Huntsville International Airport Flying High After FAA Approves New Master Plan

After months of consulting with and gaining input from community leaders, business owners, and residents on the future of the Huntsville International Airport, a new master plan has been accepted by the Federal Aviation Administration, laying out a new blueprint for the long-term development of the region’s busiest airport.

The new master plan has several goals. Among them:

  • Provide a graphic representation of  airport features, and use anticipated land-use models to lay out any future development.
  • Establish a realistic schedule for the implementation of that proposed development along with a realistic financial plan to support it.
  • Establish a framework for a continuous planning process while taking technical, economic and environmental issues into consideration in that process.

The plan will be presented to the public while addressing relevant issues and satisfying local, state and federal regulations.

According to the FAA, a key objective of the future airport plan is to assure the effective use of airport resources to satisfy aviation demand in a financially feasible manner. The new plan is centrally focused but uses local, state and national guidelines and goals to be efficient in its development.

The project team was led by Michael Baker International, a provider of engineering and consulting services that specializes in municipal governments.

“Huntsville International Airport team members, regional leaders, local business owners, and residents in our community worked in tandem discussing and developing this long-range vision for the airport,” said Rick Tucker, Huntsville International Airport CEO. “This was a collective effort from many individuals that both care about the airport and understand that Huntsville’s economic future is tied to our airport’s success.”

Huntsville International Airport (HSV) is operated by the Port of Huntsville. It was recently named by USA Today as the No. 1 Small Airport in the U.S., and is the largest commercial airport in North Alabama, serving more than 1 million passengers annually.

Visitors Bureau Launches Online Rocket City Shop

Snagging your own piece of the Rocket City is now easier than ever, with the recent launch of the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau’s online store. The online shopping site – “Rocket City Shop” – offers a selection of branded Huntsville and Madison face masks, with plans to expand to other merchandise.

“We’re aiming for the online store to be a smaller extension of our physical gift shop at the Downtown Visitor Center,” said Judy Ryals, president/CEO of the CVB. “Our products in the gift shop are quite popular, especially with out of town guests who are seeking unique Huntsville souvenirs. As the travel and tourism agency for Huntsville/Madison County, our ultimate goal is to make people aware of Huntsville as a destination, and city-branded merchandise is a part of that.

“If someone wants to represent the Rocket City, we want to make it as easy as possible for them to do so, regardless of where they’re based.”

The decision to launch the online store was spurred by the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic has made us get more creative with how we get our brand out to the public, especially with the temporary Visitor Center closure earlier in the year and more people wanting to buy online instead of in person,” said Kristen Pepper, Director of Marketing for the CVB. “We want people to stay safe and socially distant, while also getting the Huntsville name out there, so the online shop is the perfect solution.”

The shop’s top-selling item by far has been the Keep Your Space Huntsville face mask. Within the first week of the online launch, almost 1,000 of the specially-designed masks had been ordered, originating from 23 states across the U.S.

For now, the Rocket City Shop is limited to face masks, but the CVB plans to roll out additional products like Huntsville-branded slap koozies, magnets, and other gifts in the coming weeks.

A wide selection of products can also be found in the Downtown Huntsville Visitor Center’s physical gift shop, including short and long-sleeved t-shirts, books, mugs, and more. The majority of the gift shop’s products are produced in Madison County or designed by a Huntsville/Madison County-based craftsman.

Visit the Rocket City Shop online at www.rocketcityshop.org, or stop by the Downtown Huntsville Visitor Center gift shop at 500 Church Street; the hours are Monday – Saturday, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., and  Sundays from noon to 3 p.m.

MidCity District Adds 40-Foot Mural to Honor Little Richard

Good golly, MidCity!

MidCity District, the mixed-use development on University Drive, is adding a 40-foot by 30-foot mural of late rock ‘n’ roll icon Little Richard to its public mural gallery.

Born Richard Penniman and a graduate of Oakwood University, he devoted his life to music and his faith. Little Richard was a pioneer for living bold and was named “the architect of rock ‘n’ roll”. He died in May at the age of 87.

In a statement, his family said, “The family of Richard Penniman, known to the world as Little Richard, appreciates the extraordinary gesture by the RCP Companies and MidCity Huntsville to create a mural in tribute to our loved one. Richard had many fond memories of Huntsville.

“He loved his alma mater Oakwood College (now Oakwood University) and enjoyed his return visits to the college church, especially when his friend and mentor E.C. Ward was the senior pastor. Richard also enjoyed being one of the headliners for the 1994 Big Spring Jam. An estimated 15,000 fans attended his performance that night.”

He created the famous “Tutti Frutti” line, “A wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom,” while washing dishes in his home town of Macon, Ga., before he became a household name across the globe. He was among the first 10 inductees into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

“The idea of a Little Richard tribute was introduced by Bryan Mayo of Rocket CityScope; we decided to pursue artists immediately” said Max Grelier, co-founder of RCP Companies, the developer of MidCity District. “In a short amount of time we were able to connect with Little Richard’s family, get their blessing, secure a talented local artist, and allocate funding for this colorful addition to MidCity District.

The $850 million MidCity District development will include 350,000 square feet of retail, dining, and entertainment space; approximately 400,000 square feet of high-tech office space; 1,400 residential units; and approximately 650 hotel rooms.

“We are looking forward to unveiling this mural to our North Alabama community in several weeks,” said Grelier.

Artist Logan Tanner will paint the mural on the east-facing facade of the Wahlburgers building.  The project is expected to be completed in about four-five weeks, Tanner said.

Tanner has worked on murals throughout the Tennessee Valley including at Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment. His whimsical and vibrant style is a perfect match for Little Richard’s equally colorful legacy.

“As Richard’s survivors, we support any worthwhile effort to celebrate his legacy and innovative contributions to American music and culture,” the family’s statement said. “And we are very appreciative of the artistic efforts of Logan Tanner, the creator of the mural planned for MidCity Huntsville. Mr. Tanner’s art captures Richard’s vibrancy and creativity tastefully and with elegance.

“Thank you for this honor, and God bless you as you move forward with this tribute.”

Church Street Wine Shoppe Moving to the Historic Humphreys–Rogers House

Church Street Wine Shoppe made history by starting the first sitdown wine club in Alabama.

But, now with 600 members, the shop is overflowing at its original location on Church Street downtown.

Owners Stephanie Kennedy-Mell and her husband Matthew Mell are moving the shop, the wine club and their entire Church Street Family restaurant headquarters into the historic Humphreys-Rogers House on the corner of Gates Avenue and Fountain Circle. It will be known as Church Street on Gates.

Chef Kannon Swaris, executive chef for the Church Street family of restaurants.

Built in 1848, the Humphreys-Rogers House has been moved and saved from demolition in recent years and is the only historic house in downtown Huntsville’s business zone.

Listed on the Historic Register, the two-story, 4,000 square-foot mansion is a welcomed expansion from the business’s small location on Church Street. The ground floor corridor, foyer, and formal living room will house the bottle shoppe, serving wine and craft beer. A private room will be dedicated to wine club members.

Upstairs will house the Church Street Family headquarters for all five restaurant venues: Pourhouse and Mazzara’s Italian restaurant, both at Stovehouse; Purveyor at the Avenue; and the new Catacomb Speakeasy opening before Labor Day in the basement of the Downtown Self Storage at 100 Jefferson Street.

“There will be plenty of parking with the city parking garage right across the street,” said Kennedy-Mell. “Pre-pandemic, our Church Street location could only seat 40 people, which was already problematic for our wine club, which meets once a month. We were holding 13 separate wine club meetings to accommodate our 600 members, and during the pandemic, we had adjusted that to 20 meetings of 20 people.

“We also had to close the bottle shoppe down to the public during the meetings, but we will no longer have to do that.”

The Church Street Wine Shoppe wine club is the only wine club in Alabama to offer five-course, sitdown wine tastings with chef-prepared food pairings and guest speakers, sometimes flown in from wine country around the world like California, France, and Argentina. They will also offer first estate wines.

While the Church Street location is only open for dinner, the new bar and bottle shoppe will be open for lunch and dinner, and will bring back popular customer events such as Wine Love Wednesday. They can also hold larger tasting events like the ones they hold twice a year at Purveyor.

Kennedy-Mell will hold a press conference at the landmark location in October, with tours of the new premises as a prelude to an expected December opening.

Huntsville Restaurant Week 2020: Socially Distant, Still Delicious

As everyone and everything is adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic, Huntsville’s annual fare fair – aka Restaurant Week – has met the challenge with creative alternatives.

So, you better have your appetite ready because Huntsville Restaurant Week 2020, with the slogan “Socially Distant, Still Delicious,” begins Friday and the participating businesses will be serving up a wide assortment of amazing eats through Aug. 23.

To meet the pandemic challenge, people have the option of dining in, take out, or delivery. The Huntsville/Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau has partnered with Grub South, making it easy to enjoy all that Restaurant Week has to offer – in the comfort of one’s home or hotel room.

“A thriving culinary scene is crucial for any city to succeed as a travel destination,” said Judy Ryals, President/CEO of the CVB. “We want – and very much need – our local restaurants to make it through this pandemic. For our residents, this year is not just an opportunity to enjoy local restaurants, it’s also an opportunity to support your neighbors and friends during a very challenging time.”

This year, there will be more than 50 locally owned and operated restaurants, food trucks and breweries featured; each presenting unique menu items, combined with an assortment of special offerings.

A sample of the delicious fare offered during Huntsville Restaurant Week. (Photo/Steve Babin)

There will also be several first-time participants for the annual event. Domaine South, Hippea Camper, Kona Grill, New South Hot Dog & Sushi, along with Madison favorites Tom Brown’s and Goodland Pourhouse are but a few of the newcomers.

Along with a wide assortment of dining options, this year’s Restaurant Week is sporting a new logo – a pairing of culinary arts and rocket iconography. It’s a fresh new look that succinctly captures the essence of the event, as well as the community.

Now in its ninth year, Restaurant Week is an event where locals and visitors alike can partake of the finest culinary delights the Huntsville hospitality industry has to offer. Only this year, COVID-19 has changed things up a bit. 

Throughout Restaurant Week, the CVB will host 10 days of giveaways through social media. Participants need only tweet or post to Facebook or Instagram, using the hashtag #DineHsv – and include their favorite “foodie” photos and food-inspired commentary. A winner will be selected daily. Prizes include restaurant gift cards and other exciting goodies. 

For a list of participating restaurants, visit www.huntsville.org/restaurantweek

Steak ‘N Shake Brings Back Car Hops for Social Distance Service

While many innovative thinkers in the restaurant business are looking forward to creating ways to operate under social-distancing guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic, others are looking retroactively to find their way forward.  

The University Drive location of Huntsville’s Steak ‘n Shake Steakburgers announced it will return to the company’s original “drive-in” model, which fits perfectly with today’s social distancing requirements.

Steak ‘n Shake got its start along Route 66, the first cross-country highway system. Customers drove their cars into a covered parking space where a “car hop”, who was both a waiter and a busboy, took orders from a carousel menu attached to a pole at every parking place. 

Drive-ins consisted of a compact kitchen with a glass window to the outside. There was no indoor dining and the carhop picked up your “burgers and fries” and delivered them to the customer’s vehicle on a clip-on tray that attached to the car’s lowered window. 

Not knowing that nearly 90 years later, customers would be required to stay socially distant, guests ate from their vehicles without having to get out of the car.

That concept is not only a safe business model today with the pandemic, but Steak ‘n Shake is counting on it being a fun experience for older customers who yearn for the “good ole days” and those whose experience with the 1950s comes only from watching the TV show “Happy Days”. 

Steak ‘n Shake is integrating plenty of modern conveniences into the experience including a mobile ordering app and a rewards program. 

Going all in on their roots, customers will pull into a designated car hop parking space denoted by signs of a 45 RPM phonograph record. Using the mobile app, customers place their order, select “Car Hop”, and enter the color and make of their vehicle. They can even pay for their order using the app.

A server will deliver the food on a tray and attach it to the car window, just as they did for decades in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. 

Guests can enjoy their meal in the car or enjoy their food at a socially distanced umbrella-covered picnic tables denoted by an oversized red, white and blue Route 66 sign – a nod to the original Steak ‘n Shake location.

Steak ‘n Shake will also reintroduce their popular Cajun Burger, available exclusively at the Car Hop through the month of August.

Steak ‘n Shake Senior Vice President Steve May said the revival of its historic drive-in service at all restaurants across the U.S. offers customers a safe and fun way to enjoy a meal.

“The Steak ‘n Shake parking lot was the place to be on a Saturday night in the 1950s, with carhops buzzing in between rows of cars filled with families, couples on dates, and teenagers,” May said. “Today’s pandemic world has enabled us to revitalize the drive-in experience with renewed purpose. Our modern version of the drive-in not only reinforces those early days with delivery right to your car – but it also fits perfectly into today’s reality, offering our guests a way to enjoy dining out of the house while still protecting their family’s health.”

“The relaunch of our drive-in service allows us to bring the legacy of our brand to life in an unforgettable way. Ultimately, the return of the car hop allows us to do what we do best – serve customers in a fun way for a memorable dining experience.” 

Steak ‘n Shake began in 1934  in Normal, Ill., and now has more than 500 locations across the United States and globally.

Customers can download the mobile app at https://www.steaknshake.com/rewards/?id=1.

H.C. Blake Helps Shopping Plaza Realize a New Purpose Through Repurposing

The interior is a veritable showcase of repurposed building materials. (Photo/Steve Babin)

Walking into the building at the intersection of Oakwood Avenue and North Memorial Parkway is like stepping into many facets of history.

The newly remodeled property is now home to H.C. Blake Co., Kim’s Diner and Betty Mae’s Restaurant, both which will be opening soon.

Jim Batson, owner of H.C. Blake bought the property and with his sister, local artist Sara Beth Fair transformed the building, using repurposed materials and furnishings from businesses that had shuttered their doors. 

“We’re so excited about our new building,” said Fair. “Jim and I designed most of the building. Everything is repurposed. When businesses were closing, we went and got the furniture and fixtures. Every bit of wood in the training room is repurposed from Playmor bowling alley. There’s even a disco ball.” 

Plenty of attention has been paid to the outside area, as well. The exterior is bright, clean and inviting, with greenery housed in repurposed metal ceiling tile planters. It’s a far cry from what it had been for many years: a tired, run-down shopping plaza that had seen much better days. 

H.C. Blake was founded in 1884 and has been a family owned and operated business for five generations. In fact, Fair and Batson’s sons both work for the company.

A plumbing business that started out started with “just two guys and a wagon” has grown to 150 employees and a fleet of trucks. Throughout its 136-year history the company stayed in business, weathering two world wars and the Great Depression.

William Hampton, Sara Beth Fair, Carol Foret (Photo/Steve Babin)

The biggest gem of the H.C. Blake property sits at the northeast corner of the shopping plaza. The Blake Center for Arts & History, which includes the Sara Beth Fair Fine Art Gallery and Studio, the Carole Forêt Fine Art Gallery and Studio and Huntsville Revisited.

After 30 years in Gulf Breeze, Fla., Carole Forêt started two galleries in Athens. After moving to Huntsville in 2013, Forêt’ later became a part of Clinton Row in 2018.

“I’m part of a fifth gallery now,” said Forêt. “I’m thrilled to be in Huntsville.”

“Huntsville Revisited focuses on capturing and collecting pictures of people, places and other things related to Huntsville,” said Artist in Residence William Hampton. “Everyday citizens, the things that make this city unique; celebrating the contributions of every man and woman.” 

For more info: https://www.blakecenter.com/

Failure Not an Option: Space & Rocket Center Launches ‘Save Space Camp’ Campaign

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center and Space Camp are in jeopardy of permanent closure due to devastating economic challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

In an effort to remain open for future generations of visitors and campers, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and Space Camp are launching a “Save Space Camp” campaign. The campaign is seeking donations from Space Camp alumni, residents of Alabama and fans and visitors to continue Space Camp’s mission of education and inspiration.  

In a news release, the center said it must raise a minimum of $1.5 million to keep the U.S. Space & Rocket Center museum open past October and to reopen Space Camp in April 2021.

The Space & Rocket Center closed in March due to the surge in coronavirus cases in the U.S. The museum reopened in late May, but with far fewer than normal visitors.

Space Camp did not reopen until June 28, and then with only 20 percent of its usual attendance. With limited admission from international students and school groups this fall and winter, Space Camp will again close for weeklong camp programs in September. 

Facing a nearly 67 percent loss of revenue, the Rocket Center laid off one third of its full-time employees in May and was unable to employ an additional 700 part-time employees who typically work in all areas of Space Camp and the museum. The majority of the remaining full-time employees have been furloughed since April. 

At this time, local, state and federal agencies have not been able to help the Rocket Center though these difficult times.

“However, we firmly believe that failure is not an option, and we are turning to the public for support,” the center said in the news release.

As an educational facility, the center has helped launch thousands of successful careers in aerospace, engineering, science, education and other fields.

According to the most recent economic impact studies, the Space & Rocket Center generates $120 million in annual revenue for the state of Alabama and serves as a magnet for visitors to Huntsville. The Rocket Center has been the top paid tourist attraction in the state for seven straight years. 

 

Singing River Trail Brings History Alive with its First Executive Director

Launch 2035’s ambitious vision of a 70-mile trail system connecting Madison, Limestone and Morgan counties, took shape this week with the appointment of former University of Alabama-Huntsville history professor Dr. John Kvach as the Singing River Trail’s first Executive Director.

Singing River Trail Executive Director John Kvach. (Photo/Kimberly Ballard)

In an outdoor luncheon at the Huntsville International Airport, John Allen, Operations Director of Launch 2035; Madison Mayor Paul Finley; Land Use Chairs Nancy Robertson and Joe Campbell; Regional Co-chair Rick Tucker; and Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling introduced Kvach as the choice for implementing the trail’s bold Master Plan.

According to Joe Campbell, Kvach could not have written a better resume for the job.

Kvach has a Ph.D. in history from the University of Tennessee. He interned with the C&O Canal Trail between Washington, D.C., and Cumberland, Md., and worked for the Washington, D.C., Park Service for seven years. He is Smithsonian Scholar for the state of Alabama and has traveled to 64 of 67 counties speaking on Alabama history. He was also associate professor of history at UAH for 10 years and grant director for two years.

“This is a passion for me,” Kvach said. “My goal in life is to make history come alive. I feel as if everything I have done in my life led me to this moment.

“The Singing River Trail is going to be a world-class experience. It’s important that it is not a trail. It is important it is not just a ribbon of concrete, pavement, and gravel. What it has to be and will be, I promise, is an economic incubator.” 

As executive director, Kvach will identify stakeholders and guide the construction and overall direction of the three-county project in collaboration with local and regional leaders and Launch 2035.

According to Allen, the Singing River Trail is the land-use glue that will hold the three counties together not just physically, but digitally.

“The physical and digital development of the Singing River Trail will serve as an economic incubator, educational resource, health, and wellness outlet, historical and cultural landmark, and as a Native American Heritage corridor,” said Allen.

Launch 2035 is a regional partnership that rethinks and imagines our region’s economy over the next 20 years. United by the belief that our region’s prosperity depends on the three surrounding counties working and planning together, the Launch 2035 stakeholders are committed to fostering regional economic growth and quality of life for all residents.

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.’’