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Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Look Back: 2009 (and the rest of the decade)

What a difference a decade makes. Here's some major trends that happened in Huntsville this decade:
  • A Resurgence of Downtown- At the beginning of the decade, "Electric Avenue" was being discussed. For newer Huntsvillians and those who need a refresher, Electric Avenue was a plan by Jim Hudson and his newly-formed CityScapes development company to convert the parking garage facing Big Spring Park into an entertainment district and an adjoining 14-story condo tower. The concept died because of the post-9/11 recession, but it would lead to a wave of development downtown, including the controversial Big Spring Summit office tower, which now sits where it would have been built. CityScapes went on to develop the Washington Square group of restaurants and renovate the 8-story Terry Hutchens building on Clinton into condos. Other projects built downtown this decade included the Embassy Suites hotel, its adjoining "riverwalk", and the 301 East condo mid-rise.
  • A Resurgence in Urban Neighborhoods- Lowe Mill got FlyMo and lost the homeless shelter, while Lincoln Village came out of obscurity thanks to church and volunteer groups fixing up houses in the neighborhood.
  • A Shift in Retail- In 2000, Jones Valley was still mostly a farm, and on University west of Enterprise there were a couple of auto dealerships and little else. Parkway Place was under construction, as Parkway City, its predecessor, was counting down its last days. Bridge Street was just a dream on the Research Park master plan. And Madison Square was still the "good" mall.
And now, for 2009....

At the beginning of the year, I made a list of predictions. Reflecting over this list a year later, I feel it gives a good recap of this year in development:

The "Water" mega-developments, Sweetwater and WaterStone- both of these projects are unrealistically large as proposed, especially in this economy. Expect them to be downsized.

Downsized!? Even better... little has progressed with either project. Car-dependent mega developments haven't fared well in this recession. These projects will have to be retooled if they want to be successful.

Madison developments- Colonial Promenade (the Wal-Mart on 72 West) will definitely break ground early this year; Academy Sports could be announced as its secondary anchor. Madison Lakes and The Peaks are more iffy on their timelines, with both scheduled for "mid-2009."

Failed on this one. Colonial Promenade hasn't broken ground yet; neither has The Peaks or Madison Lakes (the latter has moved to next year). No idea on where Academy Sports is; they should have at least two stores in Huntsville by now (a Decatur location opened this year).

More on 72 West- Watercress will probably break ground on its apartment portion early this year, with the retail portion (a Kroger or other grocery-anchored shopping center) coming later. And will Providence residents get their urban-ish grocery store at long last-- will it be Whole Foods, EarthFare, or something different? And, more importantly, where's Mellow Mushroom!?

Watercress did break ground on a 364-unit apartment complex in the spring, and Kroger was confirmed  earlier this month as the anchor of the retail portion. Providence got both a Mellow Mushroom and an urban market (KaLou's) this year. Earth Fare is locating on 72 West, but at the old Circuit City across from Madison Square.

Research Park- More office developments, go figure. Phase II of Bridge Street, with a Sports Authority as an anchor, will at least partially open. Just to the south next to Redstone Arsenal, a hotel/office/retail project by mall developer Jim Wilson and Associates has a good chance of getting off the ground this year.

Bridge Street's Phase II opened in the summer. Redstone Technology Park (the Jim Wilson and Associates project) is on hold for at least three years

Downtown/Center City-The height limits that have choked projects in the CBD will be eased/lifted, opening the door for several developments to get off the ground. If that happens, the plans for Constellation and Councill Court will become clearer, and some high-rises will be announced. A major VBC expansion/renovation project will begin in the spring. Also, expect more gentrification projects in the Lincoln, Merrimack, Lowe, and Five Points neighborhoods.

The height limit restrictions were lifted by the Planning Commission in May over most of the CBD, replaced by "buffer zones" around the historic districts. Constellation has moved forward, albeit slowly. The Councill Court revitalization has become part of a bigger, more controversial story-- the removal of most public housing from the central city, opening up land for infill development. The Lincoln Mill project was brought back from the dead.

East Huntsville- What happened to Harris Hill- is it dead? No. It's not. A major tenant announcement could come early in the year just to keep nosy people like myself occupied, with construction starting in the fall at the earliest. And a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter at Shields and 72 will be "officially" announced.

Not much has progressed on Harris Hill in the past year. The proposed Walmart is now dead.

Metro-wide: A resurgence of Kroger. Dunkin Donuts returns to Huntsville after a decade-long absence. At least six new hotels.

As I mentioned earlier, Kroger is planning its first new Huntsville store in at least 10 years. Still waiting on that Dunkin' Donuts, as no one has bought the franchise rights to the region. A handful of hotels opened this year, with another nearing completion.

Tomorrow: The second annual "Look Forward" for 2010!

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