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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.’’

County Commission Chairman: ‘We Don’t Have This Pandemic Under Control’

Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong sounded a resounding alarm during Monday’s COVID-19 press briefing.

“We don’t have this pandemic under control, Strong said. “Not in Madison County, not throughout the state of Alabama and not in the United States.”

The comments came on the same day that Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, chief of the World Health Organization, was quoted at a press briefing in Geneva saying the pandemic is speeding up globally and the “worst is yet to come.’’

“We all want this to be over,’’ he said. “We all want to get on with our lives. But the hard reality is that it’s not even close to being over.’’

Also Monday, Arizona joined Texas and Florida whose governors closed down such gathering spots as bars, gyms, and beaches to combat spikes of the novel coronavirus in those states.

Meanwhile, Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers reported a spike in Madison County and the region.

“As of (Monday), we have 115 COVID positive inpatients in our system,” Spillers said. “When I reported on June 1, we had 28. So that’s a substantial increase in the month of June.”

Spillers said local and area hospitals have enough beds to deal with virus surges that require hospitalization. What he fears right now is the exposure of health care workers.

Strong noted that 14 HEMSI workers were out Monday because they’ve been exposed to a COVID-19 patient or a family member has tested positive.

Spillers and Strong both continued to stress wearing face coverings as a way to combat the spread of the virus.

“I don’t know when wearing face coverings became a political statement, and I’m sorry that it has,” Spillers said. “It hasn’t got anything to do with that. It’s just an effective way to keep people from transmitting the disease.’’

Strong said he’s heard from people who don’t want to wear a mask.

“There are people that believe they want to preserve their freedoms,’’ Strong said. “If they don’t want to wear one, they don’t believe they should be made to wear one. There are different dynamics today than we had a week ago, nevertheless 14 weeks ago.’’

The rising positive cases of COVID-19 locally and statewide, Strong said, should sway doubters into wearing face coverings. Face coverings are required within county offices.

“You look at the mistakes of other states, we don’t want to make the same mistakes they’ve made,’’ he said. “The mask has proven to be beneficial to the people of Madison County.

“In the study, or what we’ve done at the Madison County Commission for about four or five days, people didn’t like it, but then you look back several weeks later and we’ve had no cases that we’ve tied to the Madison County Courthouse.’’

The 115 inpatients Spillers alluded to include a 16-year old who is one of 11 coronavirus positive patients on a ventilator and among 16 total in ICUs. There are 44 inpatients in Madison County, including 38 at Huntsville main, six in Madison, and two in Crestwood Medical Center.

Other coronavirus numbers:

  • Decatur Morgan Hospital has 20 inpatients with coronavirus and Marshall County has 30.
  • There are 12 inpatients with coronavirus at Helen Keller Hospital and Athens Limestone Hospital has nine.
  • The average age of hospitalization for the coronavirus is the mid-50s with the majority of those having pre-existing conditions.
  • There are nearly 37,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and over 900 deaths statewide, while in Madison County the numbers are 996 and six.

Huntsville Hospital has the highest number of cases since its first positive patient was admitted. As businesses re-open and sports are coming back to life, Spillers cautioned that not going backward like Arizona, Texas and Florida is to practice safeguards.

“We can’t go back to normal without some protections in place,” he said. “That’s not going to work.”

 

Health, Civic Officials Plea: Wear Face Coverings, Use Hand Sanitizers, Practice Social Distancing.

Wear face coverings, use hand sanitizers and practice social distancing.

It’s neither a broken record nor a cliche, just the repeated pleas from health and civic officials urging Madison County residents to practice these safety measures to battle the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

That checklist continues to be the theme at the bi-weekly pandemic press conference at the Huntsville City Council chambers. Especially in light of the number of positive cases in the county spiking the last two weeks in the wake of protests and as restaurants, bars and businesses re-open.

And even for those who refuse to wear a mask, following those guidelines might keep at bay an ordinance to require them to wear masks at all public places.

“The last time I reported in our system hospitals across Alabama, we had about 30 inpatients; today we’ve got 70 inpatients in our hospitals across North Alabama,” Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers said. “So we’ve seen a fairly substantial increase in the number of people who have COVID, who need hospital care.”

The number of local and area residents needing inpatient and ventilator care has also increased. Of the 70 patients in Huntsville Hospital facilities, there are 23 in Madison County with 16 in Huntsville and seven in Madison. Of the 23, seven are in intensive care and six are on ventilators.

Statewide, 348,687 people have been tested for the virus. Confirmed positives are at 30,031 and 831 deaths because of the coronavirus have been reported. In the county, there have been 23,865 tests with 711 confirmed cases and six deaths attributed to COVID-19.

The state has a population of nearly 5 million and Madison County has a population nearing 400,000. Less than 20 percent in both instances of the population have been tested.

“For the longest time, I presented to this group that about three percent of all of our tests were running positive,” Spillers said. “That’s now up to around six to eight percent of the tests we run are coming back positive.”

Spillers warned that younger people feeling immune to the deadly aspect of the disease should take caution while the average age of a COVID-19 patient admitted to the hospital is 54.6.

“People tend to think this is much more skewed toward the elderly and, if you look at mortality, it is much more skewed toward the elderly. For me, 54 is not old at all.”

Meanwhile, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said he’s heard from both sides of the mask-wearing debate. He doesn’t see a clear path to making it work but acknowledged a city-wide requirement is not off the table.

“It’s a fine line to walk,’’ he said. “We want to make sure that we have public health, and we want people to do that, the question is, ‘If you did have a mask ordinance, how would you enforce it?’

“If we see numbers start to spike up, then we’re going to consider it much more than we have in the past.”

Battle said that if around 700 new cases develop, a mark ordinance would be given more “consideration.’’

Spillers fully supports wearing masks.

“In areas where you can stay separated, you may not need to wear a mask,” he said. “But in those areas where you come close to people, you’ve got to wear a mask.

“I think that that’s the single most important thing we could do to try to minimize the spread of coronavirus.”

 

Local COVID-19 Cases Increase; City, County on ‘Watch List’

Huntsville and Madison County enjoyed weeks as the poster child in the state for how to battle the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

While other counties seemed to struggle in dealing with the virus, Madison County maintained low numbers of confirmed cases.

That’s no longer true.

At Friday’s COVID-19 press briefing in the Huntsville City Council chambers, state and local officials produced ominous numbers as well as comments.

“One thing that stands out, as of last Friday (June 12), we had 85 quarantined cases in Madison County,’’ said county Emergency Management Director Jeff Birdwell. “(June 19), we have 243.

“Also a word of warning: We have received word that the city of Huntsville and Madison County is actually on the government’s COVID-19 watch list, which represents any organizations or governments that have more than a 200 percent increase in confirmed cases.

“I think it’s important that the community know that.”

Dr. Karen Landers of the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) said the trend not only in Madison County but statewide is “disturbing.’’

The numbers on ADHP’s dashboard revealed these numbers Sunday: 29,538 confirmed cases statewide with 829 deaths, and 701 confirmed cases and six deaths in Madison County.

“Our numbers statewide have continued to climb,’’ Landers said. “This is an extremely disturbing trend to the Alabama Department of Public Health and to me personally as a health official.’’

About half of the cases in Madison County have been confirmed in the last month.

“With these rising numbers,’’ Landers said, “if we don’t get this under control, it is going to overwhelm our health care system, which has been the worry we have had the whole time.”

Hospitalizations have also risen because of the virus across the state, particularly in the 24-49 age group.

“Early on, this community took a very strong stance providing a lot of messaging and a lot of information, and our numbers were low in this county compared to other parts of the state,” Landers said. “But our numbers in this county have started to climb.

“We know that without any level of social distancing or without any level of personal protective measures that a person with COVID-19 under the most optimal conditions will transmit COVID-19 to 2 1/2 people. But it can actually be higher than that.”

While health officials and local authorities continue to stress safeguards against the virus — wearing face coverings, social distancing, hand sanitizing — a trip to any reopened store reveals not everyone is taking any precautions.

“The hardest thing is enforcement,” Madison Mayor Paul Finley said. “How do you do that?”

Finley, Landers, and others at the bi-weekly COVID-19 briefings continue to persuade residents to take the virus seriously.

“We really have limited options in terms of prevention, and we really have limited options in terms of treatment,’’ Landers said. “However, the options we have in terms of prevention are actually not extremely noxious, if you will, and they’re not extremely difficult to carry out.’’

 

New State Regulations Limit Gatherings, Ban Dining-in

The Public Health Officer for the State of Alabama released a new list of stringent containment policies for communities to follow to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

These include full school closures, senior center closures, pre-school and child care closures, nursing home restrictions, delayed elective-medical procedures, limited gatherings of no more than 25 persons, bar closures, and no on-premise consumption of food and beverages in restaurants.

Mayor Tommy Battle said the City of Huntsville will immediately follow these policies in the best interest of public health.

“This is a challenging time for our communities. I remain grateful for the way our residents and businesses have been working together to adhere to the public health guidelines and support each other in this time of need.

To our business community, as a former restaurateur, my heart goes out to you, and to all of our companies and residents who lives have been disrupted by this virus.  The Alabama Health Department has determined these precautions are necessary and we will follow their guidance.”

Battle said Huntsville residents should remain calm but must take coronavirus seriously.

“We’re a smart community, and we’ll be smart about stopping this virus,” he said. “Let’s continue to fully follow health recommendations for social distancing, to remain six feet apart, and wash hands regularly.”

Mayor Battle: ‘Take a Step Back … Take a Deep Breath’

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle urged people to avoid panic shopping and hysteria in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak.

His comments came at a news conference Monday with Madison Mayor Paul Finley, Emergency Management Agency Director Jeff Birdwell, and local health care and public safety partners.

“We all need to take a step back and take a deep breath,” he said.

At the mayors’ requests, the Huntsville and Madison city councils each passed three-week states of emergency. The action will authorize the cities to avoid regular council procedure and take immediate action as needed to help fight COVID-19.

Battle, Finley and Madison County Commission Chair Dale Strong have been in regular communication with EMA, hospitals, HEMSI, ADPH, Redstone Arsenal and state partners on timely and coordinated action items to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

David Spillers, CEO of Huntsville Hospital, said, “We still have regular flu out there and other illnesses haven’t stopped.”

He also said the hospital has canceled elective surgeries to save supplies and keep staff available.

“We recognize this is serious, and we are practicing all precautions while ensuring essential government services and protections remain in tact,” said Battle. “This team is working together. These are not normal times but we want to be as normal as possible.

“The City of Huntsville is still collecting garbage and our police and fire units remain on duty. Public transportation will run. We urge people to ‘sanitize and separate’.”

Dr. Pam Hudson of Crestwood Hospital said the facility is “open for business” but with restrictions.

“No one under the age of 16 (will be allowed to visit patients),” she said. “There is one visitor per patient and visitors will be screened.

“Our goal is to keep our patients safe and our staff safe.”

Battle said the retail, restaurant and hospitality industries may be hit the hardest, with people self-isolating themselves but “we’ll try to help.”

Unlike other municipalities, Huntsville and Madison are not closing restaurants and bars but, Battle said, “restaurants will be self-regulating” by following the state health department guidelines of limiting its customers to half of the capacity of the business.

 

Mayor Vetoes Lodging Tax

Mayor Tommy Battle informed City Council this morning that he vetoed the 1 percent lodging tax the  Council approved 3-2 Thursday night to fund the city’s planned amphitheater at MidCity District.

In a message to Council, Mayor Battle outlined his reasons as follows:

  1. The City of Huntsville has a solid financial model to pay for the amphitheater as presented when the architectural contract was approved.
  2. This lodging tax increase puts the City of Huntsville at a disadvantage in competing for travel, tourism and conventions.
  3. The tax is not needed – we have a balanced budget.
  4. Hitting the hotel/motel industry with an additional tax amid the COVID-19 virus exacerbates the financial burden on the hospitality Industry, a critical sector of our economy.
  5. There is no plan for additional funding. All projects in the Capital Improvements Plan have been identified and budgeted.

“We all have the same desire — to do what is best for our community,” said Battle. “Passing a tax just to have future dollars to spend without designation is not right. The people who earn the tax dollars that are paid to the City of Huntsville work very hard, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.

“They trust us to spend their resources conservatively.”

The mayor expressed his gratitude to Council for their work and concluded his message by saying, “We all have the same goals, just different ways of achieving them.”

Sports Tournaments over Weekend Generate $1.7 Million Economic Impact in Huntsville

Huntsville isn’t just a high-tech town known for helping put man on the moon.

It’s also a magnet for competitive sports tournaments that attract thousands of visitors and produce millions of dollars each year in the community. In fact, the Southeastern Short Course Championships and NASA Volleyball Bash this past weekend had an economic impact of more than $1.7 million in Huntsville alone, the city announced in a news release.

With more than 25 sporting events scheduled for 2020, the Huntsville Sports Commission reports an economic impact of over $2 million already this year in Huntsville. Sports Commission Executive Director Ralph Stone said this past weekend was a great example of Huntsville’s potential in the sports tourism industry.

“It was a great weekend for sports business in Huntsville,” he said. “With a combined economic impact of over $1.7 million for the City, it goes to show why the Huntsville Sports Commission does what we do.”

Below are main specs from both tournaments over the Feb. 21-23 weekend:

Southeastern Short Course Championships

  • Host: Huntsville Swim Association
  • Total Economic Impact: $870,312
  • Participants: 945
  • Daily Spectators: 1,890
  • Room Nights: 2,044

NASA Volleyball Bash

  • Host: NASA Volleyball Club
  • Total Economic Impact: $855,672
  • Participants: 1,704
  • Daily Spectators: 2,500
  • Room Nights: 1,864

Nancy Rickmeyer, tournament director for NASA Volleyball Bash, said this year’s event at the Von Braun Center was one of its best competitions yet. Downtown Huntsville was also a key factor in making the event so successful, she said.

“Downtown Huntsville has more opportunities than ever for dining, shopping and activities close to the VBC for all participants,” she said.

The Southeastern Short Course Championships also went well, thanks to partnerships within the community, according to Huntsville Swim Association Head Coach Matt Webber.

“The Southeastern championship meet is as well run a meet as you will find in the country,” he said. “The support we receive from the City of Huntsville, Huntsville Sports Commission and Huntsville Parks and Recreation Department is unmatched in terms of contributing to successful competitions.”

A recent study by WinterGreen Research estimates the youth sports industry is a $19.2 billion market in the U.S., rivaling the size of the $15 billion NFL. As traveling sports teams grow in popularity, that figure jumps to $24.9 billion worldwide.

Judy Ryals, president and CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the Southeastern Short Course Championships and NASA Volleyball Bash demonstrated the critical role sports tourism plays in Huntsville’s economy.

“It’s evident in the past weekend’s events and in others like the inaugural Huntsville Championship professional golf tournament in April and the U.S. Tennis Association’s national championship for 16-and-under girls this July, and so many other competitions,” she said. “It’s a testament to the excellent facilities and the city leadership in recognizing the benefit of sports to our community.”

Navistar Revving Up Engine Production in Huntsville with $125 Million Expansion

The shovels dug deeply into wet but fertile ground as Navistar officially broke ground this week on a 50-acre, $125 million expansion of its manufacturing facilities in the Jetplex Industrial Park in Huntsville.

Ground was broken for the ground-breaking $125 million Navistar expansion. (Photo/Kimberly Ballard)

The build-out will drive Navistar’s total Huntsville footprint to 80 acres and add 110,000 square feet to its 300,000 square-foot plant. It will also add 145 skilled manufacturing jobs to build next-generation, big-bore powertrains.

“Over the past two decades, the city of Huntsville has been a valuable partner and we are eager to expand our presence here,” said Persio Lisboa, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Navistar. “The local skilled workforce has proudly supported the implementation of our product strategy, and we look forward to incorporating some of the most advanced manufacturing standards into our Navistar Diesel of Alabama facility to continue to bring best-in-class products to the market.”

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle tied Navistar’s truck engine production here to the rocket engines under development just a few miles away’

“Our skilled manufacturing workforce is ready to take on the production of Navistar’s global powertrain, adding capacity to Huntsville’s reputation as the ‘propulsion capital’ of the world,” he said. “Whether it’s across the country or across the universe, Huntsville gets you there.”

Already using the latest state-of-the-art technology, the company will implement a “manufacturing 4.0 strategy” in the plant.

Next-level software and assembly lines will drive everything from receiving components to delivery to the customers, revving up production while giving them more control over that production.

Navistar’s A26 engine is built in Huntsville. (Photo/Kimberly Ballard)

Navistar’s principal engine built in Huntsville is the International A26 – a 12.4-liter big-bore engine. The current 300,000 square feet of manufacturing space is dedicated to the A26 engine.

Navistar will use the additional space to produce next-generation big-bore powertrains developed with its global alliance partner Traton.

According to Brandon Tucker, Director of Operations, Navistar has built more than 1 million engines in Huntsville over the past 20 years.

“It’s easy to say one million engines, but if you step back and think about that – it’s a lot of engines,” he said. “It’s a lot of parts. It’s a lot of overtime. It’s a lot of work fixing problems. It’s a lot of hard work.

“Engines are what makes us great, it’s what gives us the competitive advantage … so this is really about a big job, well done.”

Tucker said it is also about business continuation.

“It’s a line in the sand, a jumping off point for big things to come,” he said. “Like any industry, we ride the tide of ebb and flow … but today it is time to focus on the future.”

He said things will move quickly on the new building with center office construction starting in March, site work and grading should begin by spring with core construction expected to start by midsummer. It is slated for completion the first half of 2023.

“Jetplex Industrial Park at Huntsville International Airport is proud to be home to Navistar,” said Rick Tucker, CEO of the Port of Huntsville. “Having been a corporate partner of theirs for over two decades, it means a lot to us that they would desire to continue to grow both the facility and their relationship with us.

“I’m certain that we will all work together to continue to propel Alabama forward.”

‘Super Block’ Along University Drive Getting $27 Million Facelift

A welcomed and long-awaited facelift is coming to a stretch of one of Huntsville’s primary thoroughfares.

A 45-acre block off University Drive at Independence Drive and Lancewood Drive will be revitalized in a $27 million acquisition by  Philadelphia-based Penn Capital, an integrated private investment company.

The former GuestHouse Suites are part of the $27 million redevelopment project. (Image provided by Penn Capital)

The company has purchased the former GuestHouse Suites from the Huntsville Hospital Foundation as part of the acquisition. The project includes renovating and redeveloping three properties along University Drive across from the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

In addition to the former GuestHouse Suites at 4020 Independence Drive, Penn Capital is revitalizing the former North Ridge Apartments and the Continental Apartments adjacent to it. The project totals 458 apartments along University Drive and creates a 45-acre “super block” of 546 apartments. It is strategically aimed at revitalizing the surrounding community, which has suffered from blighted conditions over the past 10 years.

According to Penn Capital founder Ed Rogan, the properties fit the company’s investment strategy to invest in Sun Belt markets from Texas to Florida where there is tremendous economic growth.

Penn Capital plans to invest $5 million to redevelop the former GuestHouse Suites at 4020 Independence Drive.

Penn Capital wanted to come into Huntsville, he said, because of the job growth around the new Toyota production plant, and the aerospace and military presence.

“We look for projects in good areas or even areas that have had some distress issues like these three properties,” Rogan said. “A lot of people would have passed on this project because it isn’t visually appealing, but we have a vision where our work revitalizes the community and surrounding neighborhood and improves the standard or living and quality of life for people.”

Just two miles east of the MidCity Huntsville project, the former North Ridge Apartments complex has been renamed Madison Grove. It consists of 105 buildings and 390 apartments, all two-story townhouses.

“The buildings are in good condition, well built in the mid-1960s,” Rogan said. “They have solid foundations and great structures, but it had become known for a lot of crime.

“We came in and secured the premises by putting up a fence and security cameras to keep out trespassers, put in new lighting to light up the grounds, and the police department hired off-duty police officers to patrol the property. Then we began work improving and upgrading the exterior façade and doing some landscaping to give it curb appeal.”

Madison Grove includes 105 buildings and 390 apartments, all two-story townhouses. (Rendering provided by Penn Capital)

Rogan said they are working with Huntsville’s Blue Star Crime Free Multi-Housing Program to help residents, owners and the managers of rental properties to keep drugs and other illegal activity off their property.

“We are also renovating the interiors with all new appliances and the amenities required to take it from what was a D-class property with a lot of crime, deferred maintenance, and poor living conditions, to a safe and attractive Class-A property for middle class families,” he said.

Rogan said the property did not come without some challenges, however.

“Because of the age of the property, the structures are not up to today’s building codes and even the electrical infrastructure needs to be rewired,” he said.

But, they are working with the city to upgrade it.

“We have the same interests in that revitalization will increase the tax base tenfold, increase the quality of people living there, and create a safer living space,” Rogan said.

The former Continental Apartments will be renovated into The Ave. (Image provided by Penn Capital)

Penn Capital is doing the same with the Continental Apartments, which they have renamed The Ave. It is a two-story, 88-unit apartment community consisting of 66 studios and 22 two-bedroom/two-bath apartments.

“The Continental and hotel are vacant, so we have been able to move quickly to replace all the roofs and windows,” Rogan said. “We are doing a complete redevelopment with new exterior facades and landscaped grounds. It will have high quality, Class-A finishes that will attract higher-end tenants.”

He said the Continental is a unique building from the mid-1960s which was built to house visiting generals and high-ranking military officers who were visiting Redstone Arsenal.

He said they are well built with a good strong infrastructure, structural concrete and steel girders in the ceilings that can be used to increase ceiling height and create trendy styles like exposed-beam ceilings. It will become a smart property, fully outfitted with WiFi and a great opportunity for housing students and families.

Penn Capital plans to invest $5 million to redevelop the aging hotel at 4020 Independence Drive. The original extended-stay already has kitchens that will lend themselves well to studio apartments – a good fit for college students.

“The hotel has a 5,000 square-foot lobby on the first floor that we are renovating and putting in an exercise center, leasing office and clubhouse with a new swimming pool, outdoor kitchen and dog park,” Rogan said. “On the second floor, they are putting in a new shared workspace so people living in the surrounding complexes can come there and use the business center.”

Rogan said the work is expected to be completed on all three properties in about 10 to 12 months and a ribbon-cutting for all three is planned in about 18 months.