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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?