Huntsville Named Headquarters of U.S. Space Command

U.S. Space Command headquarters will be based at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, the Air Force announced today.

“The Department of the Air Force conducted both virtual and on-site visits to assess which of six candidate locations would be best suited to host the U.S. Space Command Headquarters based on factors related to mission, infrastructure capacity, community support and costs to the Department of Defense,” a statement from the Air Force Public Affairs Office said. “Huntsville compared favorably across more of these factors than any other community, providing a large, qualified workforce, quality schools, superior infrastructure capacity, and low initial and recurring costs.

“Additionally, Redstone Arsenal offered a facility to support the headquarters, at no cost, while the permanent facility is being constructed.”

The decision was made by Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett. Gov. Kay Ivey was informed today of the selection by Bob Moriarity, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for installations.

“I couldn’t be more pleased to learn that Alabama will be the new home to the United States Space Command,” Ivey said in a statement. “Our state has long provided exceptional support for our military and their families as well as a rich and storied history when it comes to space exploration.”

Mayor Tommy Battle credited U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby for leading the way for Huntsville.

“The City of Huntsville is honored that Redstone Arsenal has been named as the site for the United States Space Command,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “We are grateful to Sen. Richard Shelby for his confidence in Huntsville. Senator Shelby has been front and center of this space effort from its inception.

“As one of our nation’s strongest defense advocates and most knowledgeable leaders in defense matters, Sen. Shelby recognized the value of a program that would focus on space assets and threats. It is his vision to protect our country in space with a dedicated command.”

Ivey agreed, saying multiple agencies working together show the strength and diversity of Huntsville’s work force.

“This combination only enhances the outstanding relationships we have with the 65 diverse federal agencies on Redstone Arsenal, not to mention the growing presence of the FBI and other federal installations,” Ivey said. “The bottom line is simple: the Redstone Region is the most natural choice to become home to such an important mission for our country.”

Other sites under consideration were Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, Offutt AFB in Nebraska, Patrick AFB in Florida, Peterson AFB in Colorado and Port San Antonio in Texas.

This is the second significant federal command to be located in Huntsville, with the Space Command joining the FBI at Redstone Arsenal.

Championed the last four years by Shelby, chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, the FBI facility would be a “Headquarters 2” for the agency. Efforts to build a new D.C.-based headquarters failed, leading Shelby to push Congress for appropriations totaling more than $1.1 billion the last three years to facilitate the move.

“This is outstanding news, not only for our state but also for the Air Force,” Shelby said in a statement. “This long-awaited decision by the Air Force is a true testament to all that Alabama has to offer. Huntsville is the right pick for a host of reasons – our skilled workforce, proximity to supporting space entities, cost-effectiveness, and quality of life, among other things.

“I am thrilled that the Air Force has chosen Redstone and look forward to the vast economic impact this will have on Alabama and the benefits this will bring to the Air Force.”

The Redstone Regional Alliance and the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce released a joint statement commending the selection.

“We are confident that the Air Force has made the correct decision to base the Space Command Headquarters at Redstone Arsenal,” the statement said. “The Redstone site offers the Department of Defense the lowest cost option with superior regional capabilities, capacity and quality of life. We look forward to working with Space Command to make this transition as seamless as possible.

“Our region has successfully executed similar moves on several previous occasions and that experience will greatly inform our efforts. We greatly appreciate the support that Sen. Shelby and his staff have provided as well as the efforts of the state and regional team members who have provided their critical support.”

Battle said the Air Force site-selection team “was meticulous in its review and assessment of potential sites, and they put us through the paces in their research these past two years. We will make you proud of your decision.

“The site selection team recognized what we know to be true — Huntsville is a natural choice. We are space. We do space. From the Redstone Arsenal installation to the Space and Missile defense assets that are here, Huntsville has been the leader in all thing space since day one. From the 1950s when Explorer I went into space to the birthplace of NASA, space is in our DNA. We have built the space infrastructure and technical expertise to lead this effort.

“The site team learned about the Redstone region’s proven track record in relocating military commands to our community. Army Aviation moved here in 1995 and Army Materiel Command moved here in 2011. Our low cost of living and doing business means the country’s tax paying dollar will stretch much farther, providing more valuable resources for our space effort and warfighter.

“We look forward to the partnership with U.S. Space Command and pledge to make them a success from day one.”

Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong said the strength of the regional partnership was a key to the decision.

“Once again, the selection of Redstone Arsenal for US Space Command demonstrates what regional partnerships can do when we collectively work together to reach our goals,” he said. “I congratulate all of our local, state, and federal leaders from Alabama, particularly Senator Richard Shelby for his leadership and work to bring Space Command to Alabama, along with our neighbors in Tennessee that have worked together to prove Redstone Arsenal is the true and best choice for the United States Space Command Headquarters.”


Attention all Thrashers (Even Grommets): A Skatepark is Planned for John Hunt Park

In a few months, you’ll be able to go to John Hunt Park and grab some air with your crew on a half-pipe.

That’s right, thanks to a $1 million anonymous donation, the city of Huntsville moving ahead with plans for an innovative skatepark that will challenge skaters, from professional to novice.

The proposed $4 million facility will be Olympic quality and include restrooms, pavilions, sunshades, lighting, landscaping and expanded parking. It is slated to be built on a three-acre site between Kids Space and the championship soccer fields.

“Skateboarding continues to grow in popularity and is a sport the community has long wanted to see in John Hunt Park,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “We’ve been holding a space in the park for skaters, and thanks to the generosity of a local donor we’re able to start moving forward on a project this year.”

The skatepark will be on a three-acre site between Kids Space and the championship soccer fields.

Fueled by the anonymous donor’s gift, the city is working in partnership with the Community Foundation of Greater Huntsville. An account has been established to continue fundraising to support the total cost of the project.

The city of Huntsville and Community Foundation team is also reaching out to a charity established by skateboarding legend Tony Hawk to help with the design.

“The Community Foundation is proud to help our donors put their philanthropic dreams into action,” said Melissa Thompson, CEO and president of the Community Foundation. “We strive to help our donors be generous, however that looks for them.

“We are excited to help bring to life the John Hunt Skatepark, which will enhance the quality of life and bring new opportunities to a diverse group of people in our community.”

For the donor, having spent formative years enjoying the former Get-A-Way Skatepark on Leeman Ferry Road, the goal is for others to have the opportunity for physical fitness and to learn important life lessons.

“Skateboarding is not easy … you have to fall a lot,” said the donor. “I used the focus and dedication harnessed from my skateboarding experiences throughout my business life, understanding you have to be dedicated and work hard to succeed; and you have to learn to fall and get back up.”

The city and the Community Foundation will work with The Skatepark Project, Hawk’s national skatepark advocacy charity, to ensure the project is completed efficiently and up to contemporary standards.  It will incorporate elements of the Get-A-Way Skatepark and offer areas for Olympic and street-style skateboarding.

“We are extremely happy to be adding another attraction to John Hunt Park,” said Steve Ivey, director of Huntsville Parks & Recreation. “We know the new skatepark will be a huge success and thank the Community Foundation for helping us make this become a reality.”

The process for the city to begin working with the Community Foundation will be sent to City Council for approval on Jan. 14.

Buffalo Rock Moving Operations with $20M Facility

The Mazda Toyota Manufacturing Plant “neighborhood” is about to get a new resident.

Buffalo Rock announced it will be moving its distribution operations from Old Madison Pike to a $20 million facility next year in Limestone County near the massive auto plant north of I-565.

The new distribution center for Pepsi-Cola beverages and food products will employ 130 full-time workers and be operational by the end of the year. The current facility has 108 employees and there is no room for expansion.

“The operations on Old Madison Pike will be moving to this new facility by the end of 2021,” Buffalo Rock President/COO Matthew Dent said in a statement. “As with other projects, the overall goals are to improve the employee-partner experience, increase efficiency and productivity, and expand our ability to handle the strategic growth we have envisioned.”

According to plans, the city is purchasing about 85 acres for some $3.2 million and will then sell 55 acres to Buffalo Rock for $2.75 million.

“The capital investment they’re doing in the area means we’ll have more building and the amount of money they’ll add to the economy will be $5 million a year in payroll,” said Mayor Tommy Battle.

Huntsville will use the other 30 acres for flood mitigation and infrastructure, Battle said.

Dent said that was the option that helped his company choose Huntsville over other locations.

“With the city’s commitment to invest in the property’s road access, retention and utilities, it became an attractive option that allows us to stay in Huntsville as we expand,” he said.

Battle said the commitment is a “win-win” for Huntsville.

“There are no real abatements on this project,” he said. “They are promising jobs; they are promising capital investment.

“So, it’s a win-win for community.”

According to the agreement, the city will make road improvements and Huntsville Utilities will provide – at no cost to Buffalo Rock – electrical, natural gas, water and sewer connections. The agreement also states the plant must be operational by the end of next year with 130 full-time employees no later than Jan. 1, 2023.

Help a Shelter Pet Find a Home for the Holidays!

Huntsville Animal Services has many dogs and cats longing to be “Home For the Holidays.”  To help Santa with these special deliveries, the Shelter is reducing adoption fees to $5 and $10 through Dec. 31.

If adoption is not an option, the shelter is offering an alternative: A “Holiday Foster Sleepover” with one of its loveable canines.

This will give the dogs a break from the shelter and the opportunity to socialize with you and your family.  In turn, the home visit will provide the staff with valuable information about the dog’s behavior and preferences that will help complete the dog’s profile for a future adoption. The more the shelter learns about a pet’s personality, the better the opportunity to find a good match with a forever home.

Visit the website and search for adoptable pets under Adopt and Foster  to complete a foster application.

The adoption includes the rabies and other vaccinations, microchip for pet identification, city license tag, spay or neuter sterilization, and a free bag of pet food as long as supplies last.  There are some restrictions with the number of people entering the building but staff is on hand to help.

The Animal Shelter is at 4950 Triana Boulevard and is open Mondays and Wednesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Holiday hours vary. Check the website and Facebook for holidays.

Call 256-883-3782, visit or Facebook.

Prelude to Tokyo: Team USA Rolls into 2021 Paralympic Cycling Season in Huntsville

The Rocket City is quickly becoming a city of elite athletic events.

The latest jewel in Huntsville’s crown is the Huntsville Paralympic Cycling Open – a stepping-stone event for the 2021 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

After a year of postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Tommy Battle announced Huntsville, in partnership with the U.S. Paralympics Cycling Committee and presenting sponsor Toyota, will open the 2021 Paralympic Cycling’s national calendar here next spring. 

Battle has long said Huntsville is quickly becoming the location of choice for athletic events and with more than 100 elite Paralympic athletes competing April 17-18, 2021, the elite U.S. Paralympic Cycling Team will not disappoint. Huntsville Paralympic Cycling Open is a key stop for cyclists looking to make it to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics next year.

“At a time when our country and world is dealing with a pandemic and unease around the future of sports, this event can inspire us and unite us,” said Battle. “The event requires a lot of planning and Medalist Sports has been working with Toyota, the City of Huntsville, the Huntsville Madison County Chamber of Commerce, Cummings Research Park, and the Huntsville Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau for several months to make the event happen.

“The event has been in the works a long time, ever since the U.S. Paralympic Cycling Committee representatives visited Huntsville in October 2019 to scout a venue that would work well for this event. They really liked what they found in Cummings Research Park.”

He said Cummings Research Park has hosted several 5k and cycling events and that played a large part in the decision. It is also relatively calm on weekends in terms of traffic. 

“The Paralympic Committee is continuing to work with Toyota and our local leaders to make sure things go smoothly for the race planners, athletes, families, and the sports teams,” said Battle.

Team USA athletes have continued their training throughout 2020, despite the pandemic, to stay in top shape as they get ready to compete again and qualify for the Tokyo Paralympics. 

Ian Lawless: “We expect to see many of the same names in Huntsville, later competing in Tokyo.”

“The Huntsville Paralympic Cycling Open is not only our domestic road cycling season opener for our Paralympic athletes, but it will be their first major return to competition on the road after we have reset things due to the pandemic in 2020,” said Ian Lawless, director of Paralympic Cycling. “We have had no road events either domestic or internationally this year, so Huntsville will be an opportunity for 100 Paralympic cycling athletes to compete in a beautiful venue, as part of their road to Tokyo.”

The Paralympic athletes will be competing in Europe in May 2021 to earn final spots for the Tokyo games. The roster will be comprised of winners from the Huntsville Open, making it a crucial event to the athletes’ path to Tokyo.

“We are super excited and of course we will be working with the CDC and the Paralympic sports medicine team and Paralympic Committee to put on an event that is safe for our athletes and for the community, and we will be working with local authorities in Huntsville to do so,” said Lawless.

“We appreciate all the folks involved in the local organizing committee, Mayor Battle and our partner with both Toyota Alabama and Toyota nationally for their support, not only of this event, but the Paralympic cycling program at the U.S. Olympics and the Paralympic committee.”

As the presenting sponsor, Battle said this is another example of how Toyota is so supportive of our community and will be active in helping make this event a reality.

Visually impaired athletes ride in tandem with a sighted pilot on the front.

“As a longstanding partner with the city of Huntsville and with the Chamber, it is truly an honor for Toyota to present this wonderful opportunity for our community and for the Toyota Alabama team members to show the world what Huntsville has to offer,” said Kim Ogle, manager of Corporate Communications for Toyota Alabama. This partnership further identifies our commitment to sustainable societies through mobility and to reiterate that no matter the challenge, when a person is free to move, anything is really possible, and no one knows this better than the amazing athletes who will compete at the U.S. Paralympic Cycling Open. 

“They have fought against adversity throughout their lives, yet they never gave up the dream of representing their country at the highest level … this campaign truly reflects the Olympic and Paralympics spirit of encouragement, challenge and progress and aims to inspire our employees, our partners, and our customers to dream the impossible dream. And in this spirit, we look forward to welcoming Team USA athletes as they go for the gold.”

Lawless said fans should expect to see an exciting event with high stakes, and athletes competing at a world-class level.

“We expect to see many of the same names in Huntsville, later competing in Tokyo,” said Lawless.

The event begins with individual time trials on Saturday, April 17. The athletes will compete within their categories, all day against the clock on a 15 km course. 

On Sunday, there will be a road race with about 12 different races throughout the day where athletes within their categories race varying distances on a 12km course. Those races consist of men’s and women’s road races and hand cycling team relays with multiple laps depending on their category.

“In Paralympic cycling there are races in different categories for people of varying disabilities based on their level of function and the type of bikes they ride, whether they ride a handcycle or a 2-wheel bike with or without an adaptation, or a tandem for visually impaired riders,” said Lawless. “They participate with a sighted pilot on the front.”

He said they also have athletes with neurologic impairments compete on a 3-wheel upright trike.

“It is a mass start race, but I think most importantly, what you’ll see is athletes returning to competition for the first time on the road since September 2019,” said Lawless. “That is a long time for our athletes to be off from competition domestically and internationally.”

The event will feature the best Paralympic athletes in the nation can show not only the local community, but the world what they can do, and how elite they are in terms of their athletic ability. 

Oz Sanchez: “Huntsville will be thoroughly pleased with the caliber of athletes they see here.”

Oz Sanchez, a three-time Paralympian champion who competed in the 2008, 2012, and 2016 Games, is also a six-time Paralympic medalist. 

“I am absolutely looking forward to our first race in Huntsville next year where I will most definitely plan on competing,” he said. “It’s going to be the benchmark for what we are going to look like the rest of the season, and hopefully a good indicator of the fit and feel of the rest of the season.

“An event like this one really gives us that ‘shaking off the cobwebs’ (after a year off in 2020) and seeing what our fitness is like. There is nothing that really replicates the actual feel of a competitive day of racing – the nerves, the edge, the mindset, the psyche – so if we don’t have these sorts of opportunities to dry run the process of competing at a top level, it sets us up for less than ideal or less than desirable performance.”

“I will likely be keeping my campaign head down, remain on-throttle. It will be a benchmark temperament check in Huntsville,” said Sanchez. “I keep my mind and my eye on the prize – Tokyo – that is where it all ends, and Huntsville will be thoroughly pleased with the caliber of athletes they see here. Huntsville will be like a miniature championship as far as I’m concerned.”

There is no charge for admission or tickets required to attend any of the events.

“The beauty of roadside cycling worldwide is that it is available to the general public and to the community to come out and watch,” said Lawless. “If you have seen professional cycling like the Tour de France on TV for example, traditionally there are thousands of fans on the side of the road.

“In 2020, the Paralympic Committee worked hard to figure out how to run outdoor professional cycling events in a safe way.  They have been recognized for setting the bar high and coming up with new standards on how to run a road cycling competition that is still open and free and available to the public in a way that protects the athletes, protects staff working on the event, and protects the community and spectators all in attendance.” 

He said that is the standard they will be following in working with the city, the state, and national authorities, as well as the CDC and their sports medicine team, to ensure protocols and parameters are in place to keep everyone safe.

“We are excited about having a host community and local organizing committee who is investing a lot into this event, as well as great support from Toyota,” said Lawless.

Google Fiber Brings 2 Gig Internet Service to Huntsville

It’s not unusual for Huntsville to be on the forefront of technology breakthroughs.

And now, it’s Google Fiber’s 2 Gig service.

With thousands of Huntsvillians working from home and students taking online classes, Google Fiber has announced that 2 Gig service is available in the Rocket City.

In August, Google Fiber announced its plan to test 2 Gig service here and Nashville and the tests and responses have proven successful.

“I’m especially excited to be able to share 2 Gig with our customers,” said Amanda Peterson, Product Marketing Manager. “Over the last few months, my family has been testing 2 Gig in our home. And what made 2 Gig right for us was how everything we could do with 1 Gig is now faster, wired and wireless, even when we’re doing a lot — which is pretty much all the time in our house.

“With 2 Gig, I’ve never worried about massive file downloads, even while I’m on a video call with my boss and my husband is on a Zoom call in the next room, and then, all of the sudden, our home music system asks for an update. I know we can easily handle it all at once.”

New and existing Google Fiber customers can choose between the 1 Gig service for $70 a month and 2 Gig for $100 a month — ready for power users, the latest devices, and advanced smart homes that use lots of Internet. The 2 Gig services comes with the Google Fiber Multi-Gig Router, which uses Wi-Fi 6, the latest Wi-Fi standard.

The company said a subscriber can download an entire movie in less than 2 minutes and a 10GB game in about 45 seconds.

“As an occasional gamer, I love that when I do get time to play, I’m not waiting for massive system updates to finish or worried about network lag, but just trying to hold my own competitively,” Peterson said. “Even my house gets in on 2 Gig. Our smart lights, Wi-Fi speakers, 4K TVs, sprinkler system, and Wi-Fi-connected pellet smoker are staying connected without competing with us or each other for bandwidth.

“And we’ve got the peace of mind that there won’t be any data caps to stop us from doing even more.”

Booz Allen Innovation Center at Stovehouse Will Put Technology on Display

Booz Allen Huntsville Senior Vice President Lincoln Hudson: The innovation center “is a chance to show off some of our extraordinary talent.”

This winter, visitors to the historic Stovehouse will be able to watch innovation in progress through the glass “storefront” of the new Booz Allen Innovation Center overlooking the grassy courtyard of the reimagined factory. On display will be the company’s vast 3D printing capabilities and other additive manufacturing technologies.

Plans for the innovation center were first announced in June, but a live groundbreaking event followed by a virtual tour of the renovated 6,400 square-foot facility was recently carried on Facebook with Mayor Tommy Battle; Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce Chair Kevin Burns; City Councilman Bill Kling; the Booz Allen Innovation Center Program Manager Emily Jones; and Booz Allen Huntsville Senior Vice President Lincoln Hudson.

“This new innovation center is a celebration of one of Huntsville’s longtime investors, and a key member of the Huntsville regional growth initiative,” said Burns.

The 3D printing space will act like a “storefront” in front of the windows overlooking the Stovehouse courtyard. Guest office space will be on the right.

“It’s a really big day for Booz Allen, opening this innovation center,” said Hudson. “We have been a part of Huntsville, really from the very beginning when Wernher von Braun was still a director at MDA (Missile Defense Agency). He reached out to Booz Allen to try and figure out how to get the funding to kick off the U.S. missile program here.

“We have grown as a company supporting MDA and NASA since then and grown into the huge company, we are today because of it, and more recently, because of our support for the DoD (Department of Defense) as well.”

The innovation center is a way for Booz Allen to showcase its engineering expertise in a customer and community collaborative environment. The center will feature a reconfigurable layout based on client work and technology requirements, including additive manufacturing and 3D printing.

“Huntsville’s newest innovation space is well on its way to being finished,” said Kling. “Booz Allen’s Innovation Center will provide a cutting edge and a welcoming environment in support of Booz Allen and their customers here in Huntsville.

Taking part in a “groundbreaking ceremony” are Kevin Burns, 2020 Chair Huntsville Madison County Chamber of Commerce; City Councilman Bill Kling; Emily Jones, Booz Allen Innovation Center Program Manager; Lincoln Hudson, senior vice president, Booz Allen Huntsville; and Mayor Tommy Battle

“It will definitely have some very cool features.”

Hudson said the goal is to change as little as possible of the original factory space, while making it as flexible as possible to meet the company’s needs.

Entering the building from the Stovehouse courtyard, Booz Allen customers and Stovehouse guests will find the space open and conducive to social distancing.

The 3D printing space is in front of the windows and on full display. Across from it are guest offices for Booz Allen customers already using that technology.

Off to the right is a large, reconfigurable open space that can be used for multiple purposes and events with desks and tables and chairs.

In the far right corner is a main conference room that includes a soundproof, video-quality environment for customers and clients.

This multi-purpose open space is reconfigurable and will include a main conference room with a soundproof, video quality environment.

“Everything behind the front pillar as you enter the building will be on wheels,” said Hudson. “We will have some carts and toolboxes for light integration work, a lot of work with training in virtual environments such as cockpit controls. We manufacture some training environments and will definitely be demonstrating how we integrate technologies into those different virtual environments.”

They will also have a recruiting area and will hold staffing events.

“It is a chance to show off some of our extraordinary talent,” said Hudson.

Booz Allen plans to be open in time for a February leadership meeting scheduled at the Innovation Center.

“Innovation is what has made Huntsville what it is today,” said Battle “On behalf of the 205,000 people in the city of Huntsville, I thank you for making Huntsville part of your home.

“As we continue to grow, we are proud this is happening here in our community.”

Holiday Shoppers Urged to Shop Small, Save Local and Spend Big

They won’t say “Black Friday”, “Small Business Saturday”, or “Cyber Monday” have been called off this year, but instead, it has been extended to incorporate the entire four weeks from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

The Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce, the Madison Chamber of Commerce, the South Huntsville Main Business Association, Downtown Huntsville Inc., the North Huntsville Business Association, and the cities of Huntsville and Madison have launched a Shop Small, Save Local campaign to support Madison County retailers.

After a long, challenging year of pandemic and shutdowns, the traditional Christmas shopping experience looks a lot different this year than it has in the past, but local small businesses are doing what small businesses do best – they have used a lot of creativity in turning COVID problems into new opportunities, while developing practical solutions like required masks, social distancing, easily accessible sanitizing stations and a whole lot of Plexiglas to improve their business models – perhaps permanently.

Ask yourself – will anyone really miss the traditional mad dash at midnight to lay claim to crowded “Black Friday” doorbusters? Will you miss riding people’s heels to take their parking spot, or wrestling your neighbor out of the last Star Wars Child Animatronic Edition of Yoda?

According to Pammie Jimmar, vice president, Small Business & Events for the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber, local retailers large and small started in October preparing for a longer Christmas shopping experience to help local retailers make up some of what they have lost during the pandemic.

“We have to save our local businesses and that is why the Chamber decided to make a strong statement about it,” said Jimmar. “Traditionally, we celebrate Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, but after what our local businesses have been through this year, we felt it was important to support them all the time, all year long, across the board, and not just on one day or two.”

And it is not just an override of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Before you wear the lettering off Amazon’s “Submit” button online, Shop Small (Business), Save Local asks residents to take a pause and look at the benefits to shopping local small businesses, and spending big while you are at it!

“Everything you can find online, you can also find locally,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “You can hold it in your hand, try it on, and save the wait for it to arrive. You can save the expense of shipping or returns, printing labels, buying postage, and having to go to the post office. It is also efficient since the receiver can easily exchange it for a different color or a different size.

“In terms of whether it is safe, grocery stores, pharmacies and big-ticket stores have found ways to safely adjust to the pandemic and North Alabamians have learned to mask, sanitize, and separate. So, there is no reason why shopping cannot be an even better experience this year.”

“When you shop local, you are supporting local government,” Battle said. “The money comes from sales tax and is used to build roads and run schools – all things we provide in support of our community. Know that when you buy local, you are supporting a school child, a teacher, or someone who might be distance learning. It is very important for us and for our community.”

For years, “Black Friday”, and more recently, “Cyber Monday” have kicked off the retail Christmas shopping season. Even in normal times, those three days following Thanksgiving mark the first time all year that retailers begin to turn a profit – that is, operate “in the black”, after operating at break-even or at a loss – “in the red” – all year prior.

In 2020, to say retailers have operated in the red is a colossal understatement. The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged retailers in a way they have never had to face before.

“This is definitely an unusual year for shopping,” said Sameer Singhal, president/CEO of CFD Research Corp. and vice chair of Small Business and Events at the Chamber. “The pandemic makes everything look a little bit different and we have a new normal, but it doesn’t stop us from doing what’s the right thing.

“It is all about our small business owners.”

David Christopherson of Roosevelt and Co., a men’s clothing and supply store in Huntsville, said he wants customers to know how conscientious they are in providing a safe and healthy environment where customers can come in and shop.

“Our team is just three people,” said Christopherson. “So, if one of our employees got COVID, we will be losing a part of our team, so I think all small businesses are very conscious about making masking, sanitizing and distancing a priority.

“We extended our Small Business Saturday deals for the entire week so people won’t feel rushed and they can get down here when they can and feel safe and comfortable in the store.  For those who prefer not to come in, we offer more merchandise on our website than usual and provide curbside pick-up and delivery to make it easy for those people.”

Singhal said many small businesses are handling customers the same way.

“In the early days of the pandemic, I called Wild Birds Unlimited on Whitesburg Drive and bought bird seed and a feeder on the phone,” he said. “The manager met me in the parking lot and put it in the trunk of my car.

“Toy Place in Five Points actually did a Facetime walk-through her store, we picked out a gift, she gift-wrapped it, and we picked it up outside the store without ever getting out of the car.”

Madison Mayor Paul Finley: “I have five boys to shop for and I’m going to be looking forward to shopping locally to make prosperity happen for every store in our community.”

“It is just a different year,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. “I think part of what we get to do is be innovative in finding purposeful ways to support our community. Ninety percent of U.S. businesses are categorized as small or medium sized. With this pandemic, about one-third of those businesses right now are either operating on a very basic level or not operating at all.

“I have five boys to shop for and I’m going to be looking forward to shopping locally to make prosperity happen for every store in our community. Let’s make this a really successful, although different, season.”

“The pandemic has impacted us in a lot of ways, but the reality is, you can find more interesting, more unique goods when you shop with our local shops,” said Chad Emerson, president and CEO of Downtown Huntsville Inc. “Gifts you can’t find anywhere else, a lot of exclusive lines in clothing, candles and other gifts.

Downtown Huntsville Inc. CEO Chad Emerson: “… the reality is, you can find more interesting, more unique goods when you shop with our local shops.”

“I want to stress that shopping local isn’t just an altruistic thing to do. It’s different, but one thing that is not different is you can buy everything you need for friends and family locally. You can find interesting and unique gifts whether it is downtown, South Huntsville, North Huntsville or the great Madison community and throughout the County. And remember that a lot of the local boutiques have online stores on their websites where you can request curbside pickup.”

Merrill Wright, interim director of the Madison Chamber of Commerce, said shopping local is easy and convenient because you can make a quick stop at a store on your way home from work or school or during a lunch break, to pick up gifts for family and friends.

“We see our small business owners quite often,” Wright said. “We’ve been communicating with them a lot since COVID, and we see the stress they have been under this year. One thing I can say from talking and meeting with them almost daily is, they have a wonderfully positive outlook. They continue to wake up and go to their business in the morning and start every day fresh. And it is not just during the holiday season, it is during the rest of the year as well.

“They need our support whether it is a birthday present or a universal gift, so shop small, local business whenever you can.”

The new North Huntsville Business Association recently introduced Judy Hardin as its executive director. She said North Huntsville’s revitalization projects have helped build relationships between small businesses and the community.

North Huntsville Business Association Executive Director Judy Hardin: “… remember, shopping brings in tourism as well and we all need that.”

“It is the American dream to become an entrepreneur so our business owners are proud of all the new products and services starting up in the area,” said Hardin. “We are having problems due to COVID just like everyone else in Madison County. Small business establishments are supporting each other in getting past the situation, but we are excited and ready to support them because remember, shopping brings in tourism as well and we all need that.”

Bekah Schmidt, executive director of the South Huntsville Main Business Association, said, “This holiday season it is more important than ever to support local businesses. We have great gift guides and if you are buying for the kids, Rocket City Moms website is a valuable tool for ideas.”

The Huntsville-Madison County Chamber launched a website this past spring aimed at helping all types of small business retailers, including restaurants. is the perfect solution if you are not comfortable shopping in person. It features many local Madison County retail stores and restaurants where customers can purchase gift cards directly on the site. They can be emailed to you or a recipient from the comfort of home. Even though the recipient may not use the gift card until later, the purchase provides financial support to the business owner immediately.

“It is a great way to thank someone and it is free to all local businesses, whether you are a member of the Chamber or not,” said Singhal. “The site is free for businesses to set up a profile and gift cards. In fact, if your company does not currently offer gift cards, you can set them up right there on the site and it only takes about 15 minutes. There is a link at the top to add your business, and a link to set up gift cards if you don’t currently offer them.”

“There are a lot of positives to shopping locally, but the biggest positive is your next door neighbor or your friends may be working at that store, may be part of the economy supporting that store, part of the economy that store supports,” said Battle. “If we take a minute to think about how much these stores mean to us … and support them, we make for a great Christmas for us and a great Christmas for them, a successful holiday season … so shop local and spend big (dollars).”


Fantasy Playhouse Takes Center Stage in West Huntsville Corridor

At the southeast corner of Holmes Avenue and Triana Boulevard sits a 5.5-acre plot of dry grass. Don’t be fooled by its barren appearance for something big is coming soon.

Here lies the future intersection of where culture meets community.

As part of the “Spotlight on the Future” capital campaign kickoff, the board and staff of Fantasy Playhouse Children’s Theater & Academy and city officials announced the development of the Fantasy Playhouse Theatre’s $10 million campus.

The 35,500 square-foot theatre is part of Huntsville’s master plan for West Huntsville, serving as the anchor for the Holmes Avenue pedestrian expansion. The new theatre will have 355 seats and the campus will include retail space and a café. But, most importantly, the new facility will have adequate capacity to teach tech theatre, which also includes lighting and set design.

As part of the city’s economic development plan, Fantasy Playhouse Children’s Theatre is growing. Along with other local businesses making an early commitment to the endeavor, Huntsville has dedicated $2 million to bring the new theatre to life. Thus, setting the stage for the Hillandale-Terry Heights corridor; with Research Park on the west end, Five Points at the east, and UAH and Fantasy Playhouse Theatre serving as the two main anchor points in between.

“It offers an investment in the arts, attracting people to our city and making Huntsville a better place,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “The arts bring that creativity to us, making it necessary for us to grow.”

A new theatre and educational facility are long overdue.

“This building, strategically set on the corner of Holmes Avenue and Triana Boulevard, will be a community asset to the Terry Heights neighborhood, prioritizing theatre arts access for all by engaging local underserved communities,” said Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong. “It is proven that an appreciation of theater arts builds in children self-confidence, academic success, creative-thinking processes, and future investment in their  communities as adults. Arts appreciation lasts a lifetime.

“The Madison County Commission heartily endorses this project.”

Now in its 60th year, Fantasy Playhouse Theatre has introduced more than 500,000 people to the magic of theatre. Fantasy has been in its present location on Long Avenue since 1997 and, for the past six years, it has been on a major growth trajectory. As a result, they have been bursting at the seams.

“Our community is the most important part of why we do what we do,” said Karen Mockensturm, Fantasy’s CEO. “The new Fantasy Playhouse campus will be a high-profile, accessible arts and culture destination for families, building on our organization’s legacy and providing the exact theatre arts education programming opportunities that families relocating to our area expect for their children.”

Monday’s event was the kickoff for the organization’s fundraising campaign, titled “Spotlight on the Future”. While final numbers have yet to be determined, Fantasy’s officials said recent estimates for construction costs range between $11 million and $12 million. Torch Technologies, The Daniel Foundation, Alabama State Council on the Arts, Facebook, Kiwanis Club of Huntsville Foundation, PPG, several private donors and the City of Huntsville have already pledged support.

To enable a free community space where ARTS and STEM education combine to create STE(A)M, Facebook is donating $150,000 to a technical suite.

“We’ve been absolutely inspired by the vision of the Fantasy Playhouse and its innovative new arts campus,” said Katie Comer, Facebook’s Community Development Regional Manager. “Its impact on Huntsville will be profound, reimagining the opportunities beyond children’s theater, extending into technical education, workforce development and community building, which aligns perfectly with Facebook’s mission to build community.

“We’ve been so proud to be part of the Huntsville community since we broke ground on the Huntsville Data Center in 2018 and can’t wait for this new arts campus to open.”



NHBA Taking Care of Business on Huntsville’s North Side

North Huntsville is open for business.

And the North Huntsville Business Association has opened an office and business center to help entrepreneurs and small business owners find success.

The NHBA Wall of Fame recognizes supporters of North Huntsville businesses.

The new office is at 2007 North Memorial Parkway, adjacent to HC Blake in the remodeled shopping center at the intersection with Oakwood Avenue. Among those joining NHBA President Reggie McKenzie and other officers at the office’s “soft opening” Thursday were State Rep. Laura Hall, City Councilman Devyn Keith and Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce Vice President Small Business & Events Pammie Jimmar.

“It’s important we not only identify businesses we can help, but it’s also about redevelopment and what businesses’ needs are,” said NHBA Executive Director Judy Hardin. With some 30 years of experience working with small businesses, Hardin recently retired from Raytheon as manager of Small Business Partnering. “We are here to support them, finding the means for them and collaborating.

“As businesses grow, the community will grow.”

One of the means is a Google Fiber-supported Promote the Parkway Initiative. The program aims to assist the city in attracting business along the North Memorial Parkway corridor. It includes one year of free rent to a start-up small business in North Huntsville.

Keith, who is opening the North Side Dark coffee shop in the shopping center, has been working to get needed help – financial and advisory – for the North Memorial Parkway corridor.

“This is the first example of seed money from the city,” he said. “We have to keep the public and private partnerships.

“You can’t get the location and right of way the way North Huntsville has it.”

Hall, whose district includes North Huntsville, said the redevelopment of the area is vital and that inclusion is a primary aspect of the redevelopment.

“We want to see that the inclusion is a reality,” she said. “The importance of inclusion and diversity is a benefit to all.”

Jimmar echoed Hall’s remarks on diversity and inclusion … and added another aspect.

“As a Chamber, we’re here for you,” she said. “It’s about diversity, inclusion and equity.”

Keith credited NHBA President Reggie McKenzie with being instrumental in promoting North Memorial Parkway and the need for redevelopment and opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

The NHBA also unveiled its Wall of Fame recognizing Google Fiber, Redstone Federal Credit Union and the City of Huntsville as keep supporters and Walk of Fame Stars honoring Keith and former District 1 City Councilman Richard Showers Sr. for their work for North Huntsville.

“This has been a real inspiration for the community to see there is an opportunity for entrepreneurs,” said NHBA Vice President Alex Adams. “This is a star for Huntsville, particularly the north side of town.”

For more information on the North Huntsville Business Association and the Promote the Parkway Initiative, visit