Proving something old can have a fresh start is happening behind the brick walls topped by a large red “STOVEHOUSE” sign along Governors Drive just west of Campus 805. By the end of the year, restaurants and retail boutiques will be open there.
Some office spaces are already in use at what is expected to become one the city’s “destination hot spots,” according to Danny Yancey, founder and CEO of Stovehouse.
“There’s nothing else like it in our area,” he said. “People will come here to work, eat, drink, and shop.”
They’ll also attend events at Stovehouse — from concerts to community meetings — maybe even weddings, he said.
It will be an environment, Yancey said, where people can create their own kind of experience with common use areas inside and outside for dining and relaxing.
Construction is moving at a fast pace: six of the seven restaurant spaces have been leased and retail and office spaces are currently being leased.
“I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights because I can see it in my head, what it should look and feel like,” Yancey said. “It’s been a challenge but it’s coming together.”
Yancey used his cumulative background in human resources, mortgage banking and residential construction to put together a solid team to create his vision after he bought the historical building from Davis Lee.
Lee, a well-known poultry farmer and businessman, acquired the Governors Drive building as a potential wood pellet stove production facility before selling it to Yancey three years ago. It had also housed Inergi and, most recently, LSINC.
Yancey’s wife Patti is president of Huntsville’s Liberty Learning Foundation and CFO of Davis Lee Cos.
“I wasn’t out looking for the old Martin stove building,” Yancey said. “But here we are, three years later, building it out and creating a special place for Huntsville residents and tourists who want to experience Stovehouse and all it has to offer.”
Key components were putting together a team with experience in adaptive reuse projects, including Centric Architects of Nashville and Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate Group in Huntsville.
Yancey studied adaptive reuse projects and said he was especially inspired by what he saw happening in Chicago and Nashville, even Paris, Italy and Australia. He hired Centric because of the architect firm’s previous work and their immediate visions for the old building during their first walk through.
“It took about a year of due diligence to come up with an idea of what we might could do with it,” he said. “I visited a lot of adaptive reuse projects because I was really interested in how we could preserve the old building.
“It’s more expensive to do adaptive reuse … but this is a piece of our city’s history and I feel like it’s important to preserve our history.”
Referring to the revitalized area focused on local arts, dining, and brewpubs as the Westside instead of West Huntsville also has historical ties. Yancey said “old timers” interested in the redevelopment have made it known that the area used to be known as the Westside.
Before rockets, Yancey said the area’s largest employers were cotton mills and gas stove manufacturing. The mixed-use Stovehouse development is within in a large building steeped in that history. It started in 1929 when the Rome Stove Co. built it to manufacture its Electric Belle heaters.
After the company went bankrupt, a bid on the machinery and building was won by W.H. Martin Sr. and Charles Martin, who owned King Stove and Range Co. in Sheffield, and Martin Stove and Range Co. in Florence.
In 1939, they started their third business, Martin Stamping and Stove Co., turning out a small line of unvented gas heaters.
Through the years, the Governors Drive plant expanded with many additions to the building, often with whatever materials were on hand. Gas fuel tanks for acetylene torches were used as support posts in some part of the building. Structural engineers have examined the heavy gauge steel cylinders and say they are structurally sound, Yancey said.
There are several roof types throughout the facility, including saw tooth, flat and hip roof designs. Yancey attributes it to periods of fast-paced growth and company changes through the years.
During War World II, for example, he said the company made bomb crates.
“They were huge,” Yancey says of the crates. “If you look around the Seminole and Lowe Mill area and see long narrow houses with lean too roofs, those were leftover bomb crates. The government sold them for a quarter after the war was over.”
After the war, the plant went back to making stoves.
Visitors will find quirky elements and historical connections throughout the site once it’s completed. For example, a gas lighted shopping alley will reflect the heating source for the heaters that used to be made there. But some of those old rooftops will be gone to create outdoor courtyards.
People who think the project is another Campus 805 are wrong, Yancey says.
“They’re totally different but I think they will complement each other,” he says.
Co-developer Wesley Crunkleton said his favorite part of the project is how different it is from anything in the area.
“In our office, we enjoy working on things that are outside of the box as an atypical commercial real estate space,” he said
Crunkleton said the property’s proximity to downtown, I-565, and Redstone Arsenal will make it an ideal hub for businesses, first-to-Alabama restaurant concepts, new entertainment and events.
“We think it will be well received by all,” Crunkleton said. “From the millennials looking for a new cool spot to families with multiple children it will be a place they can all enjoy.
“I think older Huntsvillians whose families have been around for decades and lived in the area, they will get a kick out of walking through and remembering what it was, the transitions of the property and enjoy what it’s becoming today. We look forward to welcoming the public, soon.”