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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.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Constellation leasing signs up

As some of you have probably noticed, there are "now leasing" signs up along the Parkway service road for the Constellation outparcels, which will probably be occupied by restaurants. Today, a new sign went up along Clinton across from the project for a 3-story "Class A" office building that has been in the plans since the development was first publicly announced over 2 years ago. A rendering of the building is on the sign, so if you're in that part of downtown, go check it out-- it looks pretty cool. Otherwise, click on the image to get a better look at the rendering.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Time for a new Joe?

The Huntsville Stars, the AA minor-league baseball team that has been here since 1985, might be moving to another city in a couple of years because of low attendance, according to the assistant general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, of which the Stars are an affiliate of. Of course, this might just be a hollow threat. But let's say it's not.

The Stars have played in the Joe W. Davis Stadium (known to many locals as "the Joe") since they moved here in the mid-80s from Nashville. According to Wikipedia, it was considered the "crown jewel" of the league when it opened. But today, it's the oldest stadium in the league, and it doesn't include amenities that most modern ballparks have. Plus, its gray, metal and concrete architecture is less than stellar, possibly a result of it being hastily built.

Despite several renovations (the last being in 2007), not much seems to be helping attendance, which is last in the 10-team league. Many cities in this situation have built brand new stadiums to boost attendance and keep the team from going somewhere else. So, is it time for a new Joe?

One possibility is to build the new stadium next to the current Joe. While it would be cheaper to do that (considering the city already owns the land) the current stadium seems out of place, tucked away off the Parkway in a mostly industrial part of town, with little opportunity for spinoff development. If Huntsville really wants to bring some visibility to the team, they'll need to build somewhere else. Might I suggest... downtown?

Coca-Cola Ballpark

Several cities have built new downtown baseball stadiums in the last decade-- Memphis (Autozone Park), Montgomery (Riverwalk Stadium), and Chattanooga (AT&T Field), to name a few. Most of these have been successful in bringing people to the games and to the area surrounding the stadium. The ballparks in Montgomery and Chattanooga are a part of their successful riverfront revitalization projects. Memphis's ballpark anchors (along with the FedEx Forum, home of the NBA Grizzlies) an entertainment district.

So, say we had the $30 million or so to build a new downtown stadium. Where would it be built? One suggestion is the Coca-Cola bottling facility at the corner of Monroe and Clinton (hence the Coca-Cola Ballpark), outlined in white in the aerial image below. It would be an ideal place for a stadium, across the street from the VBC where the other professional minor-league teams in Huntsville play. It's within walking distance to Big Spring Park, the Constellation project, parking, and several open lots that are potential hotel/office/residential development sites. (Image courtesy Sellers Photo)

The city could also partner with developers to create a mixed-use project anchored by the stadium. Following the trend of new ballparks, the new stadium would probably have fewer seats than the Joe does-- about 6-7,000 compared to the current Joe's 10,200. The fewer seats would be closer to the field, allowing for a more "intimate" ballpark experience-- something that's popular in modern baseball stadium design.

Sure, there are probably cheaper places to build a new ballpark in the area. But would building a stadium in the middle of a cotton field in Limestone County be as awesome as a downtown stadium? No, because you are not Kevin Costner, and this is not Field of Dreams. If you build it [there], they will not come.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The "new" UAH master plan

Like politics, when a university gets a new administration, priorities change-- new ideas are introduced, and old ones are thrown out. This has certainly been the case for UAH since Dr. David ("Dave") Williams took the job as president of the university two years ago. Many of the changes he and his administration have implemented have been quite unpopular with students and faculty, especially since they have been kept "out of the loop" for the most part on these changes. But it looks like the new administration might be doing something right. Finally.

The new UAH master plan, which will replace the current one created in 2004, has an underlying goal: to make UAH a "traditional" campus. One of the major (and most interesting) focus points of the new plan is a "campus town center" along Holmes Avenue. Ideas for the new town center include live music/performance venues, art galleries, restaurants, a bookstore, grocery store, movie theater, and student apartments. A full list of ideas can be seen here. The town center, if successful, will give students, faculty, and visitors something that Huntsville currently lacks-- the "college town feel" of places like Auburn and Tuscaloosa. Plus, the greater accessibility to services and entertainment will make the surrounding neighborhoods more appealing to those who want to live in the city-- many of whom would be 20-something recent college graduates, a demographic Huntsville desperately needs, but lacks partly due to the scarceness of attractive urban living options.

Pedestrians and bikes
I probably don't need to remind you that Huntsville is not a bike- or pedestrian-friendly city. The area surrounding UAH is somewhat better, but not by much. One area of concern is trying to cross Holmes to get to the other side of campus. The university is trying to change that with a new pedestrian mall (under construction; the big red block in the middle of the picture above) that will go right through the middle of campus and cross Holmes in front of the Salmon Library. One thing I don't get about this plan is the random configuration of paths in the northern part of campus, especially the oval in the top left (between Roberts and Spragins halls).

Also, the creation of a campus transit system (Charger Transit?) is mentioned repeatedly in the plan, but will probably happen in the long-term. Hopefully by that time, there will be a reliable, efficient regional transit system to make it truly effective.

A denser campus

One of the consequences of UAH being a commuter campus is that the building are so spread out, you have to drive quite a bit. Try getting from Morton Hall to Tech Hall in 15 minutes on foot; you'd be stretching it on a bike. The plan calls for more buildings in the campus core, while creating a "greenbelt" of open spaces surrounding campus. And Tech Hall, isolated from the rest of campus (located at the bottom right of the above maps) will be no more, and the departments currently housed there will move elsewhere, probably in one of the proposed academic buildings that will surround the Shelby Center. One major note on the building plan is the sheer number of dormitories planned-- I counted at least 12, not including the one currently under construction. Also, notice that Southeast Housing (the oldest dorms/apartments on campus) is absent from the master plan. I wouldn't be surprised if they were torn down in the near future, especially after the new dorms are completed across the street in 2011.

The final draft of the master plan is due this fall.