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.

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.”

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.”


Madison Crossings Addresses County’s Underserved Senior Living Options

MADISON — Elderly people are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population.

Construction is coming along on Madison Crossings. (Photo/Steve Babin)

In the Madison community alone, studies show the population growth among people 75 years and older is expected to grow 40 percent over the next five years.

The new Madison Crossings senior living community opening this summer is addressing the needs and expectations of this expanding demographic, and it is not just existing residents who will benefit.

With Madison County growth on an explosive upswing, families migrating to our area will bring extended families with aging loved ones as well.

According to Matt Coughenour of Kirco Senior Living, the company developing Madison Crossings, the new community will bring senior living options that today, are unavailable to seniors in this area.

“We are excited about the growth we see, but more importantly, we feel Madison is highly underserved in terms of existing senior living options,” said Coughenour. “The area’s demographics, amenities, and economic growth make Madison a great new market for us, and from a macro perspective, Huntsville presents a strong opportunity because it is the fastest growing MSA in Alabama.

Madison Crossings is slated to open this summer.

“Currently, with the Mazda Toyota plant on track to bring 4,000 jobs to the surrounding area, that could create further unmet demand. It is common for adult children to want Mom and Dad close to their home and work, so for anyone that chooses to move their aging family member with them, Madison Crossings will provide a fantastic environment that is nearby, offers outstanding care, market-leading amenities, an abundance of natural light, and diverse programming and activities.”

Madison Crossings, which is on County Line Road, will feature 105 independent living apartments, which are typically targeted toward younger, more independent seniors who are seeking an active and social resort-style environment.

It will also have 27 Memory Care apartments designed for those diagnosed with varying degrees of memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease. That section of the neighborhood will offer higher levels of care.

Jesse Marinko, founder and CEO of Phoenix Senior Living, the company that will be managing the facility, said the average resident will be in their 70s to 80s.

“Because of the clientele in Madison, we will offer a nurturing, individualized environment,” Marinko said. “Our spectrum will start with a senior who still works part-time, still drives and comes and goes freely, who still enjoys a diverse dining experience, enjoys engaging with others and is still looking for socialization.

A huge lobby features a piano and plenty of room for parties.

“Many of our residents will be married couples who have downsized; maybe one spouse needs some support while the other is completely independent.

“Then there is the resident who is experiencing some memory loss or has been diagnosed with some form of dementia. We have an extensively trained staff in the memory care neighborhood who can assist residents with medication management, and the activities of daily living.”

Marinko and Coughenour said Madison Crossings is designed to help with navigation, minimize fall risks, encourage socialization, and ensure residents feel safe and comfortable.

“Madison Crossings’ independent living residents can live in their unit and receive homecare within our community, which is the same thing they get in an assisted living community,” said Marinko.

The location, adjacent to James Clemons High School, is also a strategic move.

“We purchased the land before we knew the Mazda Toyota plant was coming, but certainly it will be a benefit for the project,” said Marinko. “But being located adjacent to James Clemons High School presents some unique intergenerational programming opportunities for us as well.”

A study conducted by the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education at Penn State University shows that in the past 20 years, there has been a growing gap between young people, age 21 and younger, and elderly people, age 60 and older in terms of living arrangements and recreational outlets.

This breach isolates older people from other age groups leaving children and young adults without meaningful relationships with senior adults and is linked to a decline in life satisfaction among older people, and an increase in negative stereotypes toward the aging among young people.

“Intergenerational programming” involves activities or programs that increase cooperation, interaction, or exchange between any two generations, as defined by the National Council on the Aging.

“By partnering with local school systems, we can help better educate students and young people on seniors and getting them familiar with and comfortable with the aging process. It means a lot to the seniors, and to children,” Marinko said.

“You also have Town Madison with Toyota Field just three miles from our site. That will present additional programming opportunities like taking residents to see minor league baseball games.

“We often say that when you bring kids into a senior neighborhood, it is like shooting oxygen into the veins, and brings life to everybody within the community. Our residents benefit from the interaction with young people.”

Madison Crossings will officially open this summer and any formal ribbon-cuttings and open house events depend on the status of the coronavirus at that time.

“We have hired an on-property Community Engagement Director, Lila King who is reporting a strong level of initial interest about the community, which we are excited about,” said Coughenour. “We have a sales office with model rooms built out with finishes from the actual project and Lila is reporting we have already reserved numerous apartments and have deposits on those units.”

Coughenour describes Madison Crossings as a resort community lifestyle designed to promote social interaction and activity for the residents.

“That includes an outdoor amenity space including a courtyard with outdooring dining, a pool and lounge area, a fireplace and grilling area, covered seating, a bocce ball court, pickleball court and walking paths.”

He said the interior of the building will feature an abundance of natural light, multiple restaurant-style dining venues, a pub, an intergenerational room with games for children and grandchildren, state-of-the-art fitness and wellness center, a full-service salon and spa, and a movie theater.

The property will offer a doctor’s office on the property where physicians can visit patients without them having to leave the property, and where they can conduct telehealth services.

“The entire property is wireless, and we offer an open-source platform so doctors and nurses can conduct telehealth services in whatever format they prefer be it Doctor on Demand, Zoom, Facetime or something else.,” said Marinko.

“First and foremost, Phoenix Senior Living is one of the best operators in the country and will provide unparalleled care and service to our residents,” said Coughenour. “Through partnerships and outreach, Madison Crossings intends to become part of the very fabric of the local community.”

Don’t Let What Looks Like a Slow Start to 2021 Fool You

Formal announcements and groundbreaking ceremonies can be deceiving.

To recap what was by all economic standards a disastrous year of pandemic across the nation, Huntsville’s smart growth strategy of building a solid infrastructure, offering a high quality of life, providing good paying jobs for the citizenry, and incorporating all points of the city into that strategy, will not let up in 2021.

Despite the COVID-19 hit, Huntsville created 960 jobs in 2020 and put $2.1 billion in new product on the ground.

In September, just prior to Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle’s 2020 State of the City Address, the city Inspections Department issued permits totaling $220 million of commercial and residential construction, an all-time record month for Huntsville in capital investment.

Home values increased by 12.57 percent in 2020, nearly two times greater than the national average.

According to the Huntsville Madison County Chamber of Commerce, Huntsville has a lot of good paying jobs available – especially in the automotive industry – so many they are having a hard time reaching people to let them know about them.

“To sustain this kind of growth,” Battle said at the State of the City in November, “You have to have a plan in place, and we do.”

He laughingly declared the construction crane as the official city bird – all despite the pandemic.

Heading into 2021, an increase in COVID cases and extremely cold temperatures have dampened some of the formalities surrounding Huntsville’s big agenda, but here are just a few projects lying underneath the radar you will be hearing more about in 2021:

New Autograph Hotel by Marriott Downtown

A $40 million Autograph Collection Hotel by Marriott will soon rise over Big Spring Park. Construction is underway at the southwest corner of the parking garage between Monroe and Church streets in downtown Huntsville. The hotel has been two years in the making.

Window World Manufacturing Complex

A permit for a Window World manufacturing complex has been approved for the Greenbrier area in unincorporated Limestone County off I-565 and west of Madison. More information will be coming soon.

Holiday Inn Express at I-565 and Bob Wallace

A Holiday Inn Express is on the rise at the Bob Wallace exit off Interstate I-565. Being built by Heritage Hospitality Group in Ridgeland, Miss., construction on the newly franchised Holiday Inn property has been slowed slightly by COVID complications, but a completion date is on the horizon. It will offer easy access to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, the Huntsville Botanical Garden, Redstone Arsenal, MidCity, and Cummings Research Park.

New Homebuilding Projects

Jeff Benton Homes’ new Sage Creek community, just outside Redstone Arsenal Gate 7 off Zierdt and Martin roads, is just minutes from Town Madison, restaurants, and within walking distance of the new Shoppes at Redstone Square anchored by a new Publix.

They have five 3- and 4-bedroom floorplans available.

Breland Homes’ Estuary at Natures Walk, off the newly widened Martin Road, offers low-maintenance, luxury 3-bedroom townhomes. The community, a few blocks from Gate 7 and within walking distance of the Shoppes at Redstone Square,  is also convenient to Town Madison, Cummings Research Park and the Huntsville International Airport.

Legacy Homes’ new Trailhead Village on the eastern side of Chapman Mountain is offering chalets, bungalows and mountain lofts starting at $300,000. It is surrounded by Monte Sano State Park and offers plenty of untouched nature with biking, hiking, and walking trails.

Mazda-Toyota Manufacturing & Suppliers Expansion

Additional permitting related to Mazda Toyota Manufacturing and its suppliers has been approved and as these facilities expand in 2021, the biggest challenges they face, according to the Huntsville Madison Chamber of Commerce, is a large-scale hiring effort.

Starting wages for production team members is $17 an hour with a top growth of $23 an hour plus shift premium.

Reaching regional residents who are unemployed, underemployed, concerned about losing a current job, or searching for new careers in the automotive manufacturing industry, should contact

Southpoint Industrial Park Expansion

The new 400,000 square-foot spec warehouse at Southpoint Industrial Park, said to be the largest industrial building built completely on speculation in North Alabama, broke ground last August.

The new facility will provide 404,738 square feet of concrete tilt wall with a 40-foot clear height and 60-feet  by 60-feet column spacing, and more than 50 dock doors.

The 11th facility built by The Hollingsworth Companies in the Southpoint Business is expected to be complete early this year. It will bring the entire industrial park to 1,962,606 square feet of industrial space. The park is along the I-565 corridor and near the Mazda Toyota plant.

$14M Million Runway Distribution Center Takes Flight in the Jetplex

With the “sound of success” in the background and overhead, ground was broken on a $14 million, 208,000 square-foot Runway Distribution Center in the Jetplex Industrial Park at Huntsville International Airport.

L-R: Huntsville International Airport CEO Rick Tucker; Huntsville-Madison County Chamber CEO Chip Cherry; Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong; Bill Fleagle, senior vice president of Shamrock Investments; Dennis O’Brien, founder and president of Shamrock Investments; Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle; and Barbie Peek, director of Business Development for the Port of Huntsville. (Photo/Steve Babin)

As the group of elected, civic and business officials  ceremoniously shoveled dirt, heavy equipment continued plowing the soil in the background, preparing the new spec industrial facility for its first tenant in July. The ceremony marked the official groundbreaking for Shamrock Investments’ fourth multimillion-dollar land investment in the Jetplex since 2017.

And, as if on cue, a cargo jet flew over the “runway” running alongside the development for which it is named, drowning out Shamrock Investments Vice President Bill Fleagle as he spoke about the new project .

“Since our first investment in the Huntsville in 2017, Shamrock Investments has seen Huntsville in general, and specifically the Port of Huntsville/Huntsville International Airport area, as an excellent location for strategic growth,” said Fleagle on an unseasonably warm and sunny February afternoon, . “We are very excited about the addition of Runway Distribution Center to Jetplex Industrial Park … and we appreciate the efforts of the City of Huntsville who helped make this project a reality while we continue to look for future opportunities to … expand our partnership with the greater Huntsville business community.”

He continued over the roar of the plane and laughter from the audience, “And we thank the Airport Authority and the Port Authority in helping us with the FAA, because as you can see, we are slightly close to the runway and were presented with some challenges to work through.”

“That is the sound of a Runway Distribution Center – that is the sound of success!” said Huntsville International Airport CEO Rick Tucker.

“The Huntsville community is on a roll from an economic development standpoint,” said Tucker. “We are pleased with the investments Shamrock Investments have already made and this endeavor represents the future … it is our goal to continue to work with them as partners to ensure success.”

Also on hand were Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle; Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong; and Huntsville Madison County Chamber of Commerce CEO Chip Cherry.

“I think what you see here is a community that believes in partnership,” said Battle. “As partners your success is our success, and we look forward to some great successes here. As you do well, the city of Huntsville does well.

“We see that on a day-to-day basis with our companies coming out and employment being provided. It is really realized when you see the young people working inside a new facility who have moved up in their status to a job where they can … grow a family. And that’s what it’s all about – it’s about providing … something that gives everybody a chance to be productive citizens and make a living. So, thank you for your investment in Huntsville.”

Based in Birmingham, Shamrock Investments has three other properties at the Jetplex. The new facility adds to the company’s Huntsville footprint at the park to more than 470,000 square feet.

“It’s phenomenal the growth we have seen over the last few years,” said Cherry. “It’s just evidence of the faith that people like Shamrock have in this community and what’s going on here – in the growth, the development, and the vision you have. So, thank you for placing some of that investment here in the form of buildings and we look forward to the jobs it’s going to create, and you becoming a part of the fabric of this community.”

Strong agreed it is nothing less than phenomenal what is going on in Huntsville and Madison County.

“There is no better place to be than Huntsville and Madison County to grow this economy,” he said. “Thank you for your commitment. What you are doing here today makes our community stronger.”


It’s All Fun and Games for Kids (of All Ages): Main Event Coming to Bridge Street Town Centre

Remember the arcade from your days long ago, the big place with Galaga, Centipede, Pac-Man, pinball machines, Skee-ball and air hockey? Perhaps a pool table or two, as well, with a line of stacked “got next” quarters on the rail?

The Main Event is moving into the former Toys R Us/Babies R Us building.

Now imagine that for adults — and kids, of course — with much more space, bowling, laser tag, billiards and more than 120 arcade games, along with restaurants and beverages including cocktails and craft beer.

That’s what’s coming, with Main Event Entertainment opening a 50,000 square-foot complex at Bridge Street Town Centre.

“They looked at Huntsville and the growth Huntsville will have over the long-term,” said Nikki Columbo, senior vice president of Key Accounts for Bayer Properties, which manages Bridge Street Town Centre. “They’re projecting for 10 to 15 years and what they’re seeing is that growth (in Huntsville) will surpass other markets. They’re looking for long-term.”

This is the first location of Main Event in Alabama and it is slated to open by 2022 but no specific date has been given. It will be a family-friendly option for multiple age groups.

“We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the Huntsville community and bringing our unique family entertainment experience to the area,” said Chris Morris, president and CEO of Main Event. “Our brand promise is to provide guests an opportunity to make memories together while enjoying the best activities and games imaginable all in the comforts of one fun-filled location. We are committed to doing that every single day.

“The team at Bayer Properties was instrumental in making this a reality and we are thankful to be working with a top-notch group on our first-ever location in Alabama.”

Dallas-based Main Event has 44 locations in the United States ranging from 45,000 to 75,000 square feet. The company bills its centers as having state-of-the-art bowling, multi-level laser tag, gravity ropes adventure courses and more. It offers a variety of deals and specials, including happy hour, along with birthday, private and corporate parties/events.

Morris has a strong upper management background in the restaurant and entertainment industries. He has been with California Pizza Kitchen, On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina, CEC Entertainment (owners of Chuck E. Cheese’s and Peter Piper Pizza), NPC International and Applebee’s International. Morris has opened more than 200 units with five businesses.

Columbo said the scouting for Huntsville began prior to 2020. But the pandemic impact didn’t stop Main Event from moving forward toward opening.

“We kept moving forward and they reorganized as well,” she said. “Coming out of the pandemic they’re moving forward with one or two leases in the country and Huntsville is one of them. I think it’s safe to say they’re not going to open five in the next year. They’re going to open one or two, maybe three, and Huntsville is one of them.

“The essence of Main Event Entertainment and Bridge Street Town Centre fits perfectly. Bridge Street really draws from a large area of the Huntsville market. It draws from 25 to 50 miles, and our core customer is coming from that distance 25-30 times a year for the Bridge Street experience. One of the reasons they planted their flag in Huntsville is they saw traffic patterns and (growth) and saw this as a good opportunity.”

Main Event joins The Cheesecake Factory in announcing a new location at Bridge Street. The Cheesecake Factory will move into the 7,350-square-foot corner location on the south side of the property that previously housed Cantina Laredo. It will be across from P.F. Chang’s and adjacent to Barnes & Noble. Opening is “Winter 2021,” with no specific date announced.

Columbo said Bayer has other projects in the works for Bridge Street but declined to offer specifics. A mixed-use outdoor center, Bridge Street has more than 50 unique or specialty stores, more than 207,000 square feet of Class A office space, the 232-room Westin hotel, 150-room Element by Westin, and a 14-screen Cinemark theatre that is the busiest in Alabama. New developments include Watermark, a 244-unit luxury apartment complex, and the 131-room Hyatt Place hotel.

Cheesecake Factory Coming to Bridge Street Town Centre

When officials with The Cheesecake Factory toured Bridge Street Town Centre in late 2019, they were sold on adding the state’s second location here.

All of what happened in 2020 didn’t change that decision, either.

“Our guests have been asking us to come to Huntsville for years, so we are very pleased to be opening a restaurant at Bridge Street Town Centre,” David Overton, founder, chairman and CEO of The Cheesecake Factory, said. “Bridge Street Town Centre is a wonderful property … and we look forward to opening  there.”

The Cheesecake Factory will move into the 7,350-square-foot corner location on the south side of the property that previously housed Cantina Laredo. It will be across from P.F. Chang’s and adjacent to Barnes & Noble. Opening is “Winter 2021,” with no specific date announced.

The Cheesecake Factory has been consistently named one of the Fortune magazine “Best 100 Companies to Work For.” It has garnered numerous awards for customer satisfaction, quality of atmosphere, food and presentation, workplace diversity, and menu options. Its large, diverse menu contains more than 250 items including more than 50 cheesecakes.

The company also has consistently been nominated and acclaimed for community service and development of employees. Its other Alabama location is at The Summit in Birmingham. The Cheesecake Factory owns and operates 294 restaurants in the United States and Canada under three brands. It also has a bakery division that provides items for its restaurants and third-party bakery customers.

Nikki Columbo, senior vice president of National Key Accounts for Bayer Properties, said the company is opening “very few stores” in the next 18 months due to the coronavirus impact. Bayer Properties, based in Birmingham, manages Bridge Street Town Centre. Myriad factors contributed to the decision to open here, including the drawing power of the shopping complex to a large demographic.

“The Cheesecake Factory’s philosophy, pre-pandemic, was to not go into markets that did not have a set demographic draw,” Columbo said. “I believe that was something like 500,000 in 10 miles, which Huntsville does not have. But after looking at this project, and we’re the dominant project in the entire market until you get to Birmingham, given the way Bridge Street Town Centre trades in the market and attracts visitors from 25 to 50 miles, and looking at the core customer coming to Bridge Street 25 or more times a year, they looked at it as being able to draw in a market in excess of half a million.

“Then it was a decision of which (location) to choose, and when they toured 15 months ago it was clear to them that Bridge Street was their only choice. They’ve been great partners.”

The company’s history dates to the 1940s in Detroit when Evelyn Overton used a newspaper recipe to create her “Original” cheesecake. She opened a small shop but closed it to raise her two children, Renee and David. She still made cheesecakes at home for local restaurants, building a strong reputation. In 1972, with the children grown, Evelyn and her husband moved to Los Angeles to chase their dream.

She began making cheesecakes and quickly established herself in Los Angeles. In 1978, the Cheesecake Factory opened its first restaurant in Beverly Hills, Calif. Calling it “upscale casual dining” — today it’s known by influencers and others as “experiential dining” — the restaurant’s popularity took off. Its extensive menu covers a wide range designed for a variety of diners.

Columbo said other projects are in the works for Bridge Street. Dallas-based Main Event is opening in what was the Toys R Us/Babies R Us building on the corner of Governors Drive West and Eagle Drive Northwest. The 50,000-square-foot entertainment and restaurant complex will be the company’s first in Alabama.

Columbo said traffic and shopping patterns, demographics of outlying areas from Huntsville and Madison County, housing starts, known brands expressing interest and other factors are contributing to the flurry of projects here. Announcements about the FBI building a complex on Redstone Arsenal and Huntsville landing the Space Command headquarters also are impactful.

“We have a lot in the works, but obviously we don’t announce until things are signed, sealed and delivered,” she said. “But suffice to say we have a lot in the works. I like to say we cast a large net. It’s surprising that even in pandemic this (Huntsville) market is so strong. We’re seeing a lot of interest in this mini-economic boom the market is experiencing.”



County Line Road: Proof That If You Build A Road Correctly, They Will Come

MADISON — Nowhere in Madison is the growth more prominent than along the western corridor of the city at County Line Road.

“County Line Road was the first road in which Madison was able to get ahead of the growth,” said Mayor Paul Finley. “Everything else, we have just been playing catch-up or retrofitting in a way that changes traffic problems. The process eases in economic development to meet the challenges of rapid growth. Again – managing the growth.”

Going back to 2011, Finley said they knew County Line was where the growth was happening. He worked with Huntsville, Madison County and then-Gov. Robert Bentley to receive its first ATRIP-II award to get County Line Road funding.

ATRIP-II is an Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program-II award provides grants to rehabilitate and improve transportation infrastructure projects.

That award covered the rehabilitation of five-laning County Line Road all the way from the south, near the airport entrance, to north through Madison.

“When we put the walking path on it and completed it in 2014, look at the growth,” said Finley. “And it has happened organically with restaurants, retail like Daisy Lane Gifts, and business support like Devaney Brothers Farms.

“Now you are starting to see some doctors’ offices and assisted-living facilities like the new Madison Crossings at James Clemons High School, because it was set up for success.

“Compare that to other developments off Hughes Road, Wall Triana, and even off of Zierdt Road where they built a road, but they didn’t leave any room for expansion.

“County Line Road shows that if you build a road correctly, they will come, and they have, and they will continue to do so. It’s amazing.”

Assisted care facilities, such as Madison Crossings, are part of the growth along County Line Road.

He said County Line does represent growth in unincorporated Limestone County, but he credits the foresight to the days when retired Col. John Hamilton was the garrison commander on Redstone Arsenal between 2010 and 2013.

“County Line Road really came from was an understanding about what we were missing from traffic coming from the west and northwest to Redstone Arsenal and from Cummings Research Park,” said Finley. “Hamilton did his homework and said, ‘this is where all our traffic fits.’ One of the missing components was a north to south route on the western perimeter of Madison, so we used that data to go to the state when they were doing ATRIP-II, and said, this is supporting Redstone Arsenal, but it’s also getting ahead of the game on County Line.”

With support from Huntsville, the city got the money.

“That is how it came about – listening and supporting Redstone Arsenal while also looking at where our primary growth was going to happen, and that was going to happen along County Line and west of County Line,” said Finley. “It had a lot of support from Huntsville and it was the first project (Huntsville) Mayor (Tommy) Battle and I landed, along with Old Madison Pike and Zierdt Road, as far back as 2009.

“That is how long it has taken to get to that point.”

County Line Road was finished around 2015 when I-565 was completed, and Finley said when they got the ATRIP-II funding, it started at County Line and went through to I-565, but it left a problem between it and Wall Triana that needs to be fixed.

“When we do that, it’s going to include looking at the airport intersection to see how we might make that better,” Finley said. “They are looking at all alternatives to find a solution to an eventual bottleneck at the airport.”

Dirt is moving all up and down County Line Road today.

In addition to sprawling new subdivisions, you will find new businesses of all types rising the area’s famous red dirt.

Across from the Waterford subdivision between the new O’Reilly Auto Parts and Dunkin’ Donuts, a 10,000 square-foot medical office building is being developed by AAA Holdings.

The Animal Health Care Center north of Palmer Park near the Somerset at Madison is expanding, and two dental offices are planned.

North of Madison at the Range, an Alabama Credit Union is under construction at the corner of New Bristol Lane. And, north of that, a 17,000 square-foot multi-tenant commercial building has been approved for construction and a self-storage business will soon open.

Indeed – Madison built it and now they are coming.