Safety is Paramount as Construction on Town Madison Stadium Reaches Significant Milestones

MADISON — The home for the Rocket City Trash Pandas baseball team is about one-quarter complete.

Concrete and steel have gone up and the underground plumbing and electricity is being laid.

Mud is moving, tractors are pulling, trucks are dumping, and walls are being erected.

The entire Town Madison development may have gotten off to a slow start, but word on the baseball stadium job site is that there will be significant progress in the coming weeks, in anticipation of the December completion date. In fact, the development will reach a point in which it will suddenly seem to go up all at once.

Hoar Construction, general contractor for the stadium, has 80 to 90 workers at the site on any given day. It is just one of many construction sites in full-build mode at Town Madison.

So, what is it like out there on a day-to-day basis? Is everybody staying safe?

Hoar Construction Safety Manager Amanda Black

“Some days there is a beehive of activity and it can get confusing with all the other construction going on around us,” said Bart Wilder, vice president of safety for Hoar Construction, “From a site perspective, it is nonstop all day. Building for us is not just about building on time, under budget, and to a high level of quality. It is about doing all of those things safely and seamlessly.”

Every trade has its own inherent risks associated with their type of work and for that reason, Wilder said they work diligently to get the right trade partners (subcontractors) on every project.

“We choose partners who understand that safety comes down to understanding what our risks are and having the processes in place to identify and mitigate them,” he said. “Hoar sets the culture and expectations for the project, but our partners represent various scopes of work like concrete and steel, utilities, plumbing, electrical. It takes all these trades to put together a project like the new stadium and most of the safety plan begins in preplanning when our safety representatives sit down with partner safety representatives to discuss what they see as hazards on the upcoming job.”

While the construction industry operates under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Primary Standards for Safety, there are other regulatory industries OSHA incorporates into its standards by reference. In fact, OSHA leans heavily on other building trades such as the National Fire Protection Association to write their own codes for fire extinguishers, fire suppression, or chemical exposure. The National Electrical Code also has its own safety protocol, incorporated into OSHA’s standards.

“Safety is not a burden because our partners share the safety responsibilities with us,” said Wilder. “Also, our obligations are not predicated on the minimum of OSHA standards. Our obligations are more along the lines of industry best practices, designed to be above and beyond OSHA.”

Hoar recommends every team start every shift by looking at specific tasks and asking each other – “Do we have the tools, equipment, manpower, and materials to do today’s tasks? Even more importantly – what are the hazards surrounding that task?” “Are there things that can hurt you in the process?”

Amanda Black, Hoar Construction’s safety manager at Town Madison, begins every morning with a field walk through the jobsite. She checks to see what the last shift left for the next day, and to assess whether site conditions require a superintendent or a team to clean it up. She also makes sure there is room to walk around and maneuver safely and room to operate their equipment.

“We preach two things all the time to the workforce,” said Black “‘Safety is everybody’s job’, and ‘If you see something, say something.’

“I’m out on the site most of the time making sure everyone is doing their job safely. We have safety meetings out here every Tuesday and free time safety analyses every day to keep the workers thinking about job safety and thinking about ways to prevent hazards from happening.”

She said as the general contractor, Hoar requires every team have safety meetings among their group, and Black confirms those meetings daily and any issues that arose from them, checking notes among supervisors to see if anyone spotted any safety hazards that need to be discussed.

“Amanda is in the field, boots on the ground, all day long,” said Wilder. “She is constantly observing not only potential unsafe conditions that can arise, but she knows how to approach an unsafe situation and talk about a way to fix it in a respectful, professional, an educated manner,” said Wilder. “Amanda is trained in safety rules and regulations, so she speaks with authority and people onsite respond to that.”

Construction safety also requires a great deal of foresight. Amanda spends a lot of time at the drawing table trying to safely predict any kind of hazard before it presents itself.

“We have all these great rules and regulations in our industry, but it is not about the regs with Hoar,” said Wilder. “We want you to go home safely. Whoever is waiting for you at home is more important than anyone at work.”

There is an economic message in that strategy as well.

“Part of our success is being able to create all these great construction jobs – jobs that in the process, send you home every day no worse for wear than however you were when you showed up.”

The number one injury on any construction jobsite is trips and falls.

“It seems that areas designated for storage tend to be where a plurality of these trip-and-fall injuries take place,” said Black. “We run to the problem, not away from it. We go back over the environment where they fell to see what caused it, and we check tools and equipment to make sure they were working properly.

“We call in our superintendents to engage quickly and work the problem until it gets resolved.”

“I believe the construction industry has gotten safer in relation to previous generations,” said Wilder. “OSHA always looks at incident rate as the total number of recordable injuries that occur in year, and the total number of incidents that result in someone getting hurt or put on restricted duty due to the severity of an incident.

“Those numbers are tabulated against the Bureau of Labor Statistics to determine the national industry averages. Hoar Construction has consistently ranked well below the industry average in jobsite injuries for more 10 years. We are very proud of that.”

Neither rain, nor more rain, nor even more rain can slow the progress at MidCity Huntsville

While constant rain, some heavy enough to cause flooding, has been a seemingly daily companion to the Tennessee Valley community, the wet conditions haven’t slowed progress at MidCity Huntsville.

“We only had three good days in December,’’ said Nadia Niakossary, project coordinator for developer RCP Companies. “But we figured that into the time frame. We’re still on schedule.’’

The multi-use MidCity campus occupies the former Madison Square Mall property and surrounding area. Ground was broken in 2017, the first business on site opened in August and completion date is 2022.

Dave & Buster’s is nearing completion and scheduled to open this summer

Niakossary said work was proceeding on current projects despite weather delays.

“We are diligently working on the construction of the University Drive-facing retail blocks,’’ she said. “When visiting MidCity today, you’ll see five vertical buildings. Top Golf and The Camp with Alchemy Coffee are open for business.

“The Camp just reopened (in March) for springtime, with the food trucks and bar open Thursday through Sunday and the coffee shop open seven days a week. We have a diverse lineup of live music and unique events happening there every weekend.’’

High Point Climbing and Fitness is nearing completion in the center of the frontage and anticipates an opening this spring, Niakossary said. In front of High Point, REI Co-op’s foundation has been set and steel frames are going up.

The opening for REI Co-op, an outdoors store, will be the first for the company in Alabama.

Also, the Dave & Buster’s building is also nearing completion on the west side of MidCity, near Old Monrovia Road. Dave & Buster’s is on schedule to open this Summer.

Construction continues on the REI Co-op store, the first in Alabama

Meanwhile, Niakossary said Pies & Pints is under construction and the building that houses Wahlburgers and other commercial uses has site work complete in preparation for the foundation.

“We are in the design process for the $30 million Aloft Hotel, The Point and Jake’s Mews,’’ she said. “We are also in preliminary stages of the $75 million, 300-unit multi-family residential (complex) over the retail block in the center of the project. We’re also working on a $20 million mixed-use, office-over-retail building.’’

According to the MidCity website, when completed, the campus will include a total of 350,000 square feet of specialty retail, 150,000 of high-tech office space, a wide range of dining options, the 100-plis room hotel, and 560 amenity-rich residential units.

Town Madison’s $12M Pro Player Park Brings Even More Baseball to Area

MADISON — Ever since Madison Mayor Paul Finley announced the building of a new concept at Town Madison called Pro Player Park, it provoked visions of a stylized Ernest Lawrence Thayer: Then from five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell; It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell; It pounded on the mountain and recoiled upon the flat, For Finley, mighty Finley was advancing to the bat.

Now we know Finley’s statement, which came in January’s State of the City Address, will bring a much happier result for local residents than those of Mudville!

The $12 million Pro Player Park project is supported solely by private investment and consists of 12 synthetic baseball/softball fields – six championship size and the other six are configured so the fences can be pulled in to accommodate softball. The project also includes batting cages, a pro shop, a small café and vending area, and an indoor soccer field. Statistics show that Pro Player Park should generate about 300,000 visitors a year, which yields about 40,000 room nights per year.

Currently more than halfway through the design phase, the Breland Properties project is situated in Town Madison on the old Intergraph campus. They will break ground in late spring or early summer with expectations for opening about the same time as the Trash Pandas’ stadium next spring. The first year will be a soft opening year before shooting for home runs in 2021.

“Pro Player Park was not conceived alongside the acquisition of the Rocket City Trash Pandas or their new stadium,” said Joey Ceci, president of Breland Properties. “However, once that project was underway, one of our associates here at Breland, whose son is involved in tournament travel ball, complained that he was always having to drive somewhere else on weekends to watch his son play in these regional tournaments.

“He noted that he was spending his money in all these different locations that did not have any of the attractions and accommodations available in Huntsville. We saw an opportunity to fill that void.”

Ceci said Pro Player Park has undergone more than six months of rigorous due diligence, market feasibility studies, and they have had dozens of serious discussions among all the appropriate people including Mark McCarter, convention sales manager at the Huntsville/Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau, and Huntsville Sports Commission Executive Director Ralph Stone. They are both excited about it because it opens up baseball and softball tournament opportunities the city of Huntsville has never had the facilities to support.

Furthermore, they consulted with one of their partners, Tim Dulin, who has built similar facilities to Pro Player Park and has contacts with travel ball teams as a coach and a mentor. He is already working with McCarter to start pitching Huntsville for these types of tournaments, and to get on their schedules for when the park opens.

“Both travel baseball and softball are increasing in popularity, but there has always been a hole in this region for having the facilities to support them,” said Ceci. “The traveling tournament teams we are looking at are primarily regional or at least within driving distance, but some of the championship series could bring in people from Puerto Rico and Latin America where baseball is a very popular sport, as well as all over the U.S. at some point.

“Because the fields are synthetic – that is, the dirt and the grass are synthetic – they are more or less plug-and-play and can even be configured to support lacrosse,” Ceci said. “These teams can’t really afford rainouts so, with synthetic fields, when the rain is over, you don’t have a soggy field or muddy infield to worry about because they drain quickly, and therefore play can resume relatively quickly.”

Ceci said the closest similar facilities are in Southaven, Miss.; Memphis and Atlanta.

“Nashville gets some teams, but they don’t have a single facility where they play the entire week,” said Ceci. “They use a variety of high school fields, some which are not very high quality, and they are spread out all over Nashville. For instance, they may play a game in Gallatin one day, a game in Brentwood the next day, and a third game in downtown Nashville. The logistics are difficult.”

He said these teams really come with the intent of playing high-caliber, competitive ball and they like to play in places where there are likely to be major league and college scouts on-hand to see their kids play. 

“There is nowhere where the logistics make sense for pro and college scouts who may want to watch a potential catcher play in Smyrna while another player they are interested in is playing across town at the same time in downtown Nashville,” he said.

“The way Pro Player Park will be designed, we will be able to situate scout towers adjacent to four fields at a time, so they can watch players on all four fields from a single location.”

There are hundreds of travel teams who begin the season in late February/early March and run through October. During school, they play these tournaments mostly on weekends but, when school lets out, they may play for three to five days.

“It’s a great generator for us from a business point of view and as a developer, it’s another great project,” Ceci said. “For several days at a time, you will have visitors spending money shopping at Town Madison or Bridge Street; dining; renting hotel rooms; attending ballgames; and visiting our attractions like the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. That is quite the attractive package.”

Grand Reopening: Trash Pandas’ Renovated Emporium Includes Season Ticket Center

It’s time once again to start talking Trash.

That’s right. Trash with a capital “T” – as in Trash Pandas.

The Rocket City Trash Pandas are holding a grand reopening of the team’s Emporium and Season Ticket Center on Friday. Doors open at the newly renovated store at Bridge Street Town Centre at 10 a.m.

Fresh on the heels of record-setting sales, the Trash Pandas will be selling never-before-available team apparel and novelty items. The first 250 fans who make a purchase of $25 or more will receive a commemorative “Stadium Groundbreaking” baseball.

“As most people know, our original plan was for a ‘pop-up’ store to stay open only through the
holidays,” said Trash Pandas Executive Vice President Jenny Askins. “But, the demand for our
products from throughout North Alabama was so intense that we complied with our fans’ wishes and will keep the store open at least until we move into the new stadium.

“Our customers were very specific as to the types of merchandise they prefer, and we have restocked and added new items based on their requests.”

The restocked Emporium will feature all sizes of the most popular Trash Pandas merchandise that could not be kept in stock during the holidays, including the ultra-popular New Era 59FIFTY authentic fitted cap; the one worn by all Minor League Baseball players.

Among the new merchandise available Friday will be tank tops, sleeveless tee shirts, and new colors and styles of infant “onesies.” Coming soon will be items such as pop sockets, pennants, wall art, pet supplies, and new styles of hats from New Era.

The store will host the official Trash Pandas Season Ticket Center. There will be seating samples from the ballpark for three premium areas: Home Plate Luxury Field Boxes, Legacy (drink rail) seating and High Tops. A new feature will enable potential seat holders to view the field from any seat in the ballpark.

While two sections of the new stadium have already sold out for the first three seasons (Reserved Seating Stadium Club memberships and the half-moon shaped Four Tops), new reduced-price Stadium Club memberships that do not guarantee an outside seat will be available.

“I continue to be amazed at how this community has accepted and become excited by our team,” said
Trash Pandas’ CEO Ralph Nelson. “Our industry measures brand acceptance by merchandise sales,
and it’s hard to go very far in North Alabama or southern Tennessee without seeing folks in Trash
Pandas apparel. Our fans told us what they like and we think the new items to be introduced this spring are going to start a whole new wave of excitement.

“It made all the sense in the world to keep the store open so that the Trash Pandas Nation will just continue to grow.”