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Area Commercial Construction Continues to Rise in Wake of COVID Uncertainty

There has been very little, if any, slowdown in commercial building in Huntsville and Madison throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the weight of uncertainty related to the pandemic has not disappeared, commercial builders and developers continue to work through it like Marshall Space Flight Center engineers work through the challenges of the space program – always moving positively forward; always working the problem from a pragmatic standpoint; and never accepting failure as a final outcome.

According to Shane Davis, Director of Urban & Economic Development for the City of Huntsville, new construction permits, and permit inspection requests have not declined throughout the pandemic and the City continues to see strong growth in all building sectors.

“In terms of the overall environment, we continue to see multiple new projects looking at the Huntsville market as a new or expanding location,” said Davis. “While COVID has slowed the number of potential new companies and their projects, active projects are very strong and diverse in varying business sectors.

“Ongoing construction activities have been hindered by reduced workers, intermediate quarantining, and delays due to the availability in building materials. But while these conditions have slowed the overall construction pace, all ongoing commercial and industrial projects continue to move ahead with a shift in completion deadlines and openings.”

He points to the very visible and very active downtown construction happening on what seems like every block.

“City Centre is under construction with Phase II – lofts, retail, and a parking garage,” he said. “Two new public parking garages are going up at Greene and Monroe streets. Both the Curio Hotel and Hampton Inn and Suites are in the midst of construction, and the new Huntsville Hospital Tower is taking shape.

Last year, Russ Russell Commercial Real Estate set a land sales record for downtown Huntsville at $56 per square foot for the Hampton Inn and Suites project. Located on the corner of Clinton Avenue and Monroe Street, the land is prime downtown real estate across from the expanded Von Braun Center.

“It is one of the few corners that has been vacant with no building on it,” Russell said. “Out-of-town developers look at these parcels of land with fresh eyes are willing to pay a premium because they can see it developed, where sometimes local people can’t because they drive past it every day.

“I set up an ugly tent with cold beer and rare velvet Elvis artwork, and you will be surprised how it brings that vision into full view,” he said.

Mitch Coley, division Manager at Robins & Morton, said they are working on a variety of projects in the greater Huntsville area. Some of the most visible include Huntsville Hospital’s Orthopedic and Spine Tower, Redstone Federal Credit Union, 106 Jefferson, Pelham Street Park and Redstone Gateway 7100 and 8100’s new office building.

“Mid-year there was a decline in new projects and delays in projects in the planning stages as owners and developers hesitated, wanting a clearer picture of what was ahead,” said Coley. “But the industry is seeing some of these projects resuming. The good news is that those projects haven’t gone away and that’s providing strong start for next year.”

He said they are seeing a decrease in the number of new projects reported as upcoming opportunities from architect and design firms, but they believe this will manifest itself in a market-by-market and city-by-city basis. Huntsville is not likely to be as affected by what would ordinarily predict a nationwide downturn because Huntsville’s market sector is so diverse.

“Looking back at the recession of 2008, the construction industry contracted,” Coley said. “It was different from what we’re facing today because of the lack of capital during the Great Recession, but it resulted in a pent-up demand for construction.

“There was still a backlog when COVID-19 surfaced. Although some clients expressed hesitancy to proceed with projects in the very early stages of planning mid-year, we’ve seen many of them resume.”

Russell sees positive signs everywhere. From the construction of the $40 million Autograph Collection by Marriott hotel being built to replace the southern portion of the Von Braun Center parking deck; to the long-awaited downtown Constellation development, which begins Phase I construction this fall.

In addition to these large-scale projects, downtown continues to see new businesses opening up and the redevelopment of existing spaces in the core, Davis said.

“The biggest impact on new commercial projects and hospitality projects has been the pause in project financing,” Davis said. “We have dozens of projects that still have approval from both the private equity and brand/retailer sides. However, COVID-19 has caused a pause in the start of construction due to the ability to close on the financial package.

“The ability for these projects to keep the private equity and national brand approvals shows the current strength of the Huntsville market.”

Don Beck, partner in The Shopping Center Group of Alabama concurs.

“The banks are lending money and it is cheap,” said Beck, whose company specializes in retail developments. “Bankers know the Huntsville market is good because its employment base is there with federal dollars coming from Redstone Arsenal and subcontracting coming from Cummings Research Park. With the jobs there, the banks are a yes for lending.”

On the other hand, many banks are showing hesitancy toward some restaurants and hotels.

According to Joey Ceci, president of the Breland Companies, “We have several cases where regional hotel and restaurant owners are ready to move forward but in those two industries, it is almost impossible to get financing, despite their financial statements looking fine. Accessing capital is very important to companies that are expanding so this has been a deterrent.”

SouthPoint Business Park (Photo/Hollingsworth Companies)

Outside of downtown, Davis points to growth and the success of other commercial projects throughout the region.

SouthPoint Business Park, off Interstates 65 and 565 and five miles from the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant, broke ground on its 11th facility at the 1.9 million square-foot industrial park that is already home to six companies. The new building is the region’s largest spec industrial facility and, according to Davis, it is almost full.

SouthPoint is a component of the larger regional economic strategy, and Davis calls out regional leaders and partners for that expansion, as they continue to focus on the bigger picture and work to be successful in those areas.

“Cummings Research Park remains the location of choice for big business,” Davis said. “Several entities have plans for expansion and the city continues to invest in new and updated infrastructure as part of implementing the updated Master Plan. Even with the COVID events, projects are in the works for 2021 and we believe will be a big year for CRP.”

At MidCity, construction slowed due to COVID, but retail, hospitality, and the initial multi-family components are still on schedule to start construction this fall.

“Most of the infrastructure construction, site grading, and utility relocations are wrapping up such that the redevelopment plan can go vertical,” said Davis. “We believe 2021 will be an exciting year for MidCity as the building architecture that has been shared through the Master Plan will come to life.”

One of the worst kept secrets in Madison County is all that red clay moving around at the corner of Town Madison Boulevard and Zierdt Road.

The newest Huntsville Starbucks location and Outback Steakhouse are moving forward, while Town Madison continues to build a retail center across the street from Toyota Field. The buildings are 50 percent complete and will welcome a chef-driven Italian restaurant to its tenant line-up.

“Economic development continues to be a primary focus for our Madison team,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. “Our YTD sales tax is up over 10 percent from last year despite the COVID-19 situation, and we continue to see success in growing our retail sales tax base.

“Town Madison, Madison Boulevard, The Avenue Madison downtown, Midtown, the (U.S.) 72 corridor, and County Line Road have all seen growth in restaurants, retail, and groceries,” Finley aidd. “Redevelopment of Hughes Plaza, Madison Boulevard and Hughes Road all continue to give Madison an upgraded, new and positive look.”

“Retail follows rooftops,” said Beck of TSCG. “The good news is that Huntsville is still growing; we still have a housing shortage; we still have over 10,000 jobs coming into the area; and there is still a lot of demand, even pent-up retail demand.”

Beck, who has developed retail projects throughout the region, said he is positive about the future as he sees developers moving towards mixed-use projects with a housing component and perhaps an office of medical office component fitted together with traditional retail.

“We are still seeing expansion downtown and on the south part of town with the Hays Farm development,” he said. “Scottsboro, Athens and northern Madison County, Hazel Green and Meridianville are showing continuous growth.

“Athens, for instance, is getting a second Publix where the old Kmart used to be. With its proximity to the interstate and Toyota Mazda, Athens is a great commuting city for Huntsville and Madison, and it should soon see a boom as it grows together with Madison.”

He also said smaller towns such as Hartselle and Priceville are seeing growth as well because the commute time to Huntsville or Madison is workable.

“If you moved here from Atlanta or (Washington) D.C., you have an entirely different perspective on commutes,” he said. “And it is less expensive to live in those smaller towns.”

The disconnect he said is with forced reduced sales volumes. Can retailers justify the construction costs and afford the rent?

“We don’t know the answer to that yet, but at some point, business must open back up and people have to get back work,” Beck said. “There’s no way these restaurants with construction costs being where they are, can at 50 percent capacity and a limit on the hours you can sell alcohol, justify new construction costs.”

He said while rent must go down, at the same time, landlords have mortgages and they have to make mortgage payments. The good part is that developers and landlords are being creative in finding ways to make it work.

“On pre-COVID leases, landlords are working on rent deferrals or rent reductions where the tenant pays partial rent for the time being, and when things get back to normal, going back to full rent and perhaps adding a longer lease time, like an extra year on the lease.

“As long as there’s housing demand, retail will be all right, but we also don’t yet know how the Amazon effect will affect big box retail,” he said. “There are still a lot of people who want to shop in stores. Shopping is a social event just like going out to play golf or tennis. But throughout this pandemic, Amazon has filled that space and we don’t know yet how much that convenience will carry over into everyday life once things get back to normal.”

Coley too said there is still a lot of uncertainty, but his company Robins & Morton believes most people are hopeful that we will gain control over the pandemic in the not-too-distant future.

“When you think that it can be two years or more from planning to completion for a project, you can understand why a lot of active construction hasn’t slowed down,” said Coley. “You’re always building for the future, and I think that’s what we’re seeing here in Huntsville.”

Madison County Housing Market Booms Despite Pre-COVID Shortages

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the only things obstructing regional residential growth was the construction industry labor shortage and a desperate shortage of housing inventory. 

Still, during the pandemic, there is nothing – at least nothing new – slowing the residential housing market in North Alabama. Not a virus, not consumers, not builders, not banks, not regulation, and not the economy.

Home-buying and homebuilding are booming.

“We have sold more homes in 2020 than were sold at the same time in 2019,” said Josh McFall, CEO of the Huntsville Area Association of Realtors. “Even amidst the stress of a pandemic and busy housing market there was no slow down, and in fact, the only thing the association has seen take a downturn is housing inventory.

“I don’t even think we can classify the inventory problem as directly related to the pandemic. Beginning in January, we reported the lowest number of homes available for sale in the MLS since the MLS has been keeping track of those records in the mid-1990s.

“Madison County has been the big driver of that because we have the most MLS listings due to the denser population. Inventory is low, but we consistently slide down the entire MLS because our average days on market has also slid down.”

He said the days on market number for North Alabama combined is 42 days but, in Madison County, that number is 26 days and consistently falling.

“I remember five years ago we were reporting 80 or 90 days on the market and here in 2020 and during a pandemic, as of June that number is 26 days,” he said. “So, we had this housing shortage before COVID.”

Last month, around 840 homes were sold in Madison County. Of those, 600 were resales and 230 were new construction. Those 230 are either new construction, a prospect build that was sold, or a custom build that entered the MLS.

“So, what we are saying is, more builders are feeling more confidence in the local economy, so they’re ramping up their building, while at the same time, they have a lot of pressure on them due to the labor shortage and rising supply costs,” McFall said. “But if you look at all the MLS to date, there were 2,307 available homes on the entire market; 926 are in Madison County.”

One-third of houses under construction sell every month so the industry must build a lot of houses to keep up with demand, 

“Sales prices are continuing to tick up from month to month so you can see it is a supply and demand issue,” said McFall.

How are people feeling about buying or building a home during a global pandemic? 

Apparently, completely unfettered.

“Buying a home during COVID-19 was almost no different than our previous purchases,” said David Fields. He and his wife Meredith bought a home right around the highpoint of the pandemic this spring. “Our Realtor was very supportive and took all the necessary precautions including the use of PPE and social distancing. Overall, it was a great experience.”

“We’re getting lots of activity on the housing side of our business,” said Joey Ceci, president of the Breland Companies. Breland’s commercial division is developing the 525-acre Town Madison off I-565.

“At Pike Place at Clift Farm off Balch Road in Madison we already have several townhouses built and sold,” Ceci said. “At Town Madison, they are getting calls from people who are downsizing and who want to get away from a large yard and out from underneath the maintenance of a large house.” 

While Breland builds a variety of housing products, they also contract with homebuilders such as Regent Homes of Nashville. Regent built homes at the Village of Providence and is building The Heights District at Town Madison.

Ceci said all Breland developments, whether they are cottages, single-family homes, or townhouses, are continuing to go up all over North Alabama. The Ledges of Oakdale in Athens, Meadowbrook in Cullman, and The Retreat in Meridianville are selling quickly, while Pebble Creek at River Landing in Madison is sold out.

“The impact on the economy with all these houses being built and sold are keeping home values up for existing homeowners,” Ceci said. “It’s good for our local economy too to be able to say we are not just swapping houses. We were pretty sure all these people would be moving here to take jobs with the FBI and Toyota, and now they are here. There are a lot of new people coming into the area.”

Stone Martin Builders who has developed Celia’s Garden, Allen Acres and Copper Creek in Huntsville, has continued to build throughout the pandemic, according to sales manager Ashley Durham, despite hurdles caused by supply shortages and subcontractor delays. 

“The labor shortage is the building industry’s greatest challenge currently and it has a direct impact on low inventory,” said Durham.  

One of the ways they are addressing the problem is to build strong relationships with subcontractors to help them grow their companies alongside their own.  

“As a growing company, Stone Martin Builders finds value in helping our business partners grow and become great so we can in turn, overcome all types of industry challenges together,” Durham said. “That in addition to seeking opportunities with local technical programs to enhance the workforce, we are all helping each other.” 

One of those technical programs is the North Alabama Homebuilding Academy started by the Huntsville-Madison County Builders Association to address the problem and they have already graduated their second class, even during the pandemic.

The North Alabama Homebuilding Academy trains people to be a homebuilder. Upon graduation, they can work as a contractor in training or in one of the ancillary trades. It was an 18-month endeavor but since January, the Academy has graduated 47 students.

According to Barry Oxley, Executive Officer of the HMCBA, the gap in skilled construction and construction-related labor goes back 30 years to the No Child Left Behind Act when school systems retooled education.

“There was for a long time, the idea that you have to go to college to be successful and as schools began to do away with trade school classes, a stigma developed around trades that said you were not meant for college,” said Oxley. “But the construction industry is made up of a lot of small businesses. If you are a skilled plumber, electrician, window or flooring installer or masonry expert, you do quite well.”

The Academy’s focus is on the 30 percent of school kids who are not able or do not want to go to college. 

The program is an eight-week session with a cap of 18 to 20 students. The fourth session started in early July with 19 students and every class through September is booked to capacity.

“We have been talking about the labor shortage for a long time, so we decided to do something about it,” said Oxley. “They apply through our website and we invite them to an open house. We have been doing those virtually since the shutdowns started.

“We send them an invitation to sign up for a class. It does not cost them anything to attend and we back up the classes with ongoing job fairs where we bring in employers who hire our students. These students are going from minimum wage jobs to making $14 to $16 an hour.”

“We will always strive to build homes efficiently and with great quality … and we will continually seek to find growth opportunities for our organization in the North Alabama market to help offset the housing shortage,” said Stone Martin’s Durham. “We are still accomplishing this goal and our customers remain positive.

“We keep them informed of any affects the pandemic will have on the construction process, and there has been very little disruptions in our builds, so customers continue to be eager and excited about their new home.”

Durham believes it is the commitment their company made to colleagues, customers, and the building team to support one another throughout the crisis. The minute COVID-19 began to challenge the building industry, Stone Martin Builders acted. 

“We identified fellow business owners that may be negatively impacted by the pandemic, and we found ways to become their patrons,” she said. “Many of these business owners were Stone Martin buyers, and we believe it is our duty to give back when we have the ability to do so.”

Some of the steps they took included renting tents from an event resource company whose events had been cancelled. 

“To offset their losses, we used these tents for outdoor closings and information gathering stations to offset the cancellation of open houses in North Alabama,” she said. “Our goal was to find ways to use the product of a struggling customer to help offset the struggles we were having.” 

Durham said some of their processes with customers also changed.

“Upon our first meeting with a customer, we seek to understand the ‘Why?’ they are building a new home,” she said. “COVID changed that process slightly in that we now need to understand how a homeowner is going to function in their new home. 

“COVID is requiring the home be multi-functional and that looks different for every homeowner.”

For instance, they see an increase in the need for home offices, quiet rooms for schooling or reading, functional kitchens with people cooking at home more, and good natural light for being home in day time hours.

“We are creating home plans that meet those needs,” said Durham. 

“We continue to see high demand for housing in Madison County, and especially in Madison,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. “The City instituted a Growth Impact Committee in 2017 that documented inventory and anticipated growth. Using this data, the Madison School Board, supported by the City Council, defined 12 mills as the proper number for managing this growth via the property tax referendum.”

The mill rate is the amount of tax payable per dollar of the assessed value of a property.

“This passed in September 2019 and we are now building the needed schools to manage the growth,” he said. 

To support this managed growth, the Madison City Council formulated and instituted a Growth Policy in mid-2019. Town Madison’s residential growth was factored into the Growth Impact Committee’s study and they continue to build out both the residential and retail portions. 

A new townhouse development on Kyser Boulevard is a perfect example of how managed growth can work for all parties. 

“The developer focused on providing 366 townhouse units on industrial property,” Finley said. “Our growth policy dictated that the only way we would change this zoning was if significant city objectives were achieved. 

“Working with the developer and schools, we defined two significant objectives: connecting Westchester Road to Kyser Boulevard allowing school buses a more direct and safer route to Sullivan Street; and extending the Bradford Creek Greenway from Palmer to historic downtown. These two objectives are estimated to cost $4,000,000 and will now be built and paid for by the developer. 

“The developer also agreed to spread the building out to eight years with a 50 unit maximum per year and will not include second stories or a swimming pool, keeping their focus on non-school age purchasers.”

“If you think back 10 years to the recession, Huntsville was not hit as hard as some places, but some of the bigger builders either scaled down or consolidated,” said McFall. “You may notice tracts of land still sitting empty in the back of neighborhoods that were built out for new homes in 2009 and 2010.

“Now they are exploding because builders have bought them. You can drive all over town and see construction in neighborhoods where one builder built the homes in one section of the development, but another builder is completing it. 

“The bottom line is people need a place to live, whether they are moving up or moving down. Marry that with the best interest rates seen in the mortgage industry in a long time, it explains the good housing numbers.”

Henry House at Clift Farm Community Breaks Ground

MADISON — There is a lot of plowing and tilling of soil going on at Clift Farm this week, but they aren’t planting cotton.

Henry House at Clift Farm features a community event and club room, game room, and a state-of-the-art fitness center.

Instead, the Breland Companies announced that SWH Partners and Watercress Partners have planted the seeds of a luxury apartment community on the landmark development along U.S. 72 across from the Madison Hospital and Target Center.

The 273-unit Henry House at Clift Farm is perched on the banks of Knox Creek on the Balch Road gateway into the new Clift Farm development.

Named after the 19th century founder of the Clift family farm, John Henry Clift, it will feature stunning scenic views and miles of pedestrian trails that connect Clift Farm’s 470 acres of residential neighborhoods to its curated Main Street mix of retail and dining options.

A garden-style community that fits the countryside feel of the iconic farmland, Henry House at Clift Farm will feature outdoor kitchens, a saltwater swimming pool with sunning decks, pet spa and off-leash park, community event and club room, game room, and a state-of-the-art fitness center.

Offering one-, two-, and three-bedroom floor plans, Henry House is styled with warm plank floors, tile backsplashes, granite countertops, stainless-steel appliances, and oversized walk-in closets.

Breland broke ground on Clift Farm last May after purchasing the farmland from centenarian owner Jack Clift.

With his blessing, the pedestrian-friendly residential community, park, and retail center is the latest upscale commercial and residential development for Breland, which is also developing Town Madison off Interstate 565 at Zierdt Road.

Financed by Bank of America, Henry House at Clift Farm is expected to be completed by spring 2021.

Watermark at Bridge Street Developer Expands to Clift Farms

MADISON — Watermark Residential, owners of Watermark at Bridge Street Town Centre – Cummings Research Park’s first residential community, will develop the first luxury multifamily apartment community at the new Clift Farms multi-use development on U.S. 72 in Madison. Construction will begin in January on a three-story, 324-unit, garden-style community.

The complex will provide amenities such as granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, and a resort-style swimming pool.

“The strong job and population growth of the Huntsville market has played a large role in Watermark’s commitment to the second project in the Huntsville [area],” said Tyler Sauerteig, the company’s director of land acquisitions for the Southeast. “Watermark has had great success with the lease-up of Watermark at Bridge Street Town Centre, and we feel that Clift Farms is going to be a similar destination development with immediate area amenities and great proximity to jobs.”

The Breland Companies broke ground at Clift Farms across from the Target and Madison Hospital in May. Their goal is to create a community that will have a timeless feel while preserving the natural attributes of the historic family farmland.

The Clift Farm community will provide retail, dining, residential, office space, medical opportunities and multifamily homes, as well as luxury apartments such as Watermark at Clift Farms.

Watermark Residential is a Thompson Thrift company, a multifamily development company based in Indianapolis, Ind. Established in 2008, Watermark Residential has developed or is in the process of developing more than 39 projects in 12 states totaling over 10,000 units.

Town Madison is Scoring with Residential and Hotel Construction

MADISON — Soon … very soon, Town Madison will be a lighted beacon along I-565, a welcoming 530-acre gateway into the Rocket City for visitors from the east and west.

Town Madison is a sprawling multi-use development extending along I-565 from Wall Triana Highway to Zierdt Road. (Courtesy The Breland Companies)

The shear enormity of the sprawling mixed-use development is on full display amidst the “preponderance of red soil” that gave Redstone Arsenal its name.

Town Madison has already inspired a boom of construction and activity in downtown Madison. It is changing forever the skyline along I-565 between Wall Triana Highway and the intersection of Madison Boulevard at Zierdt Road.

The new stadium with its red roof is now clearly visible amidst the towering LED stadium floodlights and churned red dirt and rocks. Fans of the Rocket City Trash Pandas, the tenants of the new ballpark, are already decked out and geared up for the team’s first pitch at their new home stadium on April 15, 2020.

While the energy is moving toward a April 15, 2020 Opening Day, there is a lot more going on at Town Madison than just baseball!

Phase I Residential

Described as having a “Village of Providence feel”, the first phase of Town Madison’s residential community consists of 216 single-family homes and townhouses, currently under construction.

Townhouses are rising from the red dirt to the north of the baseball stadium. (Photo/Kimberly Ballard)

The Village of Providence was one of Huntsville’s first mixed-use communities built off U.S. 72 in 2003. It has been a shining example of how popular pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods and the amenity-filled lifestyle have become.

Single-family home lots are already selling out while a sales model of the townhouses graces the main drag a block from the stadium itself. Soon, potential buyers will be able to tour the layout and make preconstruction customizations to fit their lifestyle.

Currently the most visible residential component to rise from the red clay is The Station at Town Madison, a four-story, 274-unit luxury apartment complex, also within walking distance of restaurants, retail stores, the sports complex, and a slew of boutique hotels and destination resort hotels like Margaritaville that will be opening there.

“The Station is opening a leasing office within the next 45 days and will be moving new tenants in by the end of the year,” said Joey Ceci, president of the Breland Cos., which is developing the project. “I believe they already have plenty of interest and even some commitments from potential tenants who are interested in moving into such an exciting environment.”

500 Hotel Rooms

Rendering shows the 170-room Hotel Margaritaville which will be just beyond the centerfield wall of the Rocket City Trash Pandas baseball stadium.

Ceci said hotels have always been an important component of Town Madison and progress on that front has been explosive. Convenient to Huntsville International Airport and I-565 and I-65, the new 97-room Home2Suites is open at 135 Graphics Drive, a block off Wall Triana at the westernmost edge of the development.

On the corner, a new Twice Daily convenience store and White Bison Coffee have also opened. Next to it, the 87-room avid Hotel is 50 percent complete, while a Hilton Garden Inn has broken ground a block up the street.

“The Town Madison target is 500 rooms,” said Ceci. “We will hit that number when the 170-room Margaritaville resort hotel breaks ground by the end of the year or very early next year.”

Announced back in 2018, the groundbreaking for Hotel Margaritaville has been delayed, putting into question whether Margaritaville with its tropical beach atmosphere, attached restaurant and lazy, winding river said to flow along the backside of the Trash Pandas centerfield wall, is still a go.

Ceci however is reassuring that Margaritaville will be in full swing by the Trash Pandas’ second season.

Pro Player Park

Other exciting venues such as Pro Players Park are committed to Town Madison, although construction has not yet begun.

The $12 million venue for travel softball and baseball will consist of 12 synthetic baseball/softball fields; a 65,000 square-foot sports facility with batting cages; a pro shop; a small café and vending area; and an indoor soccer field.

Pro Player Park will be situated west of the Trash Pandas’ stadium in what is known as the old Intergraph campus. No dates have been set for that groundbreaking, but it is expected to generate 300,000 visitors a year and, according to Madison Mayor Paul Finley, will yield about 40,000 room nights per year.

Restaurants and Retail

Finally, Ceci believes several restaurant concepts will be making announcements soon about their plans to open at Town Madison on the Zierdt Road side.

“Negotiations and discussions are happening every day with several restaurant and retail vendors and I believe we are very close to some solid commitments, but nothing I can announce today,” said Ceci.

Along with several national commercial tenants who are currently doing their due diligence, several announcements are expected in the coming weeks.

Clift Farm: Breland Companies Bought the Farm That Jack Built

MADISON — In 1850, the population of rural Madison was less than 500 residents. Alabama farmers were producing nearly 565,000 bales of cotton and nearly 29 million bushels of corn a year.

John Henry Clift bought a small piece of rural farmland in what was then called Madison Station.

Since then, six generations of the Clift family have farmed that land for cotton, corn, soybeans, fresh fruits, and vegetables, mostly for local consumption.

Construction is underway on the Clift Farm development.

It was Jack Clift, known as Pawpaw to his many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, who moved home from Atlanta after World War II and took over the family farming business. Jack, who turned 100 years old in December, expanded the farm to more than 600 acres off U.S. 72 between Wall Triana Highway and Balch Road in Madison.

Several years ago, he sold off a sliver to developers who built the shopping plaza where Planet Fitness sits today.

Last fall, Jack officially sold the remaining 550 acres to The Breland Companies who, with his blessing, will develop it into a pedestrian-friendly residential community, park, and retail center.

The Breland development recently broke ground across the highway from the Target Shopping Center and Madison Hospital, but according to Joey Ceci, president of The Breland Companies, the development will in every way, honor and represent the Clift legacy.

“Jack has always been a conservationist at heart,” said Ceci. “His original vision for the land was to keep it agricultural, but he realized later in life that it was going to be sold. He wanted to be an active participant in the process and after much discussion with his family, he entrusted the development and preservation of his property to Louis Breland.”

“To understand this property, you need to understand the history of the Clift family and what faithful stewards Jack and Lillian Clift have been for this land,” said Breland. “I have ridden every inch of this property with Mr. Clift to understand its history and his vision for this wonderful piece of land.”

The goal is to create a community that will have a timeless feel, that will preserve many of the existing natural attributes, while providing retail, dining, residential, office space, multifamily homes, and medical opportunities.

“There is a lot of retail in that area already, but this one is different from those you are seeing at MidCity Huntsville and Town Madison, which will draw a regional audience,” said Ceci. “This one will be mostly residential and will have a relatively small, town center retail and restaurant component that supports the Clift Farm community.”

He said it will have a very real element of green space: a passive park area planted with wildflowers and fruit trees as opposed to soccer fields; a man-made pond surrounded by greenways, and a lot of walking trails. The residential component will consist of townhomes starting at $300,000 and homes ranging from $400,000 to $600,000.

In March, the Madison County Commission approved $8 million for Breland to spend on the development, to build roads and a utility infrastructure for the project.

“We have already done a little bit of groundbreaking, but we are currently building arterial roads and putting in that infrastructure,” said Ceci. “Breland is building a third lane into the property from (U.S.) 72 to alleviate the already heavy traffic in that area, and we have brought in traffic engineers to help us install a couple of red lights.”

An expanded farmers’ market is part of the Clift Farm development plan.

The front of the development along U.S. 72 will be retail and restaurants. The back will include three-story luxury apartments and townhomes with an overall pedestrian environment similar to Huntsville’s Village of Providence. Several out-parcels of land may be developed as medical office space, located conveniently across from Madison Hospital.

One of the most unique aspects of the project, according to Ceci, is that they carved out a modest plot of land on which Clift’s son and grandson will continue small-scale farming and they are building an enlarged farmers market where they will continue to sell fresh fruit and produce from the very land they continue to harvest.

“You have heard restaurants talk about farm-to-table ingredients? In this case, if you order a salad, you can almost sit there and watch the guys go pick it for you,” said Ceci.

Breland expects to begin selling residential lots possibly at the end of this year or early 2020. Some of the retail will likely open in April or May next year.