Tag Archives: Alabama

Huntsville ranks among top last-minute summer getaways

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Thousands come out for food trucks on Church Street by Big Spring International Park in Huntsville, AL on Thursday July 17, 2014. (Bob Gathany/bgathany@AL.com)

A new list of last-minute vacation hotspots by Florida-based Global Vacation Ventures might make you consider taking a “staycation” in the Rocket City.

Huntsville was among four cities included in GVV’s best U.S. summer getaway destination list released Friday afternoon. The country club concierge travel agency in West Palm Beach touted Huntsville’s craft beer scene and “quality family entertainment.”

“Those who are intrigued by the nation’s space program will find Huntsville to be the perfect vacation spot,” GVV said. “That’s not all this southern town has to offer, though. There are festivals, shopping spots and unique dining experiences to enjoy.”

Here is the full list from GVV:

  1. Asheville, N.C.
  2. Deadwood, S.D.
  3. Huntsville
  4. Portland, Ore.

Click here to check out the ranking.

Considering a ‘staycation’? Huntsville ranks among top last-minute summer getaways | AL.com.

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Officials expect economic boom with Stone Middle project featuring 2 breweries, outdoor venue near downtown Huntsville

Since the late 1980’s when Sharp Communication moved from Jordan Lane to Governors Drive, the two-way radio company has watched downtown revitalization pick up momentum “like an airplane running down the runway.”

With the announcement that the nearby Stone Middle School will soon be home to two well-known Huntsville breweries and an outdoor concert amphitheater, Sharp CEO Trey Sharp believes downtown growth has taken off.

“Between this and the rumors surrounding the Coca-Cola bottling property, it’s becoming much more clear how cool the whole downtown area could soon become,” he said. “I would just say ‘great job’ to the area leaders behind this move.”

Officials gathered this afternoon in the old Stone Middle gymnasium to officially announce the redevelopment project, which includes a 40,000-square-foot brewery and taproom for Straight to Ale, a new 6,000-square-foot facility, bier garten and tasting room for Yellowhammer and a large amphitheater for concerts and outdoor events.

[Related: With Straight to Ale and Yellowhammer expanding, Huntsville poised to become 'the Napa Valley of craft beer]

Chad Emerson, CEO of Downtown Huntsville, Inc., said the development will be a game-changer for downtown and the state of Alabama when it opens in 12 to 18 months. He believes it will bring young, creative professionals from competing cities and provide a major tourism boost to North Alabama.

“This will cement us – the city of Huntsville and Madison County – as the largest destination for breweries in the state of Alabama – the absolute largest – and one of the largest per capita in the entire Southeast, so it is a significant manufacturing and economic development project,” he said.

Straight to Ale, which operates in a 10,000-square-foot brewhouse on Leeman Ferry Road, made the jump into the Atlanta market in May after doubling its fermentation capacity last year.

“This will cement us – the city and Madison County – as the largest destination for breweries in the state of Alabama.”

Founder Dan Perry said the Stone Middle property will allow him to grow his workforce from 14 employees to 40 or 50 in the next 1 ½ years.

“This area needed some life put into it, and I think this project is the start of that happening,” Perry said. “We’re big fans of old buildings and revitalizing stuff. We tried to do it when we first started at Lincoln Mill. It didn’t work out over there so now we’re really excited to be able to get back to what we wanted to do when we first started up.”

[Related: Market crash, longterm vacancy caused Stone Middle School property value to plummet from $5.8 million to $1.1 million]

Yellowhammer will double its workforce and increase its output significantly at the larger space on the Stone Middle campus, which was originally home to Butler High School. Head brewer Keith Yager also hopes to reach craft beer markets in Tennessee and Georgia once Yellowhammer is operating on the corner of Governors Drive and Clinton Avenue.

By beautifying the area and making it attractive for visitors, Yager believes more restaurants will move into west Huntsville because of the breweries and the public draw.

“I think Huntsville is doing something really special here,” he said. “It’s going to be a big draw to people all over the state and Southeast. I think you’ll get people to come here to Huntsville just because of the craft beer scene we have.”

Lucia Cape, director of workforce development for the Chamber of Commerce of Huntsville/Madison County, said the project does nothing but “magnetize” the city. Flucy Lucy Antique Market employee Kathy Clark, who works across the street from the campus, agrees.

The customers and surrounding businesses near Flucy Lucy and Bandito Burrito have also expressed excitement about the development since the news came to light late last week after a Huntsville school board meeting.

“I think it will really do good for the area and maybe for Flucy Lucy’s,” she said. “I think it will really help our business and maybe everyone else’s around here, too.”

Officials expect economic boom with Stone Middle project featuring 2 breweries, outdoor venue near downtown Huntsville | AL.com.

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Huntsville ready to roll with $383M in road upgrades over next 5 years

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Orange construction cones may replace the Saturn V as Huntsville’s unofficial mascot over the next five years.

Mayor Tommy Battle called a Wednesday news conference to update drivers on 27 road construction projects around the city that are recently under way or expected to break ground in the coming months.

The $383 million in planned road work is touching almost every major street in town, including Memorial Parkway, U.S. 72 East and West, Martin Road, Research Park Boulevard, Old Madison Pike and Zierdt Road.

Improving traffic flow is vital to Huntsville maintaining its status as an employment hub for all of North Alabama, said Battle. Currently, an estimated 110,000 workers commute into the city from surrounding areas.

“It is inconvenient having to divert traffic and move people around through construction zones,” said Battle. “But we’re a regional employment center. Our workforce comes from a 14-county area. We have to have the capabilities of getting those people … into the city of Huntsville to work each day.”

The road upgrades are a mix of 15 locally-funded projects and 12 being done in concert with the Alabama Department of Transportation. Huntsville and the state are splitting the estimated $221.5 million cost of new Parkway overpasses at Mastin Lake, Lily Flagg and Byrd Spring roads, widening U.S. 72 East and West, and building the next leg of the Northern Bypass.

Last December, the Huntsville City Council voted to raise sales taxes from 8 percent to 9 percent to finance the city’s share of the road construction partnership.

Here’s an update from Battle and City Engineer Kathy Martin on some key road projects:

New Memorial Parkway overpasses at Byrd Spring and Lily Flagg roads:Design is 90 percent finished; state expected to seek construction bids in March 2015; work on access roads should start mid-2015. Huntsville wants the contractor to move quickly, said Martin, and may offer cash incentives for finishing ahead of schedule. Part of the work will be done at night to try to minimize impact on businesses in that stretch, she said.

New Memorial Parkway overpass at Mastin Lake Road: Design is 30 percent finished; construction scheduled to start late 2016.

Third westbound lane over Chapman Mountain on U.S. 72 East: Reed Contracting has been hired and should start work in October; the job is expected to be finished in April 2016.

Six-laning U.S. 72 West from Providence Main Street to Limestone County line: Concept drawings being reviewed; public involvement meeting planned for later this month; on track for mid-2016 start.

Build Northern Bypass between Pulaski Pike and Memorial Parkway: Design 60 percent finished; next step is acquiring needed right-of-way; on track for mid-2017 start.

Holmes Avenue bridge replacement: Construction is 70 percent complete and should wrap up in January.

Four-laning Zierdt Road between Madison Boulevard and Martin Road:Clearing and Redstone Arsenal fence relocation complete; construction of new northbound lanes on track to start late this year and finish in mid-2016.

Five-laning Martin Road from Zierdt Road to near Huntsville International Airport: First phase from Zierdt to Old Jim Williams Road expected to start early 2016.

Five-laning Winchester Road between Dominion Circle and Naugher Road:Design is 90 percent complete; next step is purchasing needed right-of-way; on track for early 2016 construction start.

Widening Old Madison Pike west of Cummings Research Park: Construction is 70 percent complete and should wrap up in April 2015.

Weatherly Road extension to future Grissom High School site: Construction is 20 percent complete and should be finished by July 2015.

New five-lane section of Church Street between Oakwood and Pratt avenues: Construction is 80 percent complete and on track to wrap up in October.

Huntsville ready to roll with $383M in road upgrades over next 5 years, including 3 new Parkway overpasses | AL.com.

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Bob Jones, James Clemens among nation’s best high schools

Bob Jones High first day of class 2014

Students at Bob Jones High School in Madison wait for class to begin on the first day of the 2014-2015 school year. The school was named to The Daily Beast’s 2014 list of top high schools in the U.S. (File photo)

Madison’s two high schools, along with seven others across Alabama, were ranked among the best in the nation this week by The Daily Beast.

Bob Jones High School ranked at No. 292 and James Clemens High, in just its third year of existence, ranked at No. 697 out of the 735 schools named to the list.

“We used six indicators culled from school surveys to compare public high schools in the U.S., with graduation and college acceptance rates weighed most heavily,” The Daily Beast reported. “Other criteria included: college-level courses and exams, percentage of students with free or reduced lunch as well as SAT and ACT scores – another mark of how well a school prepares students for college.”

Madison was the only school district in Alabama to have more than one school make it into the rankings, said John Peck, public relations manager for Madison City Schools. Peck said the latest ranking was made more impressive by the fact that it included magnet schools, charter schools and schools that allow enrollment by lottery or application.

“I’m so proud of the Bob Jones kids and teachers,” said Robby Parker, principal of Bob Jones. “I admit I’m biased, but they are the best in the nation. I’ve always said that, but data backs it up.”

James Clemens High School opening day

James Clemens High School students go through a class change on the first day of school in August 2012. The school, now in its third year of existence, was named to The Daily Beast’s 2014 list of top high schools in the U.S. (File photo)

James Clemens High School students go through a class change on the first day of school in August 2012. The school, now in its third year of existence, was named to The Daily Beast’s 2014 list of top high schools in the U.S. (File photo)

James Clemens principal Brian Clayton said he is also pleased the school made the list, particularly since it is such a young school.

“It’s a result of our great faculty and staff and our elementary and middle schools that send them here,” Clayton said. “We look forward to remaining on the list and ranking even higher.”

The Daily Beast ranks Bob Jones, James Clemens among nation’s best high schools | AL.com.

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Huntsville awarded Wall Street’s top credit rating

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Wall Street continues to hold the City of Huntsville in high regard when it comes to financial management.

Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s both awarded Huntsville their best-possible triple-A credit rating last week – the sixth straight year the Rocket City has held that distinction.

A city’s credit ranking is based on a variety of factors including past financial management, current debt and economic strength. Cities rated triple-A tend to have a reasonable amount of debt and significant cash reserves to help weather economic downturns.

A stellar credit rating allows Huntsville to borrow money at the most favorable interest rates.

Tommy Battle Will Not Run For GovernorHuntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. (Eric Schultz / eschultz@al.com)

“We have worked hard to remain fiscally responsible in a time of shrinking resources,” Mayor Tommy Battle said in a news release. “We have put our dollars into our most critical needs – public safety, education, infrastructure and economic development – and we are being rewarded with an influx of new industries and expanding businesses that desire a secure, healthy community.”

The positive credit ratings are also a result of strong teamwork between Battle’s administration and the Huntsville City Council, he said.

The Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s ratings were issued ahead of a city plan to refinance about $60 million in old debt at today’s lower interest rates. Finance Director Randy Taylor estimates the refinancing will save taxpayers about $4 million.

Moody’s said Huntsville’s strengths include a stable financial position, above-average wealth levels, below-average unemployment and a large, regionally important tax base with significant government presence.

Updated at 10:32 a.m. to add that this is the sixth straight year Huntsville has been rated triple-A

Huntsville awarded Wall Street’s top credit rating ahead of $60M refinancing | AL.com.

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Madison planners OK layout of Villages of Oakland Springs; first Traditional Neighborhood District

Developers for the new neighborhood center project anticipate earth grading for the 349-lot subdivision to begin in two to three months after getting their layout plat approved by the Madison Planning Commission on Thursday.

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At this point, the focus is on working out the technical details of the project’s infrastructure and then following up with getting the single-family homes built, said Ron Roberts, one of the partners developing 157 acres on Huntsville Browns Ferry Road into what’s being called Villages of Oakland Springs.

About 15 acres of that property is dedicated for commercial use, which will be constructed in the same manner as Village of Providence in Northwest Huntsville.

There’s nothing to announce yet on what’s coming on the commercial side of the project because those designs are still being planned, he said.

Roberts’ partner, Todd Slyman, said it could take years to fully develop the retail and office aspect of Oakland Springs, because ultimately, it will be determined by the growth of eastern Limestone County.

“You have to have the population growth in order to get some of those things that happened over in Providence, he said. “But sure, the goal is to have another neighborhood center. The goal is to end up with a similar product.

“Now, is it going to have all the same elements, I don’t know yet. Depends on how things develop out there and how things go. Demand will determine what the retail becomes. As that area grows, we’ll have a better idea of what to bring in there and make that work,” Slyman said.

Asked whether he learned any valuable lessons from developing Providence that might benefit Oakland Springs, Slyman said he couldn’t pinpoint anything specific other than learning the right ways to execute plans, because for the most part, Providence played out as planned.

Villages of Oakland Springs3.jpg

“We really haven’t varied from the original plans from the way we originally designed it,” he said. “It’s come together really well. It’s kind of the vision we had from the beginning.”

One popular element of Providence that is already incorporated into layout plat for Oakland Springs is a park-like “common area” in the middle of the subdivision. Providence has used its common area for outdoor concerts and movies. Plans for the common area in Oakland Springs call for green space next to a small lake.

The location is in the middle of cotton fields along an old farm to market road, and it’s about a 1.5 miles from the closest residential subdivision. Still, the location is prime for growth, Slyman said, because it’s minutes away from what families need, such as James Clemens High School, Madison Hospital and Publix.

One of the access points into the subdivision is directly across from where Holladay Road ends at Huntsville Browns Ferry Road

“Holladay Road is a great addition,” Slyman said of the five-lane roadway that begins at U.S. 72. “It’s basically coming right into the project. It’s a five-lane driveway.”

Oakland Springs also is less than two miles from County Line Road to the east and a straight 6.5 miles from the interchange at Interstate 65 to the west.

The planning commission discussed the challenge ahead of providing sufficient roadways for the rapidly growing area of western Madison. The existing county roads are not built for high volume of daily commuters. As part of the Oakland Springs project, the city is asking for 120 feet of right of way for the future widening of Huntsville Browns Ferry Road.

Madison planners OK layout of Villages of Oakland Springs; first Traditional Neighborhood District months away from construction | AL.com.

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Fall Home & Garden Show – Huntsville, Alabama

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Fall Home & Garden Show? – Huntsville, Alabama.

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