Robins & Morton, Huntsville Hospital Announce Topping Out of Orthopedic & Spine Tower

 Robins & Morton and Huntsville Hospital recently announced that the hospital’s Orthopedic & Spine Tower officially reached its structural completion. 

The facility will feature 24 operating rooms, 14 observation rooms, post-anesthesia care units, pre-operational spaces and 72 patient rooms. (Photo/Marty Sellers)

The milestone, often called the “topping out,” also signifies that the 375,000-square-foot tower now stands at its ultimate height – 150 feet – at the corner of downtown Huntsville’s Gallatin Street and St. Clair Avenue, occupying the entire city block. Once it is complete next summer, the tower will be the largest project on the campus in nearly four decades. 

“As a longtime partner and friend of HH Health System, we are humbled to be a part of the HH Orthopedic and Spine Tower project,” Robins & Morton Huntsville Division Manager Mitch Coley said. “The facility will lead healthcare in the rapidly growing North Alabama area into the future and improve the quality of life for everyone in the region.

“The impact on the community where we live and work will be great, and we can’t think of a better way to give back than to be a part of this milestone project.” 

The facility will feature 24 operating rooms, 14 observation rooms, post-anesthesia care units, pre- operational spaces, 72 patient rooms, and shell space for future expansion. Additionally, it will house a kitchen, restaurant space, and a physician’s parking garage. 

Robins & Morton is serving as the construction manager and Chapman Sisson Architects designed the facility. 

Cookie Dough Magic: This Isn’t Your Grandma’s Cookie Dough

Downtown Huntsville now has its very own cookie dough parlor.

On Jefferson Street, next door to Melt at The Avenue, Cookie Dough Magic is ready to serve up its unique fare.

Mmmmm, cookie dough in a cone!

“We’re very similar to an ice cream shop,” said Huntsville franchise owner Jon Heugel. “You can order our cookie dough in a cup, waffle cone, milkshake, or a push pop – which is a cookie dough pop with ice cream in the center.”

The Avondale-based business was just a dream back in 2018, when founders Chris and Melissa Bell went vacationing in New York City. After sampling flavors from the Big Apple’s most popular edible cookie dough bars, they were inspired and began developing plans to create their own cookie dough enterprise.

After months of experimentation, the Bells developed a sure-fire recipe to tickle the taste buds. Since that time, Cookie Dough Magic grew to be a hit in Avondale. So much so, the Bells decided to expand operations.

Heugel and his wife Sheldon were already big fans, frequently making the trek from Athens to Avondale to get a Cookie Dough Magic fix. They had been thinking about opening a business of their own, and after getting to know the Bells, the couple realized the potential for a cookie dough parlor in Huntsville.

So, they took the plunge and opened the first franchise location.

“Many of us have memories of stealing cookie dough from the mixer before our grandmother could bake it,” said Heugel.

But this is not the dough grandma used to bake cookies with or the store-bought variety, either.

Using fresh ingredients such as heat-treated flour, pasteurized egg whites and real butter, Cookie Dough Magic dough has a lighter, fluffier consistency which sets it apart from the typical raw cookie dough batter.

Cookie Dough Magic has 12 flavors, with a special flavor that’s featured each month. A few of the selections include “Euro Dough,” which is packed with Biscoff cookies, “Salty Sweet” which boasts an assortment of dark chocolate chips, Ghirardelli caramel and sea salt, and “Fancy’s Peanut Butter,” made with Reese’s Pieces.

Even with an awesome product, atmosphere still matters when it comes to enticing customers. The vibe at Cookie Dough Magic is clean and simple by day; by night, the lights dim and the music is lively and hip.

“Our shop even changes its lighting and atmosphere at night to make it a fun hangout for after-dinner crowds,” said Heugel. “We think Cookie Dough Magic will fill a void in the neighborhood and offer guests a fun spot where they can hang out and enjoy a decadent new treat.”

The shop hours for dine in and pickup are noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; noon to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and  1 to 8 p.m. Sundays.

 

Officials Stress Masks, Social Distancing, Sanitizing as COVID-19 Numbers Rise

The message might resemble a broken record, but it will continue to be repeated until the rise of novel coronavirus cases in Madison County is itself broken.

While confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to spike in the county as well statewide health officials continue to stress the importance of following safety guidelines.

The oft-repeated message is simple: wear face coverings, practice social distancing and sanitize hands.

“If 80 percent of our community would mask, cover their faces, then we would reduce transmission by 90 percent,” Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson said Wednesday at the first COVID-19 briefing in a week.

If more people within the community don’t start or continue to follow precautions, she said, “we’re going to continue to see more of this.’’

This is a surge that has alarmed local officials enough that a county-wide health order was issued this week that face coverings were mandatory in public businesses and gatherings. Local hospitals are nearing capacity on beds available, and further surges could place a burden on the healthcare system.

Last week, the state health department was monitoring roughly 500 COVID-19 cases in the county. This week, that number is up to 847. Through Wednesday, the Alabama Department of Health reported 46,424 confirmed cases among 467,754 tested and 1,032 deaths. In Madison County, there have been 1,620 confirmed cases and eight deaths.

Hudson said the reason is likely due to the lack of following precautionary steps. Masking and distancing, she said, can help reduce the speak and lessen the burden on hospital staff and resources.

“I’d like to suggest we think about this masking and distancing as a temporary vaccination,’’ she said. “We are waiting for the scientists and the pharmaceutical companies to come up with a vaccine that works. It’s months away.

“Meanwhile, we have to save ourselves for the day that we will have access to the vaccine.”

Madison Mayor Paul Finley assured residents police would not be looking to flag people for not wearing masks in public but instead will have masks for anyone who asks them for one. He said people need to make the wise choice even if they don’t agree with it.

“We have a choice with our attitude,” Finley said. “Not everybody is going to agree with everything that’s done, I think everybody can agree our goal is to get through this as quickly as we possibly can and get back to a normal life that allows us to focus on the things that make us happy.”

According to Hudson, health officials’ biggest concern right now is not space of supplies at the hospitals but the stress being placed on frontline caregivers.

“Our ambulances had the greatest number (Tuesday) of runs since this started,’’ she said. “They are finding that, what was quoted to us today, in about 20 percent of the runs they make they’re having to do the full PPE, which is an increase as well.” 

Toyota Alabama Steps Closer to Increased Engine Production

Toyota Alabama achieved two significant milestones this month as part of its $288 million expansion announced in March 2019.

Upon completion in 2021, the plant will add 450 jobs and represent a $1.2 billion investment that solidifies the Huntsville facility as the automaker’s largest engine producer in North America. 

Milestones include the start of production for the all-new, redesigned 4-cylinder engine, and the closing in of the plant’s 150,000 square-foot V6 engine assembly line. 

“These milestones represent significant achievements and further demonstrate Toyota’s long-term commitment to build where we sell,” said Dave Finch, Toyota Alabama president. “By boosting production capacity and flexibility, our dedicated work force can better serve customers and position our operations for stability and future success.” 

Toyota Alabama supplies engines for one-third of all Toyota vehicles assembled in the U.S. The latest expansion is the plant’s fifth since it began engine production in 2003; annual engine capacity will increase 34 percent to 900,000 and total employment will top 1,800. 

This investment is part of a broader commitment from Toyota to invest $13 billion in its U.S. operations over a five-year period through 2021. To date, Toyota has committed nearly $9 billion of the announced total; cumulative direct investment in the U.S. exceeds $28.4 billion

Upwards Virtual Career & Training Fair a Must for Out-of-Work Alabamians

There are 42,146 people out of work in North Alabama. 

The additional $600 a week people have been receiving from the federal government is scheduled to end July 31, and taking the initiative to bring down that 7.8 percent unemployment rate as quickly as possible is the focus of the Upwards Career & Training Fair. It will be one of North Alabama’s first, virtual hiring events, and the fair runs July 14-16.

Spearheaded by the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with local business and civic leaders, including the AlabamaWorks! North Alabama workforce council and a variety of educational partners from the surrounding 13-county region, the Upwards Career & Training Fair has been organized specifically to assist these dislocated workers impacted by COVID-19. 

North Alabama’s Region 1 includes Colbert, Cullman, DeKalb, Franklin, Jackson, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Limestone, Madison, Marion, Marshall, Morgan, and Winston counties. 

The event will match job seekers with employers who have available, high-demand jobs that pay family-sustaining wages. It will also look to upskill or reskill workers with training opportunities designed to leverage workers into high-demand, good-paying jobs. The upskilling and reskilling portion of the event was a big focus for the state of Alabama before the pandemic.

There is no cost to register; employers, training organizations and job seekers throughout the North Alabama region should register at UpwardsAlabama.com before July 14.

It is easy for job seekers to register, upload a resume, and explore the companies and training resources offered. There are also recommended times for job seekers and companies to hook up online and talk. 

Those times, designed to suit a variety of schedules are July 14 from 1-4 p.m.; July 15 from 2-4 p.m. and 7-8 p.m.; and July 16 from 9 a.m. until noon.

Once registered, each company or training organization will be able to build a virtual booth with a welcoming video to the job seekers that explains more about the company or organization, including the mission, vision, values, and potential opportunities to grow.

It will also provide at least one specific position for which they are hiring, with a complete job description and three specific interview questions that align with the company’s culture or the specific position.

To make it even easier, the Chamber of Commerce is offering a mobile-friendly experience for those workers who do not have access to a computer.

Once again, Huntsville’s regional economy is pulling together to give the workforce a boost – not just as a long-term strategy for economic growth, but in response to the worker in times of uncertainty where creative thinking and positive initiatives help the region recover as quickly as possible.

Area Tourism, Conventions are Looking to Rebound in Wake of Pandemic

Tourism has taken a hit in the Tennessee Valley as the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted daily activities across the nation as well as globally.

The good news is some of the impact will not be long-lasting.

For example, the United States Tennis Association’s girls clay court championships that were held here for the first time in 2019 was canceled this year but will return to the Huntsville Tennis Center in 2021-24.

That’s an economic loss of around $175,000.

“The good news is they were so happy with the way it went last year the USTA awarded it to Huntsville through 2024,’’ said Mark McCarter, sales manager for the Huntsville/Madison County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

“We’ve been through months of cancelations. The focus now is on how do we get the business back. We got lucky in that a lot of things that were canceled this year were annual events. You hate to lose it for sure, and it’s had an impact, but it’s people who have a history here and they’re coming back next year.’’

In March, the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) canceled its 2020 Global Force Symposium and Exposition, which is one of the largest conferences Huntsville hosts annually. It brings over 6,000 attendees and represents an estimated $3.6 million in economic impact.

 “We understand AUSA’s desire to prioritize the health and safety of their delegates, and look forward to welcoming them in 2021, said Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Judy Ryals. “Going forward, the CVB will continue to work with our hospitality partners and public health officials to ensure that the health and safety of our visitors remains a top priority.

“Supporting our local hospitality industry is also of utmost importance – as travel is impacted, we encourage our residents to explore their own backyard and be patrons to our Huntsville/Madison County restaurants, attractions, hotels, and others.” 

Jamie Koshofer, vice president of conventions for the CVB, has worked closely with AUSA over the past year.

“AUSA has long been a close partner of the CVB, and we will continue to provide support for them in all ways that we can,’’ Koshofer said. “2021 is right around the corner, and we look forward to bringing that business back to the Rocket City.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said, “The City of Huntsville has developed a great partnership with AUSA over the past several years. While we share in the disappointment of the community, we respect their decision to make the health of AUSA members, participants, and our citizens a top priority. We will continue to work with them and look forward to seeing AUSA in Huntsville in the coming years.”

Kristen Pepper, marketing director for the CVB, said the AUSA was one of three large conferences that were planned for spring that had to cancel. 

“Obviously the tourism and hospitality industry has been hit pretty hard, especially compared to other industries,’’ she said. “I know just from talking to our hotel partners we’re starting to be on the upswing now.’’

Pepper said local hotels were operating at about 10 percent occupancy during spring at a time where 80-90 percent is the norm. Now, she said, hotels are reporting closer to 50 percent occupancy.

She also said conventions moving forward are “wait-and-see.’’

“Everyone’s kind of playing it by ear,’’ she said. “We have some conferences that as of now you know they’re moving forward for fall and winter 2020. Some have canceled. It’s very dependent on the meeting planners and kind of the general makeup of their attendees. A lot of the conventions that have an older demographic we’re seeing them be a little bit more cautious, but conferences that maybe have a little bit of a smaller headcount or maybe a different age makeup they might feel comfortable continuing for later this year.’’

Masks are Mandatory in Public in Madison County

After weeks of consideration but holding off on making a hard decision, Huntsville, Madison and Madison County officials came to a decision they’d hoped to avoid.
Starting today at 5 p.m., all county residents will be required to wear face coverings in public as mandated by the Alabama Department of Public Health, at the request of infectious disease specialist Dr. Karen Landers of the ADPH.
Mayors Tommy Battle of Huntsville and Paul Finley of Madison and Madison County Commission Chair Dale Strong previously said the difficulty in enforcing the mandate made them hesitate to proclaim it across the county.
But, as Battle recently said, they’d collectively do what health officials suggested. They came to the conclusion face-covering was necessary to control a recent spike of COVID-19 cases not only in the county but across Alabama.
Madison County joins a growing list of cities and counties to require face coverings, joining among others Jefferson County (Birmingham), Montgomery, Mobile and Tuscaloosa.
According to a statement from the ADPH, this health order has the unanimous support of the Madison County Board of Health, Battle, Finley and Strong.
“This is a simple math problem,’’ Battle said in the statement. “Since June 16, the number of positive cases in Madison County has tripled, and the number of hospitalizations has increased 660 percent. We need to take precautionary measures, such as wearing face covers, distancing 6 feet, and handwashing to provide a safe environment for our citizens.’’
​Finley said, “Since day one we as elected officials have said we would work to find the balance of personal versus economic health. While personal responsibility is still paramount, our dramatic rising numbers dictate this step be taken to continue to support all citizens’ safety.’’
COVID-19 is spread through respiratory routes and face coverings — along with sanitizing hands and social distancing — is considered the first line of defense against the spread of the disease.
Medical-grade masks are not required. Coverings may be made from scarves, bandanas, or other fabrics.
Face coverings are required in the following Madison County locations:
  • Indoor spaces of businesses or venues open to the public, including stores, bars, restaurants, entertainment venues, public meeting spaces, or government buildings.
  • Transportation services available to the public, including mass transit, paratransit, taxi, or ride-sharing services.
  • Outdoor areas open to the public where 10 or more persons are gathered and where people are unable to maintain a distance of 6 or more feet between persons not from the same household.

Exceptions to wearing face coverings or masks include:

  • Children age 2 and under.
  • Persons while eating or drinking.
  • Patients in examination rooms of medical offices, dental offices, clinics, or hospitals where their examination of the mouth or nasal area is necessary.
  • Customers receiving hair care services, temporary removal of face coverings when needed to provide hair care.
  • Occasions when wearing a face covering poses a significant mental or physical health, safety or security risk. These include worksite risks.
  • Although not mandated, face coverings are strongly recommended for congregants at worship services and for situations where people from different households are unable to or unlikely to maintain a distance of 6 feet from each other.
  • When effective communication is needed for hearing-impaired persons and those speaking to a large group of people, provided the speaker can stay at least 6 feet away from other persons.
  • Indoor athletic facilities. Patrons are not required to wear face coverings while actively participating in permitted athletic activities, but employees in regular interaction with patrons are required to wear face coverings or masks.
  • Private clubs and gatherings not open to the public and where a consistent 6-foot distance between persons from different households is maintained.

Parents, guardians and caregivers must ensure the proper masking of children over age 2 in public places, ensure face coverings do not pose a choking hazard for children and can be worn safely without obstructing a child’s ability to breathe.

Child care establishments and schools are to develop their face covering policies and procedures.

All businesses and venues open to the public must provide a notice stating that face coverings are required inside the establishment.

Signs are required at all public entrances.

Work Underway for Mixed-Use Development on Governors Drive

Work has begun on the demolition of the former Brooks motel and business offices on Governors Drive.

A mixed-use development, including a 100-room hotel, is planned for the site near the I-565 interchange.

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

The development will feature multiple buildings totaling approximately 26,000 square feet of office, retail and dining space in addition to 260 multifamily units, 14 townhomes and a 100-key hotel.

The planned project will complement the nearby Stovehouse development and will feature pedestrian walkways between them.

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

KTECH Helps Stem Rise of Juvenile Criminals; Opens Gateway to Jobs for Foster Kids

In 2003, while investigating a news story about a man on Death Row, then-television news anchor Lee Marshall discovered the man was a product of Alabama’s foster care system.

Marshall, who was herself adopted as an infant, hit on an alarming statistic from Pew Research: Between 75 and 80 percent of kids in the juvenile justice system come out of foster care.

Lee Marshall: “KTECH is a gateway, an opportunity for kids aging out of the system, to take another path.” (Photo/Steve Babin)

Having grown up in a loving family and having the benefit of a good education and a successful career, she was appalled at that statistic.

More than 16 years later, recent statistics from Foster Care 2.0, and confirmed in stats quoted in an article written for Teen Vogue in May 2018, that number is now solid at 80 percent.

Furthermore, by age 17, more than half of the youths in foster care have experienced an arrest, conviction, or overnight stay in a correctional facility. More alarming numbers:

  • 90 percent of youths with more than five foster placements will enter the justice system at some point in their lives;
  • 40 to 50 percent of formerly fostered youth become homeless within 18 months after leaving foster care; and
  • 25 percent will be in prison within two years of aging out of the system.

“I saw this happening, like a flood rushing the prison gates and pouring through it,” said Marshall. “I searched for somebody, somewhere, doing something to stop it, but came up empty.”

Shortly thereafter, Lee Marshall retired from television news after 20 years to start her Kids To Love foundation. Kids To Love seeks to wrap their arms around foster kids no matter what age or under what circumstances they enter the foster care system. They provide supportive programs, all with a hidden curriculum: to give them food if they don’t have it; to provide transportation if they need it; and help them find housing if they are on the streets. But no one was offering solutions to just “Stop it.”

“As a former journalist, I know what I don’t know, so I did some research,” Marshall said. “I needed an exit strategy for these kids, especially those aging out of the system.

“I created our KTECH workforce training initiative to stop it by getting them into jobs. Our overall catalyst is to invest in, educate, and sustain these kids. KTECH is a gateway, an opportunity for kids aging out of the system, to take another path.”

Daily KTECH classes feature mechatronics in the mornings and robotics in the afternoon. (Photo/Steve Babin)

In 2014, a Kids To Love board member connected Marshall with Fred Rascoe, dean of Career and Technical Programs at Motlow State Community College. He runs the career readiness department which includes Bridgestone classes in mechatronics, a multidisciplinary form of electrical and mechanical engineering systems that trains people for the newest jobs in advanced manufacturing. Mechatronics rethinks traditional blue-collar manufacturing into a clean, skilled environment.

“Several community leaders and members of the Board of Directors went with me to see how their program worked,” said Marshall. “They were stating 100 percent job placement for graduates from the classes and, by all accounts, it looked good.”

Rascoe became her mentor and when she told him how she wanted KTECH to look, he showed her what they needed and how to set up the equipment to be successful.

“I had a vision of what I needed to make it work but I knew the mountain I would be climbing. All I needed now was a building and half a million dollars in equipment,” Marshall said.

Kids To Love was operating out of several locations with a warehouse in one place, her administrative offices in an old Intergraph building, and to make the classes work, she was praying for a way to bring everything under one roof.

Just a few months later, in November 2014, she met Louis and Patty Breland of Breland Properties. Patty was adopted and she shared Marshall’s vision for KTECH.

The Brelands donated a 13,000 square-foot investment property on Castle Drive in Madison to Kids To Love.

“It was formerly a Jump Zone painted in primary colors and smelled like dirty socks, but I have never been so excited about a building in my life,” said Marshall. “Nearly all the materials for renovations were donated and in April, Dorothy Davidson of Davidson Technologies bought all the required equipment.”

KTECH has two fulltime instructors and classes are daily with mechatronics in the mornings; robotics in the afternoon; and soldering and solid edge, a 3D CAD technology that provides solid modeling, assembly modelling and 2D orthographic view functionality for mechanical designers, taught several hours per week. Students leave KTECH with all four industry certifications.

Students attend an accelerated program of four college-level classes in 16 weeks. Classes are 40 percent lecture and 60 percent hands-on instruction.

KTECH has an articulation agreement, that is, their college level classes qualify as transferable college credits if a student wants to transfer to Calhoun Community College, Wallace State, or Motlow. Calhoun and Wallace State give 12 of the 16 hours credit, but Motlow gives the full 16 because the program is patterned after it.

“We want kids to have an easy transition into a job after we certify them, so we set up the labs just like they will be at a job, in fact, the robotic lab is exactly like the new labs at the new Mazda Toyota plant,” Marshall said. “Students can go straight to work making $30,000 a year.”

In 2018, KTECH expanded the mechatronics lab to include the largest robotics training classroom in the state of Alabama. There are four robots and a virtual computer robot just like the ones they will see at the Mazda Toyota plant.

KTECH runs completely debt free and accepts no state or federal funding because grant money has strings attached.

“I can’t help kids the way I want to help them if I accepted government funds,” she said.

While KTECH’s priority is on kids aging out of the foster care system, it is not limited to that. Marshall said it is a training vehicle for anyone in the community who can use the skills.

“We have put veterans in there who are transitioning back into the workforce and they bring a tremendous synergy to the kids,” said Marshall. “My kids have a tendency to quit when it gets hard or to quit when they don’t want to do something.

“If I put a vet in here with one of my kids, that vet comes from a brotherhood. They will say, ‘I’ve got your back. We’re in this together and quitting or failure are not options.’”

The program also offers classes to the underserved or under-resourced people.

“We have great relationships with nonprofit organizations like the Downtown Rescue Mission and Christian Women’s Job Corps,” Marshall said. “We have trained six of the Downtown Rescue Mission’s program graduates.”

Students must have a high school diploma or GED to interview and Marshall said it is a tough love proposition.

“We have a strict interview process and only take about half of those that interview; however, we have a 100 percent completion rate,” said Marshall. “We give them an opportunity. What they do with it is up to them.

“For us, it is not about having butts in a seat – it is about completion. We kick them in the butt while they are here, but we are by their side at graduation.”

Kids To Love has awarded more than 700 college scholarships in its first 16 years, and KTECH has awarded more than 100 certifications in the first three years of its existence. KTECH is an alternative for foster children who are not cut out for college or don’t have the support to go to college, but they still need a skill set to be independent.

For 16 years, Kids To Love has implemented numerous programs in support of foster children of all ages throughout Alabama, in 60 counties in Tennessee, and with a growing presence in Mississippi and Georgia. Programs for young children like More Than a Backpack and Christmas For the Kids provide food, school supplies, and new clothing to wear. Life Lab teaches older kids, essential skills like how to create a budget, balance a budget, write a resume and dress appropriately for a job.

“I asked a judge in Montgomery, ‘What is the number one thing you see in my kids when they come before you?” said Marshall.

“He said, ‘Armed robbery with drugs a close number two. It may surprise you, drugs isn’t number one, but they get a gun because they need a gun to get into the drug business,’” Marshall said he told her.

According to Bennet Wright, Chair and Executive Director of the Alabama Sentencing Commission, it costs $44 a day to house an inmate in Alabama. Armed robbery is a gateway crime with an automatic 20-year sentence if convicted in Alabama. A 20-year sentence costs the taxpayer over $321,000.

Right now, there are more than 1,500 kids over the age of 14, about to age out of the system. The cost of that many kids aging out of foster care and going into the juvenile justice system will cost taxpayers about $365 million if nothing is done to stop it.

KTECH is one step to help stop this trend.

Trash Pandas Inaugural Season Pushed to 2021

MADISON Fans who have waited for professional baseball to return to North Alabama will now have to wait a little longer.

Trash Pandas President & CEO Ralph Nelson: I firmly believe the Trash Pandas will help heal North Alabama when we come out on the other side of this pandemic an even stronger community. (Photo/Rocket City Trash Pandas)

Minor League Baseball announced the cancellation of the 2020 season, which would have been the historic opening campaign for the Trash Pandas. Instead, 2021 will serve as the inaugural mission for the Double-A affiliate of the Angels.

“Obviously, this is an incredibly disappointing day for our fans, staff, and partners,” said team President and CEO Ralph Nelson. “But the health and safety of our families and community is paramount above all else. Baseball has always been part of the healing when our country has come back from tragic times, and I firmly believe the Trash Pandas will help heal North Alabama when we come out on the other side of this pandemic an even stronger community.”

The Trash Pandas will announce policies and procedures as they relate to tickets purchased for 2020 baseball games. Fans will not lose any value for the tickets they have already bought, the team said.

In fact, the team is switching from a baseball operation to an event/retail business to make up for the lost revenue from the baseball season being canceled.

The team has been setting merchandise sales records for Minor League Baseball and is approaching nearly $3 million in sales through the Emporium at Bridge Street Town Centre, the Junkyard at Toyota Field and its online store shoptrashpandas.com.

The Trash Pandas were the first MiLB team to process international online orders and have had merchandise shipped to Canada, England, Australia and the United Arab Emirates.

“Obviously, merchandise has been our home run hitter since we unveiled our team name and logo in 2018,” Nelson said. “The opportunity … to welcome international orders will only help expand the Trash Panda name across the globe.”

The Trash Pandas have held “Block Parties” on Friday nights at Toyota Field, featuring bands, trivia contests on the videoboard and fireworks. They recently held a screening of the movie “Angels in the Outfield” and fans sat on the outfield grass to watch.

This weekend, they are hosting an Independence Eve Block Party and a massive Fourth of July celebration, featuring live entertainment, activities for kids of all ages and, of course, fireworks. For Friday’s event, admission is $10, kids 2 and under are free. The Fourth of July admission is $10 per person, kids 2 and under are free and parking is $6 per vehicle.

On July 10, the team will show “Field of Dreams” and fans can “have a catch” before the film. The Pepsi Gates will open at 5:30 p.m. and showtime is set for 7. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for kids ages 12 & under, kids 2 and under are admitted free. There is no charge for parking. Trash Pandas Nation full-season ticket holders will have the opportunity to gain early entry through the Trustmark VIP Lobby beginning at 5 p.m. 

The Trash Pandas have also hosted week-long kids’ camps, instructional baseball/softball camps and baseball travel-ball tournaments.

“We had events 26 of the 30 days in June,” Nelson said. “July will have even more.”

For information, visit trashpandasbaseball.com.

“These are unprecedented times for our country and our organization as this is the first time in our history that we’ve had a summer without Minor League Baseball played,” said MiLB President and CEO Pat O’Conner. “This announcement removes the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season and allows our teams to begin planning for an exciting 2021 season of affordable family entertainment.”