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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.

 

Trash Pandas Release Inaugural Season Schedule

MADISON – The cry of “Play ball!” will return to the area April 15 when the Rocket City Trash Pandas make their debut.

The Trash Pandas will host the Mississippi Braves in a five-game series April 15-19 to open their 70-game home schedule.

They will open their inaugural season April 9 at the Birmingham Barons.

“After so many fantastic events leading to actual baseball – from the naming contest, the logo and uniform reveals, season ticket holder parties, and the great days bonding with fans in our store – it is amazing to think we’ll be playing ball in just over eight months,” said Trash Pandas CEO Ralph Nelson. “I’ve said it repeatedly: no community has ever embraced a team like North Alabama has the Trash Pandas.

“We cannot wait to show our fans what we have planned for them at the ballpark.”

Nelson said the first pitch will be 6:35 p.m.

The regular season Southern League schedule will include Midweek Businessperson/Student Specials on April 29 and July 14 at 12:05 p.m.; a Memorial Day Salute to the Military on May 24; and an Independence Day Fireworks Extravaganza on July 3.

Game times are 6:35 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 7:05 p.m. for Friday games; and 6:05 p.m. for Saturday games. Sunday games in April-June start at 2:05 p.m. and, to help avoid the summer heat, the first pitch for Sunday games in July and August is 5:05 p.m.

The Trash Pandas will be in the Southern League North Division, joining the Barons, Jackson Generals, Chattanooga Lookouts and Tennessee Smokies.

The team will announce a full promotional schedule early next year; it will include fireworks shows and giveaways on every homestand.

Uniforms to include “Inaugural Mission” patch and “Inaugural Season” logo

The Inaugural Mission patch will be worn on all player uniforms throughout 2020, as well as authentic jerseys purchased by the public.

Both logos will be featured on merchandise and other ballpark items sold throughout the 2020 season.

 

 

Below is the Trash Pandas 2020 home schedule (game times are subject to change):

April 15 – 6:35 p.m. vs Mississippi; April 16 – 6:35 p.m. vs Mississippi; April 17 – 7:05 p.m. vs. Mississippi; April 18 – 6:05 p.m. vs. Mississippi; April 19 – 2:05 p.m. vs. Mississippi. April 25 – 6:05 p.m. vs. Montgomery; April 26 – 2:05 p.m. vs. Montgomery; April 27 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Montgomery; April 28 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Montgomery; April 29 – 12:05 p.m. vs. Montgomery.

May 6 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Pensacola; May 7 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Pensacola; May 8 – 7:05 p.m. vs. Pensacola; May 9 – 6:05 p.m. vs. Pensacola; May 10 – 2:05 p.m. vs. Pensacola. May 16 – 6:05 p.m. vs. Chattanooga; May 17 – 2:05 p.m. vs. Chattanooga; May 18 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Chattanooga; May 19 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Chattanooga; May 20 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Chattanooga; May 21 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Biloxi; May 22 – 7:05 p.m. vs. Biloxi; May 23 – 6:05 p.m. vs. Biloxi; May 24 – 6:05 p.m. vs. Biloxi; May 25 – 12:05 p.m. vs. Biloxi.

June 1 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Tennessee; June 2 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Tennessee; June 3 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Tennessee; June 4 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Tennessee; June 5 – 7:05 p.m. vs. Tennessee. June 17 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Jackson; June 18 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Jackson; June 19 – 7:05 p.m. vs. Jackson; June 20 – 6:05 p.m. vs. Jackson; June 21 – 2:05 p.m. vs. Jackson.

June 22-24 All-Star Break

June 30 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Birmingham; July 1 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Birmingham; July 2 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Birmingham; July 3 – 7:05 p.m. vs. Birmingham. July 10 – 7:05 p.m. vs. Jackson; July 11 – 6:05 p.m. vs. Jackson; July 12– 5:05 p.m. vs. Jackson; July 13 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Jackson; July 14 – 12:05 p.m. vs. Jackson. July 21 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Tennessee; July 22 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Tennessee; July 23 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Tennessee; July 24 – 7:05 p.m. vs. Tennessee; July 25 – 6:05 p.m. vs. Tennessee; July 26 – 5:05 p.m. vs. Tennessee.

Aug. 6 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Birmingham; Aug. 7 – 7:05 p.m. vs. Birmingham; Aug. 8 – 6:05 p.m. vs. Birmingham; Aug. 9 – 5:05 p.m. vs. Birmingham; Aug. 10 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Birmingham; Aug. 11 – Off Day; Aug. 12 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Jacksonville; Aug. 13 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Jacksonville; Aug. 14 – 7:05 p.m. vs. Jacksonville; Aug. 15 – 6:05 p.m. vs. Jacksonville; Aug. 16 – 5:05 p.m. vs. Jacksonville; Aug. 23 – 5:05 p.m. vs. Pensacola; Aug. 24 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Pensacola; Aug. 25 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Pensacola; Aug. 26 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Pensacola; Aug. 27 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Pensacola.

Sept. 3 – 6:35 p.m. vs. Chattanooga; Sept. 4 – 7:05 p.m. vs. Chattanooga; Sept. 5 – 6:05 p.m. vs. Chattanooga; Sept. 6 – 2:05 p.m. vs. Chattanooga; Sept. 7 – 12:05 p.m. vs. Chattanooga.

For season ticket and other information, visit trashpandasbaseball.com.

 

White Bison Coffee-Twice Daily Opening in Town Madison

MADISON – Combining convenience and coffee, the state’s first Twice Daily-White Bison Coffee store will open in Town Madison this fall.

The new concept store from Nashville-based Tri Star Energy merges Twice Daily’s convenience store and White Bison Coffee’s artisan coffee beverages and fresh, handcrafted café menu.

This will be the first brand-in-brand retail location for Tri Star Energy outside of Tennessee.

“We are thrilled to bring White Bison Coffee and Twice Daily to the people of Alabama,” said Steve Hostetter, CEO of Tri Star Energy. “Whether it’s enjoying coffee with friends, grabbing food on-the-go or fueling up, we’ve got you covered. We pair convenience with quality to accommodate our guests and their busy lives.”

The White Bison Coffee concept offers expertly roasted, handcrafted specialty coffee drinks –– featuring single origin pour-over coffees, cold brew, nitro coffee, espresso beverages and more. Guests can also enjoy freshly baked pastries and handmade breakfast and lunch items including sandwiches, salads and Bistro snack boxes.

In addition to traditional convenience items, Twice Daily’s premium offerings range from grab-and-go snacks, including organic brands, to a selection of staple groceries. There is also a fresh deli case with handmade and healthy options featuring fruits, sandwiches, salads and snacks. Additional offerings include donuts and pastries, freshly prepared breakfast & lunch sandwiches and an extensive beer cave featuring local and craft beers.

For information, visit whitebisonTN.com and twicedaily.com. They can also be followed on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Lumberjacks, Flannel Ribbon-Cutting Mark Rainy Opening of Duluth Trading Co.

MADISON — Duluth Trading Co., known for its durable, high-quality apparel and iconic TV commercials, opened its first Alabama store in weather befitting the company’s products.

Despite the rain, local dignitaries and excited patrons gathered in front of the store for the cutting of a flannel ribbon, followed by Timberworks traveling Lumberjack Show.

Duluth Trading Co. is famous for its apparel and TV commercials. (Photo by Tina Simon)

“We had a lot of people ask us whether the rain put a damper on our grand opening, but actually, bad weather fits our brand for practical, functional clothing,” said store manager Christopher Sailor. “Our customers will tell you a little rain never slows us down or affects the enthusiasm our customers have for our merchandise.

“In spite of the intermittent drizzle, we had a steady flow of customers throughout the day and we had a lot of people telling us how excited they were to have a Duluth Trading Company store here in the Valley.”

The Minnesota-based company was founded in 1989 as a catalog and, later, successful Internet-only retailer. They began selectively opening stores in 2016 and today have 54 stores across the U.S.

Though the store at Town Madison is the first in the state, Sailor said Duluth Trading already has a large concentration of customers in the area.

“Customer demand brought us to the Madison area,” he said “Madison is an expanding research, technology and high-tech manufacturing center, which fits Duluth’s solution-based culture and products.

Wood chips fly during the lumberjack show.

“We’re very excited to bring our unique retail experience, apparel and accessories to the loyal and hard-working Duluth customers in the area.”

Perched on a side street carved out of Graphics Drive and appropriately named Angry Beaver Way, the Duluth Trading Co. store is the first of many retail tenants to open on the old Intergraph campus section of Town Madison.

In addition to the large and enthusiastic customer base Duluth has here, Sailor said the location near the new Rocket City Trash Pandas baseball stadium is part of a broader regional draw for the store.

“Our new neighbors and visitors [across North Alabama and Tennessee] can depend on quality, unique products and a retail experience that puts customer service first,” he said. “Duluth is known for its high-quality, solution-based casual wear and workwear for men and women, but in addition to apparel, we also carry travel bags, dog gear, apothecary and more.

“We bring humor to every day universal truths and offer an outstanding customer experience, which really sets us apart.”

A Food Hall of Kitchens, Breweries and Food Trucks Coming to Town Madison

MADISON — At his State of the City Address in March, Madison Mayor Paul Finley told the audience to buckle up for some big announcements coming out of the new Town Madison development this spring. Today, the Breland Companies delivered a big one!

Rendering shows layout of Town Madison around the baseball stadium and Food Hall

The latest addition is a sprawling Food Hall of 18 kitchens curated by local and regional chefs, two breweries, and several stationary food trucks in an outdoor dining area. A central bar with indoor/outdoor seating will serve as an anchor, and developers are talking to several local and regional restaurants about joining the unique dining lineup. 

The Food Hall can be seen to the right in this rendering.

Designed by Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart, an international design firm based in Atlanta, the Food Hall will feature a large outdoor event space and covered stage area for a variety of events including a showcase for songwriters, concerts and big screen showings of various sporting events.

“Town Madison is taking another step toward our goal to provide a new experience in North Alabama living,” said Louis Breland. “We toured some of the finest food halls in the country looking for the right concept. A great food hall becomes a central gathering spot and brings unique energy to a community.

“Along with the (Rocket City) Trash Pandas stadium, the Food Hall and plaza area will become the place to be before a game or any time people want to meet with friends and share new experiences.”

The Food Hall, a partnership between Breland and Fuqua Development of Atlanta, joins the growing roster of tenants at Town Madison including the baseball stadium; several hotels including the avid Hotel, Home2 Suites and Margaritaville Resort Hotel; restaurants; national retailers such as Duluth Trading Co.; luxury apartments and residential communities.

Construction on the Food Hall begins this summer and tenants will be announced by the end of the year.

It is slated to open next spring – in time for the first pitch.

First avid Hotel in Alabama Breaks Ground at Town Madison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trash Pandas Merchandise Setting Records; Stadium on Schedule

MADISON — As apparel flies off the shelves inside the team’s store at Bridge Street, dirt and mud moves for the plain eye to see from the vantage point of I-565 toward the area near Zierdt Road where the Rocket City Trash Pandas’ future home will be.

But is the ground moving fast enough to meet deadlines for opening day in 2020 when the current Mobile BayBears, the Double-A minor league affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels, move north to a new home and take on a new name?

The answer is a resounding yes, according to Trash Pandas owner Ralph Nelson.

“These guys are incredible,” he said. “They’re working between raindrops. Somehow, someway they’ve found a way to stay on schedule.”

That schedule calls for the Trash Pandas to move into offices in the stadium well before the 2020 season opener. The venue, named Madison Stadium and part of the ambitious Town Madison project, will have a capacity of 7,000 for baseball.

“It’s coming along extremely well and, I understand, under budget and on schedule to move into the stadium three or four months before we play ball,” Nelson said.

Heavy, consistent rains in the Tennessee Valley since last fall have plagued developers and construction sites. And while the weather hasn’t slowed plans for the Trash Pandas to move into their new digs next spring, it has caused some changes in plans as gravel has replaced dirt for backfilling in certain areas.

“We’re very pleased where the situation is,” Nelson said. “The only thing that has concerned people is the rain. Some of the dirt is just too wet.”

Baseball’s impending return has created a stir. While the Huntsville Stars’ arrival in 1985 was also well-received and highly celebrated, the franchise limped out of town with attendance at all-time lows.

The local community, however, apparently missed professional baseball. The Trash Pandas’ apparel store has been doing brisk business for a long time and sales haven’t slowed. A unique team name hasn’t hurt.

Minor league baseball has also began sending licensed Trash Pandas merchandise to local stores. The team receives a percentage of those sales.

“Our store never slows down,” Nelson said. “Every day, every weekend we’re selling merchandise. We’re outselling all of baseball online. We’re selling stuff all over the country.

“We’re always having to buy merchandise just to keep the stocked.”

The Angels and Trash Pandas will continue their player development contract after the team relocates from Mobile. Los Angeles currently has the 10th best minor league system regarding position players and the ninth best for pitchers as ranked by milb.com.

Safety is Paramount as Construction on Town Madison Stadium Reaches Significant Milestones

MADISON — The home for the Rocket City Trash Pandas baseball team is about one-quarter complete.

Concrete and steel have gone up and the underground plumbing and electricity is being laid.

Mud is moving, tractors are pulling, trucks are dumping, and walls are being erected.

The entire Town Madison development may have gotten off to a slow start, but word on the baseball stadium job site is that there will be significant progress in the coming weeks, in anticipation of the December completion date. In fact, the development will reach a point in which it will suddenly seem to go up all at once.

Hoar Construction, general contractor for the stadium, has 80 to 90 workers at the site on any given day. It is just one of many construction sites in full-build mode at Town Madison.

So, what is it like out there on a day-to-day basis? Is everybody staying safe?

Hoar Construction Safety Manager Amanda Black

“Some days there is a beehive of activity and it can get confusing with all the other construction going on around us,” said Bart Wilder, vice president of safety for Hoar Construction, “From a site perspective, it is nonstop all day. Building for us is not just about building on time, under budget, and to a high level of quality. It is about doing all of those things safely and seamlessly.”

Every trade has its own inherent risks associated with their type of work and for that reason, Wilder said they work diligently to get the right trade partners (subcontractors) on every project.

“We choose partners who understand that safety comes down to understanding what our risks are and having the processes in place to identify and mitigate them,” he said. “Hoar sets the culture and expectations for the project, but our partners represent various scopes of work like concrete and steel, utilities, plumbing, electrical. It takes all these trades to put together a project like the new stadium and most of the safety plan begins in preplanning when our safety representatives sit down with partner safety representatives to discuss what they see as hazards on the upcoming job.”

While the construction industry operates under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Primary Standards for Safety, there are other regulatory industries OSHA incorporates into its standards by reference. In fact, OSHA leans heavily on other building trades such as the National Fire Protection Association to write their own codes for fire extinguishers, fire suppression, or chemical exposure. The National Electrical Code also has its own safety protocol, incorporated into OSHA’s standards.

“Safety is not a burden because our partners share the safety responsibilities with us,” said Wilder. “Also, our obligations are not predicated on the minimum of OSHA standards. Our obligations are more along the lines of industry best practices, designed to be above and beyond OSHA.”

Hoar recommends every team start every shift by looking at specific tasks and asking each other – “Do we have the tools, equipment, manpower, and materials to do today’s tasks? Even more importantly – what are the hazards surrounding that task?” “Are there things that can hurt you in the process?”

Amanda Black, Hoar Construction’s safety manager at Town Madison, begins every morning with a field walk through the jobsite. She checks to see what the last shift left for the next day, and to assess whether site conditions require a superintendent or a team to clean it up. She also makes sure there is room to walk around and maneuver safely and room to operate their equipment.

“We preach two things all the time to the workforce,” said Black “‘Safety is everybody’s job’, and ‘If you see something, say something.’

“I’m out on the site most of the time making sure everyone is doing their job safely. We have safety meetings out here every Tuesday and free time safety analyses every day to keep the workers thinking about job safety and thinking about ways to prevent hazards from happening.”

She said as the general contractor, Hoar requires every team have safety meetings among their group, and Black confirms those meetings daily and any issues that arose from them, checking notes among supervisors to see if anyone spotted any safety hazards that need to be discussed.

“Amanda is in the field, boots on the ground, all day long,” said Wilder. “She is constantly observing not only potential unsafe conditions that can arise, but she knows how to approach an unsafe situation and talk about a way to fix it in a respectful, professional, an educated manner,” said Wilder. “Amanda is trained in safety rules and regulations, so she speaks with authority and people onsite respond to that.”

Construction safety also requires a great deal of foresight. Amanda spends a lot of time at the drawing table trying to safely predict any kind of hazard before it presents itself.

“We have all these great rules and regulations in our industry, but it is not about the regs with Hoar,” said Wilder. “We want you to go home safely. Whoever is waiting for you at home is more important than anyone at work.”

There is an economic message in that strategy as well.

“Part of our success is being able to create all these great construction jobs – jobs that in the process, send you home every day no worse for wear than however you were when you showed up.”

The number one injury on any construction jobsite is trips and falls.

“It seems that areas designated for storage tend to be where a plurality of these trip-and-fall injuries take place,” said Black. “We run to the problem, not away from it. We go back over the environment where they fell to see what caused it, and we check tools and equipment to make sure they were working properly.

“We call in our superintendents to engage quickly and work the problem until it gets resolved.”

“I believe the construction industry has gotten safer in relation to previous generations,” said Wilder. “OSHA always looks at incident rate as the total number of recordable injuries that occur in year, and the total number of incidents that result in someone getting hurt or put on restricted duty due to the severity of an incident.

“Those numbers are tabulated against the Bureau of Labor Statistics to determine the national industry averages. Hoar Construction has consistently ranked well below the industry average in jobsite injuries for more 10 years. We are very proud of that.”

Town Madison’s $12M Pro Player Park Brings Even More Baseball to Area

MADISON — Ever since Madison Mayor Paul Finley announced the building of a new concept at Town Madison called Pro Player Park, it provoked visions of a stylized Ernest Lawrence Thayer: Then from five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell; It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell; It pounded on the mountain and recoiled upon the flat, For Finley, mighty Finley was advancing to the bat.

Now we know Finley’s statement, which came in January’s State of the City Address, will bring a much happier result for local residents than those of Mudville!

The $12 million Pro Player Park project is supported solely by private investment and consists of 12 synthetic baseball/softball fields – six championship size and the other six are configured so the fences can be pulled in to accommodate softball. The project also includes batting cages, a pro shop, a small café and vending area, and an indoor soccer field. Statistics show that Pro Player Park should generate about 300,000 visitors a year, which yields about 40,000 room nights per year.

Currently more than halfway through the design phase, the Breland Properties project is situated in Town Madison on the old Intergraph campus. They will break ground in late spring or early summer with expectations for opening about the same time as the Trash Pandas’ stadium next spring. The first year will be a soft opening year before shooting for home runs in 2021.

“Pro Player Park was not conceived alongside the acquisition of the Rocket City Trash Pandas or their new stadium,” said Joey Ceci, president of Breland Properties. “However, once that project was underway, one of our associates here at Breland, whose son is involved in tournament travel ball, complained that he was always having to drive somewhere else on weekends to watch his son play in these regional tournaments.

“He noted that he was spending his money in all these different locations that did not have any of the attractions and accommodations available in Huntsville. We saw an opportunity to fill that void.”

Ceci said Pro Player Park has undergone more than six months of rigorous due diligence, market feasibility studies, and they have had dozens of serious discussions among all the appropriate people including Mark McCarter, convention sales manager at the Huntsville/Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau, and Huntsville Sports Commission Executive Director Ralph Stone. They are both excited about it because it opens up baseball and softball tournament opportunities the city of Huntsville has never had the facilities to support.

Furthermore, they consulted with one of their partners, Tim Dulin, who has built similar facilities to Pro Player Park and has contacts with travel ball teams as a coach and a mentor. He is already working with McCarter to start pitching Huntsville for these types of tournaments, and to get on their schedules for when the park opens.

“Both travel baseball and softball are increasing in popularity, but there has always been a hole in this region for having the facilities to support them,” said Ceci. “The traveling tournament teams we are looking at are primarily regional or at least within driving distance, but some of the championship series could bring in people from Puerto Rico and Latin America where baseball is a very popular sport, as well as all over the U.S. at some point.

“Because the fields are synthetic – that is, the dirt and the grass are synthetic – they are more or less plug-and-play and can even be configured to support lacrosse,” Ceci said. “These teams can’t really afford rainouts so, with synthetic fields, when the rain is over, you don’t have a soggy field or muddy infield to worry about because they drain quickly, and therefore play can resume relatively quickly.”

Ceci said the closest similar facilities are in Southaven, Miss.; Memphis and Atlanta.

“Nashville gets some teams, but they don’t have a single facility where they play the entire week,” said Ceci. “They use a variety of high school fields, some which are not very high quality, and they are spread out all over Nashville. For instance, they may play a game in Gallatin one day, a game in Brentwood the next day, and a third game in downtown Nashville. The logistics are difficult.”

He said these teams really come with the intent of playing high-caliber, competitive ball and they like to play in places where there are likely to be major league and college scouts on-hand to see their kids play. 

“There is nowhere where the logistics make sense for pro and college scouts who may want to watch a potential catcher play in Smyrna while another player they are interested in is playing across town at the same time in downtown Nashville,” he said.

“The way Pro Player Park will be designed, we will be able to situate scout towers adjacent to four fields at a time, so they can watch players on all four fields from a single location.”

There are hundreds of travel teams who begin the season in late February/early March and run through October. During school, they play these tournaments mostly on weekends but, when school lets out, they may play for three to five days.

“It’s a great generator for us from a business point of view and as a developer, it’s another great project,” Ceci said. “For several days at a time, you will have visitors spending money shopping at Town Madison or Bridge Street; dining; renting hotel rooms; attending ballgames; and visiting our attractions like the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. That is quite the attractive package.”

Baseball complex, 2 more hotels coming to Town Madison

MADISON — Mayor Paul Finley made some major announcements and shared some astounding economic data Friday night at his annual State of the City Address.

Two new hotel chains, the Avid Hotel and Hilton Garden Inn, will join Home2 Suites and Margaritaville at Town Madison. Why the need for more lodging?

Because among his big announcements is the development of Pro Player Park, a 12-field baseball complex on the west side of Town Madison that is projected to generate 35,000 room nights a year!

Finley said Madison is strong and getting stronger thanks to efforts in public safety, in education, in healthcare, and in job growth.

While Finley acknowledges that the area relies heavily on the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce to drive economic growth at the highest level, Madison, which shares both Madison and Limestone counties, is a big piece of the Tennessee Valley puzzle.

“Based on statistics compiled by UAH, in the past three years, we have created 30,000 jobs in those two counties alone!” Finley said to thunderous applause from the audience at the Davidson Center at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. “That is a $2.6 billion economic expansion in Madison County and $6.6 billion in Limestone County, and that does not include Redstone Arsenal, which provides just under 10 percent of the state of Alabama’s gross domestic product”.

While the city itself is operating more efficiently, doing more with less expense to the taxpayer, Finley said that out of the $46 million for the Trash Pandas’ baseball stadium and $20 million for capital improvements for roads and infrastructure, the city currently has a surplus of $10 million in the bank “just in case”.

He also touted the success of Madison Hospital, which saw 55,000 visits to the emergency room last year and is on track to deliver an average of 200 babies per month in 2019. The Madison hospital has grown from 60 to 90 beds in just a couple of years.

He also called out Madison City Schools who ranked as the second-best district in the state in test scores – up from third last year.

“Every school in Madison received an ‘A’ on their report card,” said Finley. “There are only six out of 137 districts in the state who can say that, and ours is the largest to do it.”

He said the district has grown by 538 students since last year and, to put that into perspective, it equates to Madison itself becoming a 5A high school if the growth continues. They have also added two school resource officers to enhance safety and security in the schools, and the City Council budgeted more than $500,000 from the general fund to support both academics and school safety.

“Now comes the hard part,” said Finley. “We are the dog who caught the car. Now what are we going to do?”

He looks to the Launch 2035 initiative established by Huntsville’s Committee of 100 known as the Regional Collaboration of North Alabama “to ensure the successes we have had, continue for the next 10 and 15 years.”

“As leaders in this community, we have to come together to take the successes we have had, and make sure we support them with the things that are required: education, workforce development, and infrastructure.”