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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.”

Face-Coverings Said Helping in Local Battle Against COVID-19; Number of New Cases Declines

     The numbers are in and they tell one story: face coverings are winning the battle against the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

     Since the Madison County Health Department began requiring everyone to wear face coverings in all businesses and gatherings in groups, the number of positive test results for the virus has gone down after the county experienced a surge.

     Dr. Karen Landers of the Alabama Department of Public Health issued the mandate July 7 on behalf of the county. About two weeks later, the number of positive test results began to drop.

     “Since July 22, every day the number of new cases has declined,’’ Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson said during Wednesday’s COVID-19 press briefing at the Huntsville City Council chambers. “Right before that, we were announcing 175 new cases per day. (Wednesday) the announcement is 56.’’

     Madison County had a low number of positive cases compared to many others in the state until after Memorial Day. Cases began to spike and Madison County now has the highest total of positives in North Alabama.

     But, the statistics are looking more favorable.

     “Madison County has had a sustained decline in three-day, seven-day and 14-day average increase in cases,” Hudson said.

     Madison Mayor Paul Finley credits the face-covering mandate — and the willingness of residents to follow those orders.

     “People are doing what they’re being asked to do,’’ he said. “We can see in the numbers that it’s starting to make a difference.’’

     As of Wednesday, Madison County had 4,501 confirmed virus cases and 25 deaths while statewide those numbers were 81,572 and 1,489. Gov. Kay Ivey ordered mandatory face coverings statewide nine days after Madison County’s order.

     “The state and the surrounding counties, their decline has not been as dramatic,’’ Hudson said. “Why? Because they didn’t start the serious masking until about a week or so after Madison County.”

     Also Wednesday, Ivey extended the state’s “safer-at-home’’ order until Aug. 31. She also ordered mask requirements for state students and teachers in classrooms from second grade through college.

    Huntsville City, Madison City and Madison County school districts will hold virtual-only classes for the first nine weeks when they resume. The Alabama High School Athletic Association announced its fall sports seasons would start on time though two south Alabama counties — Sumter and Greene — canceled athletics for the first nine weeks and one — Barbour — shelved all sports for 2020-21.

     Meanwhile, Hudson said that hospitals in the county are still feeling the results of the surge even as cases decrease. Currently, she said, there are between 120 and 130 COVID-19 inpatients in the county.

     And while recent news has been positive, officials continue to emphasize the importance of wearing coverings over the mouth and nose, social-distancing and hand-sanitizing.

     “Let’s not get complacent,’’ Finley said.

Officials Stress Masks, Social Distancing, Sanitizing as COVID-19 Numbers Rise

The message might resemble a broken record, but it will continue to be repeated until the rise of novel coronavirus cases in Madison County is itself broken.

While confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to spike in the county as well statewide health officials continue to stress the importance of following safety guidelines.

The oft-repeated message is simple: wear face coverings, practice social distancing and sanitize hands.

“If 80 percent of our community would mask, cover their faces, then we would reduce transmission by 90 percent,” Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson said Wednesday at the first COVID-19 briefing in a week.

If more people within the community don’t start or continue to follow precautions, she said, “we’re going to continue to see more of this.’’

This is a surge that has alarmed local officials enough that a county-wide health order was issued this week that face coverings were mandatory in public businesses and gatherings. Local hospitals are nearing capacity on beds available, and further surges could place a burden on the healthcare system.

Last week, the state health department was monitoring roughly 500 COVID-19 cases in the county. This week, that number is up to 847. Through Wednesday, the Alabama Department of Health reported 46,424 confirmed cases among 467,754 tested and 1,032 deaths. In Madison County, there have been 1,620 confirmed cases and eight deaths.

Hudson said the reason is likely due to the lack of following precautionary steps. Masking and distancing, she said, can help reduce the speak and lessen the burden on hospital staff and resources.

“I’d like to suggest we think about this masking and distancing as a temporary vaccination,’’ she said. “We are waiting for the scientists and the pharmaceutical companies to come up with a vaccine that works. It’s months away.

“Meanwhile, we have to save ourselves for the day that we will have access to the vaccine.”

Madison Mayor Paul Finley assured residents police would not be looking to flag people for not wearing masks in public but instead will have masks for anyone who asks them for one. He said people need to make the wise choice even if they don’t agree with it.

“We have a choice with our attitude,” Finley said. “Not everybody is going to agree with everything that’s done, I think everybody can agree our goal is to get through this as quickly as we possibly can and get back to a normal life that allows us to focus on the things that make us happy.”

According to Hudson, health officials’ biggest concern right now is not space of supplies at the hospitals but the stress being placed on frontline caregivers.

“Our ambulances had the greatest number (Tuesday) of runs since this started,’’ she said. “They are finding that, what was quoted to us today, in about 20 percent of the runs they make they’re having to do the full PPE, which is an increase as well.” 

Madison Mayor Finley: Events to Fill Baseball Void at Toyota Field – When Allowed

It might not be Rocket City Trash Pandas baseball, but Toyota Field might soon be hosting events.

That’s according to Madison Mayor Paul Finley, who at Wednesday’s COVID-19 press briefing said, as soon as it’s allowed, plans are to open the new stadium to an array of events.

The Trash Pandas were scheduled to open their first season in Double-A on April 15 before the novel coronavirus intervened. There has been no decision regarding the start or cancelation of the Minor or Major League Baseball seasons.

“Regardless of whether baseball happens, or doesn’t happen, we’re getting ready to start doing a lot of really positive things,’’ Finley said. “A lot of people will be able to come to that venue and use it whether its camps for kids for baseball, whether it’s a wine and cheese festival, whether it’s movies in the park — we’re going to start having events there and doing it in a way that makes good sense when it comes to distancing and sanitation and so forth.’’

Finley also pointed out this is National EMS Week and said for those on the frontlines “we’re very appreciative of what they do.’’

On another note, he said masks would be available for anyone without one who attends graduation ceremonies for James Clemens and Bob Jones at Madison City Stadium on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Huntsville plans to hold graduations June 25-26 at the Von Braun Center’s Propst Arena. Madison County schools have set graduations for July 15-16.

Masks will be required at all ceremonies and distancing will be in practice.

As of late Wednesday, there were 13,052 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state and 285 in Madison County. There were 522 deaths in Alabama related to the disease and four in the county.

Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson said there were less than 10 patients in local hospitals being treated for the virus.

“We are remaining vigilant,’’ she said. “We’re watching the numbers as the community reopens.’’

Hudson continued to stress social distancing, hand washing, and cleaning heavily used surfaces.

She also said that while stay-at-home orders were in place most people were around 1 to 5 people in a household. Now that people are returning to work, that core group is more like 20 people. That 20, she pointed out, would average around three people in the household so now each worker is exposed to a possible 60 contacts.

“The more we open it the more germs can come our way,’’ she said, “which is why we focus on six feet apart.’’

Hudson also emphasized that all health care facilities are open and urged anyone who is not well to visit the emergency room.

“Don’t stay home if you’re sick,’’ she said. “Don’t delay essential care.’’

 

Mayor Finley on COVID-19: ‘We Can’t Let Up’

Avoid coronavirus fatigue.

That was a key talking point at Friday’s press conference with city and county officials regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of positive tests for the virus hasn’t exploded here — 117 in Madison County with one death — but authorities warn that everyone should stay focused on staying safe.

“As we move forward in this over the next few weeks it will be extremely important for the public to follow our state health officers’ orders and directives,’’ said Dr. Karen Landers of the Alabama Department of Public Health. “These could change. We need to be prepared for change, but let’s follow these directives now in order to do all we can to reduce the morbidity and mortality of this virus.’’’

Landers said the Madison County community has been “widely tested’’ but can’t predict when the number of positive tests will peak. It was reported this week that models had predicted a peak on or around April 20.

Whether or not that happens remains to be seen. But, Landers cautions, the numbers will rise at least some even with social distancing.

“We do have one death that is confirmed (in Madison County),’’ she said. “We do know we’ll have additional deaths. This is going to happen. This is a deadly virus.’’

The press briefings have featured a rotating number of Huntsville, Madison, and Madison County officials along with Jeff Birdwell, director of the county EMA. Joining Landers and Birdwell at Friday’s briefing were Madison Police Chief David Jernigan and Madison Mayor Paul Finley.

“We have to stay on this,’’ Finley said. “We can’t let up. If you’re high risk, please don’t get out.’’

Other highlights from the briefing:

  • Jernigan said Madison County Sheriff Kevin Turner reported a 20 percent reduction in jail population and thanked the judiciary branch for helping get non-threatening inmates released. He said health checks were given to those released.
  • In Madison, overall crime has reduced 14 percent, property crimes 48 percent and arrests are down 52 percent. However, Jernigan added, there are car burglars about at night and warned people to “leave nothing of value in your car, including weapons.’’
  • Finley said some people are concerned if certain businesses should be opened. Complaints are monitored, he said. Jernigan added, “We haven’t had to shut any business down and I don’t think Huntsville has either.”
  • Birdwell said anyone wishing to report unsafe conditions at their work site should contact the EMA and not local police.
  • Finley said anyone needing to leave home to shop take a “one cart, one person’’ approach.
  • Finley said anyone having concerns about possible scams should contact the Better Business Bureau at 256-533-1640.
  • Statewide statistics were to be updated later Friday at alabamapublichealth.org. Other information is available on municipal websites.
  • Finley asked for patience from parents and students when city and county schools begin distance learning Monday.

And he had one more message heading into the weekend.

“Take ownership of our own house,’’ Finley said. “Everybody right now is looking around, you know, there has to be a villain in this, there has to be someone to point to. It’s not a Democrat or a Republican. It’s a virus. That’s the villain.

“And the way to defeat the villain is to take personal ownership of your house and your family.’’

 

Crestwood CEO: Surge in Confirmed Cases Possible

Local officials have a statement regarding the coronavirus pandemic: Brace for a possible wave.

Madison County has 101 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with one death, but that could soon change.

“We expect that number to continue to climb,’’ said Dr. Pam Hudson, CEO of Crestwood Medical Center, during a weekly update Tuesday that began this week at the city council chambers. “We expect a surge, if we’re going to have one, about two weeks from now.’’

Wednesday, Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers said models have indicated the peak number of patients experiencing virus symptoms will land “on or around April 20.”

“We don’t know what that peak is going to be,” added Madison County Commission Chair Dale Strong.

Spillers said so far the Huntsville Hospital Fever and Flu Clinic has accomodated all testing traffic. However, he added, the drive-thru testing tent set up at John Hunt Park will reopen as soon as supplies are available prior to any surge.

On Tuesday, Hudson said she originally said one employee had tested positive for COVID-19 and Huntsville Hospital had one employee. Crestwood later changed that figure to one physician and one employee.

The Alabama Department of Public Health reported 1,013 confirmed positive tests statewide.

Hudson was joined Tuesday in providing updated information from Madison Mayor Paul Finley, who was also representing Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle; Madison County EMA Director Jeff Birdwell; and HEMSI CEO Jon Howell.

Howell said HEMSI had isolated four employees for possible virus contact.

All four expressed confidence the  area is prepared for a surge in virus cases but also acknowledged it’s a fluent situation with no guarantees.

“This is not an event that will be over tomorrow,’’ Howell said.

Spillers said supplies are hard to come by. Reports he’s read say even supplies in the United States are going to the highest bidder around the globe.

“We need to close that door,” he said.

Hudson said a large focus at her hospital is rotating staff to keep employees fresh.

“It’s easier to make a mask than a nurse,’’ she said.

Howell said the public response so far has been strong as far as his ambulance service is concerned.

“We’re very grateful our respondents have been reduced,’’ he said.

He hopes the lower call volume will remain low in case there is a surge in the coming weeks.

“We need you to stay at home as much as you can,’’ Howell said.

There were central themes at the press conference:

  • Isolate as much as possible at home.
  • Keep a 6-foot distance from others.
  • Wash hands consistently.

Finley and Birdwell said people with concerns can reach out to the chambers of commerce and EMA. Also, they said questions can be answered on websites updated by the cities of Huntsville and Madison, as well as Madison County and the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Officials Stress ‘One Person, One Cart’ While Shopping; Curfew Discussed

Local elected officials leaders took a ride around Madison County over the weekend to monitor how residents and businesses were handling the latest move to help stem the coronavirus outbreak.

Gov. Kay Ivey released a list of non-essential businesses that were shut down Saturday. It was called the state’s most aggressive action to date to try to curb the spread, but falls short of a “stay at home” directive that some states have ordered.

After the tour Saturday, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, County Commission Chairman Dale Strong, and Madison Mayor Paul Finley discussed what would be their next steps.

“We have a strategy plan in place that works if everybody follows the plan, so we’re going to be very serious about this over the next 10 days to two weeks,” Battle said in a Huntsville-Madison County Chamber teleconference Monday. “Right now, we are still in the upslope of the curve, not at the top of the curve, so we have not seen the peak of confirmed cases yet, but if we can get through this first surge, we won’t be at the end, but we will be in better shape than we would otherwise.”

Battle said, overall, they found almost everybody doing what they were supposed to do.

“People stayed home, kept separated when they were out, and there was not much traffic in downtown Huntsville. Bridge Street and Research Park all the way across the board, everybody did what they were supposed to do.”

He said officials are aware of some “hot spots” across the county. Big box stores are open and inherently busy with people.

“Don’t take the whole family to these stores,” said Battle. “We call it ‘One Person, One Cart.’ Go through, get what you need, and get out.”

The Saturday posse also had to “tighten the reins” on some parks after seeing young people in groups of over 10 playing there.

“There is not to be any team sports occurring in the parks,” said Battle. “A lot of it is the younger generations … (they) enjoy group gatherings, but if one of them has the virus, then they give it to five other people in the group who take it home to their family, putting them all at risk. That’s just simply the way it is.

“And you know the one big thing we do not want to do, is have a curfew.”

Battle said he and Finley have discussed it with Strong, Huntsville Hospital Health System CEO David Spillers and Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson.

They also discussed it with the Alabama Department of Public Health on their daily call. The ADPH keeps them updated on where they are with the virus, and what they are seeing throughout the state.

“We don’t want to institute a curfew at this time,” Battle said. “We don’t think it makes sense … but it’s still a tool in our tool chest in case we need it to enforce good public health.”

And Battle saluted the area’s health-care workers.

“They have done a wonderful job over the last several weeks,” he said. “Our hearts go out to those out there who are on the very tip of the spear, the ones who are there working on a day-to-day basis.”

Huntsville’s first COVID-19 case was confirmed March 18. There have now been 70 confirmed cases throughout the community, and Battle said there are probably quite a few more.

“If we all follow the plan, we will get through this,” he said. “If we do the right things, we come through this okay and we succeed.

“If we fail, it will cost people their lives.”

 

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.

 

Finley: State of Madison is Strong; Outback, Panera, Marriott, Hub Coming to Town Madison

MADISON — It wasn’t a stretch for Madison Mayor Paul Finley to make a Super Bowl reference Friday night in his annual State of the City Address.

“This is the second opportunity I have had to give the State of the City Address and on behalf of the City of Madison and the Madison City Council, I am able to say again that the state of the city is strong and continuing to get stronger,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley from beneath the Saturn V rocket at the Davidson Center. “I am so proud to be the mayor of Madison … and if you want some examples, let me give you a couple…,” upon which images of former Bob Jones High School star Reggie Ragland, and Madison Academy’s Jordan Matthews popped up on the big screen to thunderous cheers from the audience.

Madison Mayor Paul Finley delivers his State of the City Address. (Photo/Steve Babin)

Ragland started at linebacker for the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs against Matthews’ San Francisco 49ers.

“That’s just cool,” Finley said to even more applause.

Finley also made two “super” announcements at the address that had not yet been revealed.

The first is the city’s upcoming acquisition of the 28,000 square-foot Three Springs juvenile facility on Browns Ferry Road.

The second special announcement concerned Town Madison, the home of the Rocket City Trash Pandas and Toyota Field.

“I’m excited about Three Springs but I am equally excited about Town Madison,” Finley said.

In addition to the recent announcement about J. Alexander’s restaurant coming to Town Madison, Finley said they are also expecting a 200-room Marriott near Toyota Field; Outback Steakhouse and Panera Bread Company will open on the Zierdt Road side of the development and The Hub, a newcomer to the state.

Residents who spend vacation time on the Florida Panhandle will be familiar with The Hub, a relaxing outdoor venue surrounded by live music, ice cream, burgers, and family-friendly movies shown under the stars.

“Town Madison is going to continue to build out,” Finley said. “Outback, Marriott and Panera Bread already have a footprint in the Tennessee Valley, but Town Madison will welcome the first Hub in Alabama.

“The Marriott is the fifth hotel announced – and just so you guys know, the matrix we put in place to fund the stadium had three hotels in that matrix. We are now at five.”

Concerning Three Springs, Finley said the city will be purchasing the empty 33-acre facility, using funds from the sale of the Madison Library. Over the next four to five years, it will be converted it into a community center.

Finley said there are several local entities such as the Madison City Senior Center; the Enrichment Center, which helps schools with counseling; and American Legion Post 229, which is involved in Memorial Day and Veterans Day events around the city that are all bursting at the seams when it comes to parking and office space.

“This purchase will take our city to the next level,” Finley said. “The library is not the right fit for our city right now, so it is up for sale. Over the next five years, you will see other organizations who also need more space, move into the old Three Springs facility.”

Other significant highlights from the speech were updates on sidewalk improvements at Dublin Park to make it safer; the revitalization of an aging Hughes Plaza, a retail center on Hughes Road across from City Hall; and numerous improvements to older office complexes and buildings.

Furthermore, the City Council invested more than $4 million in a new public works facility. They had outgrown the aging building and there wasn’t enough parking for the employees or for the service trucks. The new facility is on 16 acres and they will move into it in a couple of weeks.

Finley shared Census Bureau data showing the growth in Madison’s population over the past 40 years. In 1980, Madison’s population was 4,500. By the 1990s, it was nearly 15,000. There was a big jump in population in 2008 to over 42,000; and in 2019, it has grown to 50,926.

“That is astronomic growth,” Finley said. “In fact, we are in such good shape in our city that our Rocket City Trash Panda mascot, Sprocket, was just named one of the top 20 people locally of 2020.

“Because of what we are doing, we are collectively blowing this growth thing out of the water and the state of Alabama is stronger because this community is stronger.”

There was also a special recognition for Madison City School Superintendent, Robby Parker who is retiring this year; and the mayor announced that the Trash Pandas have broken records, selling over $2 million, in Trash Panda merchandise.

There will be no traffic relief for residents and businesses traveling Madison Boulevard from Zierdt Road to Wall Triana while construction continues on the I-565 interchange at Town Madison; but a greenway extension will run under the railway tracks just south of Palmer Road, into historic downtown Madison where Sealy Realty is building the Avenue Madison, a multi-use residential, retail and commercial development right in the heart of downtown.

“It’s an exciting time right now to be in our city,” said Finley upon conclusion. “We are managing growth, we are open for business, but we are being really smart about it.”

Good Eatin’ Ahead as Huntsville Restaurant Week Kicks Off

Some tasty offerings during the Huntsville Restaurant Week press conference at Stovehouse. (Photo/Steve Babin)

Guests were met with the delicious aroma of roasting garlic and were served complimentary spicy veal meatballs and seafood Fritto Misto from Mozzara’s Italian Kitchen at the Stovehouse during the official kickoff for the eighth annual Huntsville Restaurant Week, Aug. 9-18.

Mayor Tommy Battle laughed that Restaurant Week is 52 weeks a year at the Battle house as he and Madison Mayor Paul Finley joined the Huntsville-Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau in highlighting the culinary events ahead.

“As Huntsville grows, so does our local dining scene, and we’re excited to have so much to offer to visitors,” said Judy Ryals, president/CEO of the Convention & Visitors Bureau, “There are culinary experiences in Huntsville that can’t be found anywhere else: from dining under the National Historic Landmark Saturn V rocket at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s Biergarten, to the one-of-a-kind settings at venues such as Campus No. 805, Stovehouse, MidCity, and so many others.

Judy Ryals

“Huntsville is truly a destination that attracts visitors seeking unique dining and travel experiences.”

More than 50 local eateries and breweries will participate in “ten tasty days of deals” beginning Friday to encourage people to try some of the new cuisine that has come to Huntsville in the past couple of years. Straight to Ale, Old Black Bear, and InnerSpace breweries are also participating with specialty Restaurant Week craft beers.

“As the coordinator of Huntsville Restaurant Week, it has been my pleasure to see this promotion grow,” said Pam Williams, Tourism & Education sales manager for the CVB. “Each year it is surprising to see how many new places have joined the Madison County culinary scene, and 2019 is no different.

Pam Williams

“Ultimately, the CVB’s goal for Restaurant Week is to showcase the Madison County dining scene to visitors, and to remind locals to try something new.”

Patrons will find lunch specials featuring two courses at fixed prices of $10 and $15; with three-course dinner specials in the $10, $20, $30, and $40 range. Restaurants can choose one or any combination of those specials and offer other specials beyond these categories.

The event also features a special “Bonus Bites” category for establishments that do not offer a traditional lunch or dinner, but offer breakfast, desserts, appetizers, or small bites exclusively.

At Stovehouse in Huntsville, Madison Mayor Paul Finley, left, and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle encourage visitors to take in the best food the area has to offer during Restaurant Week. (Photo/Steve Babin)

The CVB has partnered with OpenTable, an online restaurant reservation platform and the official online reservations provider for Huntsville Restaurant Week. With just a few clicks, patrons can view all participating restaurants and secure a reservation.

The CVB’s #iHeartHsv blog will feature dedicated food and beverage content throughout the month in hopes of attracting “foodie” visitors from out of town.

For information on the events of Huntsville Restaurant Week, visit huntsville.org/events/restaurant-week/.

Bon appetit Madison County! There’s some good eatin’ ahead!