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Built for Business and Baseball: New Avid Hotel at Town Madison Open

MADISON — It is sure to be a home run for business travelers and baseball fans – the new Avid Hotel at Town Madison has the perfect setup for both, at the Madison/Wall-Triana Highway exit of I-565. It is a just a throw across the infield from Huntsville International Airport, Redstone Arsenal and Cummings Research Park.

A fitness center is among the amenities provided at the Avid.

For the business traveler, there are 55-inch HDTVs with free Wi-Fi, a fitness center, free breakfast with fresh-ground coffee, high-quality mattresses and black-out roller shades to promote a sound sleep. 

The Avid includes a 24-hour “market.”

For the baseball fan, it is just a throw from the outfield of Toyota Field, home of the Rocket City Trash Pandas. There are outdoor patios and a 24-hour market for after-the-game munchies and a mini-refrigerator in every room.

According to Pritesh Patel, one of the owners of Jalasai Hospitality Co., the 87-room Avid by Intercontinental Hotels Group is a boutique-style hotel that promises a spotless hotel environment that is always ready for its next guests.

Double beds await the traveler for a restful sleep.

“This Avid hotel is the perfect fit for this location and community,” said Patel. “Whether you are a business traveler or visiting for a game at Toyota Field, in town for business or pleasure, you will find that we focus on getting the essentials right. The Avid hotel will provide the comfort, modern design and high standard of quality service to exceed your expectations.” 

The Town Madison hotel is the 21st Avid hotel and is a short hop from more than 1 million square feet of new retail, restaurant, and entertainment venues including Duluth Trading Co., J Alexander’s Restaurant, Outback Steakhouse, and 700,000 square feet of office space. 

Who Needs a Parade? Madison Promises Plenty of Socially Distanced Christmas Cheer

MADISON — The City of Madison canceled the annual Christmas parade this year due to COVID-19, but it has been replaced with safe, socially distanced events that promise plenty of holiday cheer.

Among those events is the first “Cars Under the Stars Christmas Movie Event” at the Madison Stadium; the second annual Christmas Capers, which will be held virtually; several walking tours of the historic homes on Church, Arnett, Front and Maple streets; and a Christmas Eve Jingle Some Joy bell ringing event along the Polar Express Christmas Tree Trail.

Offered as an alternative holiday opportunity for the Madison community that observes social distancing requirements while providing seasonal enjoyment for families amid the pandemic, the “Cars Under the Stars Christmas Movie” event on Dec. 12 will be a double feature: “The Grinch” at 5 p.m. and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” at 7 p.m. at the city’s stadium. 

Hosted by the Madison Parks and Recreation Department, admission is free with a canned good donation for the local food bank. The gates open at 4 p.m. and there will be food vendors on site. 

To help pay for the event and support future endeavors involving family-friendly programming and events during the pandemic, Madison Parks & Recreation is offering holiday sponsorship opportunities for local businesses.

Gold sponsorships are $500 and Platinum sponsorships are $1,000. Both packages include a vendor booth at the Cars Under the Stars and one other event in the coming months.

To pre-register for the “Cars Under the Stars Christmas Movie”, click here.  For corporate sponsorships, contact Chris.Lund@madisonal.gov.

The second annual Christmas Capers is a virtual rendition of last year’s Chicken Capers, introduced during the 2019 Madison Business Expo & Kids Day. 

It follows the true story of “Doc” Hughes who, during the Great Depression, started a holiday tradition known as Christmas Chicken Capers.

On Christmas Eve, Hughes tossed live chickens from the roof of his store with prize tags attached to their legs. Residents chased the chickens down, redeemed the prizes at Hughes’ store, and took the chicken home to cook for Christmas dinner.

In a variation of the event ol’ Doc Hughes could never have imagined, rubber chickens will be tossed from the roof of Hughes Hardware and the event will be live streamed on Facebook. Community members can submit their names and contact information to the Historical Society at MSHPSociety@gmail.com for a chance to win a “prized chicken.”

No chasing chickens through the streets of downtown Madison this year, but socially distanced patrons in small groups can “jingle some joy” with Christmas bells for two minutes this Christmas Eve to showcase the spirit of the season along Main and Front Street. The bells ring in hope and joy for 2021 and start at 6 p.m., Dec. 24.

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. GetYourGiftOn.org 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).”

 

The Bell Still Rings for Madison Station Polar Express Christmas on Main

MADISON — Yes, the bell still rings for any organization wanting to decorate a Christmas tree for the seventh annual Madison Station Polar Express Christmas on Main, but Friday is the final day to register.

Hosted by the City of Madison and the Madison Station Historic Preservation Society, the event kicks off the holiday season with decorated Christmas trees displayed along Main Street in historic downtown and sponsored by the Madison business community.

Part of the Polar Express Christmas on Main, the trees will be on display Nov. 28-Jan. 2. Trees will be selected for the Mayor’s Choice, Most Creative and Honorable Mention awards to be announced at the Jan. 11 City Council meeting.

Trees are $100 for for-profit organizations and $50 for nonprofit organizations and can be decorated Nov. 20-27.

An official tree lighting will take place virtually Nov.29.

The number of Christmas trees available is limited so register by Friday to ensure your company is part of this annual holiday celebration.

For more information, contact the Madison Chamber of Commerce at 256-325-8317.

It’s the Beginning of the End for Zierdt Road Construction

A recent social media post from a resident of the Edgewater community off Zierdt Road at Lady Anne Lake said, “Things That Have No End: The Universe, numbers, Pi, and Zierdt Road construction.”

Without a doubt, for those living in the midst of the “mess,” it must seem like a black hole.

But the good news is that with the lane shift from the southbound lanes to the northbound lanes on Zierdt in early September, motorists are now traversing the new Zierdt Road – marking Phase IV and the beginning of the end of the $25 million road project.

There has been a lot of frustration about the project because in 2010, it began as a $7 million widening project at the intersection of Madison Boulevard and Zierdt Road.

Construction continues at the Zierdt Road-Edgewater Drive intersection. (Marty Sellers Photo)

Because there wasn’t a lot of funding at the time and Town Madison and Toyota Field were not on anyone’s radar, the original plan consisted of a four-phased approach to widening the 3.5-mile stretch from Madison Boulevard to Martin Road outside Redstone Arsenal Gate 7 from two lanes to four.

Each of the four phases were estimated to take two to four years to complete.

Then, in April 2017, public input sessions resulted in the addition of a pedestrian and bike path. The 12-foot-wide multiuse path was added on the west side, changing the scope of work significantly and increasing the budget to $25 million.

As messy as it may seem, this current phase of Zierdt Road includes new drainage, curb, subgrade, paving and the multiuse path for the remainder of the project duration.

The final phase (IV) of improvements will also consist of two southbound lanes, seven lanes at the intersection of Martin and Zierdt roads, and six lanes at the intersection of Madison Boulevard and Zierdt Road.

While the project has had its share of hiccups due to fluctuations in funding, according to the City of Huntsville, they have been able to make up some time during the pandemic due to the significantly decreased traffic flow.

For residents. the hindrance has been complete but, for the construction crews, residential traffic has been a hindrance.

Although it is only 3 1/2 miles long, Zierdt could not be shut down entirely because of the significant residential population along that stretch of road.

As Kelly Schrimsher, Communications Director at the City of Huntsville, points out, it is significantly more difficult to reconstruct a road when it is in use.

“When you build a new road, you keep it closed until it is finished and passable,” she said. “Or if you look at the road construction off Research Park Boulevard, that work seems to move along without much traffic disruption because they are widening it from the center median and traffic is unaffected.

“Zierdt was always a heavily traveled two-lane road with access to Redstone Arsenal Gate 7, access to the airport, a lot of residential communities, and now Town Madison with the new Toyota Field  – which was not a consideration when the project was initiated.”

All residents of the neighborhoods on Mountainbrook, Edgewater and Nature’s Way can see, however, is the demolition and reconstruction of the original southbound lanes that were the main access into those apartment complexes and communities.

But regardless of how it looks, city engineers promise the end is coming soon and it will be great.

Year-to-Date: Huntsville Area has Seen More Than $1 Billion in New Capital Investment and 850 New Jobs

Did someone say there is an economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Well, the facts on the ground do not bear that out here, according to the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce. 

“With COVID-19, this has certainly been a challenging year, but in spite of all that is happening, Huntsville still continues to see job growth in all parts of our City,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “Whether it’s Torch Technologies in South Huntsville, Dynetics in Cummings Research Park, or TriRx in Chase Industrial Park, there are buildings going up and sites being delivered.

“When you combine that with the ongoing work at North Huntsville Industrial Park with Facebook and Toyota and the numerous projects at Mazda Toyota, it’s a remarkable statement to the resiliency of the Huntsville market and its industries.”

Year-to-date economic growth figures show the Huntsville metropolitan region has accrued more than $1 billion in capital investments from new commercial projects, company expansions, and from companies that have increased the scope of previously announced projects in 2020. That growth will also result in 852 new jobs across the region.

“Throughout 2020, Madison County and Huntsville have continued the work in bringing new and innovative business and industry to our community while also supporting expansions among our industry partners,” said Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong. “Our diverse economy continues to be robust year after year. With a focus on workforce development the future of the Rocket City and Redstone Arsenal will continue to drive the economy of Alabama and southern Tennessee.”

The bulk of the growth will come from four large Huntsville company projects and four smaller, but significant, projects this year. However, due to coronavirus restrictions limiting celebratory groundbreakings, grand openings and open house events, many of these projects have been operating under the public radar.

“We want to celebrate every expansion, but this year, it has been challenging to do that in a safe way,” said Lucia Cape, the Chamber’s senior vice president of economic development. “These companies are important to our community and to the people they employ, and we want to recognize their growth.” 

Rendering shows the Freedom-Torch-Invariant facility from the south parking lot.

Torch Technologies leads with $32.3 million in investment on two recent expansion projects that will bring 120 new jobs to Huntsville. 

First announced in April 2018, Torch has completed its Technology Integration and Prototyping Center (TIPC) with two-story office space and an attached 10,000-square-foot high-bay facility at the corner of Chris Drive and Vermont Road in South Huntsville. Constructed by its sister company, Freedom Real Estate & Capital, the center includes a 35,000 square-foot lab and solutions facility.

According to board member and Torch President & CEO John Watson the new facility will allow Torch to take on projects of greater complexity.

“These projects will range from developing instruments that will completely change how warhead testing is accomplished, to re-engineering products that protect our nation,” Watson said.

The second Torch expansion is part of a partnership with the Invariant, a Huntsville-based engineering services and software development company founded in 2001. 

Invariant President David Anderson: “We have been neighbors with Freedom Real Estate and Torch Technologies for several years and look forward to continuing those relationships.” (Rendering/Invariant)

Invariant is investing $430,000 in a 92,000 square-foot facility as part of a mixed-use facility being built by Freedom in South Huntsville. 

The facility will consist of office, research, development, and manufacturing space. They quietly broke ground in May and expect the facility to be complete by next summer. Invariant’s growth will produce 23 new jobs.

“We are excited to grow and expand into this new facility that will provide our employees the resources needed to ensure quality services and products are delivered to our customers,” said Invariant President David Anderson. “We are proud to be a part of Huntsville’s continuing success. We have been neighbors with Freedom Real Estate and Torch Technologies for several years and look forward to continuing those relationships.”

Japan-based freight and logistics provider Nippon Express USA will invest $19.1 million in its location on the campus of Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, U.S.A. over the next two years. They expect to hire more than 100 employees over that period.

After being acquired by Leidos in January, Dynetics will add up to 200 jobs associated with weapon development work, and has hired hundreds of people this year in support of the Human Landing System and other projects. The expansion brings the company’s local employment to 2,740. 

Those four expansions represent a total of 510 new jobs and $71 million in investment.

Four more companies, Aldez, TriRx Pharmaceuticals, Palco Telecommunications and Ridgeview Industries have also significantly expanded in Huntsville.

Aldez is an inventory management and distribution company and has a new facility near the sprawling Mazda Toyota Manufacturing facility. (Photo/Aldez)

Aldez is an inventory management and distribution company with a focus on the automotive industry. Its operations in the SouthPoint Business Park, a couple of miles from the Mazda Toyota plant, will provide maintenance, repair and operations crib management and distribution center services for the MTMUS facility.

“This new, state-of-the-art facility is a strategic move that will allow us to serve MTMUS manufacturing’s newest automotive facility in Huntsville, Limestone County, and enable further growth with their supplier base,” said Aldez COO Mike Byrne. 

“These economic development projects have changed the future of our county by their investments and job creation,” said Limestone County Commission Chairman Collin Daly. “The opportunities provided to our community through these projects will have a lasting impact for years to come.”

TriRx Pharmaceutical Services celebrated its one-year anniversary in Huntsville in May. According to Timothy C. Tyson, chairman and CEO, the Huntsville Liquids, Creams and Ointments Facility has grown from a small number of employees to more than 250 people as of June. 

“We would like to thank our employees, our customers, and our community for their amazing support,” said Tyson. “We continue to be focused on and dedicated to the patients we serve. This has been an exciting year accented by growth with a passion for delivering on our commitment to our customers. And we have just begun.”

Palco Telecommunications, a post-sales supply chain management company started in Huntsville in 1986; and Ridgeview Industries, Inc., a metal stamping and welded assemblies’ manufacturer for automotive OEM, have also among the announced expansions in Huntsville.

“It is exciting to see these quality organizations continuing to grow, building off of their previous successes and adding even more jobs in our community,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. “I am excited about the opportunities these companies bring for our region as we continue to grow together.” 

‘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.

 

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

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

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

That’s no longer true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sitdown with Success: Louis Breland: An Old-School Developer Leading New-school Developments

This month’s installment of the Huntsville Business Journal’s series “Sitdown with Success” features developer Louis Breland. “Sitdown with Success” spotlights local entrepreneurs who describe their successes and failures.

Tell us about your very first touch with Town Madison and how you got involved.

We had developed a lot of property on Madison Boulevard that we still own, and we used to have offices out there.

Louis Breland (Photo/Steve Babin)

I was looking out the back window one day at a gorgeous tract of land I had my eyes on for a while. I knew Intergraph founder Jim Meadlock owned it and he didn’t need to sell it. But this day there was a tractor clearing trees! I’m thinking, “Holy smokes! I should have been calling on this property!’’

I knew Mr. Meadlock was a really nice man and I had his phone number, so I called him up and said, “Mr. Meadlock, did you sell that property because I see a tractor over there?”

He said, “No Louis, it’s just some farmers clearing trees for me. Do you want to buy it?”

I said absolutely, and negotiations started there.

It looks like such a huge and complex development. Did you know that going in?

Town Madison is actually a relatively simple development. Except for having to put in interstate ramps and things like that are complicated and takes a long time, but Breland has always done fairly large residential communities. My first Huntsville development, Autumn Ridge, is probably 800 homes.

I’ve watched cattle farms turn into major cities, so I recognized that Town Madison is in an incredible location – 2½ miles of interstate frontage and a gateway to the city. It had everything you could want in terms of a location. Town Madison started out as just a great piece of real estate at a great price.

Jim Meadlock and Intergraph owned most of the property and the rest was smaller parcels owned by four or five individuals, so we had to arsemble all of it.

You mentioned Autumn Ridge as your first Huntsville development. You came to Huntsville from Mobile?

I started a homebuilding company in Mobile in 1976 and we were building throughout Mobile, Gulf Shores and Baldwin County on the eastern shore.

A friend invited me to come to Huntsville around 1982 or 1983, to see all the activity. President Reagan had poured money into the Huntsville and Madison County market to support the military buildup for Star Wars.

The market was just exploding! The market is really good now; it was better then. There was very limited competition and there was room to put in subdivisions and build houses. And buyers were lined up.

Within the week, I decided to move here, and we closed our Gulf Coast operation. By comparison, the coast was a very tough market: in Baldwin County, you could barely sell a house.

From the day we started in Huntsville it was on fire – successful from day one. You had a tough market nationally but here there was a shortage of housing and lots of land available for development.

To get started in the development and home building business, do you just start buying land?

Correct. Within just a few months we bought a 400-acre tract of land on South Parkway (Autumn Ridge) and a big tract of land at Zierdt Road where the Edgewater community is now.

You have been involved in this part of town for a long time.

Wayne Bonner of Bonner Development developed Edgewater, but I was one of the first to buy land from him to build houses. Lady Anne Lake was just a bunch of trees back then.

Mountainbrook was one of the first developments at Edgewater. I bought 100 lots that became Mountainbrook and Heritage Woods.

What has it been like being in the homebuilding and commercial development business and still come out on top, with all the volatility over the years?

Louis Breland with Toyota Field in the background. (Photo/Steve Babin)

You have to remember, back then, interest rates and energy were not predictable. Oil goes from $50 a barrel to $150 a barrel; inflation starts in, the Feds raise interest rates and you go from 8 percent to 10 percent to 12 percent, 14 percent and then back to 10 percent. There’s nothing in the real estate business – nothing – predictable. It is always changing. But the difference between then and now, I believe, is that 100 percent of energy came from the Middle East and we had no real energy policy in place.

It was just crazy what fluctuations in energy and interest rates would do. It was always a roller coaster.

And interest rates are like oxygen for a homebuilder and interest rate volatility is very hard on us. It cuts off your oxygen and the higher the rates go – it starts choking you and you have no control over it – period.

But despite this, we thrived here in the Huntsville market. We probably had 30 to 35 percent of the homebuilding market here – 30 to 35 percent of all homes sold were Breland Homes. We were by far the largest builder here.

Has the business changed much?

Extremely different.

Back then there was no one to buy lots from. We bought 100 acres, built the lots, developed all of the infrastructure like roads and utilities; built the homes, sold homes, and we financed them. So we were very integrated – from raw dirt to turning on your stove for the first time at move in.

Now, if you just want to be a homebuilder and not get into development, you can just go buy lots from someone.

How did you survive the financial and real estate collapse back in 2006 through 2008?

I’m old school.

That housing boom was not real world. In the world I grew up in, you had to have real credibility. You had to have real equity and real money which meant you had to put 30 sometimes as much as 50 percent in cash down to get a deal to make a development happen.

I did not participate in that because I could never understand how somebody who couldn’t qualify to borrow $100,000 could borrow $100 million.

We saw some of it coming.

We owned one of the largest privately held self-storage companies in Alabama, Mississippi and South Florida.

In 2006, we sold it for almost $100 million, so we were very liquid. When it collapsed, we had a lot of inventory, but we were liquid, so we bought over 100 communities in great land locations out of bankruptcy at giveaway prices. And we did not go back into the market.

I told everybody here, “This is either the most incredible buying opportunity in real estate, or the largest sucker hole we’ll ever go through – but we’re going to go for it!”