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Little Richard Mural Unveiled at MidCity – A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom!

Good Golly, Miss Molly!

Hoping to avoid “slippin’ and slidin’,” friends, officials and family gathered Tuesday night in MidCity District for a special unveiling.

The crowd braved the threat of rain to celebrate the colorful tribute that will serve to forever immortalize the life and music of Richard Wayne Penniman, famously known to the world as “Little Richard.”

Hosted by the MidCity Development team and with the blessing of the Penniman family, the unveiling of artist Logan Tanner’s vibrant mural in a formal presentation will allow Little Richard’s story to live on in the form of a visual masterpiece.

“It is a special moment for the Penniman family,” said David Person, the family’s representative. “On behalf of the family, I would like to thank all of you for being here tonight.”

Oakwood University President Dr. Les Pollard and Dr. Carlton Byrd, senior pastor of Oakwood University Church, spoke of Richard, his faith, and his strong connection to the college and to Huntsville.

“Richard had a special place in this city” said Dr. Byrd. “He was a person you would never ever forget. And if he knew you, he never forgot you.”

In 1957, Little Richard answered a higher calling. A calling which brought him to Huntsville.

A larger-than-life mural at Wahlburgers in Huntsville’s MidCity District celebrates the larger-than-life persona of Little Richard. (Photo/Steve Babin)

It was here Richard enrolled at Oakwood University to study for the ministry. Richard was inspired by E.C. Ward, then pastor of Oakwood. Richard entered to learn, and he departed to serve by becoming a traveling evangelist.

As an ordained minister, he officiated the weddings of Tom Petty, Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, and Little Steven Van Zandt.

As an entertainer with his glamorous sequin and rhinestone studded capes and suits, Richard was quite the visual showman as well as an exceptional performer. He was in the inaugural class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as his career spanned seven decades. He was an inspiration to performers such as James Brown, Michael Jackson, Prince, and Tina Turner.

Driving in from the east, the 40-foot-wide-by-30-foot-tall mural adorning the side of Wahlburgers at MidCity is impossible to miss.

Capturing the essence of Richard’s high-energy antics, the mural presents Little Richard at the peak of his popularity in the late 1950s. The colors are bold and bright, with contrasting hues of orange, yellow, teal, turquoise, with a touch of purple, all serving to convey the liveliness of Richard’s performances. The projection mapping display by LED Orange at the end of the presentation, brought the mural to life – in synch with his music.

It was said that Richard’s charisma also was the magnet that brought people to the word of God.

He was laid to rest at Oakwood Memorial Gardens Cemetery but his spirit will live on at MidCity.

 

 

 

 

Area Commercial Construction Continues to Rise in Wake of COVID Uncertainty

There has been very little, if any, slowdown in commercial building in Huntsville and Madison throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the weight of uncertainty related to the pandemic has not disappeared, commercial builders and developers continue to work through it like Marshall Space Flight Center engineers work through the challenges of the space program – always moving positively forward; always working the problem from a pragmatic standpoint; and never accepting failure as a final outcome.

According to Shane Davis, Director of Urban & Economic Development for the City of Huntsville, new construction permits, and permit inspection requests have not declined throughout the pandemic and the City continues to see strong growth in all building sectors.

“In terms of the overall environment, we continue to see multiple new projects looking at the Huntsville market as a new or expanding location,” said Davis. “While COVID has slowed the number of potential new companies and their projects, active projects are very strong and diverse in varying business sectors.

“Ongoing construction activities have been hindered by reduced workers, intermediate quarantining, and delays due to the availability in building materials. But while these conditions have slowed the overall construction pace, all ongoing commercial and industrial projects continue to move ahead with a shift in completion deadlines and openings.”

He points to the very visible and very active downtown construction happening on what seems like every block.

“City Centre is under construction with Phase II – lofts, retail, and a parking garage,” he said. “Two new public parking garages are going up at Greene and Monroe streets. Both the Curio Hotel and Hampton Inn and Suites are in the midst of construction, and the new Huntsville Hospital Tower is taking shape.

Last year, Russ Russell Commercial Real Estate set a land sales record for downtown Huntsville at $56 per square foot for the Hampton Inn and Suites project. Located on the corner of Clinton Avenue and Monroe Street, the land is prime downtown real estate across from the expanded Von Braun Center.

“It is one of the few corners that has been vacant with no building on it,” Russell said. “Out-of-town developers look at these parcels of land with fresh eyes are willing to pay a premium because they can see it developed, where sometimes local people can’t because they drive past it every day.

“I set up an ugly tent with cold beer and rare velvet Elvis artwork, and you will be surprised how it brings that vision into full view,” he said.

Mitch Coley, division Manager at Robins & Morton, said they are working on a variety of projects in the greater Huntsville area. Some of the most visible include Huntsville Hospital’s Orthopedic and Spine Tower, Redstone Federal Credit Union, 106 Jefferson, Pelham Street Park and Redstone Gateway 7100 and 8100’s new office building.

“Mid-year there was a decline in new projects and delays in projects in the planning stages as owners and developers hesitated, wanting a clearer picture of what was ahead,” said Coley. “But the industry is seeing some of these projects resuming. The good news is that those projects haven’t gone away and that’s providing strong start for next year.”

He said they are seeing a decrease in the number of new projects reported as upcoming opportunities from architect and design firms, but they believe this will manifest itself in a market-by-market and city-by-city basis. Huntsville is not likely to be as affected by what would ordinarily predict a nationwide downturn because Huntsville’s market sector is so diverse.

“Looking back at the recession of 2008, the construction industry contracted,” Coley said. “It was different from what we’re facing today because of the lack of capital during the Great Recession, but it resulted in a pent-up demand for construction.

“There was still a backlog when COVID-19 surfaced. Although some clients expressed hesitancy to proceed with projects in the very early stages of planning mid-year, we’ve seen many of them resume.”

Russell sees positive signs everywhere. From the construction of the $40 million Autograph Collection by Marriott hotel being built to replace the southern portion of the Von Braun Center parking deck; to the long-awaited downtown Constellation development, which begins Phase I construction this fall.

In addition to these large-scale projects, downtown continues to see new businesses opening up and the redevelopment of existing spaces in the core, Davis said.

“The biggest impact on new commercial projects and hospitality projects has been the pause in project financing,” Davis said. “We have dozens of projects that still have approval from both the private equity and brand/retailer sides. However, COVID-19 has caused a pause in the start of construction due to the ability to close on the financial package.

“The ability for these projects to keep the private equity and national brand approvals shows the current strength of the Huntsville market.”

Don Beck, partner in The Shopping Center Group of Alabama concurs.

“The banks are lending money and it is cheap,” said Beck, whose company specializes in retail developments. “Bankers know the Huntsville market is good because its employment base is there with federal dollars coming from Redstone Arsenal and subcontracting coming from Cummings Research Park. With the jobs there, the banks are a yes for lending.”

On the other hand, many banks are showing hesitancy toward some restaurants and hotels.

According to Joey Ceci, president of the Breland Companies, “We have several cases where regional hotel and restaurant owners are ready to move forward but in those two industries, it is almost impossible to get financing, despite their financial statements looking fine. Accessing capital is very important to companies that are expanding so this has been a deterrent.”

SouthPoint Business Park (Photo/Hollingsworth Companies)

Outside of downtown, Davis points to growth and the success of other commercial projects throughout the region.

SouthPoint Business Park, off Interstates 65 and 565 and five miles from the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant, broke ground on its 11th facility at the 1.9 million square-foot industrial park that is already home to six companies. The new building is the region’s largest spec industrial facility and, according to Davis, it is almost full.

SouthPoint is a component of the larger regional economic strategy, and Davis calls out regional leaders and partners for that expansion, as they continue to focus on the bigger picture and work to be successful in those areas.

“Cummings Research Park remains the location of choice for big business,” Davis said. “Several entities have plans for expansion and the city continues to invest in new and updated infrastructure as part of implementing the updated Master Plan. Even with the COVID events, projects are in the works for 2021 and we believe will be a big year for CRP.”

At MidCity, construction slowed due to COVID, but retail, hospitality, and the initial multi-family components are still on schedule to start construction this fall.

“Most of the infrastructure construction, site grading, and utility relocations are wrapping up such that the redevelopment plan can go vertical,” said Davis. “We believe 2021 will be an exciting year for MidCity as the building architecture that has been shared through the Master Plan will come to life.”

One of the worst kept secrets in Madison County is all that red clay moving around at the corner of Town Madison Boulevard and Zierdt Road.

The newest Huntsville Starbucks location and Outback Steakhouse are moving forward, while Town Madison continues to build a retail center across the street from Toyota Field. The buildings are 50 percent complete and will welcome a chef-driven Italian restaurant to its tenant line-up.

“Economic development continues to be a primary focus for our Madison team,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. “Our YTD sales tax is up over 10 percent from last year despite the COVID-19 situation, and we continue to see success in growing our retail sales tax base.

“Town Madison, Madison Boulevard, The Avenue Madison downtown, Midtown, the (U.S.) 72 corridor, and County Line Road have all seen growth in restaurants, retail, and groceries,” Finley aidd. “Redevelopment of Hughes Plaza, Madison Boulevard and Hughes Road all continue to give Madison an upgraded, new and positive look.”

“Retail follows rooftops,” said Beck of TSCG. “The good news is that Huntsville is still growing; we still have a housing shortage; we still have over 10,000 jobs coming into the area; and there is still a lot of demand, even pent-up retail demand.”

Beck, who has developed retail projects throughout the region, said he is positive about the future as he sees developers moving towards mixed-use projects with a housing component and perhaps an office of medical office component fitted together with traditional retail.

“We are still seeing expansion downtown and on the south part of town with the Hays Farm development,” he said. “Scottsboro, Athens and northern Madison County, Hazel Green and Meridianville are showing continuous growth.

“Athens, for instance, is getting a second Publix where the old Kmart used to be. With its proximity to the interstate and Toyota Mazda, Athens is a great commuting city for Huntsville and Madison, and it should soon see a boom as it grows together with Madison.”

He also said smaller towns such as Hartselle and Priceville are seeing growth as well because the commute time to Huntsville or Madison is workable.

“If you moved here from Atlanta or (Washington) D.C., you have an entirely different perspective on commutes,” he said. “And it is less expensive to live in those smaller towns.”

The disconnect he said is with forced reduced sales volumes. Can retailers justify the construction costs and afford the rent?

“We don’t know the answer to that yet, but at some point, business must open back up and people have to get back work,” Beck said. “There’s no way these restaurants with construction costs being where they are, can at 50 percent capacity and a limit on the hours you can sell alcohol, justify new construction costs.”

He said while rent must go down, at the same time, landlords have mortgages and they have to make mortgage payments. The good part is that developers and landlords are being creative in finding ways to make it work.

“On pre-COVID leases, landlords are working on rent deferrals or rent reductions where the tenant pays partial rent for the time being, and when things get back to normal, going back to full rent and perhaps adding a longer lease time, like an extra year on the lease.

“As long as there’s housing demand, retail will be all right, but we also don’t yet know how the Amazon effect will affect big box retail,” he said. “There are still a lot of people who want to shop in stores. Shopping is a social event just like going out to play golf or tennis. But throughout this pandemic, Amazon has filled that space and we don’t know yet how much that convenience will carry over into everyday life once things get back to normal.”

Coley too said there is still a lot of uncertainty, but his company Robins & Morton believes most people are hopeful that we will gain control over the pandemic in the not-too-distant future.

“When you think that it can be two years or more from planning to completion for a project, you can understand why a lot of active construction hasn’t slowed down,” said Coley. “You’re always building for the future, and I think that’s what we’re seeing here in Huntsville.”

MidCity District Adds 40-Foot Mural to Honor Little Richard

Good golly, MidCity!

MidCity District, the mixed-use development on University Drive, is adding a 40-foot by 30-foot mural of late rock ‘n’ roll icon Little Richard to its public mural gallery.

Born Richard Penniman and a graduate of Oakwood University, he devoted his life to music and his faith. Little Richard was a pioneer for living bold and was named “the architect of rock ‘n’ roll”. He died in May at the age of 87.

In a statement, his family said, “The family of Richard Penniman, known to the world as Little Richard, appreciates the extraordinary gesture by the RCP Companies and MidCity Huntsville to create a mural in tribute to our loved one. Richard had many fond memories of Huntsville.

“He loved his alma mater Oakwood College (now Oakwood University) and enjoyed his return visits to the college church, especially when his friend and mentor E.C. Ward was the senior pastor. Richard also enjoyed being one of the headliners for the 1994 Big Spring Jam. An estimated 15,000 fans attended his performance that night.”

He created the famous “Tutti Frutti” line, “A wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom,” while washing dishes in his home town of Macon, Ga., before he became a household name across the globe. He was among the first 10 inductees into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

“The idea of a Little Richard tribute was introduced by Bryan Mayo of Rocket CityScope; we decided to pursue artists immediately” said Max Grelier, co-founder of RCP Companies, the developer of MidCity District. “In a short amount of time we were able to connect with Little Richard’s family, get their blessing, secure a talented local artist, and allocate funding for this colorful addition to MidCity District.

The $850 million MidCity District development 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.

“We are looking forward to unveiling this mural to our North Alabama community in several weeks,” said Grelier.

Artist Logan Tanner will paint the mural on the east-facing facade of the Wahlburgers building.  The project is expected to be completed in about four-five weeks, Tanner said.

Tanner has worked on murals throughout the Tennessee Valley including at Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment. His whimsical and vibrant style is a perfect match for Little Richard’s equally colorful legacy.

“As Richard’s survivors, we support any worthwhile effort to celebrate his legacy and innovative contributions to American music and culture,” the family’s statement said. “And we are very appreciative of the artistic efforts of Logan Tanner, the creator of the mural planned for MidCity Huntsville. Mr. Tanner’s art captures Richard’s vibrancy and creativity tastefully and with elegance.

“Thank you for this honor, and God bless you as you move forward with this tribute.”

RCP, gener8tor Announce Emergency Response Program for Artists, Musicians

RCP Companies, developer of MidCity District, and gener8tor have launched an initiative supporting Huntsville artists, musicians and others affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Under the Huntsville Emergency Response Program, artists, musicians and others in creative crafts will have access to a free, week-long webinar series designed to identify and leverage critical resources in order to weather this ongoing public health crisis.

As a part of the program, participants will be provided with daily webinars featuring experts in the following areas:

  • ​Employment law experts to help navigate unemployment applications and benefits;
  • CARES Act guidance and resources;
  • How to take your business online;
  • Navigating and utilizing TikTok;
  • Mental health and wellness resources for small business owners; and
  • A listening session with a national industry professional.

In addition to webinars, gener8tor will host dedicated, daily one-on-one consultations for small businesses to meet digitally with business advisors. The gener8tor team will be working one-on-one with companies to address the various issues small businesses are facing during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Gener8tor will also work with community groups interested in providing pro bono resources to small businesses.

To register, visit  www.gener8tor.com/emergency-response-program/Huntsville. The deadline is Monday, May 4 at 10:59 a.m. CST.

The program runs from May 4-8 and all Huntsville-based businesses artists, musicians and creatives are welcome to apply.

“Understanding the myriad of resources available to our creative community is paramount to enabling our artists and musicians to continue working,” said Max Grelier, cofounder of RCP. “Having a step-by-step, tailored seminar allows the policy experts to provide guidance. We are incredibly appreciative of our friends at gener8tor and hope that our creative community can continue to create while utilizing this excellent resource.”

Joe Kigues, gener8tor cofounder, said, “We have seen firsthand the impact that entrepreneurs have on a community, and we hope to call on our network of mentors, investors and partners to support small business owners through this new Emergency Response Program.”

Construction of Luxury Housing Continues as B’ham Developer Breaks Ground Near MidCity

As the worst of the COVID-19 crisis seems to be waning in North Alabama, new jobs, new construction, and plans for a new luxury living development pick up right where they left off in March.

Birmingham developers Capstone Communities broke ground on The Cottages at Old Monrovia, a 25-acre housing development near Old Monrovia Road and Oakwood Road, about a mile from Huntsville’s MidCity district. The rentals will feature a mixture of single-story attached homes, lofts and two-story townhomes.

“Our goal is to build a unique community and true sense of place at The Cottages,” said John Acken, executive vice president of development for Capstone Communities. “With plenty of sidewalks, pedestrian features and open green spaces, we want to create a safe and walkable community where residents can look forward to spending time outside enjoying cookouts, hosting community events and connecting with their neighbors.”

Capstone Communities estimates the project will bring 100 to 120 temporary and permanent jobs to the area in construction in management.

Convenient to Cummings Research Park and Redstone Arsenal, the low-density multifamily development consists of 275 cottage-style homes, expected to attract young professionals and their families, and empty-nesters looking to downsize.

Capstone Properties, the in-house management company for Capstone Communities, will begin leasing this fall. The first units are expected to be completed in March 2021 with the full completion slated for September 2021.

Architect’s rendition of the loft-style home at The Cottages.

Designed by Nequette Architecture & Design, also headquartered in Birmingham, The Cottages at Old Monrovia will offer a variety of upscale amenities such as nine to 12-foot ceilings, granite countertops, wood-grain flooring, in-unit washers and dryers, a smart home technology package, state-of-the-art fitness center, resort-style pool, centralized clubhouse, dog park, electric car charging stations, a car care center, a pet spa, 24/7 on-call maintenance and optional enclosed garage parking.

Capstone Communities (formerly Capstone Collegiate Communities) is a Birmingham-based commercial real estate firm specializing in the development, management and construction of student, multifamily and senior housing. They entered into a partnership with OG Capital, a private equity real estate investment firm specializing in the acquisition and re-positioning of existing multi-family properties throughout the South, to bring the development to Huntsville.

According to OG Capital principal David Oakley, the single-family style rentals have proven successful in other markets with a 50 percent faster lease-up period, and a 20 percent higher resident retention rate than traditional garden-style apartments.

“I first noticed this cottage concept out West a few years ago and grew to love it,” said Oakley. “Apartment living doesn’t have to mean stairs and elevators. The cottage style product meets the market by providing residents with the features they value most – private backyards, high ceilings and in-home tech packages – to name a few.”

It is Huntsville’s surge in innovation and economic growth that makes Huntsville the perfect location, said Shep Nolen, president of CBI Construction Services, Capstone Communities’ in-house general contractor for the project.

“We’re thrilled to enter such a promising market and support the city’s economic development efforts by creating additional jobs as Huntsville prepares for its next chapter of growth.”

Construction financing is being provided by Trustmark National Bank and Renasant Bank.

Hotel Indigo Coming to Huntsville’s MidCity District

A truly unique addition to MidCity District will be coming.

Hotel Indigo is joining the growing lineup at the $850 million mixed-use development in Huntsville at the intersection of University Drive and Research Park Boulevard, RCP Companies announced. This is a first-to-market hotel brand for the area and is developed by Chattanooga-based ViaNova Development.

Construction is scheduled to begin this spring and the targeted opening date is mid-2021.

Just as no two places are alike, no two Hotel Indigo properties are the same. Each hotel draws inspiration from the local neighborhood, culture and popular trends in food, drink and design to create a warm and vibrant atmosphere.

The Hotel Indigo Huntsville – MidCity will be the first Hotel Indigo property in North Alabama. With more than 100 hotels across 19 countries, Hotel Indigo is a branded boutique from InterContinental Hotels Group.

Every hotel is uniquely designed to capture the essence of the neighborhood with curated artwork and seasonal menus reflecting the local character and culture.

“Hotel Indigo offers guests an immersive experience that is truly reflective of the local community,” said Max Grelier, co-founder of RCP Companies. “By celebrating local art, music and food, Hotel Indigo delivers a genuine boutique hotel.

“Hotel Indigo’s commitment to the local culture is truly aligned with the MidCity District mission.”

Located along Nunnuhsae Park Drive, the 120-room five-story Hotel Indigo will provide guests with expansive views of the 40-acre public park and adjacency to Topgolf and the 8,500-capacity amphitheater.

In addition to the boutique hotel, the property will feature a restaurant offering locally sourced options, a comprehensive craft/beer cocktail menu, and indoor and outdoor spaces for gathering.

“ViaNova Development is extremely pleased about the opportunity to become one of the cornerstones of such an exiting and dynamic development,” said Vyomesh Desai, managing partner. “The growth in Huntsville has been amazing and we are proud to join the community …

“We are looking forward to bringing a truly boutique experience that embodies the cultural assets of the ‘Rocket City’ to the MidCity development.”

Recently ranked as the fourth-largest commercial real estate project in the U.S., MidCity Huntsville features first-to-market concepts in retail, dining, entertainment, residential and hospitality, including Topgolf, REI Co-op, Dave & Buster’s, High Point Climbing & the Adrenaline Zone, Wahlburgers, and world-class music venues.

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.