For those who have lived in the area since the beginning of the space program, people were said to live or work, “out in Madison.”
It is a community that has for so long been considered a quaint little rural stop on the way to the Rocket City, that aside from a single event known as the “Affair at Madison Station,” it even missed mention in history books about the Civil War.
Well, Huntsville’s little bedroom community has awakened, and it has been coming for a long time.
In 1990, Madison’s population was approximately 15,000. In 2000, it had doubled to 30,000, and, according to the census, in 2019 it had grown to almost 50,000 people.
Today, Madison is one of the fastest growing cities in the Southeast. It has one of the highest per capita incomes and a school system recognized for scholastic excellence at the local, state, and national level.
Everywhere you look, businesses are throwing open their doors; new buildings are rising out of the distinctive “redstone” clay; residential communities are spreading out; roads are widening; and aging buildings, parks, and residential communities are being revitalized.
“It scares me when I hear people talk about Madison’s explosive growth because the explosive growth is happening throughout the entire area, the multiple communities in Madison County,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. “I prefer to say Madison is managing and balancing our growth.
“One of the things I think we’ve done a good job of is rather than taking every subdivision that wants to build, instead, manage the process with a focus primarily on the economic development side of retail and commercial, knowing it’s not going to be that hard to bring housing here if we balance our opportunities.”
While the mayor may be managing and balancing the growth as opportunities arise, the growth is so widespread it is visible along every street and in every neighborhood.
Starting with the skyline-altering Town Madison, the Rocket City could not ask for a more inviting gateway than Madison.
Minutes from a bustling Huntsville International Airport, named the Best Small Airport in the United States by USA Today’s 10 Best Reader’s Choice awards, and a line drive out of Toyota Field with its baseball diamond shimmering underneath the stadium lights lies the world-renowned U.S. Space & Rocket Center; Redstone Arsenal; and Cummings Research Park, home to dozens of Fortune 500 companies with their advanced manufacturing and high-tech capabilities.
Fanned out across both sides of a revitalized Madison Boulevard are luxury homes such as the Heights at Town Madison and The Station high-rise apartments at Town Madison.
Just announced and set to start construction soon is a mixed-use project developed by Novare Group out of Atlanta. Across from the Madison Golf Center on Lime Quarry Road within the Town Madison development, a 290-unit apartment complex with eight live and work units, will be built with approximately 5,000 square feet of commercial and co-working space for its residents, and more than 68,000 square feet of open space.
Popular restaurants and coffee shops such as Starbucks, Outback Steakhouse and J. Alexander’s are opening soon. Both have been stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Many of these restaurant venues are having to go back to the drawing board and redesign their restaurants based on today versus the world a year ago,” said Finley. “They are taking a little extra time to look at more outdoor dining, drive throughs, curbside pick-up and how to do take-out if they have never done it before. The take-out business has expanded dramatically, and they want the right type of store to meet the new demand.”
Boutique hotels Home2 Suites and the Avid will soon be joined by resort-style hotels and entertainment venues such as the Hotel Margaritaville.
Infrastructure, said Finley, is part of managing and balancing growth.
He explains that in 2010 and 2011, Hughes Road at U.S. 72, and Wall-Triana at U.S. 72 were the two highest traffic accident areas in Madison.
“When we put our efforts into redoing those two intersections for safety, adding double turn lanes and more, it became an economic development driver in those areas,” Finley said. “Two old shopping centers were revitalized so that Planet Fitness and several popular restaurants were created out in front.
“Two years ago, those same accident studies showed I-565 at the Wall-Triana exit as the highest accident area. It was also difficult to get to the Ruby Tuesday and Cracker Barrel once you got off at that exit,” Finley said. “We applied a grant and redid the design, but it is only about 30 percent finished.”
There are now three hotels at the Wall-Triana exit – the Clarion Pointe and two new hotels, the Avid and Home 2 Suites, as well as Twice Daily convenience store.
“With that being to first exit coming from the west to Town Madison, that intersection has to change,” said Finley. “We are looking at how improving it for safety, will also create economic development and improve accessibility.”
Across from Town Madison, Madison Boulevard is getting a heavy revitalization.
“There is a big reason for it,” the mayor said. “We have an agreement with businesses along Madison Boulevard that if you tear down a building, improve a building, or build a new building, or if we need to put in a traffic light to make the location safer or more accessible, then we’ll do that, but we want to see better signs from your business.”
One of the new kids in town in that busy area is Terramé Day Spa, Hair Salon & Blow Dry Bar. Terramé started in Huntsville 18 years ago and the Madison location is its third. The 16,660 square-foot building is the largest freestanding hair salon and day spa in Alabama, excluding hotel and resort spas.
Mike and Charla Johnson and Mike’s brothers, Jeff and Charles, are partners in the business and in the 5,000 square-foot commercial space they are building next door for lease.
Resilience and a determination to warrior on despite COVID-19, they plan to open by Feb 1.
“We are very happy they chose our city,” said Finley. “Terramé will draw daytime traffic to Madison and although we have a lot of people who come home to Madison after work, I am focusing on offering quality of life services that bring more people to Madison to shop, dine, and enjoy the day here.”
“That is managing growth,” he said.
They are lengthening Short Road in downtown to open a better thoroughfare from the new Avenue Madison project, and the City will begin work on the Balch and Gillespie roads intersections by the second quarter 2021.
Hughes Road and Sullivan Street are undergoing major widening projects expected to be complete at the end of 2021, according to Mary Beth Broeren, Madison City Planner.
“Hughes Plaza, across from City Hall, is undergoing a complete upgrade,” Broeren said. “A couple of existing tenants, Bicycle Cove and Interiors by Consign, will remain, but Absolute Nutrition just opened in November; and Fleet Feet, a physical therapy business, and a coffee shop will be new tenants in 2021.”
The Madison Chamber of Commerce is moving next door into a converted house, providing more space, better visibility, and easier access.
“That is big for us,” said Finley. “Finally getting the opportunity to revitalize that shopping plaza, getting a Fleet Feet and a nutrition store, with the Chamber right next door – all right across the street from City Hall is a big deal to us and making a positive impact.”
To the west of downtown Madison, the Argento at Oakland Springs developed by Sterling Development has been approved at the entrance to the Village at Oakland Springs on the south side of Huntsville-Browns Ferry Road.
“This mixed-use project will contain 262 apartments and approximately 18,000 square feet of commercial space, similar in character and design to the Village of Providence in Huntsville,” said Broeren. “Construction is expected to start this quarter.”
The extension of the Mill Creek Greenway is finished except for some last-minute landscaping; and the City has added parking and a complete park at the Bradford Creek Trailhead. Both Bradford Creek and the Palmer Park expansion will be complete in March.
“We are working on a renovation to Home Place Park to create an outdoor venue for small concerts such as the summer Concert in the Park series,” said Broeren.
Formerly held at the Gazebo on the Village Green on Main Street, the series has outgrown it.
“We will move them to Home Place Park between The Avenue Madison project and the high school football stadium where we will have a small amphitheater,” Broeren said. “Construction has started and should be complete by this summer, in time for the Concert in the Park series.”
“These park projects go toward quality-of-life improvements that are vital to our growth and prosperity,” said Finley.