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No new posts are being added to this blog. For planning news and updates, check out The BIG Picture Huntsville (also on Facebook). For transportation info, check out the Huntsville Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Jobs, office market expanding

Two somewhat related articles in the Huntsville Times today confirm that the number of jobs and the office market are growing in the area. Office space in the area expanded by nearly 2 million in 2006-2007, much of that growth occurring in Research Park. Several buildings are under construction in the park currently, including a 6-story office building at Bridge Street Town Centre and the second building of four planned on Northrop Grumman's new campus. In downtown, the largest office project planned is part of the Constellation development, which is now expected to be underway in August. The overall occupancy rate for the Huntsville market is 94%. Most cities with occupancy rates above 90% are considered to have "healthy" office markets.

In jobs, the 10,000 private jobs that are expected to follow the BRAC moves could be a "conservative" estimate, and the real number could turn out to be closer to 20,000. This is in addition to the 4,700 military jobs expected to come here by 2011, most from Northern Virginia. Since a majority of the current jobholders won't move to Huntsville, government and military leaders are marketing the city in technology "hotspots" such as Boston and San Jose, and are holding job fairs in cities like Atlanta and Cleveland.

Huntsville Times article: Cummings Park growth expanding

Huntsville Times article: Private jobs to soar because of BRAC

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wann Springs land rezoned to mixed-use

While one billion-dollar project is showing signs of trouble, another is moving forward. The developers of Wann Springs, a 450-acre development off of County Line Road in Madison, had their rezoning request approved by the Madison City Council last night. The council used its mixed-use zone for the first time. However, it will be a long time before the entire project is completed- it is expected to take 7-10 years to build.

Wann Springs Master Plan

Huntsville Times article

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Hammons out of Sweetwater: Is the project in trouble?

Hotel developer John Q. Hammons has pulled plans to build a 300-room hotel and convention center at the massive Sweetwater development in Limestone County. Suspicions rose after the developers pulled plans for the $1.3 Billion development off the Decatur Planning Commission's meeting agenda earlier this month. And there has been no word on another hotel developer taking his place. However, Hammons is still interested in developing another hotel in Huntsville, probably downtown.

Huntsville Times article

So, with this first major blow, is Sweetwater doomed like its predecessors had at the 65/565 interchange? If the project does continue, expect the final product to be a much smaller version than was previously announced, with maybe only the outlet center/Bass Pro Shops being built.

Planning Commission- May 27th

Tonight, the Planning Commission will look into a few major rezonings and subdivisions tonight, including ones necessary for the Harris Hill development in Northeast and a possible grocery-anchored shopping center at the Northwest corner of Zierdt and Martin Roads. 250 acres of the Harris Hill project will be rezoned to pave the way for multi-family residential and big-box retail development. This post explains the project in depth.

A blog reader pointed out the proposed Zierdt/Martin grocery store in an email a couple of weeks ago. Some confusion has been swirling around which of the two main grocery chains in the area, Kroger or Publix, will be the anchor. The possible developer of the store almost exclusively builds Publix stores, but there is already one three miles away from the intersection. Kroger seems like a logical choice, but they are not expanding anywhere new right now, and about the only stores the chain is building are to replace older stores. This has also made me doubt the rumor that they will be building a store with the "Watercress" development at the old Monrovia golf course.

The commission will also consider subdivisions that could become over 800 single-family home lots.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

On the agenda: height limits and park building restrictions

The city council tonight will look at changing the Planning Commission's staggered 10-story downtown height limit. They will look at three options: keep the 10-story height limit, have no height limits at all, or compromise at a 16-story height limit. The reason noted for putting the limit at 16 floors is so that the Constellation project can move forward with plans for a 15-story apartment building. The council will also look at a proposal to dedicate Big Spring Park to recreational use only, and a referendum would have to be approved to allow any development on the downtown park. This will not, however, stop the Huntsville Museum of Art's expansion plans, which have already been approved.

Huntsville Times article

My two cents:
The council, looking at past opinions on this issue, will probably increase/erase the height limit. But why stop at 16 floors? It will only restrict future developments (such as the proposed 24-story condo building at Holmes and Washington) from moving forward. Once again, any type of height limit will choke downtown of its full potential.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Dunkin' Donuts announces Alabama expansion plan

Dunkin' Brands announced today that it plans to open 142 Dunkin' Donuts franchise locations in Alabama in the next few years as part of an aggressive expansion plan to go nationwide and have 15,000 stores by 2020 (it currently has 7,200 worldwide). The company opened franchise development in the "Big 5" metro areas (Birmingham, Mobile, Huntsville, Montgomery, Tuscaloosa)- franchisees must agree to build at least 5 locations. If all goes well, the first stores could be open by the end of this year. Currently, there are no Dunkin' Donuts stores in Alabama, though one operated in Huntsville until the early 2000s. Baskin Robbins, which is also owned by Dunkin Brands and planning an expansion, has at least 4 locations in Alabama- 2 each in Huntsville and Mobile.

So, are you going to see a Dunkin' Donuts in your neighborhood? Based on previous announcements, we could see up to 30 Dunkin' and Baskin Robbins stores in the Huntsville metro (including Decatur), which means that if you have a McDonald's in your area, more than likely, a Dunkin' Donuts could be coming soon to you.

Birmingham Business Journal
Boston Globe

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Apple Store to open May 31

One of the most coveted names in retail right now will open in Huntsville at the end of the month. The Apple Store will open its second Alabama store at Bridge Street on May 31. Rumors of an Apple Store began soon after the lifestyle center's groundbreaking, when a conceptual "merchant plan" was leaked and Apple was shown as one of the possible tenants. Apple posted job listings on its website for the store in February 2007, and a building permit for the store was issued earlier this year. So, what makes this store special? One, it's a "high-end" store that very few cities Huntsville's size have, and it's the first store at Bridge Street that a college guy like myself would want to go to...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Harris Hill- The Real Plan?

I attended the meeting at City Hall tonight about the Harris Hill development, one, because I write this blog, and two, I live in the area. Cole Walker of Walker Family Properties discussed the plans for the development, which, as of now, look like this:
  • The "Jones Valley" portion: 10 outparcels lining 72 East and Old Gurley Road, for restaurants (seemed to mention Outback Steakhouse a lot, a clue?), a pharmacy, banks. This part could be completed in about a year, and construction could be seen in a couple of months if all goes well and it is approved by the city.
  • The "Westside Center" portion: 60 acres for "big box" retail; current plans call for two large anchors (one looked a lot like a SuperTarget), 4-5 "junior" anchors (stores such as Goody's and Dick's Sporting Goods), and smaller stores. This phase would be completed in at LEAST 3 years, according to Walker.
  • 200 acres of multi family residential, mostly condos/apartments, but some townhomes. The residences will be priced in "the $200-400,000 range." This phase should be built at the same time or a little later than the retail portion.
  • The "Providence" portion: A 40 acre town center, with retail space on the bottom and lofts/condos on the top floors. Walker said that this will probably be the last thing to be built, when (or if) the development is successful.
  • A hotel, which wasn't talked about but was still on the plans.
  • The rest of the 600-acre development will be preserved as parkland/greenspace, with walking trails, bike paths, etc.
I could have a picture of the plan up as early as tomorrow.

: any tenants I mentioned here are completely theoretical, I am throwing them out there to show what COULD go in there. Walker said that retailers are taking a cautious "wait and see" strategy right now, with the failing economy and upcoming presidential elections, and more locally, waiting to see how many people come with BRAC. Overall buildout could take around seven years, which is common for a project of this magnitude.

One thing I would like to point out about the meeting: the surrounding neighborhood, which has a history of being very vocal about nearby development (a couple of years ago, a developer wanted to build cheap apartments next to the neighborhood, which brought on a lawsuit by some of the homeowners), seemed very enthusiastic about the project for the most part. There were some concerns about traffic, which was forseen, but I think the largely positive attitude shown by the neighborhood will bring this project closer to fruition.

"Environmentally-friendly" homes to be built in West Huntsville

A Nashville home-building company broke ground Monday on a 371-lot subdivision on Indian Creek Road called Anslee Springs. What makes this development different is that the homes will have environmentally-friendly amenities, with some smaller homes being LEED-certified. These will be Huntsville's first certified "green" homes. Buildout of the neighborhood should take 5-6 years.

Huntsville Times article

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Medical office complex planned for Monrovia

A developer will begin construction on an 18,000 sq. ft. medical office building on Jeff Road north of US 72 in Monrovia. The $3 million building, which will include 10 office suites, an X-ray lab, and a pharmacy, is expected to open in about a year. The project's goal is to meet the medical needs of the growing unincorporated suburb, which currently has little medical office space (or any office space for that matter).

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Public/Private Investment to Revitalize Lowe Mill Village

First, it was Five Points. Then, in the past couple of years, Merrimack and Lincoln Village. Now, Lowe Mill is hopping on the "gentrification bandwagon." With the Downtown Rescue Mission homeless shelter moving out this year and the mill itself being an epicenter of quirky, underground Huntsville culture AND the headquarters for a biotech company, Lowe Mill has been seen as next in line of the mill villages to be revitalized. Now, apartment owner/investor Gary Reynolds will spend $4-5 million on restoring homes in the neighborhood. The city also plans to use a $1 million federal grant on doing the same.

Huntsville Times article

My two cents: Want to revitalize these inner-city historic neighborhoods? Bring back the early-20th Century streetcar line that linked downtown with the then-outlying mill villages, with some modifications of course. Development will follow, and it would allow residents to drive less- an attractive amenity in this world of climbing gas prices.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Constellation-changing hotel, expanding apartment options

The Constellation project has changed one of its planned hotel brands, according to its developer. Residence Inn by Marriott is replacing Courtyard because of its "business" feel being more fitting close to the Von Braun Center. The other hotel, a Spring Hill Suites, has not changed. Both hotels will have 130 rooms/6 floors.

Another element of the project that is changing is the residential options. The original plans announced last year called for 80-100 apartments or condos. The revised plans have proposed up to 160 apartments due to a "perceived" demand. Site preparation has begun, including work on the road through the development (Constellation Drive), and construction on the buildings should begin by August.

Huntsville Times article

Friday, May 2, 2008

Wann Springs Master Plan

This is a conceptual site plan for the Wann Springs development proposed in Madison off County Line Road (click on image for larger view). Credit to HSVTiger for posting this on SkyscraperPage. From this plan, it looks like the project could include:
  • 800 residential units (probably apartments/condos)
  • A town center (similar to Providence) with a combined 520,000 sq. ft. of ground-floor retail and upper-level lofts.
  • 2 million sq. ft. of office space
  • Another 1 million sq. ft. of medical office space
  • A 936,000 sq. ft. retail center (excluding the town center space)
  • A 150-200 room hotel
  • An 18-acre lake along with 50 acres of greenspace.

Spencer Square redevelopment

I received a tip in an email last week about a planned redevelopment of the Spencer Square shopping center on Madison Boulevard. The 20-year-old shopping center had a Food World before it closed a few years ago when the grocery chain declared bankruptcy. Burke's Outlet and Fred's are the current anchor tenants. According to Madison County land records, the shopping center and about 10 acres behind it are owned by Michael Matsos from Irondale, AL, who also is involved with the famous Golden Rule BBQ restaurant chain. There are also some records indicating that Aronov, the Montgomery-based developers currently building the Harvest Square shopping center at AL 53 and Jeff Road, might be involved with the redevelopment. So stay tuned; with Wann Springs to the west and the possible DeBartolo development happening to the east, this area is ready for a major rebirth.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Sweetwater Update

The Decatur Planning Commission will decide on a proposed subdivision of 109 acres of the 500+ acre Sweetwater development at I-565 and 65 at its meeting next month. The subdivision will be divided into four lots, which consist of the components of the first phase of the $1.1 Billion project: Bass Pro Shops, a 225,000 outlet center, a lake, and the 300-room hotel and convention center. Speaking of the hotel, it was also confirmed in the Decatur Daily that the developer will be John Q. Hammons, who also built the Embassy Suites in downtown Huntsville. So, it's pretty safe to assume that the hotel will be an Embassy Suites, considering his previous record with similar projects.