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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!

Burgeoning Regional Economy Ensures Everyone a More Valuable Slice of the Pie

Envision Huntsville as an average size pie.

Standing at city center, look outward in all directions toward the far edges of the pie crust – north toward the state line where visitors from Tennessee get their first glimpse of the city. South where many Huntsville businesses draw daily commuters. East across the mountain, west from neighboring communities and all points in between.

For Huntsville and Madison city leaders, this vision of the pie’s edge does not represent boundaries but, instead, corridors of growth.

“That’s always been our vision for Huntsville’s future and the basis for our regional economic strategy,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “The first part of revitalizing your city is to take the center point, known as the living room of your city, and revitalize it to make it economically viable. Get one area going and stretch it out to other areas.

“Year after year, we have pinpointed growth corridors that help us grow both economically and residentially. The result is an economic revival like what you have been seeing in Huntsville and Madison the past 10 years.”

Private investment land developers have that vision too. During the 1990s, brothers Jim and John Hays and their nephew Jeff Enfinger of Enfinger Development opened a growth corridor to the southeast in Hampton Cove and the Hays Nature Preserve.

In 2000, that development led to the expansion of a residential growth corridor along Taylor Lane in Big Cove, and, by 2010, it had extended into the Goldsmith-Schiffman community.

Also during the 1990s, Huntsville opened a residential growth corridor off Zierdt Road in the Edgewater and Mountain Brook communities southwest of the city. In 2010, it expanded into the Williams community further south.

Battle said that by looking at the local economy like a pie, you will see their strategy unfolding.

“Instead of dividing the pie into fifteen different pieces that get smaller the more users you add, we made the whole pie bigger so we could divide it up differently with more restaurants, entertainment and activity venues, more places to spend retail dollars,” he said. “With a bigger pie, each slice is more valuable.”

The Western Corridor

The Town Madison development along I-565 between Zierdt Road and Wall-Triana Highway in Madison will open a gateway to the city.

Anchored by the new Rocket City Trash Pandas baseball stadium, the development is surrounded by residential, retail, commercial, and entertainment components that have thrown open a west side growth corridor that never existed.

“The location off I-565 is perfect catchment for a broad audience across the Southeast,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. “As the interchanges off the highway are completed, you can expect ease of traffic getting to and from the area.

“If people come for a game or event, we hope they stay and experience all that Madison has to offer, including our historic downtown that offers livability with local boutique shopping and dining.”

Finley also believes Madison’s central geography in North Alabama positions it perfectly to feel the positive impact from economic development in the whole state as well as southern Tennessee.

“Madison benefits from Huntsville’s growth with the FBI and other tech development workforce to our east, as well as from the Mazda-Toyota plant to our west. We look to collaborate with Limestone, Morgan and Marshall counties,” said Finley.

The development is envisioned to become a regional destination.

“Right on the interstate, convenient if you are coming from Cullman or Decatur, and where everybody who passes by can see it,” said Joey Ceci, president of The Breland Companies, which is developing Town Madison and the new Clift Farm project on U.S. 72 in Madison. “We are creating a regional destination with baseball, a food hall, and resort style hotels, similar to, but more diverse than Chattanooga.”

Open Southern Border

Recently, Enfinger and his uncles who are also developing McMullen Cove, announced the development of a multi-use Hays Farm development in South Huntsville that will replace the old Haysland Square and turn a 500-plus acre swath of undeveloped land into a new growth corridor to the south that will draw retailers and residents from Airport Road south to the river and beyond.

“There will be a commercial center all the way up to the Enfinger Building on South Parkway with a Village of Providence-type entertainment district surrounded by a city park, a ballfield, and 500-acre Hays Green with a passive walking park,” said Enfinger. “We’d like to maintain the natural green spaces. The Hays Nature Preserve in Hampton Cove has been a regional draw for a lot of people.”

In many ways, Ceci believes that with population growth and so many people commuting here to work every day from other counties, we already have an active regional economy at work.

“You see workers buying groceries, going out to eat and shopping during the workweek, even if they live outside the city,” he said. “I think there is some pent-up demand for some of the development that is occurring.”

Max Grelier, co-founder of RCP Companies who has developed the AC Hotel as part of CityCentre and developing MidCity on the old Madison Square Mall property, has been watching those employee migration patterns into Huntsville for more than a decade.

“We see the regional trade area as about 50 miles and incorporates the 14-county commuter hubs from which Redstone Arsenal and Cummings Research Park draw its employment,” said Grelier. “As a result, Huntsville has become the region’s primary center for healthcare, civic, cultural, shopping, and dining activity.”

Annexation of Morgan & Limestone counties

Add to all this, the annexation of a small portion of Morgan County to the southwest and a huge chunk of Limestone County due west of city center, and you can see the pie expanding!

“Yes, this annexation is a game-changer because it results in the ability to get infrastructure to certain areas and thus create major employment opportunities,” said Charlie Sealy of Sealy Realty. His company has developed several residential properties including The Belk Hudson Lofts and The Avenue in downtown Huntsville, and is building a sister community, The Avenue Madison. “These new jobs will be an economic driver for the economy and create an incredible multiplier effect.”

The annexation is a precursor to the economic development that follows it, said Grelier.

“Annexing was necessary for the economic development of the Mazda-Toyota plant and other larger manufacturers,” he said. “It’s also helpful in attracting investment into commercial real estate projects across the metro area.”

“We’ve only made a foray into Morgan County,” said Battle, “The annexation of Limestone County where Mazda Toyota made a $2 billion land investment has seriously expanded our metro and opened an industrial growth corridor that is a win-win for both parties.”

City funds, thanks to Huntsville’s AAA credit rating from the S&P and Moody’s Investment Services, have pulled their share of the weight. With the power to borrow $85 million for city and countywide projects, of that, Huntsville will allot $25 million for the Mazda Toyota project infrastructure; and another $55 million for capital plans and schools.

Northern Exposure

Included is the revitalization of North Memorial Parkway. Since widening the well-worn highway into a viable parkway traffic corridor, it has encroached on many properties there, making them less viable.

“They don’t have enough depth to sustain retail, so we’ve taken them out and we’re turning that area into a park with greenways and walking trails,” said Battle. “Perception becomes reality.

“Instead of seeing boarded-up buildings when you enter from the north, you see it more as an entryway into North Huntsville – an economically viable area to move into and to be a part of.”

Among the projects is the upgrading of parks that will be instrumental in bringing in sports teams from all over the Southeast, including recreational rugby fields and soccer fields that can also be used for lacrosse.

“We are putting money into the tennis center and into the golf course, which now has cross-country running and mountain bike trails. All of these things tie back to what we call ‘quality of life’ for our residents and activities for our guests,” said Battle. “Travel sports bring people and their families to our area from all over, where they compete, stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, and shop in our stores.”

Quality of Life

Town Madison’s $12 million Pro Player Park project with 12 synthetic baseball/softball fields, the $22 million Huntsville Aquatic Center, and the expanding Huntsville Tennis Center are already national attractions for travel sports competitions and events.

“To have a viable and growing economy, we have to offer a ‘quality-of-life’ that attracts people to the area, and quite frankly, we have a lot of jobs on the table too,” Battle said. “To recruit highly-skilled, higher income workers requires a quality of life that is equal to or higher than where they are moving from.”

Battle said “quality-of-life” is found in Lowe Mill, in craft beer, in a vast array of recreation facilities, disc golf, pickleball, art museums and public parks.

“But we still have work to do because people are coming from around the world to work for companies like Blue Origin, Facebook, Aerojet Rocketdyne, and Mazda Toyotas,” said Battle.

Finley is ready for whatever challenges lay ahead for Madison.

“As Madison grows our focus is making sure we are responsible with our citizen’s tax dollars by improving infrastructure and providing a good quality of life in every district of our community,” said Finley. “While areas to the West are experiencing booming growth and increased traffic, we need to not only keep pace with growth but foresee areas that will need improvements down the line.”

Huntsville is also adding hotels, apartments, and homesites as more people move into the city. With a goal of adding 1,000 hotel rooms within walking distance of the Von Braun Center, Battle said it will help draw larger conventions and business meetings.

“Part of the strategy for building smaller hotels instead of one big convention center hotel is to prevent people from living inside the hotel the whole time they are here,” said the mayor. “We want people to experience our city, eat in our restaurants, visit our museums, and shop in our stores.”

Enfinger believes that as we become a more affluent society, people’s wants, and expectations become more demanding.

“It looks like we are evolving in unison with the rest of the country as far as the type shopping we do and the kind of developments we build,” said Enfinger. “Our growth rate is higher than most cities, but I think we follow a national trend in the type developments we can sustain.”

Private Investment is Leading the Way

Private investment must still lead the way and developers such as Breland, RCP, Sealy, and Enfinger are leading the charge.

“When the City can support infrastructure needs or improvements, private investment can take those dollars further,” said Mayor Finley. “This is a win/win for both the City and for the investors. Ultimately, our citizens also reap the benefits of this growth and development.”

“Buy-in is good so far, but much harder than it may seem,” said Grelier. “Huntsville has a great story to tell, but many larger institutional investors are not aware of it or view the market as too small.

“Our team spends most of our time discussing and selling the regional market rather than the immediate project. A big part of Huntsville’s growth moving forward will be how the region is branded to compete for private investment and workforce internationally. It’s a regional story that should include our sister communities.”

He would also like to see the Gen Y & Z workforce move to the area because it’s a cool, fun place to live, and then find a job once they get here rather than moving here for the great job.

“Once this trend reverses, larger private investment and more economic development will follow quickly,” Grelier said.

From the city’s perspective though, Huntsville’s first mixed-use/multi-purpose development at Twickenham Square in 2014 has been a driver in enlarging the pie.

Join us for Part 2 of our series on Huntsville’s growing regional economy in the September issue of the Huntsville Business Journal as we investigate how multi-purpose/mixed-use developments are helping build Huntsville’s regional economy.

 

Region Mayors Come Together for History-Making Agreement

It looked like a gathering of Knights of the Round Table.

 

But it was mayors from Madison, Limestone and Morgan counties gathered
around a circular high-tech table for a history-making pact.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle; Madison Mayor Paul Finley; Triana Mayor Mary
Caudle; Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks; Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling; and Mooresville
City Councilwoman Leeann Barr, sitting in for Mayor Margaret-Anne Crumlish,
were in a boardroom at Huntsville International Airport to sign a regional
agreement of collaboration and cooperation.

“The signing of this document signals to our community, to the state, and to
area businesses that North Alabama is committed to ensuring that our region
functions at the highest levels of collaboration for years to come,” said Bill
Marks, chair of Launch 2035, a regional partnership that rethinks and imagines
the North Alabama economy over the next 20 years. The agreement is the work of
the Regional Collaboration Initiative-North Alabama, a group formed from Launch
2035 to encourage collaboration and communication across the region.

They were surrounded by business advocacy leaders John Allen of Huntsville
Committee of 100, Ability Plus President/CEO Karockas Watkins and BizTech CEO
Larry Lewis, as well as Limestone, Madison and Morgan County municipal
councils, state legislative delegations, chamber presidents and chamber board
chairs.

The agreement was also signed by Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong and Limestone County Commission Chairman Collin Daly; Morgan County Commission Chairman Ray Long signed it after the event. 

According to a statement from Launch 2035, the region’s prosperity depends
on the three counties working and planning together. Launch 2035 is made up of
key stakeholders committed to fostering regional economic growth and quality of
life.

“Back in 2014, someone suggested bringing everyone together over hush
puppies and catfish and that would be the best way to draw a crowd at night to
discuss how we can collaborate better,” said Marks who orchestrated the signing.
“It was from this group of stakeholders that we launched Launch 2035 – to unite
Limestone, Madison and Morgan counties into a spirit of working together with
the belief we bring more to our region united, than in competition with each
other.

“Launch 2035 has three areas of focus including workforce development,
entrepreneurship, and land use planning. Each represents opportunities for
regional action where working together can benefit the entire region.”

 

 

Madison Chamber Holds Ribbon-Cutting … for Itself

MADISON — The role was reversed for the Madison Chamber of Commerce when it held a ribbon-cutting and open house – for itself.

The Chamber moved to 103 Spenryn Drive near downtown from its former location inside the Hogan Family YMCA on Hughes Road. The new space is about double of what the Chamber had at the Y.

Inside the new Madison Chamber of Commerce.

It has already been a huge economic year for the city with the continuing development of Town Madison with its plans for dozens of retail businesses, hotels, the baseball stadium, housing and Pro Player Park.

And the explosion does not show any signs of slowing as road improvement and widening projects can be found throughout the city and with the upcoming development of Avenue Madison, which will change the overall atmosphere of the historic downtown area.

According to Executive Director Pam Honeycutt, the Madison Chamber of Commerce plays a huge pro-business role in advancing that economic development while furthering the business interests of the Madison community overall.

“All of us at the Madison Chamber, along with our ambassadors and Board, work as a team to build and promote local businesses with the expectation they will be successful and spread that prosperity throughout the community,” said Honeycutt. “It’s absolutely amazing and we couldn’t do it without all this support.

“We feel very, very Madison, and very, very loved by Madison.”

Mayor Paul Finley cited the Chamber and the staff for their messaging and business development.

“One of the things we rely on the Chamber for is messaging,” said Finley. “To make sure that as many people as possible know about what we are doing in the community, the events they can get involved with, the things that make our City great.

“The Chamber helps businesses grow and prosper in every way they can. Pam understands the team orientation that Madison needs to be a strong Chamber and strong advocate for economic growth.”

Huntsville/Madison County Chamber Wins Prestigious Award from Site Selection Magazine

The Huntsville/Madison County Chamber has been honored with a Mac Conway Award, which was revealed in the May 2019 issue of Site Selection magazine.

The magazine’s Mac Conway Awards for Excellence in Economic Development recognize the top local and regional economic development agencies in the US for their roles in helping to deliver prosperity to their communities.

This year’s winners were determined by an index that examines corporate facility investment projects in US metro areas as tracked by Site Selection’s proprietary Conway Projects database in 2018. Scores are awarded based on six criteria: total projects, total investment associated with those projects and jobs associated with those projects; and those same three numbers calculated per capita for the metro area.


Lucia Cape, Senior VP of Economic Development, Industry Relations and Workforce for the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber; and Chamber President/CEO Chip Cherry with Mac Conway Award. (Photo: Claire Aiello)

The Huntsville/Madison County area saw record growth in 2018, with five new companies adding 4,207 jobs and $2,363,367,600 in capital investment. The largest of these was landing Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA, which includes 4,000 jobs and $1.6 billion in investment. Facebook also announced a $750 million data center. In addition, 13 companies added 982 jobs and $346,653,096 in capital investments.

“The foundation that led to the game-changing economic development wins in 2018 are the result of the foundation laid by many partners over a long period of time,” said Chip Cherry, president/CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber. “The Chamber is proud to be part of an amazing team comprised of elected leaders, volunteers, partners, and a talented staff. The team has a common mission – to develop a world class economy that supports innovation and provides employment opportunities for our citizens, while ensuring that our quality of life is second to none.

“We are honored to accept the award on behalf of our partners and the community.”

The chamber cited support from many partners, including the state, cities of Huntsville and Madison, Madison County and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

“The number of game-changing projects landing in Huntsville in recent years, capped by Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA, reflects the hard work of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “The chamber team is highly professional, energetic, and willing to put in long hours to bring jobs and investment to the community. This is a well-deserved honor.”

“This economic development team has mastered the art of collaboration and partnership through a strategic vision that has been designed and executed by the Chamber, local government, and business,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “The city of Huntsville is proud to be part of this partnership.”

“Our chamber gets it, and they have for a long, long time. Leaders from NASA, Redstone Arsenal, city and county governments, education, and health care take the lead from our chamber and partner with our community business leaders to help define our direction, build on our strengths, and look forward toward opportunity,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. “Individual viewpoints are synced, the steps to make those opportunities reality are defined, and our incredibly talented chamber team goes to work.

“We have accomplished this year after year, decade after decade, turning opportunity into jobs for our community.”

“Madison County is pleased to celebrate the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber for this much-deserved award,” said Madison County Commission Chairman Dale W. Strong. “The Chamber has always played a pivotal role in positioning our region as an economic development leader as demonstrated by the 2018 growth and expansions throughout our region. In Madison County, Alabama we’re grateful for the collaborative approach by our chamber team to bring new and innovative opportunities to Madison County.”

“TVA congratulates the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber on its recognition as a Top Economic Development Group. We are proud to partner with the chamber as we work to foster job creation and economic growth in the region,” said John Bradley, TVA senior vice president of economic development. “The results the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber have had speak for themselves, and we look forward to a continued partnership for years to come.”

First avid Hotel in Alabama Breaks Ground at Town Madison

MADISON — Shovels in hand, the Breland Companies, Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong, and Madison Mayor Paul Finley joined the leadership team for avid Hotels to break ground on their first hotel in Alabama.

“We are excited about this great location in the City of Madison and to be a part of Town Madison’s success,” said Pritesh Patel of Jalasai Hospitality. “This new and thrilling brand will bring a tremendous new option for both business and leisure guests.”

Located at the western end of Town Madison off I-565 at Wall Triana Highway, the four-story, 87-room midscale avid Hotel is the first of its kind in the Southeast. It is also the newest addition to the 563-acre Town Madison development., which is home to the new Madison baseball stadium and dozens of retail stores, restaurants, residences, and Pro Player Park.

“Another hotel here is desperately needed,” said Finley. “Minor league baseball (Rocket City Trash Pandas) will be here in less than a year, housed in our multi-use venue at Town Madison. The way we fund that multi-use venue is a deal with Ballcorps LLC who owns the Trash Pandas, to rent it from us, but also through lodging tax.

“Town Madison has always been a regional destination location,” said Louis Breland, founder of Breland Cos. who is building the hotel and working to bring more businesses to the multi-use venue. “We are in negotiations with many retailers, many restaurants, and numerous other hotels about coming to Town Madison, so today’s groundbreaking will be the first of many businesses coming this spring and summer.”

The newest mainstream brand from IHG, avid hotels was designed for travelers and meets their expectations for the type of hospitality they value most: the basics done exceptionally well at a fair price. The location at Town Madison will feature modern, comfortable design, guest rooms designed for a sound-sleep, a focused, high-quality breakfast consisting of name-brand options, and will deliver the latest technology for a seamless guest experience

“So this is one more thing that makes a difference in our Master Plan of bringing something of quality to this area that helps the overall Tennessee Valley and makes a major difference in the City of Madison,” Finley said.

He went on to explain that the 12 baseball fields that make up Pro Player Park, located between the Madison baseball stadium and the new Avid Hotel, is a huge draw for travel baseball. 

“What do they need? They need places to stay,” said Finley. “So, they will be right here close by, and the restaurants will follow.”

“As our newest partner, avid provides not only Town Madison residents a new way to connect, relax and work, but our constantly-expanding business community yet another option to show out-of-town clients, customers, and employees everything we have to offer in Madison County,” said Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong.

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.” 

Madison ballpark: They haven’t built it, but hundreds did come

MADISON – If the line of cars on Zierdt Road and the hundreds of people who showed up for a groundbreaking ceremony were any indication, baseball has definitely returned to North Alabama.

Close to 1,000 future fans of the yet-t0-be-named minor league baseball team turned out Saturday as BallCorps Inc. and the city of Madison broke ground for a $46 million baseball/multi-use facility. Fans received commemorative baseballs as well as free hot dogs and soft drinks.

The official groundbreaking ceremony for the new Madison baseball facility was held Saturday. Photo by Marianne Higgins

The groundbreaking event took place at the site of the facility  – a “barren field,” as Madison Mayor Paul Finley put it – along Interstate 565 and Zierdt Road.

It is expected to be completed in the fall of 2019 and the complex will include a Hotel Margaritaville. Plans are for the facility to hold other events, outside the 70 regular season baseball games.

“There will be movies in the park, car shows, Scouting events; companies can hold events at the facility,” Finley said. “This venue will make a difference in the quality of life” in Madison.

Ralph Nelson, the managing partner and CEO of BallCorps – the team’s owner, was emotional as he spoke.

“I have just two words: thank you,” he said. “Thank you for inviting us into your community and thank you for welcoming us into your community.”

Then, Nelson, who has been involved in professional baseball for a quarter of a century, paused.

“This is the best day in my baseball career,” he said. “In 675 days (June 19, 2020), we’re going to be playing ball in Madison.”

Artist’s rendering shows Madison’s new baseball stadium with a swimming pool behind the centerfield scoreboard.