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City Receives $1.3M Grant to Renovate Butler Terrace Area

The announcement didn’t come gradually or with the drama that accompanied the rollout of the top four teams participating in the college football playoff, but for the city’s civic leaders the news was just as exciting and filled with suspense for the future.

Huntsville is one of four cities nationwide to receive a Choice Neighborhood Planning grant. The Rocket City joined Rome, Ga.; Trenton, N.J.; and Omaha, Neb.; in receiving the award.

The cities were notified in September and Huntsville officials unveiled plans Thursday on how the $1.3 million grant will be used.

“We’ll renovate west of downtown and around Butler Terrace,’’ said Scott Erwin, the city interim director of community development.

Plans call for new affordable housing, commercial opportunities and entertainment options.

Erwin said the blueprints are designed to renovate “distressed public housing’’ and improve blight in a one-mile radius around Butler Terrace, which was built in the early 1950s. The area is from Bob Wallace and Memorial Parkway west to Triana Boulevard and I-565.

A packed house gathered at First Baptist Church to hear details of the renovations, which are a joint venture between the City of Huntsville and the Housing Authority. Council President Devyn Keith and Councilmembers Frances Akridge, Will Culver and Jennie Robinson, along with Urban and Long Range Planning Manager Dennis Madsen, Real Estate Development for the Housing Authority Quisha Riche and Camiros Planning Coordinator Bill James attended the meeting.

Camiros is a Chicago-based company with experience in planning, zoning, urban design, economic development and landscape architecture. The firm has worked with Choice Neighborhood Planning grant cities, including Mobile.

“Today was about introducing Camiros as partners,’’ Erwin said.

He said community members and not just city authorities will have a voice in the planning of renovations and upgrades.

Residents in areas affected by new construction, he said, won’t be dislocated immediately since the project is only in the planning process. However, residents may have to eventually move for a period of time.

If that happens, Erwin said, the city will relocate residents temporarily and those who were moved will have first options on returning to their community once renovations are complete.

The Choice Neighborhood Planning grant lasts for three years. Once planning goals are met, Huntsville can compete for a $30 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant to complete construction.

Erwin said residents in areas including Butler Terrace, Lowe Mill and Terry Heights and Campus 805 are welcomed to voice their opinions.

“They’re engaged in this,’’ he said. “They will have input in this.’’

The Choice Neighborhoods Initiative is a program of HUD. Its goal is to transform neighborhoods of extreme poverty into functioning, sustainable mixed-income communities.

Huntsville Announces Holiday Closures, Delays; Thursday Garbage Collection Moved to Friday

The City of Huntsville’s municipal offices will be closed for the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday, Nov. 28-29.

The following services will be affected:

Garbage Collection:  Thursday’s residential curbside collection will be picked up on Friday, Nov. 29.

Public Transit:  Thursday’s Shuttle B​us and Handi-Ride services will be closed. Transit service resumes on Friday, Nov. 29.

Parks & Recreation:  Recreation centers and facilities will be closed on Thursday and Friday and will reopen on Saturday, Nov. 30.

Animal Services:  The Animal Shelter and Animal Services will be closed from Thursday through Sunday.

Municipal Court:  Closed Thursday and Friday.

Public Safety:  Police and Fire will remain on duty throughout the holiday weekend.

Ground-breaking Constellation Project Taking Shape

It took more than a decade’s worth of sweat and tears for Scott McLain, but he’s finally able to harvest the fruits of his labor with Constellation.

The multi-use development will be breaking ground next month on an apartment complex and that’s just the first of several projects planned at the Clinton Avenue-South Memorial Parkway site.

“We’re off to the races,” McLain said. “We’ll be moving dirt for another month and then pour concrete for the apartments in early December.”

Constellation is at the intersection of South Memorial Parkway and Clinton Avenue. (Rendering/Constellation)

McLain said Constellation will include a 219-unit upscale apartment building, another hotel to complement the Spring Hill Suites; 25,000 square feet of retail space; 20,000 square feet of small office space and a parking deck.

There will also be a 200,000 square-foot office tower that, McLain said, will “only be limited by physics and economics.”

McLain said he’s recruiting restaurants and retailers that will be new to Huntsville to help make Constellation a destination site.

McLain’s vision began in 2007 when the Heart of Huntsville shopping mall was razed and he had a concept of a multi-use development.

Blending retail with dining with hotels was not widely known at the time. The shopping mall with everything under one roof was slowly being phased out for the likes of “galleria-type” shopping centers.

Along the way, he found and lost investors in the project while coordinating challenging situations.

But, as in life, good things come to those who wait.

And a good thing is coming.

An elevated pedestrian bridge will help connect downtown areas with Lowe Mill. (Rendering/City of Huntsville)

“It’s in part a public-private partnership that we’re happy to facilitate for our community,” McLain said.

McLain has a “committed team” that includes a Chicago investment company and $3 million from the city. The city’s investment includes access to parking and upgrades at the intersection.

At the confluence of I-565, Memorial Parkway and Clinton Avenue, the site has the largest traffic count in Huntsville and will, in essence, be the gateway to downtown Huntsville.

Or, in another vein, “the hood ornament to Downtown,” McLain said.

Another part of the “ornament” will be a planned elevated pedestrian bridge by the city. The plans call for it to span the Parkway and provide a connection for downtown, the Von Braun Center and the Lowe Mill area.

With Constellation, the stars are aligning to help a growing Huntsville meet the demands and the challenges of the future.

Collection Trucks Need City Trash and Recycle Carts to be 5 Feet Apart

There’s a new cart on the block!

Huntsville officials are pleased to see tens of thousands of new blue carts sitting curbside, thanks to residents opting to participate in the recently launched recycling program through Recycling Alliance North Alabama (RANA).

These bins are too close to be emptied by the city and RANA trucks. They must be 5 feet apart.

Now that RANA carts are parked curbside with the City of Huntsville’s green trash receptacles, Huntsville’s Sanitation Department is reminding residents that the carts need to be at least five feet apart.

“Our automated collection trucks need space to secure the cart and empty the trash,” said Stacy Prince, Environmental Services Inspector, Huntsville Public Works Department. “If the carts are too close together, the cans fall over and trash spills all over the street. That can significantly slow the day’s collection process.”

City ordinances require garbage and recycling carts to be placed five feet away from each other, as well as five feet away from mail boxes, utility poles, flower beds, fences, parked cars and other obstacles.  The spacing is necessary for automated trucks and drivers to safely collect trash.

“We appreciate the public’s help in properly placing their carts on the street,” said Prince. “It may seem like a little thing, but they’re helping us keep our community clean and our trash collection trucks on schedule.”

 

Leidos Consolidates MDA Support in Cummings Research Park

After supporting the Missile Defense Agency in Huntsville for more than 15 years, Leidos spent $3 million to retrofit its first physical systems and support center in Huntsville.

Leidos Defense Group President Gerry Fasano. (Leidos Photo/Shileshia Milligan)

The 63,000-square-foot building at 915 Explorer Boulevard in Cummings Research Park consolidates the defense division of the company into one Huntsville location. Defense Group President Gerry Fasano headlined the ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday along with Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and several foreign military delegations.

“This new facility signifies our continued growth in Huntsville, but it also supports our customers in helping them solve problems from a city and a region known for its innovation,” said Fasano. “We help our customers in the defense industry achieve effective, sustained military advantage … from support for C4 (command, control, communications, and computers/cyber) to cyberspace.

“We are doing that from right here in Huntsville. Let’s keep it local.”

In 2016, Lockheed Services Group took $5 billion and merged it with another $5 billion from Leidos to create a $10 billion organization carrying the Leidos name. The move gave Leidos a much bigger footprint in each of the company’s four major areas of expertise: defense, civil, health and intelligence.

Three of those four groups have roots in Huntsville.

The Leidos team has been part of the Patriot and THAAD missile programs and supports MDA requirements and critical services to the warfighter. The new location features automated test equipment that helps provide those systems to Leidos customers at home and abroad.

“Leidos’ civil division has been contracted to NASA here in Huntsville for several years, providing logistics for all the different materials made for the International Space Station,” said Barry McDaniel, vice president of Maritime for Leidos, overseeing support for all branches of the military including the Army.

“Intelligence is also coming to Huntsville soon because the FBI is here; but our missile defense teams have been scattered. This building is an opportunity to consolidate everything related to the Department of Defense Missile Defense Agency counter unmanned air systems. That includes supporting customers all over the world including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and all of Europe.”

Military delegations from Germany and the Netherlands were in attendance.

“It’s not just about what is happening in this building, but we have five other locations and we are about to put more customers in Huntsville,” said Fasano. “That includes technical field support for U.S. Army RQ-7 Shadow unmanned aircraft systems right here at Redstone Arsenal; end-user IT services for ten NASA centers; and end-user IT services for 37,000 Army Corps of Engineers from our corridors right here in Huntsville.”

The RQ-7 Shadow is the Army’s unmanned aerial vehicle, also used by the Australian and Swedish armies for reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition, and battle damage assessment.

Fasano also announced the arrival of Leidos Live – the company’s Innovation Virtual Experience coming to Huntsville in November. Leidos Live is an immersive technology lab and showcase on wheels where visitors will find some of Leidos’ top innovations brought to life. Fasano said it is a must-see.

Leidos, the name comes from the word kaleidoscope – the centerpiece of the instrument from which complex problems are seen from every different angle, is an IT and engineering services company. Leidos employs 235 people in Huntsville out of 34,000 in every state and more than 30 countries.

“To the Leidos team, we are so delighted to see the growth and the expansion and all the things that have happened here that make our economy move forward,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “Five years ago, we started with a very small Leidos group. Today you are threefold, and it’s a story told about Huntsville time and time again – companies throughout Research Park and throughout this city who are growing organically, growing where they are, getting bigger and bigger. Leidos has grown so much they needed a new building.

“We are so glad to be able to help them build it.”

New System Allows Firefighters Access to Businesses After Hours

A locked door is intended to keep people out, but when a building is on fire, that creates a problem. Now, business owners in Huntsville have a solution.

The electric rapid access system consist of a lockbox used to store keys, like the device on the left, and a base unit that stores the e-key to allow firefighters to have access to the box. (Photo/Jonathan Stinson)

The City of Huntsville has partnered with the Knox Company to implement an electric rapid access system, which is designed to give firefighters access to various businesses should the establishment be closed or the doors locked when they need to gain access to fight a fire.

“What we’re actually doing is we’re making it a better system of firefighting for our firefighters by using technology to save buildings, to save dollars, to make sure we can make our community as safe as possible,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said. “We looked at this for two, three years. We ran some pilots on it and after we got finished with the pilots, we thought it was a great system.”

In 2018, Huntsville Fire & Rescue responded to 9,800 calls to during the evening or weekends when most businesses were closed.

According to the department, when firefighters need to gain access to these locked businesses it can increase the overall response time, pose additional safety risks to the firefighters and end up costing the business owner more because they have to break through a door or nearby window to gain access to the building and extinguish a fire.

Huntsville Fire Chief Howard McFarlen demonstrates how the rapid access e-key and the lockboxes work. (Photo/Jonathan Stinson)

“You know the big fires we go to, when they’re big and we get there, we know what we have to do, Huntsville Fire Chief Howard McFarlen said. “A lot of the times we just do a forceful entry and we take care of the problem. The ones we worry about are the ones where you pull up and there may be a small incipient fire somewhere in a business that we can’t see from the outside.

“… We don’t see any signs from the outside that warrants us to break down doors, so we’re kind of in a ‘Catch 22,’ but we can solve that now.”

The electric rapid access system is simple. A business owner purchases a lockbox from the Knox Company and stores any keys emergency personnel would need to access the business in it. The boxes start around $550 and increase depending on size and the exact configuration. Exact pricing and specifications can be found at knoxbox.com/huntsville-al.

Then, once the box is installed, local firefighters would have access via an electronic key.

The key is charged and programmed via a base unit and, according to McFarlen, if the key isn’t returned to the base unit within about 30 minutes, then it becomes a paperweight.

So, if the e-key gets left behind after a fire, someone walking along would not be able to access other key boxes with it.

The tamper-proof silver cap is designed to go on the fire department connections at local businesses to ensure the system hasn’t been tampered with and functions when needed. (Photo/Jonathan Stinson)

There is also a record kept in the cloud any time an e-key is accessed.

In addition to the electric rapid access system, Huntsville Fire & Rescue is also encouraging local businesses to add a special fire department locking cap to their fire department connection systems.

These caps are designed to protect the integrity of a building’s sprinkler system and ensure firefighters can get supplemental water when they need it.

It also eliminates opportunities for vandalism and damage to the sprinkler when a connection is uncapped and ensuring the sprinkler system is operable when they’re needed can reduce the overall long-term disruption to an affected business, according to Knox.

Information about the Fire Department Connection caps can be found at knoxbox.com/huntsville-al-fdc.

“Addressing fire and life safety issues is a priority for us,” Battle said. “I am proud that Huntsville is the first city in the nation to implement both of these programs, reinforcing our commitment to be a leader in public safety.”

Huntsville Raising the Roof with Hotel Construction

Another hotel is ready to rise in downtown Huntsville.

The city council recently unanimously approved plans to build a Hyatt House on a vacant lot at the intersection of Jefferson Street and Holmes Avenue, across from the federal courthouse building.

The city has designs on having more than 1,000 hotel rooms available downtown for conventions and other large events within walking distance of the VBC.

“We’re getting there,’’ said Shane Davis, city director for urban and economic. “We need to get to about 1,500 rooms. Conferences need available rooms. The Monday through Friday traffic is already reserving existing rooms.’’

Southaven Associates LLC of Birmingham will build the Hyatt, which will add 145 rooms to the city’s goal. NAI Chase Commercial is the development coordinator and Visionquest Capital is the capital and financing partner for the $35 million project.

“Hyatt is one of the most widely recognized brands in the world,” Charlie Grelier Jr., president of NAI Chase Commercial. “We are thrilled to be part of this exciting new downtown development. The hotel is expected to become a top choice for business and leisure travelers due to its ideal location in the heart of the Entertainment District.”

The nine-story hotel will be at the corner of Jefferson Street and Holmes Avenue and will include a full-service restaurant, meeting areas and a rooftop bar.

The restaurant space will be at the lobby level in an open setting with access to a courtyard connecting the restaurant and hotel to the heart of the entertainment district with direct walkable access to additional retail, restaurants and pubs along with a newly constructed public parking deck,” said Mark Elrod Sr., NAI Chase vice president of retail.

Construction is set to begin Jan. 1 with completion date set for Dec. 31, 2021. Davis said construction could be shortened by five months if the weather cooperates.

The city continues to add to not only it’s hotel portfolio downtown but various other businesses such as restaurants. The square and city skyline hardly resemble what they looked like just a few years ago as building in the area continues.

The Hyatt will join other new hotels in downtown such as the AC Hotel that opened this year at the site that once housed the Huntsville Hilton.

Davis said city administrators aren’t fazed by talk from national economists warning a recession might be looming.

“On a national scale there is talk of a small recession,” he said. “(Mayor Tommy Battle) said it best when we recently went for a bond rating. The mayor said there might be a small recession, but we’re not going to participate.”

Davis’s comment was echoed by the financial backers.

“Huntsville is the perfect emerging southeastern market for our capital investment and growth,” said Michael Hanks, founder and managing partner of Vision Quest Capital. “We look forward to investing in its future.”

The city will also purchase land at the hotel site for some $600,000. It will be used to expand the Washington Park area to provide what Davis called a “gathering spot.”

The city will also pay for infrastructure and street improvements at the site that Davis said were budgeted prior to the introduction of the hotel project at an estimated cost of $750,000 to $1 million.

The city will also lease the Hyatt up to 205 parking spaces at the Clinton Avenue garage and a planned garage on Greene Street.

A Kick in the Grass: New Use for Joe Davis Stadium Proposed

There may be some new life breathed into Joe Davis Stadium.

Think football.

Think soccer.

Think multi-use.

The City Council heard a presentation Thursday of plans to transform Joe Davis Stadium into a multi-use stadium, which could possibly be used to host high school football games and sporting events.

The presentation was in response to a City Council resolution in June, asking the administration to assess the condition of the vacant stadium.

View the city’s presentation here.

The stadium opened in 1985 as a multi-use facility (football games were played there in the first couple years; the stadium has also hosted concerts) and closed in May 2015.

The estimated price tag for the transformation is $8 million; the cost to build the stadium was about $7.5 million.

“In short, the answer is, yes, we believe that taking a portion of the stadium and converting it to a multisport athletic facility is a viable option and we could consider doing that,’” said City Administrator John Hamilton.

Designs show a stadium that would seat about 6,200 people and could play host to soccer, football, lacrosse and other activities. Hamilton said the ability to hold high school football in the stadium is a big piece to the plan.

The field would fit a FIFA standard soccer field – 120 yards by 70 yards. This would allow for large soccer events and possibly a minor league soccer team at the stadium. (Rendering by Chapman Sisson Architects)

“The biggest issue that can be addressed by using the stadium is lack of high school football stadiums,” Hamilton said. “We have five high schools in Huntsville and we only have one stadium (Milton Frank Stadium) that they all share. Most every high school in Alabama has its own stadium, so you’ve got one stadium for one school. Our community has one for five, so it’s really become an issue.”

The field would also fit a FIFA standard soccer field – 120 yards by 70 yards. This would allow for large soccer events and possibly a minor league soccer team at the stadium, possibly a National Women’s Soccer League franchise or games or a National Premier Soccer League franchise. There are NPSL teams in Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville and Chattanooga, as well as Asheville, N.C., and Miami.

The proposed renovations would include new exterior finishes and decorative fencing; new roofing; demolition of the skyboxes and renovating the press box, restrooms, locker rooms, concession stands and offices. The electrical system, fire alarm system and elevator would all be upgraded and repaired. Chapman Sisson Architects provided the existing Architectural Assessment.

“What we’ve presented is very preliminary right now, so we’d have to bring a full design contract and turn the concept into something that could be built,” Hamilton said. “That would be the first significant step.”

(Rendering by Chapman Sisson Architects)

According to the assessment by PEC Structural Engineering, “the overall concrete members appear to be in excellent condition.”

But, there were some issues with the stadium’s foundation. The report said “poor drainage has resulted in erosion issues under the lower tier seating and the foundations of lower tier seating is compromised.”

Mayor Tommy Battle believes repurposing the stadium could be another home run for high school sports.

“I was proud to be part of city government in 1984 when we built the stadium,” he said. “And I’m proud to present this effort to restore the old Joe into a community asset.”

 

Despite Remington Money Woes and Furloughs, Incentives are Protected

It’s too early to tell how or if Remington’s recent furloughs will affect its agreement with the city of Huntsville, according to city officials.

June 3 marked the first day of about a two-month furlough for about 200 workers at the Remington plant in Huntsville. Workers are expected to return in mid-August.

Following the company’s emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year, which saw $775 million in debt converted to equity and the company receive $193 million in a new lending package funded by seven banks, the city of Huntsville renegotiated the original incentive package that was put in place when Remington decided to move here.

Last November, the city council approved a new deal that gave Remington an extra three years to meet its objective of employing 1,868 employees or the company forfeits its $12.5 million incentive package provided by the city of Huntsville, the Madison County Commission and the Industrial Development Board.

“Part of the revised agreement gives the company flexibility to respond to market shifts, as long as they fulfill long-term obligations,” Kelly Schrimsher, director of communications for the city of Huntsville, said. “There are benchmarks where the company’s performance is analyzed. These include performance numbers for wages and employees. The next reporting period will be Dec. 31, 2019. Compliance reports, however, will not be delivered until spring of 2020.

“Until the city and state see that report, it would be premature to speculate on Remington’s performance.”

According to reports, Remington has already lost $3 million from a withheld cash incentive payment from the state and repaid more than $500,000 for failing to meet various job and payroll targets, which was part of an overall $70 million incentive package.

Remington did not respond to requests for information by deadline.

Huntsville officials still believe Remington is committed to meeting its goals and to the city.

“This is a 200-year old company in the process of restructuring and reshaping its future to meet a changing marketplace,” Schrimsher said. “The CEO’s office is now in Huntsville. We believe the company is committed to having a strong presence here, and our agreement gives them time to work through their reorganization.

“Conversations to date have reflected this continued commitment.”

Schrimsher also said the city is well protected under the agreement it has with Remington.

“The city still has 100 percent control of the Remington campus,” she said. “To date, Remington has not earned any percentage of the facility. Should Remington ultimately be found in default of its contract, the company would owe the city $12.5 million, which was the city’s investment in the project or surrender the campus. The campus market value far exceeds the $12.5 million mortgage.

“Huntsville’s investment was relatively small considering the hundreds of millions of dollars Remington has invested in the plant and payroll to date. If Remington walked away tomorrow, Huntsville would be made whole.”

Schrimsher cited the positive impact Remington had after locating in the city from a jobs standpoint, regardless of what happens in the future.

“To put this in further perspective, the Huntsville marketplace is in an entirely different position when Remington entered in 2014,” she said. “At that time, Huntsville was heavily dependent upon federal employment dollars, and Mayor Tommy Battle and the Chamber (of Commerce) were working hard to diversify and expand our employment base beyond federal contracting. Advanced manufacturing was a target market, but it’s also highly competitive, and every state in the country is fighting for good-paying jobs for skilled workers.

“Landing the Remington plant put Huntsville on the map for advanced manufacturing. After the Remington announcement, the city caught the eye of Polaris, then GE Aviation, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Blue Origin, and now Mazda-Toyota. Remington was a catalytic project for Huntsville. At present, there are thousands of jobs available for highly skilled workers in Huntsville.”

UAH to Host Interim State Cyber and Engineering School; Massey Named President

The University of Alabama-Huntsville’s Bevill Center will serve as the interim site for the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering, it was announced Friday.

Also, former Madison County Schools Superintendent Matt Massey was named the school’s first president. The school is scheduled to open in August 2020 with 10th- and 11th-grade students from across the state attending.

“The University of Alabama in Huntsville is excited to be the interim location for the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering,” said UAH President Dr. Darren Dawson. “Our Bevill Center on campus will provide secure living arrangements for students, in addition to classroom space and food services.

“We appreciate the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers working with us to meet their training needs elsewhere on campus so that the School could begin residency and education on our campus next year.”

The announcements were made at a press conference at Redstone Federal Credit Union.

“It’s not only an exciting opportunity to be named president of the school, but to be a resource for teachers and administrators to implement cyber and STEM into their schools,” said Massey, who had served as the county’s superintendent for 4 1/2 years. “The result will not just impact 300 students in the school, but will exponentially reach students and educators all across the state.”

The city of Huntsville is donating property in Cummings Research Park for the school’s permanent location. The school is expected to open there in August 2022.

“The City of Huntsville is proud to be an ongoing partner in this cyber initiative by supporting Alabama’s cyber magnet school with a gift of property for a new campus,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “Once again, Huntsville will continue to be the epicenter for the state’s best and brightest to help Alabama and our nation meet the demand for a future workforce in cyber and engineering.”

The independent residential magnet school will provide students from across the state with educational opportunities and experiences in cyber technology and engineering. The school will also assist Alabama teachers, administrators, and superintendents in replicating cyber technology and engineering studies in their own schools.

“The ASCTE Board could not be more pleased with the continued and expanded partnership with UAH, and the tremendous gift by the City of Huntsville through Mayor Battle and the City Council to establish a permanent site in CRP for the school,” said Sen. Arthur Orr, president of the school’s Board of Trustees. “All in all, it is gratifying to see the Huntsville community realize the importance of this school to the area and state as we establish a world-class institution.”