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Razing Buildings to Raise Opportunities in North Huntsville

Devyn Keith ran to represent District 1 on the Huntsville City Council in 2016 vowing to make north Huntsville a destination.

He wasn’t making empty promises.

Devyn Keith helping bring redevelopment and opportunity to North Huntsville.(Photo by Eric Schultz)

With Keith leading the way, eyesore buildings bought by the city have been razed along North Parkway. There have been eight reduced to rubble so far and, if Keith gets his way, more will follow.

Blight isn’t welcome in Keith’s district where he grew up in the Northwoods development.

“We’ll be going after the rest of them shortly,’’ he said of privately owned buildings that have seen better days. “I’m not sure of the time frame.’’

Keith has been a mover and shaker since he unseated longtime District 1 Councilman Richard Showers. Just two years into the job, he was voted council president by his colleagues.

Meanwhile, he created the North Huntsville Business Association, which will soon move into office space near the corner of Oakwood Avenue and the Parkway in a strip mall that has been renovated.

Keith, who holds degrees from Samford and the University of Massachusetts, ran on the platform of reducing crime, increasing property values, investing in infrastructure and enhancing a vibrant quality of life for all of the district.

Some of his initiatives have already taken shape.

Along with the city, the Neighborhood Resource Center, a program that brings city government to the neighborhood, was launched. The Johnson HIgh School campus will soon become the Johnson Legacy Complex complete with indoor volleyball courts, soccer fields, a rock-climbing wall and even a sauna.

Those are just two of the projects Keith is overseeing.

There have been neighborhood block parties and ice cream socials. Streets are being repaved. The public library serving north Huntsville will move from a trailer into the new Berachah Park. There’s also the Council High Park planned for the site where the old building no longer exists.

One of the many empty buildings along North Parkway, the former Gander Mountain store, will soon be filled by Rural King, a farm/home department store slated to open in August/September.

For Keith, nothing is more important at the moment than erasing the blight that corrupts his streets.

“That was the first policy — start tearing things downs,’’ he said. “That was one of the things I ran on. Tearing down blight is a positive to let people know the city is serious about this.

“It’s, ‘What can we bring to north Huntsville?’ There hasn’t been a new subdivision in north Huntsville in a very long time.’’

Keith has his battle lines drawn. Imagine an area encompassing Oakwood Avenue, Pulaski Pike, University Drive, Jordan Lane and the Parkway.

“We’ll work from the outside in,’’ he said.

Drive past the intersection of the Parkway and Lantana these days and there’s an empty lot where dilapidated buildings once stood. It’ll soon be home to Lantana Way, a green space with a planned public art wall.

“We’re just trying to make it clean,’’ said Harrison Diamond, business relations officer for the city. “We’re tearing them down to make green space.

“We’ll work with the private sector to help make it better. We’ve got projects in the hopper.’’

That’s music to Keith’s ears.

“The city is making it advantageous (for businesses and homeowners) to come to north Huntsville,’’ he said. “For us it’s, ‘What can we do to make it easier?’ ‘’