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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.”

 

 

A Driving Force for Local Entrepreneurs, Urban Engine Turns 4

Called a “driving force” for entrepreneurs, Urban Engine is at the forefront of innovation in the area.

Known for hosting its weekly co-working nights, Urban Engine is more than a social platform, it is a springboard for ideas and a cultural movement that resonates with our growing community of innovators, founders, and leaders.

Housed in Huntsville West, the former West Huntsville Elementary School and now a home to start-up businesses, Urban Engine helps to develop high-growth potential businesses and generate the workforce needed to support these endeavors.

And Urban Engine has a lot to celebrate: Four years of a solid upward growth trajectory.

And what better way to celebrate than to host a catered party in the “lunchroom” at Huntsville West and to invite hundreds of sponsors, startup success stories, the local community, and of course, the Mayor.

The fourth anniversary event highlighted Urban Engine’s success story.

Starting off small, Urban Engine began with programs and resources for those who are interested in technological innovation. Since then, there have been more 200 Co-Working Nights, 37 Founder Stories have been shared, more than 1,000 collaborative learning workshops have been presented, and nearly 100 new business ideas have been propelled forward.

Since 2016, more than 20 startups have been supported by Urban Engine and close to 10,000 people have benefited from its programming and services.

“It’s been great, celebrating four years at Huntsville West,” said Urban Engine founder Brendon Malone. “In 2015, I had a dream to give back to the city, to give businesses the best possible start, and to offer classes. We hit the ground running.

“There are now 175 people working in this building that are partners with Urban Engine, in support of the business ecosystem.”

Ashley Ryals, Demetrius Malone, Mayor Tommy Battle, Toni Eberhart, Sameer Singhal. (Photo by Steve Babin)

When introducing Urban Engine Director Toni Eberhart, Demetrius Malone, Huntsville West’s community manager, said, “Always in the best possible mood, one of the most supportive and encouraging people, Toni is our dreamer, a cheerleader, and a good friend to many.”

As she took the stage, Eberhart laughed and said, “I didn’t know how great I was until Demetrius spoke.”

Eberhart saluted the sponsors of the not-for-profit organization, saying “it would not be possible without our partners.”

“Our sponsors are in front of the Urban Engine community saying that they believe in doing business with startups, that they invest in professional development and growth opportunities for our workplace to keep them on the edge of innovation and that they value the Urban Engine as a critical partner in cultivating a desirable culture and climate for startups to launch and grow. How it’s made an impact would not be possible without the support of sponsors, Intuitive Research Technology, Brandon Kruse, and the team.”

She said Huntsville’s environment is conducive to businesses flourishing.

“People ask me, ‘Why Huntsville?’ I believe it’s because anything is possible here,” Eberhart said. “The landscape is totally open to incredible things. Businesses can launch and grow and do things in our local market that would be so difficult to break into on the coasts.

“Investment opportunities are possible. Educational opportunities are possible; career changes are possible, and everyone here is Ultra-supportive. Urban Engine is a cheerleader for these possibilities, and it is how we propel ideas forward at the core.”

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle delivered the keynote address to a packed audience.

“We have seen the vision, the driving force, making it a reality,” said Battle. “We need to make sure our city thinks outside the box. We are a city on the move, with 25,000 jobs added over the last year. 15,000 of those have been in high tech.

“The end result is that you’ve made this count. We’re more competitive, there’s more jobs, thank you for the job you are doing. Huntsville is a place that’s made for the future. The job we do today sets us up for the next 10 years. What you’re doing today will be the technology of tomorrow.”

For more information, visit www.UrbanEngine.org

Aerojet Rocketdyne Opens State-of-the-Art Propulsion Facility in Huntsville

Huntsville can expect up to 600 new jobs according to Gov. Kay Ivey, thanks to Aerojet Rocketdyne’s opening of a 136,000 square-foot rocket propulsion advanced manufacturing facility.

Dignitaries cut the ceremonial ribbon at Aerojet Rocketdyne’s 136,000 square-foot rocket propulsion advanced manufacturing facility. (Photo by Jonathan Stinson)

“Between the capabilities of the Alabama workforce and your company’s innovation, our possibilities seem limitless,” Ivey said. “Aerojet’s continued expansion of its location in Huntsville will bring more than 600 new jobs and it clearly demonstrates their confidence in the Rocket City and the State of Alabama.”

In addition to Ivey and Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO Eileen Drake, many senior Alabama officials were on hand for a ribbon-cutting Friday, including Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks and State Director of Commerce Greg Canfield.

The facility is at 7800 Pulaski Pike and will produce products such as solid rocket motor cases and other hardware for the Standard Missile-3, Thermal High Altitude Arial Defense System and other U.S. defense and space programs.

It has also been designed for new program opportunities including hypersonic and the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program. 

Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO Eileen Drake addresses the crowd during the company’s ribbon cutting ceremony for its rocket propulsion advanced manufacturing facility.

“The AMF provides Aerojet Rocketdyne the capabilities we need to advance our nation’s security today and the further technologies that will allow us to meet the challenges of tomorrow,” Drake said.

In his remarks, Battle recounted some of the conversations he and Drake had about her vision for the company to be an employer of choice in its field and how Huntsville could play a role and work collaboratively with them to make that happen.

“Aerojet Rocketdyne has invested many, many times into this community,” Battle said. “And, as they have invested, their name is out there as an employer of choice.

“… Many of you don’t know, but this building was built by the Industrial Development Board of the Chamber of Commerce and it was built by that group for Aerojet Rocketdyne so we could make a facility here that would be second to none.”

The manufacturing facility is a continuation of growth by Aerojet Rocketdyne in the area. The company made Huntsville its headquarters for a new Defense Business Unit in 2016 and opened a 122,000 square-foot defense headquarters facility June 6. 

Drake cited Huntsville’s technical workforce of engineers and scientist, along with its close proximity to the company’s key customer base and government partners as making the city an ideal location for the Defense Business Unit.

“I still have the personal letter Mayor Tommy Battle sent me that said ‘Eileen, how about a rocket headquarters in the Rocket City. Think Big,’” Drake said. “I think we’ve thought big and we’ve kept our promise.”

Aerojet Rocketdyne’s new 136,000 square-foot Advanced Manufacturing Facility will produce advanced propulsion products such as solid rocket motor cases and other hardware for critical U.S. defense and space programs. (Aerojet Rocketdyne Photo)

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.”

While Residents are Goin’ ‘Round Huntsville Mountain, Businesses are Assessing the Fallout

Huntsville residents are used to going around things.

Most people have skirted around Redstone Arsenal for 65 years to get where they are going.

And, after all, when you live in a valley, there are going to be some mountains to traverse, but the priority $18 million Cecil Ashburn Drive road improvement project has been challenging for a lot of people since it was closed in January for a widening project.

Cecil Ashburn connects commuters from east Huntsville, Marshall and Jackson counties to downtown Huntsville, Redstone Arsenal, Cummings Research Park and beyond.

While the through pass is closed, there are three routes connecting Big Cove/Hampton Cove to Huntsville and destinations to the west and all three require going around Huntsville. U.S. 431 via Governors Drive; South Memorial Parkway via Hobbs Island Road; and U.S. 72 via Eastern Bypass/Rock Cut Road are all viable, if not the shortest, routes.

Construction on Cecil Ashburn Drive is progressing. (Photo by City of Huntsville)

Almost since it opened in 2000, the winding two-lane shortcut through Huntsville Mountain from Jones Valley to Hampton Cove has been over-capacity. More than 17,000 vehicles travel it every day and, in the past 11 years, there have been 782 vehicle wrecks and 11 fatalities recorded along that 3.4-mile stretch of road.

The City of Huntsville knew it was going to be a bitter pill, but officials tried to alleviate as much pain as possible to improve traffic flow, increase capacity, and improve safety. The project will widen the road from two to four lanes between Old Big Cove Road and Four Mile Post Road, and safety improvements include eight-foot shoulders along each side of the roadway.

“We changed the scope of the project to save time and money and to minimize the impact on our residents and businesses,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle.

The Effects on Local Business

“The closure occurred just after the first of the year and, for us in the health and exercise business, January and February are our busiest months,” said Kim Edmunds, manager of Hot Yoga of Huntsville, at 326 Sutton Road on the east side of the construction. “We were outwardly worried people would have difficulty getting here for their appointments, but we have been surprised it is not any worse than it is.”

She said there has been a fall-off in attendance at the popular late-afternoon class, the one that attracts people on their way home from work between 4 and 6 p.m.

“We also see what we believe is a hesitation from our short term and trial members to make a long-term commitment while travel is limited,” she said. “We believe this will change when at least a couple of lanes are reopened this fall.”

Carl Stanfield, interim store manager for Alabama Outdoors, said during the week foot traffic to his store at 2030 Cecil Ashburn Drive in Jones Valley, seems to have slowed down, but weekends are still very busy.

“Checking with our corporate headquarters, we have seen a 25 percent drop in headcounts since the first of the year, so we think there may be some negative effects from the construction,” he said. “But the closure came the second week of January just as the holidays came to an end and school started back. That could also account for a natural drop-off after the holidays.”

Tropical Smoothie Café manager Tyisha Burt said her business at 2075 Cecil Ashburn Drive opened in September, so there isn’t any history to compare.

“We have been very busy the past few months I think because of the warmer weather,” she said. “But we believe, once the pass is opened again, things will be even better than they are now.”

Donna Denson, patient concierge at Austin Physical Therapy, drives in to the Jones Valley location from Scottsboro every day.

“The day before the road closed, I decided to try the Green Mountain route using Old Big Cove Road,” she said. “But it was foggy that day and it was too unfamiliar, so I started taking Hobbs Island Road to Bailey Cove. It is an hour drive, but not a bad drive at all.

“It takes a little extra time, but they say 17,000 cars travel Cecil Ashburn every day. That means a lot of people are taking some extra time and I see it as only a temporary lapse.

Denson said there has been a “significant” in appointments between 4 and 6 p.m. and 7 a.m..

“Lucky for us though, we have another location at the foot of Monte Sano when you come on Governors Drive,” she said. “So, rather than losing patients, they seem to just be booking the other location.”

Business seems to be more negatively affected on the Jones Valley side than the Hampton Cove side and the restaurant business seems to be the most negatively affected.

Heavy equipment breaks through the rocks to create extra lanes on Cecil Ashburn Drive. (Photo by City of Huntsville)

Moe’s Barbecue closed its doors due to a lack of business, according to neighboring tenants, but will be opening a location downtown.

Ben Patterson, manager of the Jones Valley Mellow Mushroom, said there is no escaping the reality that dinner has fallen off since the closing. But his customers are so loyal, they have expressed their commitment to making it in whenever they can.

“It was sort of like ripping off the Band-aid,” he said. “We had hoped they would not have to close down Cecil Ashburn completely, but we also know that the improvements will lead to a smoother, safer thoroughfare that will hopefully, when it opens again in October, lead to more traffic coming across from Hampton Cove.”

For Anaheim Chili, the lunch crowd still shows up but the dinner crowd has dwindled.

“People are certainly not comin’ ‘round the mountain’ as far as we can tell,” said manager Scott Harriman. “We have definitely seen a fall-off in dinner customers, but lunch is pretty steady.

“Where we see the biggest drop-off is Monday through Wednesday for dinner. A lot of people stop to eat on their way home or to grab take out, but they are not doing that right now, probably because it takes people off their route and it takes longer to get home.”

Tough Decisions

While no one likes to hear that the main access from one side of the mountain to the other side of the mountain is closing down for 10 months, the City of Huntsville and the contractor, Carcel & G Construction, have taken steps to ease some of the pain.

Originally, the project came in at $25 million with a timeline of nearly three years. The proposal had a caveat – one lane would stay open open during peak traffic times, something that sounded good to retailers and businesses in Jones Valley and Hampton Cove.

However, city planners said that plan would have been a costly, 32-month ordeal that posed additional safety concerns. City engineers came back with a new schedule and an adjusted $18 million budget they felt best addressed the needs and concerns of the community.

Crews work on the drainage system for the Cecil Ashburn Drive project. (Photo by City of Huntsville)

Those adjustments called for a complete shutdown of the roadway for 10 months beginning in January. In order to keep the project on track, the contractor has been offered financial performance bonuses of up to $2 million for each day work is ahead of schedule or meets the abbreviated construction timeline. Alternately, the contractor will be penalized up to $2 million for scheduled delays.

They are also incentivized to make sure at least two lanes of traffic will reopen within the first 10-month period, which takes us into October.

“We’re saving taxpayers millions of dollars and cutting two years of public pain in the construction process,” said Shane Davis, the city’s director of economic and urban development.

Currently …

Clearing operations are complete and the highly unpopular blasting operations that have disturbed residents of the area are approximately 80 percent complete. The storm drainage installation is close to 70 percent complete. The contractor is coordinating with utility companies to begin relocation efforts.

Huntsville Utilities has completed the electrical relocation and others are scheduled to begin their work. The contractor will also begin installing water lines soon to complete the utility work.

They will begin to construct the roadway subgrade shortly thereafter.

“This schedule provides the least disruption course and gets motorists safely back on the road before the 2019 holiday season,” Battle said.

Aerial photo provides and overview of the construction work on Cecil Ashburn Drive. (Photo by EQB)

Ivey Announces I-565 Widening Project

MONTGOMERY – Following through on a campaign promise, Gov. Kay Ivey announced Wednesday a widening project for heavily traveled I-565.

She also said a second project will expand the I-65 interchange at Tanner.

The two major transportation projects were selected by the Alabama Department of Transportation for the Rebuild Alabama Act First Year Plan 2020.

The first project includes resurfacing and revising lanes on Interstate 565 from Interstate 65 to County Line Road to provide an additional lane in each direction through the partial use of shoulders, making it a six-lane interstate. The second project will allow for the expansion of the interchange on I-65 at Tanner and widening Browns Ferry Road to be extended westward across to U.S. 31.

“While the Huntsville and surrounding areas are booming with continual economic growth, it was imperative we make enhancements to their infrastructure system for the nearly 60,000 vehicles traveling on I-565 daily. Both improvement projects will be significant strides for this area,” Ivey said. “This will improve the daily commute for several thousand drivers and provide access to the new Mazda-Toyota joint assembly plant. When we began on the road to Rebuild Alabama, I promised our state would see real results, real improvements and a promising future, and we’re certainly delivering on that.”

Both improvement projects will greatly increase access to the Mazda-Toyota Manufacturing plant development, relieve congestion on I-565 and will help pave the way for further economic growth.

“The state of Alabama and the city of Huntsville continue to be great partners to spur growth in this area, as well as across the state. We saw it when Alabama landed the coveted Mazda-Toyota joint assembly plant, and we’re seeing it today with the announcement of these two important infrastructure projects,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said. “Governor Ivey has been instrumental to our recent successes, and I was proud to support her in her efforts to Rebuild Alabama. Adding lanes to this critical corridor ensures our continued economic growth.”

Ivey signed the Rebuild Alabama Act into law March 12, after it received overwhelming bipartisan support in the Alabama Legislature. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Poole and Sen. Clyde Chambliss, gradually increases Alabama’s fuel tax over the next three years.

“I commend Governor Ivey’s leadership in passing Rebuild Alabama and her commitment to keep Alabama growing,” Alabama House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said. “Additional lanes on Interstate 565 will greatly reduce congestion and aid commerce in one of the fastest growing regions of our state. I, along with my colleagues, are pleased to see such quick returns from the Rebuild Alabama Act passing.”

Beginning in January, state, county, and municipal governments in Alabama will begin to see additional revenue from the fuel tax increase of six-cents which begins in September. In fact, once the 10-cent increase is fully implemented in 2021, Madison County will receive an additional $3.5 million dollars and Limestone County will receive $1.27 million, on top of what they already receive, to be used for various transportation infrastructure projects.

Multi-use development planned for former Coca-Cola plant site

For some time, there have been questions and rumors about the site of the former Coca-Cola plant on Clinton Avenue.

Now, the questions have been answered and rumors dispelled.

Rocket Development Partners of New York City owns the 13-acre property and have a vision for its use.

“There’s going to be a mixed-use development on the site,” said Mitch Rutter, a principal with Rocket Development. “It will be heavily residential with some office components. We’re not going to overload with retail.

“It will be a live-work facility … modeled after The Gulch area of Nashville.”

He said some of the residential units will be “geared toward artists’ and musicians’ housing” because of its proximity to the Von Braun Center and Museum of Art.

Rutter suggested that some companies with their main offices in Cummings Research Park may opt to also open an office in the project “to help with their recruiting.”

He did not dismiss the possibility of a hotel also being built at the corner of Clinton Avenue and Monroe Street, “if the right hotel came along. We’re not going to be building or operating it.”

Rutter credited Mayor Tommy Battle and city officials for being “very practical” and said the city’s team was a major factor in developing the project here.

“It’s not by chance; we have a process (on project decisions) … and study econometrics,” he said. “Huntsville is blessed with triangulating factors: job growth with good wages; population growth; and the leadership team.

“They have a long-term Huntsville vision. That long-term plan, which includes the Von Braun Center expansion, renovation of Pinhook Creek, greenways and bikeways, is geared to accelerate the growth of downtown.”

Rutter said his company has retained Huntsville architect Paul Matheny and Urban Design Associates, who developed the city’s long-term plan.

“We’re very focused to create the density to bring people who want to live and work here,” he said. “It’s really very exciting.” 

Theme of this year’s SMD Symposium focuses on ‘peer adversaries’

The 21st annual Space and Missile Defense Symposium runs Aug. 7-9 at the Von Braun Center.

What began as a local gathering of enthusiastic space and missile defense professionals more than 20 years ago, has evolved into one of the most anticipated, informative, and influential national public conferences on the defense of our nation.

The 21st Annual Space and Missile Defense Symposium opens Aug. 7 at the Von Braun Center and runs through Aug. 9.

Embraced by the Missile Defense Agency and the Department of Defense, Brig. Gen. Bob McCaleb and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle will welcome enterprise level professionals from the missile defense community, military leaders, and allies from the United States and abroad.

According to Joe Fitzgerald, an original member of the SMD Symposium’s executive committee and two-time past chairman of the event, the 2018 theme, “Sharpening the Military’s Competitive Edge,” marks a fundamental shift in the way industry professionals have looked at the threats our country faces for many years.

“This year’s Space & Missile Defense Symposium will bring to the forefront the realization that the United States has peer adversaries,” he said. “That is, not just threats from rogue nations like Iran and North Korea, but very real threats from countries across the globe who are our equals.”

He said the symposium will address the important part missile defense plays in the survival and security of our nation.

“You will see a recognition that we face challenges meeting those threats, and that we must put more resources into missile defense technologies associated with those threats to ensure our nation’s future, and to assure the defense of our nation. Victory is not assured,” Fitzgerald said. “therefore, we must work to maintain our competitive edge, and by edge, we mean superiority.”

This year’s SMD Symposium will address all aspects of these challenges.

Conference Opening

Gen. John Hyten is a graduate of Grissom High School

Beginning Tuesday morning, Gen. John Hyten, senior commander of the United States Strategic Command, will open the symposium by outlining Space and Missile Defense Imperatives. USSTRATCOM is one of 10 unified commands in the Department of Defense representing all four unified branches of the military.

Among the topics he is expected to discuss is the importance of innovation related to space and the military’s interdependence on space, national security, and the global economy.

In a December 2017 article in SpaceNews, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy Stephen Kitay said the modernization of missile-warning satellites has been a topic of recent conversations with leaders from U.S. Air Force Space Command, U.S. Strategic Command and U.S. Northern Command. So, will Hyten,  a graduate of Huntsville’s Grissom High School, offer any insights into the future of a new Space Force as recently proposed by the current administration?

“I think Space Force is likely to come up given Gen. Hyten’s relationship with the Air Force Space Command,” said Fitzgerald. “Advanced forces surely add flavor to his thought process, and any future Space Force plans are bound to affect Huntsville for sure.”

Lt. Gen. James Dickinson, Commanding General of the United States Army Space and Missile Defense Command follows Hyten with a Space and Missile Defense update and, later, Col. William Darne, the Training & Doctrine Command Capabilities Manager for the Army Air and Missile Defense, will give an update on the AMD’s Cross-Functional Teams.

After lunch Tuesday, Dr. Tom Karako, Senior Fellow and International Security Program Director for the Missile Defense Project, will speak on adapting Joint Air and Missile Defense Operations to the Near Peer Threat. The Missile Defense Project researches innovative means for defeating missile threats and hosts a variety of events to shape the debate about policy, budgets, legislation, and both current and future programs.

Both Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, Technology Track gives a variety of selected candidates an opportunity to present innovative technical ideas, methods, and processes regarding cyber resiliency, testing and development, and weapon system performance testing and validation.

Several moderators will host a Multi-Domain Battle Panel Tuesday afternoon. Created by the Army, Multi-Domain Battle allows U.S. forces to outmaneuver adversaries physically and cognitively by applying combined arms in and across all domains of war – that is, land, sea, air, space and cyberspace – cyber being the newest domain, and with underpinnings in every aspect of strategic warfare.

Wednesday & Thursday Features

The programs Wednesday include the MDA’s Focus For the Future presented by Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, director of the MDA; an Allied Update by Air Commodore Madelein Spit, Assistant Director of NATO Joint Air Power Competence Center; and an update from Brig. Gen. Robert Rasch Jr. on the Programs Executive Office Missiles and Space, which provides centralized management for Army Air and Missile Defense and Tactical Missile Programs, as well as selected Army Space programs to meet warfighter multidomain and full spectrum operation requirements.

There will be two Industry and Technology panels Wednesday focused singularly on missile defense with a variety of guests participating including major original equipment manufacturers  and developers of our nation’s missile defense systems. They will talk about the technology challenges, and what the R&D industry is doing to meet those challenges.

On Wednesday evening, prior to an invitation-only VIP reception, Northrop Grumman will host the “Salute to the Warfighter” at its exhibition space. A presentation recognizing and honoring all U.S. warfighters involves a formal salute followed by a networking social and then dinner.

On Thursday, Holly Haverstick, Chief of Weapons for Defense Support of Civil Authorities, will speak on security cooperation efforts in support of missile defense; followed by Rebeccah Heinrichs, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, who will close out the symposium with a talk concerning Space and Missile Defense Imperatives.

Awards & Recognitions

Throughout the week, various industry groups will present a variety of awards such as the Air, Space and Missile Defense Association Scholarship and the Julian Davidson Award, awarded by the National Space Club to an individual or organization that has shown great achievement in advancing space flight programs, and has contributed to U.S. leadership in the field of rocketry and astronautics.

The John Medaris Award, given to an individual from the Tennessee Valley who has made outstanding contributions to the defense industrial base, will be awarded to Dr. J. Richard (Dick) Fisher, Executive Director of the Missile Defense and Space Technology Center.  

“The entire conference is laid out to be an exposé on meeting the challenges of a peer adversary, while focusing our efforts on ways to give our soldiers a competitive edge that is superior to anyone else in the world,” said Fitzgerald.