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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, October 30, 2009

Madison wants a real downtown

If you've never been to the Madison Street Festival, chances are you've never been to downtown Madison, much less even knew there was one. Downtown Madison consists of a handful of single-story row of shops and restaurants along Main and Church Streets, plus a small historic district of homes bordered by Sullivan and Church Streets and Mill Road.

Now, some Madison residents are looking into plans to expand and enhance their downtown. The Times notes that the "new downtown" boundaries would include the area surrounded by Sullivan, Browns Ferry, Hughes, and Madison Blvd. This area includes Madison's City Hall, post office, stadium, and one school (Madison Elementary-- see map below for locations).

However, this new downtown zone also has many suburban features, including a Wal-Mart, an industrial park, and a strip of motels and fast-food joints along Madison Blvd next to the interstate. It will be interesting to see how Madison, a city that has had a laissez-faire attitude towards development and sprawl for many years (and paid the price with overcrowded schools and roads), does with this introductory experiment in urban development.

Current downtown
Proposed downtown expansion (click to expand)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Regions to donate historic bank

Big Spring Partners is doing something for a change. They will be the recipients of the historic Regions Bank branch on Courthouse Square overlooking Big Spring Park. The bank was built in 1835 and is Alabama's oldest continually-operating bank (see picture). Big Spring Partners will move their offices there from the Holiday Inn (another BSP acquisition), and the city plans to move the Community Development department from their current Holmes Avenue offices.

The bank branch will close on January 29th, and the building will be given to Big Spring Partners sometime in February.

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.

Monday, October 5, 2009

A Closer Look at Constellation

The cover story of the September issue of Southeast Real Estate Business talks about the recent shift to mixed-use developments. One of the highlighted projects is Constellation, the $150 million redevelopment of the old Marketsquare Mall site in downtown led by local developer Scott McLain. The article gives us the most detailed description of Constellation yet. A summary:
  • 314 hotel rooms, split evenly between a Springhill Suites and a Residence Inn. The Springhill Suites will be the first component of the project to begin construction, which should be very, very soon.
  • 63,320 square feet of retail space, 21,000 of which is being set aside for a "green grocery." The rest will be shops and restaurants (not including the three restaurant parcels facing the Parkway). Something like an Urban Outfitters could work well in a project like this.
  • 187,000 square feet of office space. Wow, that's a lot more than the three-story office building proposed across the street could possibly hold. Maybe the rest of the office space is in a high-rise. We can only hope.
  • 97 residential units. This is smaller than the 160 units proposed in May 2008, but in line with the 80-100 units proposed with the 2007 announcement of the project. It also seems that the developers still haven't decided on whether or not to build condos or apartments.
Let's hope that some new renderings and a website are coming soon. Some tenant announcements would be nice, but that might be asking too much.

More info:
Southeast Real Estate Business article: "Mixed Use Bonanza"
Past articles on Constellation