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New MidCity Theater to Have Largest Screen in Alabama

There are big things going on in Huntsville’s MidCity District.

And the latest is a story right out of Hollywood.

Well, maybe not right out of Hollywood, but it is all about movies.

The new Touchstar Luxury Cinemas MidCity is expected to open in summer 2021.

Touchstar Cinemas has announced plans for a flagship location at MidCity.

A new 50,000 square-foot movie theater will feature the largest screen in Alabama as part of its state-of-the-art premium experience featuring 14 wall-to-wall screens, 4k laser projection with 3D viewing, as well as Dolby Atmos and DTX immersive sound.

Touchstar currently operates the Touchstar Cinemas Madison Square facility that was originally an outparcel to the former Madison Square Mall. That theater will remain open while the new Touchstar Luxury Cinemas MidCity is being built. The closing of the current movie theater will be planned simultaneously with the opening of the new location.

Touchstar Cinemas MidCity will feature in-theater dining and VIP Suites with a private lounge and full-service bar. The seating in the 21+ VIP Suites will consist of movie pods – pairs of luxurious heated reclining seats with a privacy enclosure and push button call service. The VIP Suites will be available for private or corporate events.

“We will still have traditional concessions, an expanded dining menu, and the food delivery service that we currently provide at Madison Square,” said Karishma Dattani, CEO of Touchstar Cinemas. “Established in 2001, Touchstar Cinemas was the first to bring recliners to Alabama, and the comfort of these well-known fully reclining large seats and spacious daybeds will continue in the new theater.

“We are proud to bring the first theater of this caliber to the Huntsville and Madison communities, This opportunity allows us to expand our local presence and continue to be part of the revitalization and growth of North Alabama.”

Located adjacent to the hotels and entertainment core at the terminus of MidCity Drive, the theater plans to open by summer 2021. 

“Touchstar complements the culture-forward entertainment destination we are developing at MidCity,” said Max Grelier, co-founder of RCP Companies, the developer of MidCity District, “The new Touchstar theater will offer visitors and residents an elevated cinematic option that fits well with our commitment to create great experiences in every aspect of MidCity.”

Once complete, MidCity will include 350,000 square feet of retail, dining, and entertainment space; approximately 400,000 square feet of high-tech office space; 1,400 residential units; and approximately 650 hotel rooms.

 

 

 

Huntsville Prepares for the Future: Parking Problems or Problem with Perception?

Change is hard but it has never stopped Huntsville from rising to a challenge.

In the same way we adjusted to becoming the Rocket City in the 1960s; to becoming a booming defense industry maven in the 1990s; and a five-county regional economy over the past decade; Huntsville is looking yet again to the future and sometimes – just sometimes – we get a whiff of frustration as the construction holds up traffic, a red light seems to be holding longer than it used to, or there does not appear to be enough parking at a popular new shopping venue!

Parking spaces have become precious commodities.

As Huntsville continues to grow and expand, city planners are trying to get ahead of the headaches seen in large, fast-growing metropolitan cities by redesigning it as they go for the future, and a central tenet of this strategy involves Land Use.

Land Use is the management and modification, or “urbanization” of a natural environment into residential, commercial, and public “urban open” sectors.

In the past, especially in the past 50 years, Land Use has been geared toward making room for urban sprawl and commercialization at all costs. Shopping centers have focused on gigantic asphalt parking lots where drivers battle constantly for the closest parking spot. Stores sit back off the main thoroughfare to accommodate it, while anxious holiday drivers follow on the heels of customers exiting the storefront like automotive stalkers until they reach their vehicle, either sniping the spot or deciding to try for one that’s closer.

Most of the time however, these parking fields are more than half empty, always built larger than required, leaving an asphalt eyesore and a tremendous waste of land.

In the past few years, Huntsville city planners have been studying Land Use analyses to help reshape Huntsville’s character and to better manage Huntsville’s land and natural environment to fit a more contemporary view of how people live, work and play.

The Shops at Merchants Walk and Shops at Merchants Square on Bob Wallace Avenue are based on “New Urbanism.” While the tenants and some customers perceive there to be insufficient parking, Merchants Square was designed to sit close to the street with some ground-level parking, backed up by a three-floor parking deck.

Jessica Partington, property manager for RCP Properties which developed both shopping centers, said the overwhelming success of the developments has put the need for additional traffic and parking solutions front and center.

“The Shops at Merchants Square has been wildly popular, which is something we will never be upset about, but perhaps a bit more popular than we anticipated,” she said. “When Chuy’s opened, it was a record-breaking opening for them nationwide and no one anticipated how popular it was going to be.

“Of course, we are not upset by that but with that came some unexpected challenges.”

She said that as of now, the parking ratios required for that venue are not showing they are under-parked in terms of code compliance, but there are a couple of things at play.

“Employees are required to park on the upper level of the deck but because there is not what most people perceive as being much parking at ground level, we find that people don’t always go all the way up the deck,” she said. “And on weekends, we find there are parking spots at that last hook in the parking deck and up top that people miss.”

Partington said there is a lot of construction work during the day and construction vehicles in the deck that take up a lot of room and are taking up some spaces that would normally be available.

“But we are nearing the end of that, so it won’t be a problem much longer,” she said. “Also, Aspen Dental will have their own ground-level parking and when they are finished, people can park there at night and on weekends when the problem seems to be worse.”

According to Kelly Schrimsher, director of communications for Mayor Tommy Battle’s office, Huntsville is experiencing some growing pains that can be easily addressed by changing people’s perception.

“The Shops at Merchants Square and the Shops at Merchants Walk on Bob Wallace Avenue are the perfect example,” Schrimsher said. “There is actually plenty of parking. You just have to look at it from a more efficient Land Use perspective and tie it to where the future will be taking us.

“We are rethinking parking requirements to better fit a model for the not so distant future where people are walking more, are driving more electric cars, where more people are using services like Uber, and where people will walk outside the store or restaurant and ‘dial their car’ to come pick them up. Although it may sound farfetched now, it is not so far away from reality.”

Rendering shows an example of a crosswalk idea for Bob Wallace Avenue.

The city is also working on a couple of solutions they believe will help alleviate the Bob Wallace traffic and parking issues as well.

“We are building a decorative pedestrian crosswalk from the much larger parking lot at the Shops at Merchants Walk that will be visually appealing and substantial enough to slow the traffic down on Bob Wallace so people can safely cross back and forth,” said Shane Davis, director of urban and economic development for Huntsville. “The city is acquiring material quotes for the intersection improvements and expect to have it completed in early January. It will also really dress up the area.”

Made of “stamped thermoplastic material” with a brick, stone and slurry concrete design, Davis said it will provide for improved pedestrian crosswalk safety, more driver awareness at the intersection, and overall improved aesthetics of the area.

Over the next year, visitors to that part of the city will also see sidewalks up and down both sides of Bob Wallace from the Parkway to both shopping centers, and down the road there are plans for an equally decorative crosswalk across Memorial Parkway at the Bob Wallace intersection.

“The city also has a plan to connect Regal Drive on the Parkway Place side next to Belk, to the Shops at Merchant Square,” said Partington. “Those through-roads will alleviate some of the traffic flow and allow people to walk a little bit, which we are doing more of in Huntsville.”

“It is a little bit of educating people and preparing them for what we know is coming in the future,” said Schrimsher. “Downtown Huntsville residents have been going through this same evolution since its revitalization began.

“The days of fighting for a parking spot right in the front door and every individual business having their own asphalt parking lot is being phased out and shared parking is being phased in,  If you live downtown, strangers may park in front of or near your home. And they are using parking decks and Uber rather than driving their car everywhere.

“But people who choose to live downtown in areas like Twickenham Square and Avenue Huntsville, do so for the convenience, the amenities, and the pedestrian-friendly environment. They do not have to jump in the car to drive to the grocery store or a restaurant or to have their hair cut or grab a cup of coffee. If they live in these areas, they adjust to it and even enjoy it.”

According to the city’s statistics, Huntsville is a sprawling city overall, but it has population density pockets such as downtown of more than 5,000 people per square mile, making it comparable to cities such as Pittsburgh, Pa., and St. Paul, Minn.

Interestingly, Five Points is an excellent example, originally developed in the early 1900s as a “streetcar suburb” that was not designed for the automobile and is still, today, easily walkable because of it.

Compare that to Cummings Research Park, which was established in 1962.

Designed for driving, originally, there were no restaurants, retail or residential originally allowed within the park.

That began to change when, 1982, the city purchased land and it evolved into Cummings Research Park West. In 2007, Bridge Street Town Centre was developed and it now includes more than 80 restaurants and stores and two hotels. An apartment building has since opened and a third hotel will open soon.

Some sections of Research Park East are being rezoned for small, very condensed multi-use developments, multistoried and sitting close to streets so as not to waste land. The parking will be enough, but it will not be a sprawling field of asphalt.

Tenants can expect some retail-like coffee shops and cafes, and perhaps even hotel rooms on the upper floors to alleviate having to jump in your vehicle for every errand.

Residents are already seeing bikeshares in Cummings Research Park for quick and emissions-free runs.

There are more pedestrian-friendly multi-use developments such as the Village of Providence, downtown’s Twickenham Square, Town Madison along I-565, and MidCity on the old Madison Square Mall property, following a popular trend across the U.S. where people are demanding less pollution, less asphalt, less traffic and more outdoor-friendly landscaping, easier accessibility, and more walkability.

“We recognize that our residents need more mobility options, especially when it comes to urban development,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “With each new project, we look to create safe and unusable connectivity for pedestrians and cyclists as well as public transit and motor vehicles.”

High Point Cutting the Ribbon on World-Class Rock Climbing Facility

High Point Climbing and Fitness will have its own high point at MidCity District.

High Point is hosting a ribbon-cutting Friday at 3 p.m. followed by a grand opening celebration from 3:30-9. Visitors will be able to check out the outdoor climbing wall and purchase memberships and day passes at special discounted rates.

The Huntsville gym will be one of only a few facilities in the U.S. that offers an indoor climbing gym along with an
outdoor freestanding wall.

“We are excited to build an iconic climbing gym in the progressive City of Huntsville, and to partner with RCP Companies to provide one of the first experiential venues at MidCity development” said co-owner Johnny O’Brien.

The indoor facility offers expansive climbing areas throughout the gym, along with a 2,700-square-foot Kid Zone that has climbing elements designed specifically for kids from 3-12 years old.

High Point Huntsville also offers a full fitness regimen including weights, cardio equipment and a yoga studio, along with a gear shop and birthday party rooms to provide members and guests with a full complement of amenities.

One of the most unique features is the 45-foot tall outdoor climbing with more than 6,000 square feet of climbing surface. It is in the public park adjacent to the indoor facility.

“The City of Huntsville approached us to build the outdoor wall, and they have been extremely entrepreneurial in their approach to the project and a great partner to make this iconic outdoor wall a reality,” said co-owner John Wiygul.

For information, visit www.HighPointClimbing.com.

Dave & Buster’s: Not just restaurant or game room – it’s ‘a full experience’

There are some 125 games ready to play at Dave & Buster’s. (Photo/Eric Schultz)

Even the old school games have new age twists.

Starting Aug. 19, the grand opening of Huntsville’s Dave & Buster’s Sports Bar — or restaurant and adult/family entertainment venue — patrons could play the iconic 1980s video game “Pac-Man” in the “Million Dollar Midway” at the newest business to open at MidCity District in Huntsville.

But this is not your father’s version of the classic arcade staple.

This century’s “Pac-Man” features a four-person Battle Royale where contestants eliminate others by eating them on a state-of-the-art big screen.

“Pac-man” is one of 125 games in D&B’s entertainment section.

“The technology involved really is the latest and greatest in terms of modernization,” said Eric Drescher, the store’s general manager and a 20-year veteran of the restaurant scene in the region.

The high-tech stuff contines throughout the Midway. There are the classic standards such Pac-Man, Pop-A-Shot and Skee-Ball. Some games have virtual reality and others are based on themes surrounding “Jurassic Park,” “Star Wars” and “Men In Black.”

As some 200-plus new hires went through training days before the grand opening, a walk through the Midway had a feeling of the last quarter of the 20th century blending into the new millennium.

At the back of the Midway, ticket winners can shop for prizes ranging from candy to PlayStations in the Winner’s Circle.

General Manager Eric Drescher stands ready to welcome customers as the new Dave & Buster’s is ready to open at Mid City District in Huntsville. (Photo/Eric Schultz)

D&B’s next calling card is the restaurant/sports bar area. A full bar divides one eating section from a full dining room and dissects a room that features garage-style doors that close off a meeting room for around 50 people.

Drescher said the setting is perfect for any type of private function, even midday.

“At lunch, we can get them in and get them out,” he said. “They have a great lunch experience and come back at night with their family and have a great game experience.”

Among the televisions that can be seen from every angle around the restaurant and bar are four that measure at 169 inches. The decorative walls reflect a state and regional flavor when it comes to sports teams.

“We have the best sports viewing in town,” Drescher said. “If there’s a game, on the chances are we have it and, if we don’t, we can get it.”

Drescher said if certain games — Alabama and Auburn football, for example — are being televised, the sound will also be turned up.

After all, he said, his restaurant is seeking to provide ultimate entertainment.

“Dave and Buster’s is such a different entity because of the games and high-quality food and amazing drinks.” he said. “It’s not just a restaurant. It’s not a game room. It’s a full experience …”

For more information, visit daveandbusters.com.