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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.

The North Parkway study area (outlined in yellow). Image: City of Huntsville

Located on the eastern side of North Parkway between Oakwood and Max Luther, the study area is a narrow strip of mostly vacant buildings that were built in the late 1950s to early 1960s as well as a former hotel site at Max Luther. Thirteen landowners hold property on the 13.6 acre strip. It used to house local establishments like Terry's Pizza and Reid's Hardware; now, after a decade of road construction and general decline, only a few businesses remain. In some places, there is as little as 200 feet between the edge of the service road and a residential neighborhood-- this creates a challenge for new retail development without a complete reconfiguration of the buildings and parking.

Noting these challenges, the Planning Department came up with some ideas for redeveloping the corridor. It was determined early on that, in order make the property viable for redevelopment, demolishing all of the buildings on the strip and starting over would be the best option. Our idea was to create something unique that ties into an issue the entire country is trying to solve-- the health and wellness of citizens. Hence the name-- the "North Parkway Wellness Hub."
Everything in this concept ties into wellness, from the recreational facilities, to the retail, to the Food Truck Park. (Rendering credit: City of Huntsville)
Retail and Office Space

Rendering Credit: City of Huntsville
The retail/office development at the corner of Max Luther and the Parkway consists of two buildings. The first is a two story building, with first-floor retail space ideal for a pharmacy and/or a food co-op as well as second-floor medical office space. This concept was modeled after the CVS in the Village of Providence. A second smaller building would provide more retail and/or office space. Ideal tenants in this building would include an urgent care center ("Doc-In-A-Box") and a small fitness center.

Food Co-Op

A Food Co-Op is a concept where employees and patrons own shares of the grocery store through a non-profit organization. Food Co-Ops usually feature natural and organic goods as well as local produce, and are located in lower-income areas due to cheap rents/land values and little competition from national counterparts like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. Some of you may recall that the Food Bank of North Alabama tried to build Alabama's first Food Co-Op in Terry Heights a few years ago; it was put on indefinite hold due to troubles with obtaining financing. For those who are interested, a case study of the Pulaski Pike Market can be found here. An example of an operating Food Co-Op, Three Rivers Market in Knoxville, recently opened a store on a corridor very similar in appearance to North Parkway.

Recreational Facilities

Rendering credit: City of Huntsville
The area sits in the middle of a "park desert;" the nearest parks in this area are about a mile away in any direction. Considering this, and tying into the wellness theme, this concept includes a variety of greenspace options. There's a dog park (pictured), a children's play area/splash pad, an adult fitness facility, and a walking trail that will run the length of the strip.

Food Truck Park

The food truck park is designed to serve as an incubator to the growing food truck industry and allow them to "feed" off each other, similar to a food court at a mall. It will provide several spaces for food trucks to park temporarily in an attractive environment, with pavilions for seating and restroom facilities to accommodate customers and operators.

It's a concept that recently started in Atlanta on the site of an old hotel; up to fifteen trucks can be accommodated at the park at one time. Here's a picture of another one, in Fort Worth, Texas.

Farm-to-Table Restaurant

A farm to table restaurant would promote local agriculture by serving produce and other goods from area farmers. This concept seems to be popular in other regions, particularly the Hudson River valley in upstate New York (here's one: Local 111 in Philmont, NY), but it would be the first of its kind in the Huntsville area. Another idea that would tie into this is to use culinary arts students from local high schools and colleges to work in the restaurant, giving them some valuable real-world experience.

Community Garden
Photo credit: James Vandiver

A large community garden-- much larger than the one shown here at Lewter Park in Five Points-- is proposed for the area to the south of Lantana Way. Community gardens promote healthy eating habits and present community members with an opportunity to grow their own produce. In addition to the creation of green space in an area currently occupied by vacant buildings and asphalt, it provides a community gathering space for those who live in adjacent Lantana/Imperial Gardens and surrounding neighborhoods.

Farmers' Market

A farmers' market is proposed in addition to the community garden. It would be a weekly or monthly event in order to complement existing facilities like the County Farmers' Market on Cook Avenue and the weekly Greene Street Market downtown. It would enhance the community garden by allowing citizens to grow and sell their own produce.

Many of these ideas are flexible and don't have to be placed at this site only. The object of this exercise, besides promoting health and wellness options, was to set the standard for future redevelopment along the Parkway and other struggling retail corridors throughout the city.

So, what do you think? Questions, comments, concerns?


sprx said...

Sounds great, but there's already one farmers market a half mile down the road, and I don't see this community garden business working alongside a busy highway.

James said...

@sprx: Proximity to other farmers' markets doesn't matter as much as it does in traditional retail. However, the Farmers' Market you refer to (Madison County) is in a poor location and is expected to move downtown in the next couple of years. And like I said, the conceptual farmers' market would be a weekly or monthly event as opposed to a permanent attraction.

The community garden location, being located near the Parkway, was a concern, but check this out: http://greennetchicago.org/gardens/map. This is a map of Chicago community gardens-- note that several are adjacent to the major expressways (Eisenhower, Kennedy, Dan Ryan) which are arguably much busier than North Parkway.

Beth Clemons said...

these are all GREAT ideas! north huntsville has been neglected and areas like this will help the area

Ashley said...

I love these ideas! A food truck park is definitely something Huntsville needs to get behind! Also the park space would be wonderful!

Anonymous said...

How about a pedestrian cross-walk? I'm tired of almost hitting people who hop the median and walk across the parkway.

Jo said...

This is a great idea. The only thing I see holding it back is current Health Department regulations about Temporary Food Concessionaires. It seems like the permitting process as it stands will make something like a food truck park pretty difficult; for instance, we have the Taco Bus but their permit prohibits them from changing locations, which is the point of a food truck. Do you have any insight on this?

MoonfolkHSV said...

Sounds wonderful. I too am concerned about the garden being so close to the freeway- doesnt exhaust and pollution runoff from the street pose a threat to the organic space? will the vegetables absorb any such thing through the soil?

James said...

@Jo: The Planning Department is looking into easing food truck (aka "mobile food vendor") regulations; I don't know about specifics yet, and this is subject to change, but basically if the food truck has an agreement with a nearby business to use their bathrooms and is parked in a non-residential zone, they should be fine.

As for the Health Department, I can see why they would be concerned with food trucks constantly moving around without a physical location in order to perform their surprise inspections. In San Diego, food trucks are required to update their locations and provide a cell phone number; it's a $100 fine the first time they fail to do so. I don't see why the same can't be done here.

Anonymous said...

I can't wrap my head around how you would get all those landloards working together and investing money in this. Wouldn't it pretty much take a developer buying out the individuals? It would be nice to have what you describe there though.

Jo said...

@James: Thanks for the reply; as the organization I work for has proposed to host a food truck festival at some point, I'd love to hear us move to something like what San Francisco has. A great food truck festival is only a benefit if there are actual food trucks here! Again, thanks for the info and the great work you're doing with the city.

Anonymous said...

And let's be honest, what kind of traffic and people are you marketing to here? This area used to thrive bit things have changed. This isn't the best of areas anymore.

Jessica Carlton said...


You do such a great job with this blog! Thank you so much for all that you do for Huntsville. This is all so interesting. I'm glad that time and effort is being focused on this area of Huntsville. The idea to incorporate wellness is very smart.

You mentioned in a response to a comment that the Farmers Market maybe moving downtown? I have often thought that would be so fantastic for downtown revitalization efforts. Can you give us any more detail on this?


James said...

Thanks, Jessica! There have been some discussions about moving the County farmers' market from Cook Avenue to somewhere downtown, possibly as a Saturday market at the Depot in the beginning and transitioning to something more permanent later. Mayor Battle is a proponent of this (as seen from the article below) and his historic re-election last night means that this idea is still on the table: http://blog.al.com/breaking/2012/05/historic_huntsville_depot_eyed.html

[something witty] said...

These are all excellent ideas. If this happens it would give me one more reason to become a boomerang. However, "North Parkway Wellness Hub" is not a name that would entice me. How about "Healthy Hollow" or "Healthy Holler" since it is Alabama?

Anonymous said...

A few things... Im from Hsv and currently live in Atlanta. The food truck deal is great! My only concern is that location. The food truck events here are successful because there is a bough people to support it plus they in area where plenty of people in the tall buildings can come down and eat lunch.

Jim M said...

Anything would be better than what is currently there. The existing buildings are so close to the access road they can get hit by cars in accidents..Green space would be nice.

Flintriverrunner said...

WOW, I love the ideas. My only worry is you have 2 Natural food stores (Garden Cove and Foods for Life)close to this area, would it hurt their business?

Tim Stewart said...

Regarding the food truck park: I spoke with Dr. Don Williamson, Alabama State Health Officer, at the September State Committee for Public Health meeting. He said the ADPH wouldn't have a problem with a food truck park as long as the county health department knows where the trucks are and that they have hot water available. He actually thought it sounded like a good idea.