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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Shuttle Bus gets federal grant

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has given a $2.4 million grant to Huntsville's Department of Parking and Public Transit for several transit projects, which include the replacement of aging vehicles (three buses, two trolleys, and three Handi-Ride vans), plus 350 bus stop signs and 50 bus shelters. Most of these projects were on the city's wishlist for the stimulus package.

The 350 bus stop signs the city's going to buy with this grant makes me wonder if they're planning a major re-imaging of the Shuttle Bus, which currently to most Huntsvillians is the "empty bus to nowhere." Too bad a fresh coat of paint won't change that.

Holmes/Greene Garage back on table

A new parking garage at the corner of Holmes and Greene downtown is back from the dead. According to the Times, The City Council tonight will authorize an application for a $1.2 million federal transportation grant to pay for the 5-story, 450 space garage, which will be built on top of an existing public surface lot. The new design for the garage is slightly different compared to the design released at a public meeting early last year-- it is now 5 stories instead of the original 6 to comply with the impending height limit buffer zones.

What makes this garage interesting is the planned residential and retail components. The city has partnered with developer Randy Schrimsher to build a 5-story apartment building next to the garage along Lincoln. The original plans called for 52 units, but the number will probably be less this time around. There will also be ground-floor retail space in the garage-- 10,000 sq. ft will be available for lease. The city has been in talks with several shops and restaurants, even a small grocery store with the earlier plans (the amount of space hasn't changed with the new design, so this is still possible).

For more info:
February 2008 article about this project, including an old rendering

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bridge Street to get another office tower... and a tennis complex

The Bridge Street developers reaffirmed what was already announced back in January-- a second office tower (identical to the first one) will be built in the northeast corner of the project. Construction will start early next year on the 6-story building, according to the Times.

Now, this is where it gets weird. The developers also announced plans to build the "Bridge Street Tennis Centre," a complex of 6 lighted "championship-style" tennis courts, on the northwest corner. Also, a putting green will be built at the Westin. Anybody else asking, "Why?"

Sounds like Bridge Street's having trouble filling up the rest of their 100-acre space, especially if they're resorting to build tennis courts and putting greens. Maybe I'm being a little too extreme here, but why not have some more medium-priced lunch places/coffee shops for the Research Park/UAH crowd? Anyone who has driven University around lunchtime knows those kinds of places do great business around there. (Several of you have talked about a Panera Bread opening, but I have yet to find anything to confirm that.) Also, where are those Phase II anchor stores that were promised a month after opening--in 2007? Sports Authority is the only one that has been announced, and will open later this summer.

Update: Paul Orfalea, co-founder of O&S Holdings, talked about a couple of projects on the "wish list" for Bridge Street:
  1. A department store, which is "in negotiations." We can safely assume this is Macy's, unless, of course, the developers cheap out and take one of the Madison Square anchors (Sears, JC Penney, Belk, or Dillard's), quickening that mall's impending demise.
  2. A "5-star hotel." This would probably be a tough sell for a city like Huntsville. I mean, could you imagine a Ritz-Carlton here? However, if they do pull it off, it will probably be a Starwood (Westin/Sheraton) or Marriott-brand hotel.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Todd Towers to be razed, redeveloped

An interesting little blurb in the Times this morning-- the Huntsville Housing Authority plans to continue the redevelopment of its properties using federal stimulus grant money. At the top of the list is the demolition of Todd Towers, the 6-story 100-unit senior housing complex at the corner of Monroe and Green Streets. Two buildings will be built in its place-- one, a 5-story, 90 unit senior housing complex, and the other, a 40-unit loft apartment building. The latter is being developed in a partnership with Thornton Properties-- it should be noted that they are also the developers of the 301 East Holmes high-end condo project, which would be adjacent to the loft apartments. The buildings are being designed by Bill Peters Architects of Huntsville.

The HHA is also applying for a grant to raze the remainder of the Searcy Homes projects along Holmes and Monroe and replace them with a mixed-use residential/retail development. This project is being designed by Joe Fuqua (I assume of Fuqua and Partners Architects).

Other HHA projects applying for grant money include the reconstruction of Sparkman Homes on Holmes (don't see how rebuilding the apartments is going to help the neighborhood) and the previously-announced Gateway Place senior housing in Councill Courts.

For more info:
HHA press release

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Cheddar's, Zaxby's planned for University

The land being cleared in front of the University Place shopping center (where Phil Sandoval's and Nothing but Noodles is) is for a Cheddar's restaurant. A Zaxby's is also planned for another outparcel across University from McDonald's. This will be the ninth Zaxby's in the area, but the first Cheddar's (looks similar to a Ruby Tuesday) in Alabama.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Huntsville West

So Huntsville West, the shopping center at University and Sparkman, is getting some new tenants that I've never heard of. It wasn't long ago that the center had stores like Office Depot and Goody's. Despite several attempts to revitalize the center-- the Times has a good history of the center in the article linked above-- stores just can't seem to stick around there (with the exception of the thrift store and Hibbett's). Sometimes it was because the company went out of business (anyone remember Compo?), but most of the time the stores moved to new shopping centers-- Office Depot moved farther west next to Best Buy, and Goody's moved next to SuperTarget, where it remained until the company's demise earlier this year. These newer centers make it hard for Huntsville West to compete in its current form. So, if true revitalization is to be done, some radical and unique measures (at least for Huntsville) will have to be taken.

Time to meet the bulldozer...

If Huntsville West really wants to compete with the newer centers along University, it's going to have to be something new. It has the advantages of being at a relatively major intersection and in between two universities, but it has the disadvantages of being a waste of land (look at all that asphalt!) and being too old to attract better tenants. So bulldoze the center, and in its place, put in a "college town center" type development, or a Constellation for inner West Huntsville. Coming off University on the "Main Street," put in tenants that fit into the needs/wants of the demographics of the area-- a legit grocery store, college bookstore, some bars and restaurants (sit-down/quick service/fast-food), and a live music venue or two would be a good start. Elsewhere, build some 4-5 story loft-style apartment buildings. If parking's a problem, put in a parking garage. The city will probably need to improve pedestrian/bike access along Sparkman between the center and the universities-- this should be done anyway regardless.

Like I said, radical and unique. But there's not too much you can do with a 35-year-old shopping center that's within a mile of newer, more visible centers with vacant space. And bringing in retail that no one's ever heard of won't keep it alive for long.