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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ideas for Downtown

Big Spring Partners, the non-profit "downtown development" company that has done little of any significance in the six years since it was founded, has been discussing more ideas for improving downtown after taking a trip to Chattanooga over the summer. Some are old ideas, some are new. Here are a few of them, with some comments on whether or not they'll work:
  • Move Sci-Quest downtown. Yes. I discussed this (along with a new Museum District) in an April post.
  • A "world-class planetarium." Partial No. Instead of making it separate, put on top of the new Sci-Quest.
  • A new ballpark. Yes. Once again, already been discussed here.
  • A riverwalk park. Yes. It's long been a dream of Huntsville to replicate San Antonio's successful Riverwalk. What we've got is an overgrown creek with little around it, ripe for development if done right.
  • A downtown marketplace. Yes. I like Greg Hathorn's idea of making parts of Courthouse Square a pedestrian market.
  • A Country/Western music venue. No. Yeeeeee Haw! If you want to bring people under 50 with teeth downtown, keeping the honky-tonk out would be a good thing.
Here are some more ideas, probably more practical than the ones mentioned above:
  • More condos/apartments. Believe it or not, not all of us want to live in some cookie-cutter brick home in Monrovia. However, there are few other choices to choose from. There are currently less than 50 privately-owned condos in downtown. That's sad. Downtown can't have more successful retail, entertainment, and restaurants without a permanent (24-hour) population. But let's not forget that these condos must be affordable. The $450,000 condos that currently dominate downtown are too expensive, especially for a city with relatively low home prices. Condos that run between $150-200k would be a better fit for the young, vibrant population that prefers urban living.
  • More downtown retail; more specifically, a grocery store. Specialty shops, boutiques, even a bookstore would also be great additions. But a word of caution: trying to put these into some kind of downtown shopping mall will only end in failure.
  • A downtown cinema. This has worked well in places like Chattanooga and Lincoln, NE. Plus it would fill a major void in this part of the city.
  • A downtown circulator bus. How about a free weekday circulator, much like the weekend evening service. However, this would serve more of the daytime crowd. Cities like Birmingham and Savannah have such circulators.
  • Smarter street designs, such as better signage, pedestrian access, and landscaping. Downtown needs better directional signage for tourists and residents to direct them to museums, hotels, restaurants, etc. Pedestrian access and landscaping need to be improved, especially west and north of the Central Business District.
  • More music/art festivals throughout the year. Big Spring Jam and Panoply are obvious successes; why not capitalize on those? Smaller music festivals have proven successful, such as the one on Clinton Street with Sister Hazel back in July. More mid-sized music venues (like WorkPlay in Birmingham or a House of Blues) would help too.
Got any ideas? I'd love to hear them. And maybe the members of Big Spring Partners who read this blog will see them too.


Anonymous said...

I disagree about the C&W venue. Country music is marketed these days to the young and affluent as much, or more than, other demographic groups. ANY kind of live music venue downtown would be good.

Anonymous said...

I have an idea - bulldoze it and move "downtown" to Research Park, near UAH, near where almost everyone in this town works.

jbschwarz said...

Downtown isn't situated terribly near the more vibrant parts of Huntsville. It would help to connect downtown - via bike routes and greenways - with destinations like Research Park, Bridge Street, the Space and Rocket Center, and the Airport Rd/Jones Valley area.

Right now, the main routes to downtown are major highways. These don't promote people passing through downtown so much as passing by it.

And since Huntsville is so fond of comparing itself to Chattanooga, I can say that Chattanooga's downtown is inhabited by many cyclists.

Anonymous said...

I think any kind of venue would help, theres a big "market" in the younger (middle, high school) aged groups that are involved heavily in music.
The skatepark out in Madison has had a "hardcore" with over 300 or so kids show.
While "hardcore" music is detestable, this is a situation that could be taken advantage of...a music venue for the eclectic style of music around Huntsville/Madison County would be smart.

Thoughts on the stadium, what would happen to the old stars stadium? There has been a lot said about putting one downton, but what would the proposed plan be for the old one?
Using the baseball stadium for a number of things would be beneficial, I've not seen Joe Davis used for very much other than the Stars.
The only way a new stadium would work is to have more around it to do...It's been discussed that Joe Davis might as well be out in the middle of a desert, theres not much around it.
Put a "marketplace" or mini outdoor mall close to the stadium, to be more inviting.

Have local sports tournaments at the new stadium; 7 on 7, football tournaments, high school baseball and football games...it could even be used as a place for a stage during the Big Spring Jam, put one of the bigger stages (WZYP stage or The Rocket stage, whatever its called now) in the infield and have outfield as the general admission standing area...it'll be natural ampitheatre with the seats behind the stage, enclosed...

The new stadium wouldn't be a CRAZY idea, if implemented in a master plan to revitalize downtown to bring more people...but just randomly building one could have the potential to be un-beneficial...

Anonymous said...

wow, so in your world the only people who like country music are over 50 and have no teeth?

Anonymous said...

I also think we need some music venues like Work Play and Zydeco in Birmingham and several others in Nashville. I think the smaller scale venues provide for a more intimate show.

Richard said...

From what I've seen the existing downtown condos aren't selling. If some of the other ideas came true, maybe condo demand would increase, but starting off with more condos would be a doomed proposal.

James said...

@Richard: You're right, condos downtown aren't selling right now. But like I said, the few that are there are prohibitively expensive for the kind of people who want to live downtown (younger singles/couples; empty-nesters). Why would you want to spend $450,000 on a downtown condo when there's $200,000 houses in the suburbs, or better yet, Five Points? The only way condos are going to get more affordable downtown (outside of resorting to public housing) is if more are built.

jbschwarz: I really like the idea of more bikeways connecting downtown. Good thing is the city already plans to do that (it's part of the "riverwalk" plan).

Jacob said...

The Country/Western venue is an absolutely terrible idea, especially with Huntsville only 90 minutes out of Nashville. Nashville gets the big country stars and museums, Huntsville would be relegated to the second-hand scraps and leftovers. Besides, that's not what Huntsville is - why would we want to try and re-brand ourselves as a country/western attraction when there's no real connection or history?

The world-class planetarium on the other hand, this is a great idea. It syncs up with Huntsville's image, and strengthens our position as *the* tourist location for space attractions in the southeast.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with James on the downtown condos. My husband and I are a young couple that would LOVE to buy a condo downtown as would many of our friends. Unfortunately, no young professional can afford $450,000. By the time their income grows to support that type of payment, they have kids and need a backyard. Not to mention, houses in Huntsville are priced so far below the downtown condos, anyone could buy a HUGE house for $450,000. Why then would one choose to live downtown?

There is an entire market of young professionals waiting for a developer to commit to building affordable downtown condos....that will actually follow through. I can assure you, the first one to provide $100,000-$200,000 condos downtown will make a fortune.

Dennis said...

Connecting downtown via bike paths, pedestrian walkways, (railways???) would certainly help.

The Riverwalk idea is fantastic. This idea would really be a boost.

Creating a museum area is a nice idea.

Condos, apartments, and shopping--especially grocery--would bring the 24/7 needed downtown.

Anonymous said...

I would also like to see condos downtown but priced in the $150 to $250 for the empty-nesters. The over 50 group want to sell their cookie cutter homes and live downtown, with a grocery store nearby, would be wonderful.

Anonymous said...

Your stereotyping of country music listeners, especially the ones who would go to downtown venues, is incredibly biased and uninformed.

James said...

Many of you aren't getting my point on the Country music venue. Putting a country music-only venue downtown would be a bad idea, as it would alienate a good chunk of the younger population that is more likely to go downtown. Nashville can get away with it because they are the undisputed epicenter of the genre, and people from all over the world visit there because of it. But even Nashville is trying to distance itself from country music-- note the recent successes of Kings of Leon and Paramore. But like I said, music venues would be a great addition to downtown. They just need to have a variety of music.

Christopher said...

So, what's gonna happen when the Land company in Hampton Cove that has developed most of the subdivisions and lots in the county goes under? Almost 100 million borrowed from local banks that is behind on. Two local attornyes and a bank president (who I heard has been arrested). What will happen to local land values and local market when this finally hits the press? Just curious why it has been kept quiet so far.

Christopher said...

also, more apartments are needed near downtown area.

Anonymous said...

Downtown would look nice with a 20 story all purpose bldg and some high rise condos

William Beasley said...

i would like to see a luxury hotel and a
high class casino. that would surely bring revenue to huntsville