and The Hub, a newcomer to the state.

Residents who spend vacation time on the Florida Panhandle will be familiar with The Hub, a relaxing outdoor venue surrounded by live music, ice cream, burgers, and family-friendly movies shown under the stars.

“Town Madison is going to continue to build out,” Finley said. “Outback, Marriott and Panera Bread already have a footprint in the Tennessee Valley, but Town Madison will welcome the first Hub in Alabama.

“The Marriott is the fifth hotel announced – and just so you guys know, the matrix we put in place to fund the stadium had three hotels in that matrix. We are now at five.”

Concerning Three Springs, Finley said the city will be purchasing the empty 33-acre facility, using funds from the sale of the Madison Library. Over the next four to five years, it will be converted it into a community center.

Finley said there are several local entities such as the Madison City Senior Center; the Enrichment Center, which helps schools with counseling; and American Legion Post 229, which is involved in Memorial Day and Veterans Day events around the city that are all bursting at the seams when it comes to parking and office space.

“This purchase will take our city to the next level,” Finley said. “The library is not the right fit for our city right now, so it is up for sale. Over the next five years, you will see other organizations who also need more space, move into the old Three Springs facility.”

Other significant highlights from the speech were updates on sidewalk improvements at Dublin Park to make it safer; the revitalization of an aging Hughes Plaza, a retail center on Hughes Road across from City Hall; and numerous improvements to older office complexes and buildings.

Furthermore, the City Council invested more than $4 million in a new public works facility. They had outgrown the aging building and there wasn’t enough parking for the employees or for the service trucks. The new facility is on 16 acres and they will move into it in a couple of weeks.

Finley shared Census Bureau data showing the growth in Madison’s population over the past 40 years. In 1980, Madison’s population was 4,500. By the 1990s, it was nearly 15,000. There was a big jump in population in 2008 to over 42,000; and in 2019, it has grown to 50,926.

“That is astronomic growth,” Finley said. “In fact, we are in such good shape in our city that our Rocket City Trash Panda mascot, Sprocket, was just named one of the top 20 people locally of 2020.

“Because of what we are doing, we are collectively blowing this growth thing out of the water and the state of Alabama is stronger because this community is stronger.”

There was also a special recognition for Madison City School Superintendent, Robby Parker who is retiring this year; and the mayor announced that the Trash Pandas have broken records, selling over $2 million, in Trash Panda merchandise.

There will be no traffic relief for residents and businesses traveling Madison Boulevard from Zierdt Road to Wall Triana while construction continues on the I-565 interchange at Town Madison; but a greenway extension will run under the railway tracks just south of Palmer Road, into historic downtown Madison where Sealy Realty is building the Avenue Madison, a multi-use residential, retail and commercial development right in the heart of downtown.

“It’s an exciting time right now to be in our city,” said Finley upon conclusion. “We are managing growth, we are open for business, but we are being really smart about it.”