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Trash Pandas Manager Brings Big-game, Championship Experience to First-year Club

MADISON — Jay Bell knows something about big moments in a baseball playing and coaching career spanning more than two decades, none more so than when he scored the winning run in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series as the Arizona Diamondbacks rallied to defeat the New York Yankees.

Jay Bell is the first manager of the Rocket City Trash Pandas (Photo/Rocket City Trash Pandas)

Over an 18-season Major League career, he won a Gold Glove, Silver Slugger and was twice an All-Star.

In three seasons as a manager in the Yankees minor league system, his teams made the playoffs each season including in 2019 when the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre RailRiders won the International League Northern Division.

He’s seen the other side of the sport as well.

He was at shortstop for Pittsburgh when Francisco Cabrera rolled a grounder just past a diving Bell to score Sid Bream from second base to lift Atlanta past the Pirates in a Game 7 win that clinched the National League pennant in a moment that lives in Braves’ lore.

Now comes his newest challenge: leading the Rocket City Trash Pandas into their first season as a member of the Los Angeles Angels’ Double-A affiliate in the Southern League.

“It is a thrill to be part of this inaugural season,’’ Bell said during an introductory press conference at Toyota Field, which is expected to open for the team’s first homestand beginning April 15 against the Mississipi Braves.

“To grow up in Pensacola, to have the opportunity to come to the Southern League and be a part of a brand new franchise, a state-of-the-art field, to be associated with Rocket City — Madison and the Greater Huntsville area — is tremendous.’’

Growing up in the Florida Panhandle, Bell said being back in the South and Alabama “feels like home.’’

He drove around the area in a rental car prior to the press conference and came away “really impressed with what is going on in this city. To be part of baseball coming back to this area is something special.’’

Bell is reuniting with Trash Pandas President and CEO Ralph Nelson. Nelson was working in the front office of the Arizona Diamondbacks when the club launched in 1998. Bell was a member of the team’s original roster.

“When I was a young baseball executive I worked for a guy named Al Rosen,’’ Nelson said. “He told me a little trick, which was to go down to the clubhouse and see who were the first players that showed up. He said ‘Ralph, those will be your managers.’

“In San Francisco, those guys were Dusty Baker, Doug Melvyn and Matt Williams. I went to Arizona and the first guys in every night were Craig Counsell, Matt Williams and Jay Bell. I knew Jay Bell would be a manager. I just didn’t know how fortunate we’d be to have him as ours.’’

Josh Caray, the Trash Pandas radio voice, echoed a theme the club has repeated since arriving.

“We are Double-A in name but a major league operation,’’ he said. “One of the things the Los Angeles Angels have done for us is they have provided us with a big-league manager.’’

Bell’s coaching staff will include Tim Norton (pitching), Matt Spring (hitting), Derek Florko (defense), Matt Morrell (trainer), and Jon Hill (strength and conditioning).

Bell and wife Laura have a daughter, two sons and two grandchildren. Sons Brantley and Brock play professionally for the Reds and Red Sox, respectively.

The Trash Pandas open the season April 9 with a five-game series at the Birmingham Barons and make their Toyota Field debut April 15 against the Mississippi Braves.

Trash Pandas Stadium to be Named Toyota Field

MADISON — They have a name, they have a logo, they have a home.

And, now, the Rocket City Trash Pandas have a name for their home.

Toyota Field.

In a press conference today, Ballcorps, the owner of the baseball team; the City of Madison; and Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Alabama announced an agreement for the naming rights to the club’s new $46 million stadium and multi-use venue, now officially called Toyota Field.

“The Rocket City Trash Pandas are thrilled to be a member of this partnership and the myriad of benefits it will bring to the ball club, Toyota, the City of Madison and the entire North Alabama community,” said Trash Pandas President and CEO Ralph Nelson. “Discussions began more than two years ago, well before stadium plans were finalized, and today’s announcement reflects Toyota’s commitment to our region and the unwavering support they have shown the Trash Pandas since day one.

“I believe this community deserves a major league operation with our minor league team, and this significant partnership with Toyota, a company representing excellence and superior quality on a global scale, demonstrates exactly that.”

The Toyota brand will be prominent throughout the stadium, including the Toyota Outfield Experience, to be located beyond the centerfield fence. Fans will see advanced engines from the Huntsville plant, interact with digital displays, learn what it’s like to work at Toyota, and how to apply for jobs at the Huntsville plant, which currently builds engines for the popular Toyota Camry, RAV4, Corolla, Highlander, Tacoma, Tundra and Sequoia.

“North Alabama is a great place to live, work and play,” said David Finch, president of TMMAL. “Toyota Field is the new centerpiece for the region, promoting economic development, job creation and quality of life. The Toyota Outfield Experience will showcase our world-class engine manufacturing plant and   create a touchpoint to connect job seekers to the 400 upcoming available job opportunities at TMMAL. We see this contact with the community as an important step in securing our workforce of the future.”

Revenue from the naming rights will be divided evenly between the City of Madison and the Trash Pandas.

“Toyota continues to be an amazing community partner and we are beyond excited to call the ball park Toyota Field,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. “We are extremely appreciative of BallCorps’ diligence in securing such a quality organization.”

Toyota began its Alabama operation in 2003, and its impact continues to be felt throughout the region. The plant’s most recent expansion announcement will increase employment to 1,800 with an investment of $1.2 billion and annual production capacity of 900,000 engines. This solidifies the facility as one of Toyota’s largest engine producers globally.

“To see the project come to life has been amazing and the energy from the community is contagious,” said Finch. “We can’t wait to say, ‘play ball’ at Toyota Field.”

Town Madison is Scoring with Residential and Hotel Construction

MADISON — Soon … very soon, Town Madison will be a lighted beacon along I-565, a welcoming 530-acre gateway into the Rocket City for visitors from the east and west.

Town Madison is a sprawling multi-use development extending along I-565 from Wall Triana Highway to Zierdt Road. (Courtesy The Breland Companies)

The shear enormity of the sprawling mixed-use development is on full display amidst the “preponderance of red soil” that gave Redstone Arsenal its name.

Town Madison has already inspired a boom of construction and activity in downtown Madison. It is changing forever the skyline along I-565 between Wall Triana Highway and the intersection of Madison Boulevard at Zierdt Road.

The new stadium with its red roof is now clearly visible amidst the towering LED stadium floodlights and churned red dirt and rocks. Fans of the Rocket City Trash Pandas, the tenants of the new ballpark, are already decked out and geared up for the team’s first pitch at their new home stadium on April 15, 2020.

While the energy is moving toward a April 15, 2020 Opening Day, there is a lot more going on at Town Madison than just baseball!

Phase I Residential

Described as having a “Village of Providence feel”, the first phase of Town Madison’s residential community consists of 216 single-family homes and townhouses, currently under construction.

Townhouses are rising from the red dirt to the north of the baseball stadium. (Photo/Kimberly Ballard)

The Village of Providence was one of Huntsville’s first mixed-use communities built off U.S. 72 in 2003. It has been a shining example of how popular pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods and the amenity-filled lifestyle have become.

Single-family home lots are already selling out while a sales model of the townhouses graces the main drag a block from the stadium itself. Soon, potential buyers will be able to tour the layout and make preconstruction customizations to fit their lifestyle.

Currently the most visible residential component to rise from the red clay is The Station at Town Madison, a four-story, 274-unit luxury apartment complex, also within walking distance of restaurants, retail stores, the sports complex, and a slew of boutique hotels and destination resort hotels like Margaritaville that will be opening there.

“The Station is opening a leasing office within the next 45 days and will be moving new tenants in by the end of the year,” said Joey Ceci, president of the Breland Cos., which is developing the project. “I believe they already have plenty of interest and even some commitments from potential tenants who are interested in moving into such an exciting environment.”

500 Hotel Rooms

Rendering shows the 170-room Hotel Margaritaville which will be just beyond the centerfield wall of the Rocket City Trash Pandas baseball stadium.

Ceci said hotels have always been an important component of Town Madison and progress on that front has been explosive. Convenient to Huntsville International Airport and I-565 and I-65, the new 97-room Home2Suites is open at 135 Graphics Drive, a block off Wall Triana at the westernmost edge of the development.

On the corner, a new Twice Daily convenience store and White Bison Coffee have also opened. Next to it, the 87-room avid Hotel is 50 percent complete, while a Hilton Garden Inn has broken ground a block up the street.

“The Town Madison target is 500 rooms,” said Ceci. “We will hit that number when the 170-room Margaritaville resort hotel breaks ground by the end of the year or very early next year.”

Announced back in 2018, the groundbreaking for Hotel Margaritaville has been delayed, putting into question whether Margaritaville with its tropical beach atmosphere, attached restaurant and lazy, winding river said to flow along the backside of the Trash Pandas centerfield wall, is still a go.

Ceci however is reassuring that Margaritaville will be in full swing by the Trash Pandas’ second season.

Pro Player Park

Other exciting venues such as Pro Players Park are committed to Town Madison, although construction has not yet begun.

The $12 million venue for travel softball and baseball will consist of 12 synthetic baseball/softball fields; a 65,000 square-foot sports facility with batting cages; a pro shop; a small café and vending area; and an indoor soccer field.

Pro Player Park will be situated west of the Trash Pandas’ stadium in what is known as the old Intergraph campus. No dates have been set for that groundbreaking, but it is expected to generate 300,000 visitors a year and, according to Madison Mayor Paul Finley, will yield about 40,000 room nights per year.

Restaurants and Retail

Finally, Ceci believes several restaurant concepts will be making announcements soon about their plans to open at Town Madison on the Zierdt Road side.

“Negotiations and discussions are happening every day with several restaurant and retail vendors and I believe we are very close to some solid commitments, but nothing I can announce today,” said Ceci.

Along with several national commercial tenants who are currently doing their due diligence, several announcements are expected in the coming weeks.

Trash Pandas Release Inaugural Season Schedule

MADISON – The cry of “Play ball!” will return to the area April 15 when the Rocket City Trash Pandas make their debut.

The Trash Pandas will host the Mississippi Braves in a five-game series April 15-19 to open their 70-game home schedule.

They will open their inaugural season April 9 at the Birmingham Barons.

“After so many fantastic events leading to actual baseball – from the naming contest, the logo and uniform reveals, season ticket holder parties, and the great days bonding with fans in our store – it is amazing to think we’ll be playing ball in just over eight months,” said Trash Pandas CEO Ralph Nelson. “I’ve said it repeatedly: no community has ever embraced a team like North Alabama has the Trash Pandas.

“We cannot wait to show our fans what we have planned for them at the ballpark.”

Nelson said the first pitch will be 6:35 p.m.

The regular season Southern League schedule will include Midweek Businessperson/Student Specials on April 29 and July 14 at 12:05 p.m.; a Memorial Day Salute to the Military on May 24; and an Independence Day Fireworks Extravaganza on July 3.

Game times are 6:35 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 7:05 p.m. for Friday games; and 6:05 p.m. for Saturday games. Sunday games in April-June start at 2:05 p.m. and, to help avoid the summer heat, the first pitch for Sunday games in July and August is 5:05 p.m.

The Trash Pandas will be in the Southern League North Division, joining the Barons, Jackson Generals, Chattanooga Lookouts and Tennessee Smokies.

The team will announce a full promotional schedule early next year; it will include fireworks shows and giveaways on every homestand.

Uniforms to include “Inaugural Mission” patch and “Inaugural Season” logo

The Inaugural Mission patch will be worn on all player uniforms throughout 2020, as well as authentic jerseys purchased by the public.

Both logos will be featured on merchandise and other ballpark items sold throughout the 2020 season.

 

 

Below is the Trash Pandas 2020 home schedule (game times are subject to change):

April 15 – 6:35 p.m. vs Mississippi; April 16 – 6:35 p.m. vs Mississippi; April 17 – 7:05 p.m. vs. Mississippi; April 18 – 6:05 p.m. vs. Mississippi; April 19 – 2:05 p.m. vs. Mississippi. April 25 – 6:05 p.m. vs. Montgomery; April 26 – 2:05 p.m. vs. Montgomery; April 27 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Montgomery; April 28 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Montgomery; April 29 – 12:05 p.m. vs. Montgomery.

May 6 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Pensacola; May 7 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Pensacola; May 8 – 7:05 p.m. vs. Pensacola; May 9 – 6:05 p.m. vs. Pensacola; May 10 – 2:05 p.m. vs. Pensacola. May 16 – 6:05 p.m. vs. Chattanooga; May 17 – 2:05 p.m. vs. Chattanooga; May 18 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Chattanooga; May 19 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Chattanooga; May 20 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Chattanooga; May 21 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Biloxi; May 22 – 7:05 p.m. vs. Biloxi; May 23 – 6:05 p.m. vs. Biloxi; May 24 – 6:05 p.m. vs. Biloxi; May 25 – 12:05 p.m. vs. Biloxi.

June 1 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Tennessee; June 2 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Tennessee; June 3 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Tennessee; June 4 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Tennessee; June 5 – 7:05 p.m. vs. Tennessee. June 17 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Jackson; June 18 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Jackson; June 19 – 7:05 p.m. vs. Jackson; June 20 – 6:05 p.m. vs. Jackson; June 21 – 2:05 p.m. vs. Jackson.

June 22-24 All-Star Break

June 30 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Birmingham; July 1 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Birmingham; July 2 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Birmingham; July 3 – 7:05 p.m. vs. Birmingham. July 10 – 7:05 p.m. vs. Jackson; July 11 – 6:05 p.m. vs. Jackson; July 12– 5:05 p.m. vs. Jackson; July 13 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Jackson; July 14 – 12:05 p.m. vs. Jackson. July 21 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Tennessee; July 22 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Tennessee; July 23 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Tennessee; July 24 – 7:05 p.m. vs. Tennessee; July 25 – 6:05 p.m. vs. Tennessee; July 26 – 5:05 p.m. vs. Tennessee.

Aug. 6 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Birmingham; Aug. 7 – 7:05 p.m. vs. Birmingham; Aug. 8 – 6:05 p.m. vs. Birmingham; Aug. 9 – 5:05 p.m. vs. Birmingham; Aug. 10 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Birmingham; Aug. 11 – Off Day; Aug. 12 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Jacksonville; Aug. 13 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Jacksonville; Aug. 14 – 7:05 p.m. vs. Jacksonville; Aug. 15 – 6:05 p.m. vs. Jacksonville; Aug. 16 – 5:05 p.m. vs. Jacksonville; Aug. 23 – 5:05 p.m. vs. Pensacola; Aug. 24 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Pensacola; Aug. 25 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Pensacola; Aug. 26 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Pensacola; Aug. 27 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Pensacola.

Sept. 3 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Chattanooga; Sept. 4 – 7:05 p.m. vs. Chattanooga; Sept. 5 – 6:05 p.m. vs. Chattanooga; Sept. 6 – 2:05 p.m. vs. Chattanooga; Sept. 7 – 12:05 p.m. vs. Chattanooga.

For season ticket and other information, visit trashpandasbaseball.com.

 

When Rubber Chickens Fly, You Know the Madison Business Expo & Kids Day Was a Success

MADISON — Madison celebrated its 150th anniversary mixing business with food, history, kids and rubber chickens on parachutes.

The calendar was turned back to 1869 for the annual Madison Business Expo & Kids Day.

Kids scramble to scoop up the rubber chickens. (Photo by Kimberly Ballard)

The Hogan YMCA was transformed into the Madison Station Depot as 65 Madison businesses demonstrated products, provided information and, of course, had treats for the kids.

Food trucks served up anything from barbecue to ice cream, coffee and pizza. A moving garden train choo-chooed its way along the tracks … all in preparation for the great “Chicken Caper.”

According to the Madison Chamber of Commerce’s version of the legend, business would get slow for shopkeepers in Madison Station during the dog days of summer.

To stimulate business, shopkeepers would tie coupons around the feet of dozens of chickens and toss the live chickens off the roof to the shoppers below. Those who caught the chickens to retrieve the coupon, got to keep the chicken, too – sort of a free chicken dinner!

“Chickens are birds and can fly a little, so no chickens were hurt while throwing them off the roof in 1869,” said Pam Honeycutt, the Chamber’s executive director. “It was a very innovative and effective advertising tactic back then but, probably not a good idea today.”

After putting their collective heads together, event organizers decided a more contemporary re-enactment was needed.

With cooperation from the Madison Fire Department, businesses attached coupons to the spindly legs of five dozen rubber chickens. Firefighters then dropped them from their aerial ladder to the crowd.

“We still managed to have fun, give away thousands of dollars in products and services, while creating a contemporary ‘Chicken Caper’ of our own,” said Honeycutt. “All the feedback, so far, has been very positive and the participation and support from our Chamber members is outstanding.

“That is what makes the Madison Business Expo & Kids Day so popular every year – we have a growing and thriving business community in Madison and we are here to celebrate it!”

Huntsville, Sierra Nevada Chasing the Dream of Space-based Business

Since the launch of the International Space Station some 20 years ago, the idea of space, especially low-Earth orbit, has been as one big start-up business.

With Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser spacecraft jumping into the commercial resupply mission lane, the whole commercialization of space concept got very interesting for Huntsville.

If all goes as planned, the busy little Dream Chaser spacecraft will make its maiden landing at the Huntsville International Airport in 2023. It will be the first and only commercial airport licensed by the FAA for a spaceplane landing. The only other designated landing site will be Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“There is a whole new business going on up there and people who create NASA policy like the idea of the commercialization of space,” said Lee Jankowski, senior director of Business Development for Teledyne Brown Engineering in Huntsville. He is also the program manager for the $1 million project to obtain two special FAA licenses so the Dream Chaser spacecraft can land at Huntsville International Airport.

If this sounds far-fetched, that’s what Jankowski thought too, five years ago.

While known for the business of rocketry and propulsion. Huntsville also contributes to other areas of space exploration, such as payload science analysis, operations, and integration.

Sierra Nevada rendering shows Dream Chaser docked with International Space Station

Teledyne Brown Engineering  in Huntsville has handled all science payload operations for the Space Shuttle missions for nearly 20 years. The company has a Payload Operations Control Center at Marshall Space Flight Center and the contract was renewed to manage resupply efforts and payloads to the International Space Station.

“TBE and our subcontractors understand how to plan out the science while it’s onboard; how to train for it; how to execute it; and how to get it back down to Earth to maximize its scientific return,” said Jankowski. “With the shuttle program, Teledyne Brown planned one- or two-week missions that occurred three or four times a year.

“With the space station, we are up there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. That’s a lot of science.”

Huntsville’s Story

Jankowski believes there is a compelling story to be told for why landing the Dream Chaser in Huntsville makes sense.

“There are two different mission sets or two different orbits for Huntsville to consider,” he said. “Let’s say we have a mission that goes up from Kennedy, resupplies the space station and, when it comes down, lands in Huntsville.”

This is not an implausible scenario, he said, because the Marshall Space Flight Center has a lot of hardware flying around up there that needs to be returned.

The second mission set would be going back to Spacelab-type payload missions. Many Huntsville entities such as Marshall and HudsonAlpha already have payloads. Why not plan a return mission that is more North Alabama-centric?

Sierra Nevada rendering shows projects being offloaded from Dream Chaser on the runway.

A standalone Huntsville payload mission landing here carrying specimens, hardware, or other science can be immediately offloaded from the space vehicle and delivered pronto to the scientists, universities, and companies in this area.

So Many Possibilities

Most of the early missions will be unmanned and flown autonomously but the Dream Chaser was originally designed for a crew of at least six. The interior has been modified to better accommodate supply runs to the space station, but Sierra Nevada is still focused on getting a U.S. astronaut back to the space station on a U.S. vehicle.

“A Dream Chaser landing capability here opens up so many possibilities,” Jankowski said. “Exposure to cutting-edge concepts and, let’s say we only get one landing. We are looking at job growth. We will need processing facilities and manpower to build, operate and integrate payloads.”

For the third straight year, the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce has sponsored a  European Space Agency competition, seeking applications for the Dream Chaser that would land in Huntsville.

“The Space Exploration Masters competition with the European Space Agency and our partner, Astrosat, a Scottish space services company, has given us a world stage for promoting our space, science and technology ecosystem,” said Lucia Cape, the Chamber’s senior vice president for economic development. “The competition has helped us raise the international profile of Huntsville not only as the home of the Saturn V and the space shuttle, but also as the space science operations center for the International Space Station and the ongoing rocket and propulsion capital for SLS and Blue Origin.”

Five years ago, Jankowski approached Madison County Commissioner Steve Haraway on how to acquire study money to determine if such a pursuit was feasible and if the airport could handle the unique spacecraft’s landing.

Haraway; County Commission Chairman Dale Strong; Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle; then-Madison Mayor Troy Trulock; Cape; and the Port of Huntsville leadership, all pulled together $200,000 in public funds to conduct a six-month feasibility study.

“The Chamber’s role in economic development includes working with local leaders and companies to position ourselves for optimal growth,” said Cape. “We’ve identified Huntsville’s space science and payload expertise as a key asset in the emerging space economy.

“Landing the Dream Chaser at Huntsville International Airport would create new opportunities for local companies as well as new capabilities for our research and development community.”

HSV Runway Testing

“In 2015, Huntsville International Airport did a landing site study (to determine) the feasibility and compatibility of landing future space vehicles (specifically the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser),” said Kevin Vandeberg, director of operations at Huntsville International Airport. 

The main issue was whether the skid plate on the front of Dream Chaser would seriously damage the asphalt runway. Dream Chaser lands on its back two wheels but does not have a front landing tire. Instead, the nose drops down on a skid plate to bring the vehicle to a halt. 

Using heavy equipment travelling at a high rate of speed, Morell Engineering tests showed a vehicle the size of Dream Chaser would be going so fast, it would do only minimal damage to the runway, never digging into the asphalt or rutting. Sierra Nevada shipped in a real skid plate for the test and it passed with flying colors.

They also conducted preliminary environmental assessments to measure the effects of the mild sonic boom the landing will trigger, and whether it will impact nearby explosive materials.

“In January 2016, the Airport Authority received the report on the findings of the study from Morell Engineering,” said Vandeberg. “It confirmed that little structural damage is expected to occur during the landing of Dream Chaser on the airport’s asphalt runway. Upon review of this report, Huntsville International Airport determined that we would move forward with the FAA license application process.”

The $1 Million Phase II Engineering Analysis

There are two applications required by the FAA to be considered a landing designation for Dream Chaser. Huntsville International must apply for a license to operate a re-entry site. Sierra Nevada must submit an application for a license for “Re-entry of a Re-entry Vehicle Other Than a Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV).”

“We are currently in the middle of a 2½-year engineering analysis in which we have subcontractors based at Kennedy Space Center doing most of the analyses,” said Jankowski. “Huntsville is taking a backseat to Kennedy because NASA is paying the Kennedy Space Center to do most of the required analyses. If you look at the launch schedule, Kennedy is one to two months ahead of Huntsville. Sierra Nevada gave us a heads-up to be patient and let Kennedy go first so a lot of the generic analysis needed is paid for, keeping our $1 million investment intact.”

The airport is scheduled to submit the first application to the FAA in December and the second application next January. However, the NASA buzz is that it will likely slip four or five months, and the Chamber has warned about recent proposed changes to space launch and landing permits at the federal level that could impact plans.

Altogether, it puts them a year away from final submission.

Community Engagement & Legislative Support

“We have engaged some amazing people like Congressman Mo Brooks, Senators Richard Shelby and Doug Jones, and Gov. Kay Ivey,” said Jankowski. “NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine; past-NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden; William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations for NASA; and Kirk Shireman, manager of the ISS Program, are all familiar with Huntsville’s FAA status.”

“The Chamber has been actively marketing Huntsville as a landing site through local partner workshops, presentations to local industry groups and the Alabama Space Authority,” said Cape. “We also have the sponsorship of an international competition seeking ideas for using the Dream Chaser to further space exploration and economic development.

The United Nations Factor

There is an even bigger business storyline in the making – Sierra Nevada is in negotiations with the United Nations.

A couple of years ago, the company sent out a Call For Interest among U.N. members, asking if they have any potential payloads or science to fly on a two-week Dream Chaser mission.

Expecting 40 or 50 responses, Sierra Nevada received close to 175. The United Nations is working with Sierra Nevada to potentially launch missions that help Third World nations.

And Jankowski said everything is on schedule so far.

“From the day Huntsville International Airport submits the application, the FAA reserves up to 180 days to approve the license,” he said. “Once they get their license, there will be 1½-year lead-time before NASA says, ‘Huntsville has both of their FAA licenses in hand. They want a mission.’

“After that, the soonest we could get on the manifest is, I think, about 20 months, so we are probably still looking at being about 3½ years out.”

But, as everyone knows, in the realm of the business of space, that day will be here before we know it.

Popular Madison Lunch Spot Main Street Cafe Now Open for Dinner

MADISON — For those who don’t know, the City of Madison was once called Madison Station and it grew up around the Madison Train Depot. Sitting alongside the train tracks that still sees two trains per day, in the 1950s the building held the original City Hall and a two-cell jail.

Tony and Cindy Sensenberger renovated the depot building in 2000 and opened what has become one of Madison’s favorite lunch spots – the Main Street Café. They added a kitchen and outdoor dining area. The jail cells? Private dining rooms!

“From day one when I came here in September, some of the very first questions I got was ‘When are you guys going to open for dinner?’” said co-owner Tammy Hall. She and her husband John bought into the Main Street Café last October. “We finally got the logistics worked out and we are thankful for everyone who helped us take this journey.

Main Street Café is known for its lunch menu of salads, sandwiches, and quiche, as well as yummy chicken, pork, and fish entrees, and even an Italian flair. The new evening menu will reprise some of the lunch entrée favorites but will also feature steaks and fresh recipes for fish and pasta.

The café is also famous for its strawberry pretzel salad, which mixes layers of sweet and salty into a concoction suitable more for dessert than a salad.

“With the expansion of downtown Madison, the new Avenue Madison, the baseball team and all the people it will draw into downtown, the city wants a vibrant downtown nightlife,” said Hall. “Expanding our hours to include dinner is part of the agreement.”

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday, Madison Mayor Paul Finley applauded the Main Street Café owners for their vision of downtown.

“Thank you for making the Main Street Café a place people can enjoy both day and night,” he said.

The new hours are 5-8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and 5-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Reservations for parties of more than five people are accepted, too.

Baseball complex, 2 more hotels coming to Town Madison

MADISON — Mayor Paul Finley made some major announcements and shared some astounding economic data Friday night at his annual State of the City Address.

Two new hotel chains, the Avid Hotel and Hilton Garden Inn, will join Home2 Suites and Margaritaville at Town Madison. Why the need for more lodging?

Because among his big announcements is the development of Pro Player Park, a 12-field baseball complex on the west side of Town Madison that is projected to generate 35,000 room nights a year!

Finley said Madison is strong and getting stronger thanks to efforts in public safety, in education, in healthcare, and in job growth.

While Finley acknowledges that the area relies heavily on the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce to drive economic growth at the highest level, Madison, which shares both Madison and Limestone counties, is a big piece of the Tennessee Valley puzzle.

“Based on statistics compiled by UAH, in the past three years, we have created 30,000 jobs in those two counties alone!” Finley said to thunderous applause from the audience at the Davidson Center at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. “That is a $2.6 billion economic expansion in Madison County and $6.6 billion in Limestone County, and that does not include Redstone Arsenal, which provides just under 10 percent of the state of Alabama’s gross domestic product”.

While the city itself is operating more efficiently, doing more with less expense to the taxpayer, Finley said that out of the $46 million for the Trash Pandas’ baseball stadium and $20 million for capital improvements for roads and infrastructure, the city currently has a surplus of $10 million in the bank “just in case”.

He also touted the success of Madison Hospital, which saw 55,000 visits to the emergency room last year and is on track to deliver an average of 200 babies per month in 2019. The Madison hospital has grown from 60 to 90 beds in just a couple of years.

He also called out Madison City Schools who ranked as the second-best district in the state in test scores – up from third last year.

“Every school in Madison received an ‘A’ on their report card,” said Finley. “There are only six out of 137 districts in the state who can say that, and ours is the largest to do it.”

He said the district has grown by 538 students since last year and, to put that into perspective, it equates to Madison itself becoming a 5A high school if the growth continues. They have also added two school resource officers to enhance safety and security in the schools, and the City Council budgeted more than $500,000 from the general fund to support both academics and school safety.

“Now comes the hard part,” said Finley. “We are the dog who caught the car. Now what are we going to do?”

He looks to the Launch 2035 initiative established by Huntsville’s Committee of 100 known as the Regional Collaboration of North Alabama “to ensure the successes we have had, continue for the next 10 and 15 years.”

“As leaders in this community, we have to come together to take the successes we have had, and make sure we support them with the things that are required: education, workforce development, and infrastructure.” 

A landmark groundbreaking for Madison, Duluth Trading Co.

Duluth Trading Co. will open its first Alabama retail store in Town Madison next year.

 

MADISON — It was a “less than perfect weather day but a perfect day for a groundbreaking.”

With those remarks, Madison Chamber of Commerce Board President Carmelita Palmer opened a landmark groundbreaking ceremony Friday.

The Duluth Trading Co., an innovative apparel retailer noted for its unique TV commercials (the store has a link to the commercials on is website – https://www.duluthtrading.com/TV+Ads.html) will open a 15,000-square-foot retail store in the city’s Town Madison development.

“We are so excited,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. “To have Duluth come here … when people heard Duluth Trading was coming here, there is so much excitement.”

The store, Duluth Trading’s first in the state, will join Home2 Suites Hilton, convenience store Twice Daily and other offices and retailers in West End at Town Madison, which adjoins the Intergraph/Hexagon campus along Interstate-565. Duluth Trading is slated to open around the middle of next year.

“This is an exciting day for Town Madison,” said Joey Ceci, representing developer Louis Breland. “You couldn’t pick a better retailer” to join the project’s lineup.

Town Madison is a 563-acre modern, walkable, urban community which will also be the home of the minor league baseball Rocket City Trash Pandas and a Margaritaville Hotel.

Minnesota-based Oppidan Investment Co., a national property development firm, is the project developer.

Like everyone else at the ceremony, the 40-degree, rainy weather was on the mind of Oppidan’s Jay Moore – but in a different way.

“This is nice weather; it’s a switch for us,” he said.

Moore said Duluth was looking around the area for its first Alabama retail store before deciding on Madison.

“We approached Breland about a year ago,” he said. “We are super proud to be one of the first retailers in this fine development.”

From left, Chamber Board President Carmelita Palmer, Mayor Paul Finley, Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong and Oppidan’s Jay Moore take part in the groundbreaking ceremony.

Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong said the store will enable the development to become an economic engine and a destination.

“This is the start of a destination location,” he said. “To Duluth, this is a great investment. You’ll never regret it.”

Despite the grey skies and gloomy weather, Finley reflected the optimism of the big event and the future it beckons.

“This is a sun shiny day for the city of Madison.”

Madison Chamber Slays a Few Dragons with Annual Business Expo & Kids Day

The 2018 Madison Business and Kids Expo had a Dragons and Castles theme.

MADISON — Kings, queens, princes and princesses of all ages descended on the Madison Chamber of Commerce’s Business Expo and Kids Day 2018 Saturday at the Hogan Family YMCA.

With this year’s theme “Dragons & Castles!”, it felt more like a community carnival than a business event, although more than 60 businesses showcased their products and services. They were surrounded by face and rock painting, an inflatable bouncy house, balloon animals,  courtyard games with prizes, and a dunking booth targeting Madison City dignitaries.

Gold sponsors set up their castles in the rotunda where they gave out candy, face and clothing stickers, and provided paper crowns and shields for the kids to color themselves.

It was the first year exhibiting at the Expo for Madison’s new Integrity Family Care.

“We are doing free blood pressure screenings and introducing people to our Meet K mobile app where you can chat about your symptoms and get faster family care,” said Integrity’s Lacey Jackson.

Both Alexander Martial Arts and Jeong’s Yong-In Martial Arts put on their annual demonstrations, but the Expo expanded its theatrical performances this year with a Madison City Community Orchestra performance and a skit performed by Fantasy Playhouse Children’s Theater in the forecourt.

“Community involvement is at the heart of what we do,” said Emily Bonomo, marketing coordinator for the Lee Company. “It is family-friendly event where we can bring our own kids to work!”

Matt Curtis Real Estate created their own head-in-the-hole poster board, so kids could get a picture of themselves as a knight in shining armor.

“We love coming out to community events,to mix and mingle with the community and being able to show them what we do,” said Diana Hughes, social media manager at Matt Curtis Real Estate, one of the Expo’s long-time sponsors.
“This has been fun for us. We have spent the last couple of days as a team working on the castle and getting everything ready to bring with us.”

Out in the parking lot, HEMSI and Madison Fire & Rescue offered tours of a fire truck and an ambulance, while SARTEC brought out highly-trained rescue dogs to interact with the attendees.

There was no shortage of munchies as food trucks served everything from ice cream and snow cones to barbecue.

There were a couple of baseball games in play, and a Dunk Tank fundraiser with proceeds going to the Hogan YMCA’s 2018 Changing Lives Annual Giving Campaign. On the dunking seat were WDRM and WTAK radio hosts Josie Lane and Johnny Maze; Madison Fire Chief David Bailey, and Rainbow Elementary School Principal, Brian Givens.

“It is all about community for us,” said an IberiaBank representative in the doorway of an elaborately decorated castle façade, handing out candy and face stickers. “We have been attending the Expo for many years and every year it gets bigger and better for everyone.”

“Our goal is to unite all public and private interests to support those activities that are broader than any single business or industry,” said Chamber Executive Director, Pam Honeycutt. “The Madison Chamber of Commerce cannot succeed without its valued members, and we work hard to help our members stay involved, connected and informed through events like the Business Expo and Kids Day.