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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.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Renderings of Twickenham Square

Twickenham Square broke ground on Tuesday, December 4th, ending nearly two years of negotiations between the City, the Housing Authority, and the Nashville-based developers. Construction began about a month ago, and it will continue until at least 2014, when the development is expected to open in phases throughout the year.

At the groundbreaking, new renderings of the project were revealed, showing street-level views of the apartments and retail fronts. Below is an overall map of the site, with locations of each rendering. (Note: The green space next to Publix will remain open space for now, but may eventually be developed. The floodway behind Publix is planned to become a linear extension of Big Spring Park.)

The overall Twickenham Square development. The numbers indicate the corresponding rendering's location; the arrows show the direction of the rendering's view. (click to enlarge) Provided by the City of Huntsville

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The John Hunt Park Master Plan

John Hunt Park, with the approximate Master Plan area (indicated by the blue boundary). Note the remnants of the runways of the old airport that closed in 1967.  Google Earth
If you looked at a list of all of the facilities currently present at John Hunt Park, you would think that it's a great recreational space. There are tennis courts, soccer fields, a playground, a golf course, the Iceplex... But  in between these features there are shipping containers, fields of dirt and gravel, and vast stretches of pavement-- remnants of runways from an airport that occupied the site until the 1960s. These eyesores isolate the park's facilities from one another-- a park should connect its features, not separate them.

Enter the John Hunt Park Master Plan. Its goal is to tie in all of the great facilities that already exist and make the 387-acre John Hunt into the city's "Central Park," as Mayor Battle calls it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Ideas for the Huntsville Times site

Photo credit: James Vandiver
As you all probably know by now, The Huntsville Times is cutting its print schedule to three days per week starting in October. As a result, the printing operation is moving to Birmingham, and a drastically reduced newsroom is moving to a new "hub" office downtown, making their Parkway offices, the paper's home since 1955, obsolete.

The entire Times site is 7.6 acres, and it is rare that an opportunity comes along to redevelop that much contiguous space on the central Parkway corridor. But you need to consider the challenges.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Idea: North Parkway Wellness Hub

North Parkway suffers from an over-saturation of aging retail space. Many of the retail buildings on the corridor were built in the 1960s; while most of them are occupied, few have been renovated since, creating a run-down look that in turn drives away many prospective tenants and creates an eyesore for residents and commuters. Today we're going to take a look at one of the worst cases, and explore options for its redevelopment, hoping that its rejuvenation will inspire other landlords and owners along the Parkway to clean up their properties.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Academy Sports Building First Huntsville Store

Academy Sports and Outdoors, a Houston-based sporting goods chain, will open its first Huntsville store at the NE corner of Nance Rd. and 72 West no later than next summer, according to an agreement between the City of Huntsville and the developer that will be discussed at tomorrow's (8/9/12) City Council meeting. At 71,000 square feet, the store will use one of the chain's larger designs. Academy has had a store in Decatur for several years now, and it was all but assured that they would move into the Huntsville market at some point.

Interesting note-- the developer is GBT Realty out of Nashville. You may recall that GBT is the owner/developer of The Shoppes of Madison, and in earlier plans of that center, Academy was to build a 55,000 sq. ft. store where Ross is now.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Twickenham Square Hotel Announced

A rendering of the new Homewood Suites, looking north from Gallatin. (Rendering credit: Chapman Sisson Architects)
Homewood Suites, a Hilton brand extended-stay hotel chain, will construct a 101-suite hotel at the Twickenham Square project, also known as the Councill Court redevelopment site. The four-story, $11.5 million building will be built on Gallatin between Lowe and St. Clair. Construction is expected to begin this fall, and the hotel is scheduled to open in the Fall of 2013. PHD Hotels of Auburn is the developer, along with Huntsville's Triad Properties.

In addition to the advantages of having another hotel downtown, this particular site is especially ideal for an extended-stay chain because it's within walking distance of Huntsville Hospital, making it appealing for patients' families who may need longer-term stays-- their closest options for such accommodations right now are on University Drive. Having a Publix grocery store down the street will make the hotel even more appealing for extended-stay guests.

This hotel project is not new territory, neither for Huntsville nor Homewood. The first Homewood Suites in Huntsville, located in Providence, is situated in a similar mixed-use environment to what is proposed at Twickenham Square. The design of that hotel and its surroundings were highlighted recently on Better! Cities and Towns, a planning blog.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

HomeGoods Coming to Huntsville

Last week, HomeGoods made it official that they were coming to Huntsville by posting management positions on their website. The only question left remaining was: Where?

HomeGoods has been rumored to be coming to the area for more than a year, having appeared on a lease flyer for The Shoppes of Madison (new Target) as the store where Ross is currently building their fourth area location. Some readers also heard from employees of HomeGoods' sister stores (TJMaxx and Marshall's) that it was coming to Bridge Street. Others thought it would be a joint store with TJMaxx, which has been done in other cities. But in the end, it turned out to be a stand-alone store in an infill location.

The former Barnes and Noble space on University, vacant since the bookstore moved to Bridge Street in 2008, will be the site of HomeGoods' new store. With renovations already under way on the space, expect the 25,000 sq. ft. store to open this fall. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

For "Signature Tower" Site, a Signature Development Idea

Current view of the Holmes-Jefferson city lot. (Photo: James Vandiver)

Shortly after lifting the height limit downtown, the City of Huntsville in early 2009 solicited proposals for a "signature tower" to be built on a city-owned 2.6 acre lot at the corner of Holmes Ave. and Jefferson St. At the time, as it is now, it was used as a public surface parking lot. Some of you have asked what happened to the signature tower proposal-- during the solicitation period, the city received zero proposals for redevelopment of the site, a victim of poor timing.

Even with the economy looking better and a renewed interest in downtown redevelopment, a signature tower is still out of the question. With a 21.5% office vacancy rate downtown, building a signature tower before the market demands it (ideally, when vacancy rates are <10%) would only increase that rate, absorbing many downtown offices currently scattered throughout the CBD into one large building, leaving in its wake a glut of vacant space in existing buildings. The risk of killing the momentum of downtown revitalization is just too great for what is essentially an aesthetically-pleasing addition to the skyline. The new thinking is that a signature mixed-use development, with modest amounts of residential, office, and retail spread out among several mid-rise buildings, would not overwhelm the market and become a model for other "opportunity sites" (vacant/parking lots, low-rise buildings) downtown. Plus, from a developer's point of view, this is a more realistic plan in a world where "flashy" doesn't get financed.

With that in mind, the city thought it would be a good time to take another look at the site. For the past few months, the city's Planning Department (with assistance from yours truly) have been working on some ideas to redevelop the Holmes/Jefferson site. One of the hypothetical development concepts is shown below.
An aerial of the concept, looking towards the south. (Graphic credit: City of Huntsville)
  1. A 6-story office building at the corner of Holmes and Jefferson, the most visible and heavily-traveled (both vehicle and pedestrian) intersection on the site. Because of this, the ground floor was reserved for a retail anchor. 
  2. A 4-story, 100-room boutique hotel. The inspiration for this was the 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. The name speaks for itself-- it's a hotel and a public art museum. 
  3. A 6-story apartment building at Holmes and Spragins, similar to the Belk-Hudson Lofts under construction about two blocks to the east. Other residential units would be spread out in the development as "live-work" units above retail or office space. 
  4. The area along Spragins was left somewhat open-- it could be expanded into more office space, green space, or even a museum (Sci-Quest?)
  5. A 4-story parking deck that would be placed behind the buildings, hidden from the street (save for the entrances/exits, of course). 
The conceptual office/retail building at the corner of Holmes Ave. and Jefferson St.  (Graphic credit: City of Huntsville)

Miscellaneous items included in the concept-- wider sidewalks to encourage pedestrian activity, "forecourts" for outdoor seating between some of the retail buildings, and rooftop gardens on top of the hotel and apartment structures.

So, what do you think? Other than a signature tower, what do you envision at this site?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Big Week for Bridge Street

Bridge Street has had its share of headlines this past week. On Monday, Chicago-based Miller Capital Advisory, Inc. under its subsidiary Institutional Mall Investors (IMI), purchased the retail center from O&S Holdings for an undisclosed amount, though property records show the price to be over $100 million. O&S will continue to manage and lease the center. IMI owns part or all of about two dozen high-end shopping centers around the country, including the Houston Galleria and Fashion Centre at Pentagon City in Alexandria, VA. IMI/MCA is a passive investor in these malls, however, so their presence will likely not have a significant impact on the Bridge Street's appearance or tenant mix, unlike what may have happened had a company like Simon or GGP bought the center. In other words, don't expect a Nordstrom simply because they are at some of the other properties MCA has invested in.

Also this week (by coincidence) more details have been revealed about Bridge Street's long-rumored expansion. Tonight, the Huntsville City Council will discuss spending $5 million on infrastructure in preparation for the next phase(s) of the retail complex, including adding another level of parking to the west of the Monaco theater. In an interview with WAAY-TV, City Councilman Will Culver, whose district includes Bridge Street, describes the next phase as a 150,000 sq. ft. department store, along with an additional 50,000 sq. ft. of small shop space, which will be placed where the west portion of the lake now sits. This expansion, also known as "Phase 3" could start sometime this year. Culver also described "Phase 4," which will include another 50,000 sq. ft. of retail and possibly another hotel, which will begin construction in 2015.

And there's one last bit of news-- H&M announced on its website this week that their Bridge Street store, the first in Alabama, will open on June 14th. Let's hope that H&M's opening in Huntsville will entice other unique stores and restaurants to occupy the future store spaces now under consideration, as well as throughout the city.

Monday, March 19, 2012

It's Official: Councill Court becoming "Twickenham Square"

Left: What Councill Court looks like today, from the intersection of Gallatin and Lowe; Right: What it could look like in about three years if all goes according to plan. (Sources: James Vandiver (left), City of Huntsville (right)) 

It was leaked (prematurely) last summer, but it wasn't until just recently that Publix approved the site plans for a new grocery store on the site of the former Councill Court housing project at the intersection of Gallatin and Pelham between the CBD and the Medical District, allowing the redevelopment project to move forward, as announced by the Times on Monday (3/19).

Publix is only one part of the redevelopment of the housing project formerly known as Councill Court, where a new "urban village" will be created (Twickenham Square), including 200-plus apartments, a hotel, an office mid-rise, and greenspace. But it's very important-- the primary retail goal of most cities that are revitalizing their downtown areas is an urban grocery store*. A grocery store is considered the "hub" of an urban neighborhood and increases its walkability while reducing car-dependency.

A new "Downtown Gateway" boulevard will be built on the west side of the project, extending Harvard Road north of Governors to Lowe Ave. The boulevard, connecting the development with Big Spring Park and its environs, will utilize a new prototype street design for Huntsville that includes on-street parking, landscaped medians, and one-way cycletracks (which I discussed in detail last year).

One of the developers involved in the project, Bristol Development Group, has had experience in redevelopment, having been involved in the revitalization of "The Gulch" in its hometown of Nashville. A decade ago, the area between Downtown and Music Row was mainly industrial; today, it's home to several condo high-rises, shops (like Urban Outfitters), restaurants (like Cantina Laredo), and now three major retailers (Publix, Target, and Ikea) have been rumored to be vying for a spot in the neighborhood.

Twickenham Square hinges on the construction of two parking decks, including one $10M, 770-space public-private parking garage, which are necessary to cut down on wasteful surface parking and increase the density of the development. This city-developer agreement (up to $8M city, $2M developer according to the Times) is in no way unique to this project; it's similar to the one made for Parkway Place during its redevelopment in the early 2000s, when $5.5M in (2000) tax dollars (around $7.2M today) was used to construct the parking garage there, or more recently, the $7M in federal grants that helped build the deck at Bridge Street in 2007.

The proposed layout of the Twickenham Square redevelopment.
This announcement may not be a Macy's or a Trader Joe's, but this project, along with the completion of  the Belk-Hudson Lofts later this year, will set a new standard for development in Huntsville. This is important, especially if Huntsville expects to attract and retain more young professionals. According to a survey completed in February by real estate advisor RCLCO, 77% of "Millenials" (18-34 year olds) would prefer to live in an urban, walkable environment. That means developments like Twickenham Square and Belk-Hudson, whether they be downtown, an existing older neighborhood like Five Points or a walkable suburban neighborhood like Providence, will be increasingly in demand for the foreseeable future, especially if gas prices continue to increase.

*Of course, Publix will not be Huntsville's first modern urban grocery store-- that honor goes to Star Market in Five Points.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bridge Street's Going Swedish

With job listings now posted on their website, I can now confirm that clothing retailer H&M is planning to open a 20,600 sq. ft. store at Bridge Street, just north of the bridge next to Chicos and under Pinz, the entertainment center formerly known as The Zone. This will be the Swedish company's first store in the Southeast outside Atlanta, North Carolina and Florida. It is expected to open this summer.

H&M, famous for selling trendy men's and women's clothing at low prices, has been expanding across Europe since the 1960s, but the first American store opened in New York City in 2000. Since then, the clothier has been expanding along the East and West Coasts, and is now opening stores in the country's interior.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Updated: Dunkin' Donuts to return to region

After a decade since the last store closed and a three-year franchisee search, Dunkin' Donuts is returning to Huntsville.The company announced today that the Robinson family and Southern Food Services, Inc. have signed on to open four franchises on the north side of the city, with the first opening next year and all stores being open within five years.

When they talk about "North Huntsville," it is important to remember that they probably mean the entire northern half of Madison County. So don't be surprised to see a store in Madison/West Huntsville, or out on 72 East.

An interesting tidbit: Dunkin' Donuts came in #4 on the original Ideas Map in the category of new restaurants, beating out Dave and Busters.

Map of the proposed Dunkin Donuts/Five Guys site. (Click to enlarge.) Image by Google Maps/Labels by James Vandiver
Update (2/12): Dunkin' Donuts will open its first Huntsville location on North Parkway at the intersection of Country Club-- interestingly enough, right across the street from Krispy Kreme. Five Guys (the last to be built in the region for now) will accompany Dunkin' in front of Costco on a site that was once occupied by a gas station and a bank. The restaurants will open in August 2012. Another Dunkin' Donuts will open in Madison by the "end of the year," according to the Times.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Ideas Map: One Year Later

Today (1/19/2012) marks one year since the kickoff of the original Ideas Map, an online crowdsourcing tool used by the City of Huntsville to see what kinds of retail and restaurants citizens want, along with other ideas to improve the city. It turned out to be a wild success; a second Ideas Map was created for downtown last summer, and more crowdsourcing events are planned in the future. But have we been equally successful in getting the most in-demand retail and restaurants? Check out the progress report below. The results have been updated as well as their status with Huntsville-- just so no one misinterprets me, Check means "they're coming," Unknown means "possible, but not sure," and No means "not a chance":

Top Restaurants:
1. Cheesecake Factory- Unknown. (They wouldn't put a full-size restaurant here, but the company is working on a smaller restaurant prototype for smaller cities.)
2. Chipotle- Check.
3. Joe's Crab Shack- No. (Supposedly they take issue with our lack of a waterfront... I guess Ditto Landing doesn't count.)
3. Dunkin' Donuts- Check.
4. Dave and Buster's- No. (Huntsville needs about a million more people to get one.)

Top Retail:
1. Trader Joe's- Unknown. (The company is fairly secretive on their site selection, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear about them in the next year.)
2. Macy's- Unknown. (Population is not an issue by itself, but I think the concern is whether or not the Huntsville market can sustain another mid-market department store.)
3. Ikea- Hell no. (Nashville may have enough people to warrant one in a few years.)
4. Container Store- No. (Once again, not enough people.)
5. Whole Foods Market- Check. (Rumor has it they've found a site on the Parkway, but nothing is official.)

Note that most of the restaurants/retail that have outright rejected Huntsville have done so for reasons beyond anyone's control, like population and geography. So, with that in mind and a year wiser, are there any retail and/or restaurants that you would like to see here, but didn't make the list?