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Mayor Introduces $236M Balanced Budget for FY 2021

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle introduced his Fiscal Year 2021 budget which includes $236 million in general fund operations and $140 million in capital spending.

The budget represents the continuing commitment of city government to provide quality services and investments to a growing community while meeting the challenges of current economic events.

“We’ve taken a cautious, conservative approach to next year’s spending while still keeping up with growth and demand for services,” said Battle. “I am grateful to our department heads for their ability to keep this city moving forward while keeping a watchful eye on every penny spent.”

The general fund represents an $8.1 million increase over FY-20 and provides basic level funding for municipal departments. The bulk of any increase supports personnel needs to accommodate growth and staffing at new facilities. Support to the Huntsville City School system remains fully funded and capital projects will proceed as planned.

Finance Director Penny Smith said she is cautiously optimistic about revenue in the coming year. The city is still growing, housing sales are up, and the income base remains steady thanks to Redstone Arsenal, numerous large corporate employers, growth in the construction market and the abundance of new jobs being filled in the community.

“Sales and use taxes are holding steady, but we recognize we will still have COVID impacts and we’ve taken that into consideration,” said Smith. “Revenues from the hospitality sector and some retail are expected to remain down and the budget reflects those projections.”

Half of the FY-20 Fiscal Year was under the pandemic, forcing “normal” out the window and costing the city about $15 million in lost revenues. Thanks to mid-year cuts and adjustments, the city is ending the fiscal year on an even note.

“I am proud of how our departments adapted to meet these everyday challenges,” said Battle. “We placed a limited freeze on hiring and cut operating budgets 5 percent, forcing everyone to do more with less.”

The City did not cut the budgets of outside agencies during the pandemic but asked them to consider reducing their annual appropriation by 5 percent for FY-21. Nearly every agency cooperated with the request, an indication of the community’s shared commitment to get through this pandemic together.

“The proposed budget is structured to meet the goals and objectives demanded by our growing city, to keep our reserves healthy and uphold the conservative fiscal spending principles that have made Huntsville a leader in municipal fiscal management,” said Battle.

Highlights of the FY-21 Budget

  • New fire station for Huntsville’s western area
  • New fire ladder truck for Station 18
  • 2 new buses for Huntsville Transit
  • $10.2 million in street resurfacing
  • $14 million in roads maintenance, sidewalks and drainage
  • $26 million in new street construction
  • $46.7 million for municipal facilities (includes new City Hall)
  • $8.9 million for recreation projects
  • $24.3 million for outside agency appropriations
  • 1 percent cost of living increase for employees

The City Council will hold a work session Tuesday at 5 p.m. to review the budget and is expected to vote on the spending plan Sept. 24.

 

Area Commercial Construction Continues to Rise in Wake of COVID Uncertainty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SouthPoint Business Park (Photo/Hollingsworth Companies)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Construction Complete – Cecil Ashburn Drive Opens 4 Lanes of Traffic

Cecil Ashburn Drive opened four lanes of traffic Thursday, resetting a 3.4-mile transportation corridor that will support commuter growth in Huntsville’s southeastern sector.

The $18.1 million project was part of Mayor Tommy Battle’s 2012 “Restore our Roads” initiative that jointly funded more than $250 million in major road improvements with the Alabama Department of Transportation.

Construction began on Cecil Ashburn in January 2019 when Carcel & G Construction shut down the former two-lane road to fast-track roadwork. The expedited timeline allowed the city to reopen two lanes of new road 10 months later. Since that time, crews have been working to complete the project before the end of 2020.

“We are pleased to give this road back to our community, four months ahead of schedule and under budget,” said Battle. “This is a beautiful, scenic road that will serve us for decades to come.”

The road’s extra capacity will allow Cecil Ashburn to accommodate more than 34,000 daily commuters. A number of safety improvements were included in the design and construction including the addition of 8-foot-wide shoulders for cyclists and pedestrians. The result is a safer, quicker and higher capacity route that connects East Huntsville’s Big Cove/Hampton Cove area to downtown Huntsville, Redstone Arsenal, Cummings Research Park and beyond.

“Our goal was to increase capacity and improve safety on Cecil Ashburn,” said City Engineer Kathy Martin. “I want to thank the mayor for such a unique opportunity to work on this challenging project with a dedicated team. Not everyone gets to work on such a dynamic project within their career.”

Martin credited City Project Engineer Alan Clements, City Inspector Woody Maples, and Carcel & G Superintendent Greg Wynn for their work in making this project a success.

“Wynn’s determination and attention to detail made all the difference to bring this project in on schedule and within budget,” she said.

Publix to Anchor The Market at Hays Farm

One of the most prominent vacant retail developments in the Huntsville metro area is getting a $23.5 million investment, it was announced Friday.

Publix Super Market will serve as the grocery anchor for the Market at Hays Farm (formerly Haysland Square) development, according to developer Branch Properties.

“This is an exciting development for South Huntsville and a welcome announcement for all those residents who have eagerly hoped for a revival of the Haysland Square property,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “This is also what happens when the city invests wisely in infrastructure that promotes planned growth and development such as the $60 million spent on the South Parkway ‘Restore Our Roads’ project, the new Grissom High School, and the new Haysland Road Extension and greenway.

“We applaud the Hays family for seeing the promise of South Huntsville and for their investment in its success.”

The Market at Hays Farm boasts more than 150,000 square feet of small shops and junior anchor space available in addition to multiple outparcels to serve the needs of the growing South Huntsville community. 

Branch Properties has developed and owned more than 45 Publix-anchored shopping centers around the Southeast and worked in collaboration with Tailwinds Development, which has built more than 15 Publix-anchored centers over the last 20 years.

“Publix has always been a pleasure to work with, and we value our relationship with them,” said James Genderau of Tailwinds. “John Hays and his family, who have owned the property for over 50 years, were truly the reason we made this deal happen. John is a gentleman and man of his word”

Branch Properties Executive Vice President said, “The city’s development staff of Shane Davis (director of Urban and Economic Development), Kathy Martin (city engineer) and Jim McGuffey (manager Planning Service), were rock solid and always had their doors open for us. This team was led by Mayor Tommy Battle who really had a vision for South Huntsville  … We appreciate what (he) has helped us accomplish here”

Since June 2018, South Huntsville has seen $75 million of private investment. The Hays Farm development will include single-family homes, apartments and townhouses to complement retail businesses and a nine-acre city park.

“The much-anticipated Market at Hays Farm is the first of many great things coming to Hays Farm and the South Parkway,” said South Huntsville Main Business Association Executive Director Bekah Schmidt. “We welcome the new Publix to the South Huntsville community and look forward to small businesses and additional anchors coming to the Market at Hays Farm.”

Demolition will begin immediately with the center scheduled to open in the fall of 2021.

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing Makes Additional $830M Investment for Technology, Training Programs

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing announced Thursday an additional $830 million investment to incorporate more cutting-edge manufacturing technologies to its production lines and provide enhanced training to its workforce of up to 4,000 employees.

Construction continues on the massive $2.311 billion Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant. (Photo/MTM)

“This newest investment by our partners at Mazda Toyota Manufacturing shows the company’s continued confidence in the ability of our community to provide a strong, skilled workforce to meet the demands for quality and reliability,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “We look forward to the day when the first vehicles roll off the line.”

Total funding contributed to the development of the state-of-the-art facility is now $2.311 billion, up from the $1.6 billion originally announced in 2018.

“We are excited to learn of this additional investment being made by Mazda Toyota Manufacturing,” said Limestone County Commission Chairman Collin Daly. “We continue to be grateful to MTM for their belief in our county and look forward to our partnership with them for many years to come.” 

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing made an additional $830 million investment to incorporate more cutting-edge manufacturing technologies to its production lines and provide enhanced training to its workforce. (Photo/MTM)

The investment accommodates production line enhancements made to improve manufacturing processes supporting the Mazda vehicle and design changes to the yet-to-be announced Toyota SUV that will both be produced at the plant.

The new facility will have the capacity to produce up to 150,000 Mazda crossover vehicles and up to 150,000  of the new Toyota SUV each year. 

MTM continues to target up to 4,000 new jobs and has hired approximately 600 employees to date, with plans to resume accepting applications for production positions later this year. Construction of the plant continues, with 75-100 percent of the roofing, siding, floor slabs, ductwork, fire protection and electrical completed. 

“Mazda Toyota Manufacturing is proud to call Alabama home,” said Mark Brazeal, MTM vice president of administration said. “Through strong support from our state and local partners, we have been able to further incorporate cutting-edge manufacturing technologies, provide world-class training for team members and develop the highest quality production processes.

“As we prepare for the start of production next year, we look forward to developing our future workforce and serving as a hometown company for many years to come.” 

 

 

Mission and Vision: Region’s Largest Spec Industrial Facility Breaks Ground

All it takes is a mission and a vision for Huntsville’s long-term strategic plan to build a multicounty regional economy in North Alabama to take shape.

One of the components of that vision dropped into place recently as the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce and the Limestone County Economic Development Authority joined the Hollingsworth Cos. in breaking ground on the largest speculative industrial facility in North Alabama.

It is the 11th facility Hollingsworth has built in the SouthPoint Business Park, which has already provided hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in investments. When finished, the new building will be home to more than 1.9 million square feet of industrial space.

Located off Interstates 65 and 565 and five miles from the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant, the park is suitable for high-growth manufacturing and distribution companies who benefit from a location along the I-65 corridor in North Alabama.

SouthPoint Business Park is already home to HDT Global, Custom Assembly, Redline Steel, Woodbridge, Supreme Beverage and Aldez.

While shovels moved dirt for the sprawling new building, local and state officials and members of the business community toured two industrial buildings now available in the park. The two buildings provide 173,888 and 109,080 square feet for companies looking to expand or relocate their manufacturing and distribution facilities.

“In spite of the economic pressure of COVID-19 and this being an election year, we are very bullish on the North Alabama market,” said Joe Hollingsworth, CEO of The Hollingsworth Cos., the largest nonurban industrial real estate developer and construction firm in the Southeast. “We have grown our business on the belief that American manufacturing will continue to prosper, and the Southeastern United States will lead this growth. I would like to thank the community for being willing to invest time, effort, and money into being a true partner in making this park successful.

“It is my belief that the next eight years will be the best economic period of our lives.”

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said the park will help ensure job creation and business development for the Rocket City.

“Over the past 10 years, we’ve been able to announce new and expanding companies in our community that have created 30,000 jobs,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “To do that requires many assets. You need a workforce, you need access to markets, and you need sites and buildings. Today’s groundbreaking gives us another tool to help us in our continuing efforts to diversify our economy and to make sure that anyone in Huntsville who wants a job can get a job. 

“We thank the Hollingsworth Companies for its continued investment and belief in our community,” 

Limestone County Commission Chairman Collin Daly said, “The groundbreaking of the largest speculative industrial building in North Alabama, despite being in the middle of a pandemic, is positive news for our county. We look forward to this new location assisting with the demand for industrial facilities needed for the continued growth in our county.”

Brooks Kracke, president and CEO of the North Alabama Industrial Development Association, said, “This latest Hollingsworth building in Southpoint Industrial Park is much needed and is very timely in order to meet the demands of our regional growth.” 

 

Huntsville No. 2 for Career Opportunities in COVID-19 Recession

We’re not No. 1, but No. 2 is pretty good.

In a recent study, Huntsville ranked No. 2 among the best places for career opportunities in the COVID-19 recession . SmartAsset analyzed 200 of the largest metro areas across seven metrics related to employment, income and access to professional development through higher education or career counseling.

Huntsville placed in the top 10 of the study for two different categories: It had the sixth-lowest unemployment rate in May 2020, at 7.6 percent, and the eighth-highest income growth over a career, at 30.47 percent.

While the metro area finishes in the bottom half of the study for its low number of career counselors and post-secondary teachers per 1,000 workers, it ranks within the top 50 for its relatively small drop in total employment over the past year (-7.26 percent) and its relatively high 2019 median income (almost $42,000).

The top 10 according to SmartAsset are: College Station-Bryan, Texas; Huntsville; Gainesville, Fla.; Lincoln, Neb.; Champaign-Urbana, Ill.; Provo-Orem, Utah; Tallahassee, Fla.; Boulder, Colo; Tucson, Ariz.; and Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Ariz.

SmartAsset is a financial technology company that provides personal finance advice on the web. The company offers free and personalized tools for personal finance decisions around homebuying, retirement, taxes and more.

 

‘Trash Mountain’ a Modern Landfill Rising over Southwest Huntsville

 

    Ever notice the rising landmass at the southwest end of Leeman Ferry Road that can be seen for miles around and was once the site of a rock quarry?

     It’s officially known as a Modern Landfill and it contains non-hazardous refuse. They’re known colloquially as “trash mountains.’’ There’s even a recreation area in Virginia Beach, Va., called Mount Trashmore that was built on top of two landfills in 1974.

     But while the Huntsville Solid Waste Disposal Authority (SWDA) has used modern technology in operating the landfill since 1988, the idea of a “trash mountain’’ is an idea that traces back to ancient Rome. For 250 years, carefully piled used jars created Monte Testaccio, which means “Mountain of Jars.’’

    This was no dumpsite, and neither is Huntsville Modern Landfill.

     “Our facilities are engineered facilities that are highly regulated by both the ADEM and the United States Environmental Protection Agency,’’ said John “Doc’’ Holladay, executive director of the SWDA. “The Authority has invested and will continue to invest tens of millions of dollars to design, build, operate, close and conduct post-closure care for a minimum of 30 years to ensure these facilities will be protective of human health and the environment in this community.

      “The landfill is a vital public service provided by the Authority, in combination with the Waste-to-Energy facility, for the waste produced by the citizens, businesses, industries and institutions of the City of Huntsville, City of Madison and Madison County. The landfill is highly regulated by the ADEM through state-of-the-art technical standards to ensure that it is designed, built, operated, and closed in a manner to protect the citizens and the environment of this community.’’

     No long-term plans have been decided on for the landfill, which is not close to full and has years of life remaining. A section of the site, however, is already being used by hobbyists.

     “The exact end uses have not been decided at this time,’’ Holladay said. “The life of this landfill is projected to be greater than 30 years so as we get closer to that time, the Authority will determine what would be the most suitable long-term end use of this facility for the citizens of this community.

       “Currently, a closed-out portion of the landfill is being utilized by the Rocket City Radio Controllers as an airfield for remote-controlled airplanes and helicopters.’’

      The SWDA manages two landfills, neither of which accepts hazardous material:

      Municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills are designed to accept mainly residential (kitchen waste, bathroom trash cans, etc.), commercial (apartment complexes, universities, and restaurants, etc.) and non-hazardous institutional waste. These types of landfills require plastic liners, leachate collection systems and methane gas collection systems. Methane gas collection systems are  required once a landfill reaches a certain tonnage and generates a certain level of regulated landfill gas emissions.

     Construction and demolition (C&D) waste landfills have different engineering and environmental standards than the MSW landfills. Construction and Demolition landfills not only accept construction and demolition waste but also inert waste such as old furniture, mattresses, trees/branches and yard waste. The slope that is visible from John Hunt Park is the C&D portion of the landfill.’’

     The landfill will continue to grow, but the mounds created by the refuse do decompose.

     “Both landfills are projected to last for another 30-plus years,’’ Holladay said. “As you are aware, the Authority has been actively engaged in adopting and implementing strategies that reduce the volume of waste that is disposed of in landfills for quite some time. In fact, two of those initiatives are over 30 years  old, and a third initiative will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year.

     “The waste-to-energy plant not only recovers the energy embedded in waste to produce steam for Redstone Arsenal, but it also reduces the volume of waste by 90 percent which reduces the amount of waste that has to be disposed of in the MSW Landfill. After combustion, the ash is transported to the MSW cell for disposal. However, prior to placing the ash in the landfill, the ferrous and non-ferrous metals are removed and recycled.’’

     The Authority further seeks to reduce waste volumes being disposed of in the landfill by providing services that can be found at www.swdahsv.org.

 

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.”