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Madison Mayor Finley: Events to Fill Baseball Void at Toyota Field – When Allowed

It might not be Rocket City Trash Pandas baseball, but Toyota Field might soon be hosting events.

That’s according to Madison Mayor Paul Finley, who at Wednesday’s COVID-19 press briefing said, as soon as it’s allowed, plans are to open the new stadium to an array of events.

The Trash Pandas were scheduled to open their first season in Double-A on April 15 before the novel coronavirus intervened. There has been no decision regarding the start or cancelation of the Minor or Major League Baseball seasons.

“Regardless of whether baseball happens, or doesn’t happen, we’re getting ready to start doing a lot of really positive things,’’ Finley said. “A lot of people will be able to come to that venue and use it whether its camps for kids for baseball, whether it’s a wine and cheese festival, whether it’s movies in the park — we’re going to start having events there and doing it in a way that makes good sense when it comes to distancing and sanitation and so forth.’’

Finley also pointed out this is National EMS Week and said for those on the frontlines “we’re very appreciative of what they do.’’

On another note, he said masks would be available for anyone without one who attends graduation ceremonies for James Clemens and Bob Jones at Madison City Stadium on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Huntsville plans to hold graduations June 25-26 at the Von Braun Center’s Propst Arena. Madison County schools have set graduations for July 15-16.

Masks will be required at all ceremonies and distancing will be in practice.

As of late Wednesday, there were 13,052 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state and 285 in Madison County. There were 522 deaths in Alabama related to the disease and four in the county.

Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson said there were less than 10 patients in local hospitals being treated for the virus.

“We are remaining vigilant,’’ she said. “We’re watching the numbers as the community reopens.’’

Hudson continued to stress social distancing, hand washing, and cleaning heavily used surfaces.

She also said that while stay-at-home orders were in place most people were around 1 to 5 people in a household. Now that people are returning to work, that core group is more like 20 people. That 20, she pointed out, would average around three people in the household so now each worker is exposed to a possible 60 contacts.

“The more we open it the more germs can come our way,’’ she said, “which is why we focus on six feet apart.’’

Hudson also emphasized that all health care facilities are open and urged anyone who is not well to visit the emergency room.

“Don’t stay home if you’re sick,’’ she said. “Don’t delay essential care.’’

 

AUSA Cancels Global Force Symposium

Following the Association of the United States Army announcement that the 2020 Global Force Symposium & Exposition has officially been cancelled due to the ongoing public health threat, the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau  offered reassurances that the Rocket City remains a welcoming destination for conferences, tradeshows, and other events.

The Global Force Symposium is one of the largest conferences Huntsville hosts annually, bringing together more than 6,000 attendees and representing an estimated $3.6 million in economic impact.

“We understand AUSA’s desire to prioritize the health and safety of their delegates, and look forward to welcoming them in 2021. Going forward, the CVB will continue to work with our hospitality partners and public health officials to ensure that the health and safety of our visitors remains a top priority,” said Judy Ryals, President/CEO of the CVB. “Supporting our local hospitality industry is also of utmost importance – as travel is impacted, we encourage our residents to explore their own backyard and be patrons to our Huntsville/Madison County restaurants, attractions, hotels, and others.”

Jamie Koshofer, vice president of conventions, said the CVB has worked closely with AUSA over the past year.

“AUSA has long been a close partner of the CVB, and we will continue to provide support for them in all ways that we can,” Koshofer said. “2021 is right around the corner, and we look forward to bringing that business back to the Rocket City.”

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said he is disappointed in the cancellation but the city and AUSA have a strong partnership.

“The City of Huntsville has developed a great partnership with AUSA over the past several years,” Battle said. “While we share in the disappointment of the community, we respect their decision to make the health of AUSA members, participants and our citizens a top priority.

“We will continue to work with them and look forward to seeing AUSA in Huntsville in the coming years.”

Currently, there have been no official reported coronavirus cases in Alabama.

‘Feed your Rhythm;’ New VBC Dining Venue to Host Job Fair

In anticipation of its grand opening in March, Rhythm on Monroe will be hosting a job fair Feb. 3-4 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

As the Von Braun Center’s new dining venue, “Rhythm on Monroe brings a unique dining element to the boom in downtown Huntsville and the greater Tennessee Valley,” said Rhythm’s General Manager Stephen Ryberg. “We want everyone to ‘find their Rhythm’ and ‘feed their Rhythm’ at the corner of Monroe and Clinton.”

In partnership with Spur Staffing, Rhythm’s job fair is sure to hit a high note with locals in the service industry.

“We plan to hire between 75 and 100 team members and look forward to interacting with prospective candidates at the job fair,” said Ryberg.

Rhythm – aptly named for the variety of musical performances hosted at the Mars Music Hall – shows great promise as a full-service restaurant, featuring locally sourced ingredients and fresh urban fare.

The expansive menu will be developed and executed by Chef Andrew Vogt.

The rooftop bar will have a wide assortment craft brews, wines, and handmade cocktails. On the rooftop, guests can enjoy warming up by the fire pits, along with the evening sun as it sets over Big Spring Park.

“Rhythm will be the perfect spot for a preshow dinner, after-show cocktails, or just a great dining spot when you’re out and about,” said Steve Maples, VBC’s Executive Director.  “This is an exciting time, not only for the Von Braun Center, but for the Tennessee Valley.

“The City of Huntsville is developing at a rapid pace and is constantly attracting out-of-market visitors and enhancing the quality of life for local residents.  Adding a full-service restaurant to our entertainment center in the heart of the city is an important step in continuing that growth, and we could not have made this happen without the support of Mayor Tommy Battle and the City of Huntsville.”

Rhythm on Monroe is scheduled to open in March.  Available positions include culinary crew, hosts/hostesses, bartenders, servers, food runners and dishwashers.

It is recommended that those interested in attending  register online at http://bit.ly/RhythmJobFair.

Von Braun Center Unveils LED Lighting System in Propst Arena

It was an event fit for a king.

Or, as in this case, fit for the reigning Southern Professional Hockey League champion Huntsville Havoc.

In last Friday night’s home debut for the Havoc, the Von Braun Center unveiled its LED lighting system in the Propst Arena.

The upgraded lighting will also enhance UAH hockey games, the annual Rocket City Classic featuring the University of Alabama’s men’s basketball team, and more.

“Over time, the previous lighting system became less efficient with bulbs requiring frequent replacement, as well as producing a noticeable background noise during events,” said VBC Executive Director Steve Maples.  “Additionally, the previous fixtures were extremely limited in the special effects and production capabilities compared to newer, sophisticated lighting systems.”

The upgraded lighting system enhanced Friday’s hockey game with strobing light effects, and full-red lighting to coincide with the team’s colors.  The lighting will also enhance UAH hockey games, the annual Rocket City Classic featuring the University of Alabama’s men’s basketball team, and more.

The new LED lighting system brightens the arena, further enhancing the fans’ experience.

Eaton’s Ephesus Lighting manufactured the LED system that also features 12 new LED video panels manufactured by Daktronics.

The scope of the new lighting system included the installation of 86 fixtures with programmable color-changing capabilities.  The system is estimated to deliver an annual energy savings of $45,132, along with a reduction of approximately $8,923 in annual arena lighting maintenance costs.  The $340,000 lighting upgrade is being paid for through the VBC’s capital funding.

The system features full color-tuning fixtures to enhance events with colorful light shows and other lighting experiences.  With this upgrade, the options for a completely integrated lighting system for events is unlimited and will result in an enhanced fan experience, as well as improved viewing opportunities of both live and televised events.

The new lighting system activates instantly and takes less time to become fully operational as compared to the previous metal halide fixtures. Also, the programmable controls allow operators the ability to immediately change lighting schemes.

The new LED lighting system offers a wide range of adjustable color temperatures, and consistent lighting capabilities giving VBC staff and performers out-of-the-box opportunities for creating captivating visual moments.

Welcome to Mars: VBC’s New Out of This World Music Hall

Rendering shows the interior of Mars Music Hall.

Welcome to Huntsville, Rocket City USA and home to all things related to space.

What better way to ring in the New Year than with a grand opening of a music venue with a name to match?

Introducing the Von Braun Center’s newest gem: Mars Music Hall.

It’s been just a little over a year since the August 2018 groundbreaking and progress has been right on target.

Held at the VBC’s Propst Arena, the special name reveal event Tuesday night had a tie in with the season’s introduction of the Huntsville Havoc hockey team.

“We’re getting really close to opening,” VBC Executive Director Steve Maples said of Mars. “It’s an exciting time to be in Huntsville.

A new LED lighting system in Propst Arena was unveiled. (Photo/Steve Babin)

“The City of Huntsville is developing at a rapid pace and is constantly attracting out-of-market visitors and enhancing the quality of life for local residents.  Adding this size and type of music venue to the heart of the city is an important step in continuing that growth.”

VBC Executive Director Steve Maples (Photo/Steve Babin)

Along with meeting the team and viewing a demonstration of the newly installed LED lights; the crowd was shown a video presentation and sampling of the 2020 concert lineup.

The video featured updated renderings by Matheny Goldmon of Rhythm on Monroe – a full-service restaurant and rooftop bar connected to Mars that will open in the spring.

“Rhythm will be the perfect spot for a pre-show dinner, after-show cocktails, or just a great dining spot without attending an event,” said Maples.

Rhythm, aptly named for the different types of musical performances hosted at the VBC on the corner of Clinton Avenue and Monroe Street, will serve locally sourced ingredients and provide fresh urban fare.

It will feature craft brews, a curated wine list, and handmade cocktails that guests will be able to enjoy while sitting near fire pits at the rooftop bar overlooking Big Spring Park.

Street view rendering shows entrance to Mars and Rhythm. (Matheny Goldmon)

Mars Music Hall will open its doors Jan. 3 with Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. The event is predicted to be a sellout. With a 1,575-person capacity, this intimate setting will offer great acoustics for a variety of events ranging from concerts to comedy acts and everything in between.

Among the acts announced for the concert lineup will be Black Jacket Symphony, Tig Notaro, Chris Janson, Graham Nash, Jo Dee Messina and many others.  To see the full lineup of announced performances and to learn about purchasing tickets, visit marsmusichall.com.

“I’m excited about this music hall,” said Maples. “Huntsville needs this music hall. The venue is so cool and has an intimate feeling.

“Nashville is excited about the music hall and is sending us a lot of bands.”

 

 

 

 

Ground-breaking Constellation Project Taking Shape

It took more than a decade’s worth of sweat and tears for Scott McLain, but he’s finally able to harvest the fruits of his labor with Constellation.

The multi-use development will be breaking ground next month on an apartment complex and that’s just the first of several projects planned at the Clinton Avenue-South Memorial Parkway site.

“We’re off to the races,” McLain said. “We’ll be moving dirt for another month and then pour concrete for the apartments in early December.”

Constellation is at the intersection of South Memorial Parkway and Clinton Avenue. (Rendering/Constellation)

McLain said Constellation will include a 219-unit upscale apartment building, another hotel to complement the Spring Hill Suites; 25,000 square feet of retail space; 20,000 square feet of small office space and a parking deck.

There will also be a 200,000 square-foot office tower that, McLain said, will “only be limited by physics and economics.”

McLain said he’s recruiting restaurants and retailers that will be new to Huntsville to help make Constellation a destination site.

McLain’s vision began in 2007 when the Heart of Huntsville shopping mall was razed and he had a concept of a multi-use development.

Blending retail with dining with hotels was not widely known at the time. The shopping mall with everything under one roof was slowly being phased out for the likes of “galleria-type” shopping centers.

Along the way, he found and lost investors in the project while coordinating challenging situations.

But, as in life, good things come to those who wait.

And a good thing is coming.

An elevated pedestrian bridge will help connect downtown areas with Lowe Mill. (Rendering/City of Huntsville)

“It’s in part a public-private partnership that we’re happy to facilitate for our community,” McLain said.

McLain has a “committed team” that includes a Chicago investment company and $3 million from the city. The city’s investment includes access to parking and upgrades at the intersection.

At the confluence of I-565, Memorial Parkway and Clinton Avenue, the site has the largest traffic count in Huntsville and will, in essence, be the gateway to downtown Huntsville.

Or, in another vein, “the hood ornament to Downtown,” McLain said.

Another part of the “ornament” will be a planned elevated pedestrian bridge by the city. The plans call for it to span the Parkway and provide a connection for downtown, the Von Braun Center and the Lowe Mill area.

With Constellation, the stars are aligning to help a growing Huntsville meet the demands and the challenges of the future.

Cirque du Soleil ‘Axel’ Balances Artistry, Athleticism and Logistics

Cirque du Soleil has single handedly reinvented the concept of circus arts.

‘Axel’ combines music, skating and gymnastics. (Photo/Lori Connors)

Starting out as a group of 20 street performers in 1984, the company eventually blossomed into the Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group.

And, for the past 35 years, Cirque du Soleil has been taking its show on the road throughout Canada and the U.S. There are also permanent Cirque du Soleil productions in Las Vegas and Walt Disney World.

Needless to say, organizing a Cirque road production is no easy feat.

With a cast of 90 traveling to a different city each week, significant capital and logistic strategy is a must.

Expenditures, in the form of salaries, as well as promotion and other budgetary items can add up quickly. Recouping the initial investment naturally depends on ticket and merchandise sales.

“Axel,” Cirque’s 48th original production recently made its way through Huntsville at the Von Braun Center. The show focuses on Axel, a young artist-musician finding his place in the world through his art and music.

Performers rehearse their high-flying skating acrobatics. (Photo/Steve Babin)

With songs seamlessly interwoven with an original score, “Axel” is a feast for the eyes and ears; ice-skating acrobatic expertise that combines technical skill with impeccable grace and agility. The lighting and real-time videography seductively draws the audience into Axel’s world of color and sound.

One reviewer likened it to “Ice Capades on steroids.”

After debuting in Cornwall, Ont., this month, “Axel” crossed the U.S. border into New York for a stop in Syracuse.

“ ‘Axel’ is just getting started,” said Casey Echols, regional publicist for Cirque du Soleil. “This (Huntsville) is the second stop in the US; the next stop will be Pensacola.”

For senior publicity manager Julie Desmarais, she is just getting started on her fourth tour.

“ ‘Axel’ is my fourth tour,” said Julie Desmarais, who has been working with Cirque for the past nine years. “We will be touring up to 40 cities; ‘Axel’ will be touring the U.S. for the next two years.”

And, production starts with the creation team; developing a concept and bringing it to life.

“There are many hours, many people involved,” said Desmarais. “There’s the producer, director of creation that puts together a team. That team includes the stage director, writer, music composer, video, lights, and sound crew. There are seven months of developing a story, sketching out the costumes, composing the music, casting, rehearsing

It takes a special touch to meld fire and ice and not yield water. (Photo/Steve Babin)

“A lot of training goes into it, during the staging and validation period, there’s eight hours of training daily. Each performer has their own schedule and routine. Staging and validation is where speed and heights are checked, validating cues that they’ll be performing. Training ends roughly three hours before the show begins, after everything has been validated.”

There’s also the logistics of traveling cross country with cast members and trucks filled with stage and sound equipment, and costumes. There are 90 people on the tour and the group represents 22 nationalities. There are 41 people in the performing cast, including five musicians and Axel who sings and plays guitar.

After 25 years working in London’s West End, Julia O’Brien has spent the past eight years as the head of wardrobe with Cirque du Soleil.

Although the costumes are made elsewhere, the team of four in wardrobe is responsible for repairing and maintaining the costumes, so they are fresh and ready to go for each performance.

Trapeze artists rehearse their routine above the VBC ice. (Photo/Steve Babin)

The costumes also have a unique feature.

“Each costume is fitted with a spotlight tracking system with two channels, one installed in each shoulder of the performer’s costume,” said O’Brien. “Somewhere above the ice, there’s an infrared light that ‘magically’ follows each skater. Skaters move so fast.

“It’s definitely easier to have the tracking system than having a human keeping up with the skaters.”

The plusses and minuses of the job are one and the same, according to O’Brien. She loves the travel, but it’s also physically demanding,

“We move every single week,” she said. “We have 16 trucks to load and unload. Working in different venues every week, there’s a different challenge.”

Some of those challenges included working in older facilities that haven’t been upgraded; or repurposed facilities that may not have been originally designed for large-scale performances.

“I’ve always wanted a job where I could combine traveling with working,” said Desmarais. “Cirque du Soleil is a company I’ve always wanted to work for. “The performers are passionate, very dedicated. It makes everything a lot more fun when you’re away from home.

“It’s not a myth to say my family is here; we are like family. With so many different cultures, it’s fun to learn from everybody.”

 

Nielsen joins VBC as Marketing, Public Relations Manager

Samantha Nielsen has been named the marketing and public relations manager for the Von Braun Center.

Nielsen will manage internal and external communications, including media relations and advertising campaigns for the VBC.

A native of Huntsville, Nielsen was the director of communications for the Huntsville Museum of Art and also assisted the marketing and public relations efforts at the Port of Huntsville.

“I have had the pleasure of promoting different aspects of our city throughout my career and am excited to now begin marketing the VBC as it continues to grow with Huntsville,” she said.  “I am honored to begin marketing an organization that constantly works to improve the quality of life for our community.”

MDA Director: We Can Sleep Knowing We are Protected

It was a simple question from a Nevada congressman to the director of the Missile Defense Agency:

“Am I protected?”

“Yes.”

Vice Adm. Jon Hill: “We’re going to continue to make things hard for our adversaries.” (Photo/Eric Schultz)

“I gave that answer because I have the utmost confidence in those soldiers sitting at the console,” MDA Director Vice Adm. Jon Hill said Thursday at the 22nd Space & Missile Defense Symposium.

Hill spoke before a packed and attentive Von Braun Center ballroom audience on the final day of the annual event. It was a record-setting event with more than 3,500 people attending the three-day symposium which had nearly 200 exhibits and some 1,400 private exhibitors and 605 government exhibitors.

The director said the a modern-day threats are much more complex than in the past and the United States must be ready for the ever-changing, constant challenges.

“For me, it always starts with the threat,” Hill said. “What’s really changed has been the advancement of the threats.

“Our adversaries are figuring out ways to stress our systems and we’re figuring out ways to stress theirs. We’re going to continue to make things hard for our adversaries.”

While the threats are constant and complex, Hill said he has spoken with Army Lt. Gen. Jim Dickinson, commanding general of the Army Space and Missile Defense Command; and Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, commander of the U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), about developing means to overcome the threats without overburdening the personnel.

“The more complex things become, that you put before the eyes of the soldiers and sailors, it’s harder for them to execute,” he said.

In effect, keeping things simple instead of causing the personnel to spend time learning and relearning, forcing them to divert their attention from the mission.

Hill also touched on our international relationships as key to our security.

With NATO and the U.S. having installations around the world, it provides the United States with something Russia, China, Iran and North Korea don’t have – “partnerships,” he said.

“It’s what our adversaries do not have; they don’t have partnerships. That gives us an advantage.”

Overall, Hill said, the mission of the Missile Defense Agency is “a great mission.”

“I call it a noble mission,” he said. “It’s very motivating to defend our troops, our allies and friends.

“I feel great about where we are today.”

Video below: The U.S. Missile Defense Agency, in cooperation with the Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense, U.S. Northern Command, and elements of the U.S. Air Force Space Command’s 30th, 50th, and 460th Space Wings, conducted a successful test March 25 against an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) class target.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ‘Final Frontier’ is a ‘Warfighting Domain’

Science fiction met science reality Monday in the Rocket City.

And no punches were pulled when it came to discussing national defense at the 22nd Space & Missile Defense Symposium. The symposium runs through Thursday at the Von Braun Center downtown.

“It’s a very crowded environment,” said Army Lt. Gen. Jim Dickinson, commanding general of the Army Space and Missile Defense Command. It is the mission of the SMDC to “defeat, penetrate and disintegrate” our adversaries’ levels of defense and “operate and dominate a combative” space environment.

Dickinson said the Army is the largest user of space of the military branches and has some 3,000 soldiers trained. The Army’s involvement dates to the 1950s with the Redstone rocket and the launch of the Explorer I satellite in 1958 began its space involvement.

And, as we know, technology has traveled at warp speed over the last 60 years.

Maj. Gen. Rick Evans addresses the 22nd Missile & Space Defense Symposium. (Photo by Steve Babin)

“We have become increasingly reliable on space and cyber,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Rick Evans, assistant to the commander, U.S. Strategic Command. “Space and cyber are vital to our defense.

“We must adapt to new threats and stay ahead of our adversaries.”

To counter those threats, President Trump directed the U.S. Space Command be re-established as a full military branch. But, Evans said, that doesn’t mean “SAC will be out of the space business.”

And, the Army and Air Force still have their own space commands.

The Army’s 1st Space Brigade with headquarters in Colorado Springs supports joint forces and their critical dependence on space capabilities. The Air Force Space Command is headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado.

“Space is a warfighting domain,” he said. “We need those commands. Almost everything we do is tied to space in some way.”

The “crowded environment” in space includes threats from Russia and China, as well as “new threats” from the likes of North Korea and Iran through missiles, satellites and directed-energy (laser) weapons.

Evans said the U.S. must be prepared to answer the challenge by focusing on agility and speed.

“We need resilient, redundant capability,” he said. “We need a rapid, reconstituting capability.

“We can’t wait five years to replace a satellite.”