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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.


Stephen said...

Awesome! It's about time we got a Piggly-Wiggly in Huntsville!

Wait, what?

Anonymous said...

This is the best news ever for downtown. Once these apartments fill up with young professionals, there will be a customer base that will allow restaurants and other things to open that will make downtown vibrant like other cities.

Anonymous said...

What not name it Council Square?

Anonymous said...

@anonymous Why not leave it the way it is then?

Anonymous said...

Huntsville has so much potential for greatness especially with all the amazing schools we have is great to have more incentive to stay after graduation!

Anonymous said...

What is the use of the green building on the map, it isn't labelled?

James said...

The "green building" is supposed to be more apartments. I don't know why it is colored differently than the other residential buildings.