Zooming Toward the Top: The Catalyst Center Honors Top Entrepreneurs

What a difference a year has made.

At this time last year, the Stone Event Center at Campus 805 was packed to capacity for the fifth annual Entrepreneurial Awards ceremony.

This year, social distancing and masking up has presented new challenges to the big celebration. Or, perhaps, it has created new opportunities for honoring North Alabama’s finest entrepreneurs.

While there might be a new way of presenting awards, one thing is certain: Despite the setbacks of 2020, the entrepreneurial spirit is still very much alive and well in Madison County.

Just a few months shy of a year at the helm, Catalyst CEO Lisa Davis Mays has taken the lemons tossed out by the pandemic and has made a superb glass of lemonade. Mays and her Catalyst “Dream Team,” found creative solutions and skillfully presented this year’s awards with heaping doses of pizazz and style.

“This past year has impacted us all in ways we could have never imagined,” said Mays. “We’ve all felt the impact of the pandemic. This year, more than ever, we want to commemorate the extraordinary accomplishments of local businesses and entrepreneurs. And in true Catalyst style, we wanted to celebrate the hard work and inspiring stories of our entrepreneurs in a unique and fun way.”

The new twist for this years’ presentation – The Catalyst crew, armed with balloons and cameras, surprised the winners at their homes or at their offices in pre-recorded segments, presenting them with their awards. These segments were then presented as a key part of the awards ceremony.

With more than 140 people Zooming in for the big event, the presentation was well-executed and seamless. Kenny Anderson, the City of Huntsville Director of Multicultural Affairs, served as master of ceremonies. Anderson was both articulate and engaging when introducing the finalists and presenting the winners in each category.

Joanne Randolph, the former CEO of The Catalyst and the namesake for the Entrepreneurial Champion Award, had the special honor of introducing this year’s Entrepreneurial Champion – Larry Lewis of Project XYZ – without even having to leave her home in Orange Beach.  This award is for a champion with a proven track record of volunteering, mentoring, investing, or collaborating with new ventures on their entrepreneurial journey.

In addition to last year’s nine categories, the Pandemic Pivot award was added for this year. It is collectively hoped that this crisis-specific category would be a short-lived, distant memory by the time the 2022 awards roll around.

“Today, we celebrate the finest entrepreneurs in our community,” said Lauren Smith, 2021 Catalyst Board Chair. “Entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of our community and our economy. They are the dealmakers, the changemakers, and the dream makers. They are our future.”

Here are the 2021 Entrepreneurial Award winners:

YOUTH ENTREPRENEUR – Brailynn Camille Granville, The Ausome Kid. This award is given to a school-aged entrepreneur who has started their entrepreneurial journey at a young age and is working toward their dream.

EMERGING– Megan Nivens Tannett, Flourish. This award is given to an entrepreneur who has been in business for less than three years and has a proven track record for sustainability with room for growth.

CREATIVE – Michelle Givens, Image in a Box. This award goes to an entrepreneurial venture that focuses on the retail, arts, entertainment, or culinary industry and has a proven track record for sustainability.

NONPROFIT – Amy Roark, Give256. The Nonprofit Entrepreneur of the year award is given to a leader who possesses an entrepreneurial spirit that inspires growth and development in their organization.

FEMALE – Alice Lessmann, Signalink. This award is given to an outstanding female entrepreneur in the North Alabama Region. The Women’s Business Center will, in turn, submit Lessmann’s name to compete at the national level for the Small Business Administration’s “Small Business of the Year” award.

VETERAN – Marvinia Adams, Adams Dry Cleaning, dba Martinizing. This award is given to an outstanding military/veteran entrepreneur in the North Alabama Region.

PANDEMIC PIVOT – Karen Mockenstrum, Fantasy Playhouse. This award is for an entrepreneur who has faced down the setbacks brought on because of COVID-19. Not only did Mockenstrum adeptly manage the setbacks faced by Fantasy Playhouse, but she and her team developed new ways of doing business.

ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR – Jamie Miller, Mission Multiplier. Awarded to an entrepreneur who has been in business for more than three years and has a proven track record for sustainability, strategic direction, future growth, and community involvement.

PEOPLE’S CHOICE – April Chiosky, AMZ Importers. Using the power of social media, voters cast their ballots early and often and the entrepreneur receiving the most votes wins.

 

Bank Independent Collecting Food, Supplies for Area Food Banks

A few bucks can go a long way to feeding families.

To help meet that need, Bank Independent is kicking off its seventh annual Food Share drive March 1 to benefit local food banks through the “Feed a Family for $5 with Food Share” campaign.

Donors can bring non-perishable food and cash donations to any branch of Bank Independent. Other businesses and donations to PayPal can be found at bibank.com/help.  Bank Independent works with local partner organizations across their seven-county footprint to ensure donations are distributed to area families in need.

“Food insecurity in our community has always been the driving need behind our Food Share initiative,” said Macke Mauldin, president and CEO of BancIndependent.  “The past year has highlighted how quickly that disparity can affect local families.  The charities we support provide vital assistance for families undergoing hardships.

“We hope our Food Share efforts make a positive impact.”

The 2020 drive was re-envisioned last year due to the local impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have had important conversations with our local food bank partners to determine how we can best help this year,” said Nikki Randolph, Community Engagement Officer at Bank Independent.  “We learned that in the right hands, a simple donation of five dollars can feed a family for a day.

“We built the 2021 Food Share drive around that theme and created three convenient ways for our team members and customers to donate at any of our 28 Bank Independent locations; through PayPal; and through partner businesses, all listed at bibank.com/help.

Organizations that will receive the donations are the Committee on Church Cooperation in Morgan County, the Neighborhood Christian Center in Decatur, the Departments of Human Resources of Lawrence County and Franklin County, Limestone County Churches Involved, Sidney’s Safe! Foundation and The Meal Barrel Project in the Shoals, and Manna House in Huntsville.

To help supplement the annual Food Share drive, Bank Independent will donate 10 cents for every Bank Independent debit card transaction made at a grocery store, up to $10,000, between March 1 and March 15.  The total will be distributed across the local partner organizations.

 

Google Fiber is Looking for Trusted Testers to Upgrade Fiber TV

If you’re a Fiber TV viewer, Google would like to talk with you.

The company is looking for Huntsville residents to become “trusted testers” and try out its Google Fiber TV upgrade next month.

“We believe the best TV is online,” Liz Hsu, Google’s director of Product Strategy, posted on her blog. “While many of our customers have already made the switch from traditional TV to streaming services, some have hesitated to take the leap, even though Fiber TV service hasn’t kept up with all the features streaming services offer.

“Luckily, all you need to get the best TV today is great internet, which is something Fiber TV customers already have.”

Hsu said testers need to be Google Fiber TV customers “who are ready to take the next step to an upgraded streaming TV experience.”

The program – which is free – includes a Google WiFi upgrade of the entire home, streaming Chromecast with Google TV, and setting up the streaming service of the customer’s choice, including an option for a free trial of YouTube TV.

For information, visit https://goo.gle/2FTGrrK.

City and School System Consider North Huntsville Site for Central Office

Mayor Tommy Battle and City Schools Superintendent Christie Finley announced Thursday they are working on a potential relocation site for the school system’s administrative offices. The leaders reviewed plans at their respective City Council and School Board meetings Thursday night.

Battle said the city has agreed to commit up to $3.5 million toward the purchase of a 14-acre site for a mixed-use redevelopment project at the northwest corner of Max Luther Drive and North Memorial Parkway. A school system central office would be part of the project.

The property is a strip mall that includes a Dollar General and formerly was a Builder’s Square.

At Thursday’s City Council meeting, Director of Urban and Economic Development Shane Davis presented several design concepts. Those concepts include a mix of uses, such as office, medical, retail, hotel and multi-family residential in the redevelopment of the property. He said the agreement requires the city to clear and prep the site and contribute $1 million toward construction costs of the new central office.

“We’ve been working in partnership with Huntsville City Schools for many years to provide the best possible education for our students, and that includes accommodations for a more centrally located school headquarters,” Battle said. “There’s still a lot to work out on this potential site, but we’re excited about the possibilities of providing a dedicated building for education in this highly visible area.”

The area near Max Luther and the Parkway is part of an urban redevelopment corridor where the city recently constructed Lantana Park and Madison County built its office complex.

“The redevelopment of the Memorial Parkway corridor continues to be one of the city’s top priorities,” Davis said. “We have seen good return with our public-private investments within the corridor and this project will add to the success. Working together brings success to everyone involved, especially our community.”

District 1 Councilman Devyn Keith said he’s excited to hear future announcements about potential projects connected to the development.

“My community welcomes this with big open arms,” he said. “This is a tremendous step, if done correctly, for the City of Huntsville.

Dynetics Completes ‘Lunar Lander’ Preliminary Design Review

The U.S. is another “small step” closer to landing Americans on the moon, thanks to a Huntsville company.

Dynetics, a wholly owned subsidiary of Leidos, has completed the preliminary design review of its Human Landing System for NASA’s Artemis Program, marking another critical milestone in human spaceflight. This review provided NASA with insight into the design of the human lander that Dynetics hopes will carry the first woman and the next man to the Moon, Dynetics said in a news release.

“This review, a culmination of nine months of intense design and analysis, included a robust portfolio of development and risk reduction testing,” said Robert Wright, Dynetics HLS program manager. “The PDR demonstrated that our team’s preliminary lander design meets all the system requirements with acceptable risk while remaining within current cost and schedule constraints.”

Additionally, the team presented detailed technical descriptions of design trades, analyses conducted, and a design status to NASA. Verification methods were also explained.

“This is another step toward the lunar surface,” said Kim Doering, vice president of Space Systems at Dynetics. “The PDR confirmed that our team is ready to proceed with a detailed design as we approach the next milestone, Critical Design Review.

“This is yet another notable review that brings us one step closer to landing the next Americans on the moon.”

The Dynetics team has completed four reviews in the 10-month initial Base phase – a systems requirements review, a certification baseline review, the continuation review, and now the preliminary design review.

What’s Cookin’? Jonathan’s Grille to Serve Up Two Locations in Madison

MADISON —  Jonathan’s Grille will be opening its first two locations outside of Tennessee with two restaurants in Madison.

The popular Nashville-area business is scheduled to open at Clift Farm on U.S. 72 late this summer and at booming Town Madison in December. They will create 100 jobs for the area.

Construction is underway at the Clift Farm site and the Town Madison location will be going vertical off the I-565/Wall Triana exit in May. The first restaurant to open on the west end of Town Madison, Jonathan’s will be next to the new Hilton Garden Inn.

Known for their diverse menu of pizzas made from fresh inhouse dough, fresh salads, tacos, sandwiches and mouth-watering prime rib, owners Curt and Mason Revelette believe the two sites are home run developments and excellent locations for their growing restaurant brand.

“We are thrilled to be joining the Madison community,” said Curt Revelette. “My brother and I started Jonathan’s in Franklin (Tenn.) and at the time, we were only the third restaurant in the Cool Springs community.

“We have been blessed that Nashville’s growth exploded in the manner it has, providing us with the opportunity to open restaurants in what used to be bedroom communities to Nashville. Growing up there, we have known Huntsville for years because it was where we came to visit the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.”

He said customers have been driving the 45 minutes to an hour from Madison to Franklin, so the move into Madison is a natural progression of their company growth.

“Now as we look at the big picture and see the growth of the greater Huntsville area and our proximity to Madison, and as we grow our own opportunities, we think focusing on Madison just makes a lot of sense, and we hope the entire community loves what we are bringing,” he said.

Jonathan’s Grille opened last year in the midst of the pandemic. (Photo/Kathryn Byrd for Jonathan’s Grille)

While COVID-19 has negatively impacted some restaurants, it has not slowed down Jonathan’s. They opened a location in Chattanooga right in the middle of the pandemic and Revelette said it is doing extremely well.

“We have 500 employees, and we promote from within, so many of our employees have been with us since they were 16 years old and have worked their way up to managers from servers and hostesses,” Revelette said. “As a family-owned business, we never laid off a single staff member. We brought them in during the shutdowns to clean the store and we were able to get a lot of projects done that had been needing to get done forever, so our staff is loyal.

“We knew we were going to get through it. Small businesses face bumps in the road all the time. We are just that type of company.”

In terms of making any changes in their restaurant design and operations, he said restaurants are cleaner now than they have ever been, and though they do not follow “trends,” one of the things that has come out of COVID-19 is the popularity of more outdoor patio space.

And, they are happy to oblige.

“We will be incorporating more front patio space at both new locations, but we are also going to have a back patio off the bar side that will be for ages 21 and over,” said Revelette. “That will allow people to spread out more.

“We have also seen our to-go business explode highlighted by people being at home, so they are using mobile apps more than they ever did before and they are great. We will continue to partner with (delivery) services to provide that. But overall, we will continue to stick with the basics that has helped us get to where we are now – provide great service and fresh, high quality food at a reasonable price.”

Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers Stepping Down

Huntsville Hospital Health System CEO David Spillers is stepping down.

David Spillers

Spillers, who has guided the system since 2006, will retire in July, according to a news release. Jeff Samz, executive vice president and COO, will succeed Spillers.

“It has been a great ride but it’s time to do some things that I have not taken the time to do while working,” Spillers said in the release. “I have been privileged over the past 33 years to work in healthcare during a period of incredible changes and challenges. None have been bigger than the pandemic that we face today. Our team has performed incredibly well and I am confident that we will ultimately win this battle.

Jeff Samz

“We’ve served our community for 125 years but there is more work to be done. I am also blessed to work with what I consider to be the best leadership team and the best board that any health system could have. I can step away knowing that what we have built here will continue to thrive and grow.”

“Spillers has led the Health System to “unparalleled growth and success,” said Philip Bentley, chairman of the Health Care Authority governing board. Spillers will continue to serve the system as a consultant, he said.

Major achievements of Spillers’ 15-year tenure in Huntsville include the opening of Madison  Hospital in 2012; and the rapid development of HH Health System which is now comprised of hospitals in Athens, Decatur, Sheffield, Red Bay, Boaz, and Guntersville, along with affiliate relationships with  other hospitals in the Tennessee Valley.

Total employment of the Health System exceeds 15,000, making  the organization among the top five largest publicly-owned health systems in the nation. New  technologies, services, and facilities have been completed across the region under Spillers’ leadership,  including massive renovations in Decatur and new construction in Athens. In Huntsville, a seven-story,  $175 million Orthopedic & Spine Tower is scheduled for completion this summer.  

Bentley noted Spillers’ leadership during the pandemic, as well.

“David’s leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic may be his greatest accomplishment,” Bentley said. “Few leaders could do what he has done as our hospitals have  responded to the crisis.

“David has always kept our team focused on quality, safety and  service. Our patients are getting outstanding care in all of our facilities. We will be forever grateful for  his contributions.”  

Samz has been COO since 2009 and has nearly 30 years experience in hospital administration, including Vanderbilt Health in Nashville and Duke Health and Mission Health in North Carolina.

“You can’t find a more qualified person to be the next CEO of this system,” said Spillers. “I am  happy for the organization and for Jeff that he will succeed me.”  

Bentley echoed Spillers’ comments: “We have the utmost confidence in Jeff.  He is well prepared to lead our organization. We know him and trust that under his leadership we will  continue to excel.”

Spillers said that he would remain in Huntsville after retiring.

“Cindy and I love Huntsville. It’s  our home now,” he said. “Running a system like ours consumes most of your time. I look forward to having more  time to do the things I have put off for many years.” 

 

Atlanta-based Arrow Exterminators Acquires Huntsville’s Valley Pest Control

Atlanta-based Arrow Exterminators has acquired Valley Pest Control of Huntsville.

According to a news release, the merger establishes Arrow’s presence “in the high-tech and manufacturing region of North Alabama and allows Arrow to reach more residential and commercial customers with a full line of services.”

“We are delighted to welcome the customers and team members of Valley Pest Control to the Arrow family,” said Emily Thomas Kendrick, CEO of Arrow Exterminators. “Valley’s service pledge to their clients and desire for providing an outstanding customer experience makes this not only a perfect fit, but a strategic one as well.”

 “When we started thinking about finding a home for our employees and customers a few years ago, we knew we were looking for a company that treated people just like we have since I founded the company.  We knew that flawless customer service and a passion for how employees are treated was critical,” said owner Gary Phillips. “We found that in Arrow Exterminators and are very proud to now be part of the family. An opportunity for growth was also a critical piece of our decision-making progress and we knew there would be many opportunities for our employees in addition to being able to offer an expanded range of services to offer our customers.

“All of my employees, along with my wife and myself will continue working with Arrow Exterminators.”

Arrow Exterminators is the sixth-largest pest and termite control company in the United States.

“Valley Pest is extremely well regarded in the North Alabama, especially in the real estate community and we feel honored to have this well-trained, knowledgeable team of professionals join the Arrow family,” said Tim Pollard, Arrow’s president and chief operating officer. “Establishing a strong presence in Madison, Morgan and Limestone counties is strategic to our objectives.  We are continuously looking to merge with high quality companies who share our goals, principles and culture and we found the ideal fit with Valley Pest Control.”

Valley Pest Control will complement the other 13 Arrow Exterminators offices in the state of Alabama and will ultimately operate as Arrow Exterminators.

Q&A with Ben Lovett: Man Behind the Development of Huntsville Amphitheater

Q: Maybe there are more rock stars than I know who are involved in business ventures, but I am fascinated by your involvement on such a corporate level. Can you talk about that?

Ben Lovett: I have been an entrepreneur my whole life. I started my first business in event promotion on the rock scene about 20 years ago and then opened a record label publishing artists’ records about 15 years ago.

I see my life with Mumford & Sons as my artistic outlet, but there is a side of me that believes in having a day job. Owning these companies is great honest work.

I started doing venues about six years ago and started Venue Group with my brother Greg (Lovett). He has a very strong career in business and most recently he was CFO of Soho House & Co. before joining us as CFO at Venue Group.

Our dad was in corporate management and consulting for 45 years and we grew up in that environment, a household that brought a certain amount of buttoned-up ones and twos, crossing the Ts and dotting the I’s when it comes to industry and running a successful business.

Q: Are you actually involved in building these music venues from the acoustic and design standpoint or are you just a consultant to those who do?  

A: I roll up my sleeves and get into the intimate detail.

I think you don’t want any single element of the venue to let you down both from the artist’s experience and from the patron’s experience, because that’s really what it is all about.

When you attract a Jimmy Buffet or Travis Scott, or whoever it might be through a venue, you want them to say, ‘That was pretty good. I want to come back here and play when I am on tour.’

You can’t underestimate their (artist’s) experience whether it is the sound on the stage, the temperature in the dressing room, or the limitations of the production loading docks.

But from the patron’s point of view, you might have done a lot of things well. The sound was great, and the lights were great, but if it takes half an hour to get the car out of the car park at the end of the night, then patrons say to themselves, there was so much right about the experience, but there was something that let me down.

We are looking at the detail, both the artists’ and the patrons’ (experience) to make sure we are not going to fall short on this venue.

Q: Is Huntsville really the first of these venues you are building?

A: Yes, Huntsville Amphitheater is Venue Group’s first amphitheater in the U.S., and this is a very specific type of building, an open-air theatre.

We’ve joined up with some great veterans of the industry like Mike Luba and Don Sullivan, who brought back the Forest Hills Stadium in New York. He has been in this industry for decades and I have collaborated with him on a number of projects.

Given the importance and scale of this project, we decided to partner on it, so we’re not going into it completely cold. We’re leaning on our experience and it’s a good collaboration.

Q: Without sounding corny, but ‘‘of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world” – why Huntsville?

A: Huntsville is a wonderful place.

I think in my travels across the U.S., it has occurred to me that some of the secondary and tertiary markets and cities have a bit of insecurity about them, an inferiority complex. But as far as I see it, Huntsville has people of great stature and it not only deserves to be one of the great U.S. cities, but it is really on its way to being so.

I don’t think it is as hard to imagine building a world-class venue in Huntsville.

The city government is incredibly well run. Our first meetings with the current administration a couple of years ago with Mayor (Tommy) Battle, Shane Davis and John Hamilton – these people are smart, they are ambitious, and they are aware of the responsibility they have in public office. These are, I think, some of the best examples of city officials I have ever met, and I have met a lot of people on different project across the years in the U.S.

So that is a big part of it, and also, just the rate of growth right now in Huntsville is off the scale. You’ve got all of these new jobs, all of this new activity, but what are these people doing on the weekend?

I think the task we’ve been given is to stop people from running off to Birmingham or Nashville or Atlanta to spend their hard-earned money on the weekend.

Let’s keep them here in Huntsville, keep them happy, and let’s entertain them with incredible food and beverage options that will make Huntsville into a great city in the next chapter of the South.

Q: Are you aware of how hot it gets in Huntsville in July and August?

A: I am very aware of the heat and I must say from snowy New York, I think every day I could live in Huntsville full time!

Q: Back in my concert-going days, the only place to eat after a late-night concert was Krystal or perhaps you know it as White Castle. I heard you talk about how food is a centerpiece of the venue experience. Can you explain what that means for Huntsville?

A: Yes, the food experience has changed.

The food element is something that is very important to us, but probably not something people deem as important across the industry.

We think there is such an opportunity with 8,000 people coming out to West Huntsville multiple times a year, to enjoy a concert.

For many people, it will be their one night out that month or one big night out that year and it needs to be from start to finish, exceptional.

Most venues see the show as the main event.

But if you go beyond the show, those people are going to want to park efficiently. They will want to have dinner and some drinks. We see these things as a kind of equal match to the main event itself.

We want to work with people in Huntsville, within Madison County and around the region to showcase their delicious cuisine, whether it is a Poke Bowl or pizza, to those 8,000 people. We want to offer patrons the best options, and we want them to be great, so they become part of their memory of that event.

And we want people to know that is open and available 365 days a year. We want to make Huntsville an inbound destination when the show is on, and when the show is off.

On days when there is no concert happening, people will be able to go and enjoy Huntsville as a new destination where they can hang out with friends and sometimes see big scale arena performances.

Q: One last question about your music – for a British rock band, Mumford & Sons has a very American folksy sound. Where does that come from?

A: I think it is just a fascination with “the other” and it’s been that way for years.

If you think about the Rolling Stones coming to Muscle Shoals all those years ago, it was a British band wanting to learn and nurture themselves with southern American roots.

It’s gone back and forth. A lot of American bands have felt the same way about British and Celtic music, and some of it is that historic relationship culturally between the U.K. and the U.S.

It has led me to living here and growing a family in the U.S. I love this country and I love the South. I think there is an incredible romance about it, so I’m all in.

Q: Can we expect to see you playing here a lot?

A: Playing here is definitely on the agenda!

Construction Begins on 8,000-Seat Huntsville Amphitheater

Construction has begun on the long awaited state-of-the-art, 8,000-seat Huntsville Amphitheater at MidCity and the new West Huntsville Park. It also marks a 15-month countdown to an April 2022 opening.

The city’s amphitheater will soon rise from this red clay in Huntsville’s MidCity District. (Photo/Steve Babin)

The City of Huntsville and Venue Group, founded by Ben Lovett of the Grammy Award-winning rock band Mumford & Sons, made the announcement.

The project brings to life Huntsville’s long-time vision for an iconic major music venue that will serve the community and bring top music talent to the region. It is also a major contributor in the city’s Music Initiative to build a music and cultural-based economy throughout the region.

Huntsville Venue Group, a joint venture partnership led by Ryan Murphy, former CEO of the St. Augustine (Fla.) Amphitheater, will be operating the venue on behalf of the city. He will be assisted by leadership from the global Venue Group team including Lovett and his brother Greg, Graham Brown, and Jesse Mann, in partnership with industry veterans Mike Luba, Don Sullivan, Jeff Kicklighter and Al Santos.

According to Dennis Madsen, the city’s manager of Urban & Long Range Planning, who also oversees the Music Initiative, Lovett’s involvement is extraordinary because artists have a lot to say about the venues in which they perform.

“Artists themselves like to play in some venues because of the atmosphere and environment,” said Madsen. “I believe Ben Lovett’s motivation in starting Venue Group was driven by wanting to create more of those types of venues.”

Mayor Tommy Battle said the city has wanted to build more than an amphitheater. They want a facility that will help grow Huntsville’s music and culture economy.

“It will allow us to become a community of curators, where we can develop our own creative content that is unique to Huntsville that we can share globally,” said Battle. “In addition to arts festivals, markets, and world-famous musicians, we’ll be able to incubate our own talent, showing that our next great entrepreneurs don’t all have to be in space and missile defense.”

Murphy believes the main reason Venue Group won the contract for the Huntsville Amphitheater was because they had a shared vision of a year-round operation and of making it a community asset.

“When I saw Huntsville doing this Music Initiative, I was so impressed. They are putting the road map together. They understand the economics of it and the importance of it,” he said. “I have to say they stepped up to understand that music is not just a quality-of-life issue that adds to the culture and arts in a city.

“Huntsville understands music is an economic driver and that it creates jobs.”

He said having worked in local government for 15 years, it is often hard for local government to understand the benefits of a music and culture economy because there is not a lot of long-term vision.

“We are creating something that is not just your run-of-the-mill amphitheater stage and lawn,” Murphy said. “The uniqueness of the architecture and the uniqueness of how it will be operated makes it much more of a community asset.”

Part of that uniqueness will be the Amphitheater’s integration into the new West Huntsville Park. The city will be preserving much of the natural trees and wooded areas and will be creating nature and hiking trails throughout the surrounding area.

There has been some early criticism that so elaborate a venue may well bring in 20 major concerts a year, but what about the remaining 345 days a year?

“That would be the biggest waste of taxpayer dollars, even if 20 big names a year was an economic driver, brought more quality of life to the residents, and provided jobs,” said Murphy. “What we’re going to create is a community asset. The Huntsville Amphitheater will be an extension of the new West Huntsville Park so that on any given day there may be multiple stages set up with multiple areas of engagement, much of it free.”

From a gospel Sunday brunch with barbecue and great gospel groups, to local Saturday afternoon music showcases, Murphy said the aim is to create a venue the community will get behind because they know on any given day year-round, they will find something really cool going on there.

“It will attract major concerts that have never been seen in North Alabama, but it will also be scaled appropriately with plenty of flexible space and will be affordable for nonprofits and local events to lease space to fit any occasion from farmer’s markets and graduation ceremonies to small arts festivals,” he said.

Another unique aspect of the Huntsville Amphitheater is the result of Lovett’s vision to build a new era of world class music venues combined with significant community growth and amenities. Among those amenities is food – good food.

Huntsville Venue Group is in talks with regional chefs and local food vendors to bring to life its prized food village that will operate year-round. The village will provide food and beverage options to patrons of the Amphitheatre and also serve as an additional amenity and social space for MidCity.

“One of the biggest trends in the past 10 years has been an elevation of the quality and variety of food offerings, especially around music,” said Lovett. “We believe there is a huge amount of opportunity in the hospitality side of entertainment to deliver food and drinks of such excellence that they stand on their own two feet as an offering not simply as a way to ‘tide you over,’ quench the thirst, or satiate the hunger temporarily.

“We have to aspire for higher standards than that. One of the reasons that Huntsville is so appealing to me and the team is it feels like going the extra mile is in the DNA of this city and we intend to go the extra mile when it comes to not just the concert experience, but the restaurants and bars that lay adjacent and that will serve customers year-round.”

Murphy also said Huntsville Venue Group is going to be involved in the entire community.

“Whether they are festivals downtown or smaller venues in town struggling to get back on their feet after COVID, we are going to help them, too,” he said. “The Huntsville Amphitheater will not open in isolation. We are watching the recommendation coming from the Initiative’s music audit, and we are going to help every step of the way.”