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Downtown Construction Continues Despite Pandemic

Despite “shelter-at-home’’ orders followed by “safer-at-home’’ and, most recently, mandatory masking guidelines because of the COVID-19 pandemic, construction downtown appears to have proceeded as expected.

Downtown Huntsville Inc. CEO Chad Emerson said he’s unaware of any plans being altered as far as building in the middle of the city is concerned.

“I’m not aware of any projects that have been canceled because of the pandemic,’’ Emerson said.

He also said he’s not sure whether or not the pandemic has slowed any construction.

“That I don’t know because, well, there are some projects that aren’t moving as fast as others but that happens all the time,” Emerson said. “So I don’t know and I haven’t heard directly from any of the developers whether the pandemic is the reason or it could be something like financing or construction materials.’’

DHI has played a major role in revitalizing the downtown district.

Current construction projects underway are the new Huntsville Hospital Orthopedic and Spine Tower, Eclipse lofts at CityCentre, the Redstone Federal Credit Union building, the Curio Hotel, and the parking deck at Green Street and Holmes Avenue.

“Those are the ones that have gone vertical,’’ Emerson said. “There are other smaller projects — the new restaurants on the North Side Square and other things like that. So there are those on a larger scale. There’s a new dessert location going into The Avenue and there’s a new lounge going into 127 Holmes. So, you have a mix of smaller or larger projects.’’

The Avenue has added Cookie Dough Magic, an edible cookie dough parlor, next to Melt restaurant on Holmes Avenue.

The 127 Holmes site also houses Moe’s Original Bar B Que.

Downtown Huntsville Inc. Joins Effort to Move Confederate Monument from Courthouse Grounds

Downtown Huntsville Inc. has thrown its collective weight behind efforts to remove of a Confederate memorial statue that was placed on the Courthouse Square downtown by the Daughters of the Confederacy in 1905.

The letter from the organization said DHI advocated “the removal and relocation of the Confederate Memorial from the Downtown Huntsville Courthouse Square to a historically-contextual location that would allow our community to learn from the great pain that this memorial represents while also removing it from our community’s courthouse grounds.’’

The letter was in response to protests that followed the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a since-arrested white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee on his neck for more than eight minutes. During the protest in the downtown Huntsville area, there were chants of “take the statue down.’’

The Madison County Commission and the Huntsville City Council each unanimously approved moves to relocate the statue.

The county will submit an application to the state for a waiver to legislation prohibiting the removal of statues and monuments.

The Alabama Memorial Preservation Act was signed into law in 2017 and prohibits the removal of any monument that’s stood 40 years or more. However, Birmingham and Mobile have removed statues without the state’s permission. Violating the law results in a $25,000 fine. Tennessee Valley Progressives, an organization that has pushed for the statue’s removal, reopened a GoFunMe account to raise money to pay the fine.

The City Council last week passed a resolution to work with the county on relocating the monument.

The base of the statue is inscribed with, “In memory of the heroes who fell in defence of the principles which gave birth to the Confederate cause.’’

Not surprisingly Chad Emerson, CEO of DHI, said there has been some negative feedback to his group’s support of moving the memorial. He said he’s also heard plenty of support.

“Nowadays in the world with the World Wide Web, there’ll always be someone expressing an opinion that’s contrary. But we’ve largely found that other entities and faith groups and individuals have supported this measure to remove and relocate.

“In fact both the County Commission and City Council have voted unanimously in support of that position. So it feels like there is a strong community-wide consensus to remove and relocate to a historically contextual location.’’

Emerson suggested one suitable site to relocate the statue, which is under the direction of the Madison County Commission, is the Confederate cemetery at Maple Hill Cemetery.

“We believe that that is an equitable decision for both all the people that visit downtown as well as go to the courts as well as for the business,” Emerson said. “We’ve had a lot of the downtown area businesses say they would like to have that removed to a historical location because it is viewed by some of the customers as devisive.”

Here is the text of the statement, which was signed by Emerson and DHI Board Chair William Stroud:

“The tragic killing of George Floyd has magnified the deep pain experienced by African American and other members of our community,” the DHI statement said. “We are heartbroken by this pain and believe a true path toward healing requires more than words of reconciliation or statements of empathy and support.

“Rather, this path toward understanding and healing requires specific actions to directly advance this critical process. Today, we advocate that one such step should be the removal and relocation of the Confederate Memorial from the Downtown Huntsville Courthouse Square to a historically-contextual location that would allow our community to learn from the great pain that this memorial represents while also removing it from our community’s courthouse grounds.

“We implore our government leaders on all levels to utilize all available means to take this step to promote the healing process. We understand that the removal and relocation of this artifact will not remove historical prejudices and pain by itself, but we hope it represents a sincere statement to our fellow community members that we are listening to their pain and seek to meaningfully further a process of healing together with them.”

 

‘To Go’ is the Way to Go for Dining During COVID-19 Emergency

With health agencies recommending against public gatherings, local businesses and restaurants have come up with new strategies and practices to stay in business.

“There are a lot of unknowns but I think people are doing a really good job trying to discern best practices that will keep the customers safe while also providing them with things they need like food,” said Downtown Huntsville Inc. President/CEO Chad Emerson. “I’ve been very pleased with seeing how everyone is willing to consider new approaches especially in the immediate term.”

Emerson spoke to the Huntsville Business Journal about what his organization is doing to keep the food and beverage industry apprised of current events surrounding the virus.

“We’re continuing to gather as much useful information as possible and to share it as efficiently as possible,” Emerson said. “We’re looking at what other cities that are further along in the process because they were exposed to the situation earlier than we were, are using that can help us develop some best practices.

“We have a lot of really smart people here in Huntsville that are resilient, and they are committed to trying new ways to serve the public.”

Go to https://www.downtownhuntsville.org/blog to find Best Practices information. It is updated regularly.

“Every Monday at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. we’re having general updates and information via conference call,” Emerson said. “This is information we are gleaning both locally as well as from other downtowns.

“It is really an opportunity to try to give everyone a chance to be heard and to ask questions. We have designed it for downtown operators, mostly for food and beverage operators, but any of those establishments around Huntsville and Madison are welcome to call in. It is a team effort citywide.”

Emerson also wanted to stress that currently, all downtown restaurants are open for business. Many are increasing To-Go options to the point in which they will bring food out to your car; some are expanding their delivery options; and almost all are modifying their in-restaurant dining experience to increase the distance between guests.

“Even if the in-restaurant dining experience is limited or closed in the days ahead, most of the restaurants we are dealing with are continuing to operate,” he said. “So, if you have a favorite restaurant where you usually go out to dine, check their social media or call them and ask them what their options are including delivery and To-Go.”

Downtown Huntsville does not have any food truck events scheduled, but social media is the best place to find out whether some of them will be set up somewhere remotely. Emerson said no one has called a halt to food trucks right now but the Food Truck Corral at NASA has been postponed.

In terms of retail, Emerson said, “We’re finding that people have more time, and they may not be gathering as often at large public events but people are still interested in getting out of the house and keeping life going as normally as possible, and that includes buying new goods they need.”

 

Huntsville’s Magic Number for Downtown Hotel Rooms is 1,000

The newest edition to Huntsville’s skyline is only one of many new hotels planned for downtown.

City planners don’t plan to stop until they reach 1,000. Not the number of hotels, obviously, but the number of hotel rooms available in the center of the city for highly-attended events.

The AC Hotel Huntsville Downtown, a Marriott property, is open for business and joins the Embassy Suites as two hotels overlooking Big Spring Park. AC Hotel is on the corner of Williams Avenue and Monroe Street and will anchor the mixed-use City Centre development.

The six-story building, which has 120 rooms, will eventually be joined by other hotels as part of the vast growth of business in the downtown area.

“It’s been a goal to get to 1,000 rooms,” Downtown Huntsville Inc. CEO Chad Emerson said. “It’s not necessarily about the number of hotels but the number of rooms.”

Construction will begin in the fall for a seven-floor Hampton Inn and Suites at the corner of Clinton Avenue and Monroe Street. The site is next to the garage that serves the Von Braun Center and is used for event parking.

One more hotel is in the planning stages and, like the Embassy Suites, AC Hotel and Hampton Inn and Suites, will be within a one-mile radius of the VBC. Curio by Hilton is slated for Jefferson Street near the Courthouse Square and an Autograph Collection boutique hotel by Marriott adjacent to Big Spring Park and PNC bank is planned.

And city planners aren’t stopping with the addition of these hotels.

“There have been three new hotels announced,” Emerson said, “and there are some that have not been announced.”

As the makeover of downtown Huntsville continues and expands, two new franchises are getting ready to open.

The Poppy is a traditional English pub on the North Side Square and held its grand opening Monday.

The Mercantile, in space formerly occupied by Crossroads Music Hall at 115 Clinton Avenue, is an entertainment and private party venue. The Mercantile will host its first musical acts July 3 with local rockers Rob Aldridge and the Proponents opening.

“We’re actively engaged in in the booking process,’’ co-owner David Clarke said of The Mercantile. “We’ve got quite a few bands booked.’’

Clarke said he and his partners at PBG Holdings want to provide a unique experience with the two new sites. They’re also bringing Arsenal Coffee food truck to the exploding downtown scene.

“We’re paying attention to details and trying to create a destination at The Mercantile,’’ Clarke said. “We want the people of Huntsville to come but also have people coming from Nashville, Birmingham.’’

Emerson is confident the new businesses will attract visitors.

“The Mercantile and The Poppy will bring unique new retail options to downtown Huntsville,’’ he said. “Both add another interesting and creative destination to our city center.’’

The AC Hotel by Marriott recently opened as part of the CityCentre development in downtown Huntsville. It’s the first of its kind in Alabama by Marriott and features 120 rooms and six levels. The hotel is one of two planned for CityCentre and another two have been proposed within the vicinity of the Von Braun Center.

The Poppy and The Mercantile: Pub, Music Venue Add to Downtown Vibe

Imagine if one could travel back in time to post-World War I Great Britain. What would it be like to sit at the bar in one of those cozy neighborhood pubs? PBD Holdings principals, Paul Daigle, Brian Peoples, and David Clarke think it would be something like their newest venture, The Poppy, which is slated for opening this month.

When it came to project support, “Things literally fell into place,” said Clarke.

With a few introductions made on PBD’s behalf, it didn’t take long before community influencers such as Chris Russell at Cadence Bank, Chad Emerson at Downtown Huntsville, Margaret Anne Goldsmith, and several others came on board.

“It was very well-received,” said Clarke. “Huntsville is very business friendly. We were the first to admit that we needed to build a team, one with good business acumen.

“People we could trust, and we listened. So many people have helped get to this venture going, they’ve been incredible.”

The pub’s name was inspired by the John McCrae’s 1915 poem, “In Flanders Fields.”

“We didn’t want it to be cliché or cheesy to the point that it would alienate non-veterans, but we wanted to honor the ‘Great War’ – World War I,” Clarke said.

When it came to develop the pub theme, Shane Brown, PBD program manager, stepped in to help. He was so impressed with the venture, he invested as a minority owner. A native of Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England, Shane is a true subject matter expert on pub authenticity.

Inspired by Old No. 7, Brown’s hometown pub in Barnsley, the interior is 1,400 square feet of history recreated.

“We wanted to maintain a conversational atmosphere with a laid back, neighborhood pub vibe,” Clarke said. “A place where folks can indulge in really good beers, English beers, cask beers, a niche that’s been overlooked.” In addition to English beers, there will also be English ciders.

With a 40-foot bar, said Clarke, “We’re really excited about the bar layout, taps on either end, beer engines in the center, it’s a very traditional set-up.”

For those unfamiliar with a beer engine, Clarke said, “There’s a different texture of beer with a beer engine, flavor profiles are easier to discern, smoother.”

The décor will be red oak, stained black, dark red leather, cast brass footrails, and stamped tin ceilings.

Pieces from artist Jacqueline Hurley’s “War Poppy” collection will also adorn the walls.

By the time The Poppy is up and running, The Mercantile will follow suit in late June. Destined to be a space conducive to larger music acts, and hosting special events, such as wedding receptions, The Mercantile promises to be that stop along the way between Birmingham and Nashville, where a national touring act can stop for the night; play gig, grab a meal, do some laundry, and get a decent night’s rest.

The designated music “consigliere,” Jake Peters, Quantaphonics guitarist, said, “Huntsville doesn’t have a venue quite like this. The Mercantile is the perfect space to comfortably accommodate 700-750 people.”

Like spokes on a wheel, Huntsville is geographically central to Nashville, Atlanta, and Birmingham, those bigger cities that are usually on a band’s touring itinerary. The plan isn’t to reinvent Crossroads, that’s not the objective.

“The idea is to create a space that puts Huntsville on the map for major events,” said Clarke.

As a venue “Built by Musicians for Musicians,” there will be significant investment in state-of-the-art sound, light, and stage, to encourage national acts into making a stop in Huntsville, on their way to their next big gig.

For special events, there will be a catering kitchen with lots of electrical capacity. When securing a venue for the October fundraiser, “Chili for Charity,” event co-chair Pam Bouska said, “The Mercantile is the one event space in town that can safely accommodate 35 crockpots of chili without blowing fuses.”

“We are giving back, working with local community foundations, and providing space to nonprofits for special events,” said Clarke. “We are building good long-term relationships and providing something that the community can have as their own.”