21st Century Huntsville
Cool Sophistication, Dynamic Spaces and Diverse Living
by Kimberly Ballard
Huntsville is accustomed to winning national recognitions for its friendly and welcoming business environment: Kempler Industries named Huntsville the Best City for Manufacturing Jobs; 24/7 Wall Street ranked Huntsville 6th in the Nation for Job Growth; and our city is #3 on the Wall Street Journal’s list of Where You Should Move to Make the Most Money.
However, in recent years, Huntsville has been receiving significant praise for its pulsating local economy and extraordinary quality of life. For instance, U.S. News & World Report recently named Huntsville #11 on the 2019 Best Places to Live. This acknowledgment is no surprise as our city has become a diverse, energetic, 21st century technological city with an ever-expanding skyline stimulated by a $100 million downtown revitalization project at its CityCentre; and a $350 million redevelopment project at MidCity Huntsville.
These added conveniences–a vibrant nightlife; diverse choices in cuisine; eclectic arts and entertainment venues; and access to hotels throughout the city and Madison–offer big city amenities without losing traditional Southern hospitality!
And guess what? There are no signs of it slowing down anytime soon!
Downtown Huntsville’s CityCentre
As the sun sets over downtown Huntsville’s Big Spring Park, thousands of points of light begin their shimmering dance in response to Frank Sinatra’s jazz-infused refrain, “My heart beat just like a hammer, arms wound around you tight, while stars fell on Alabama, last night.”
The music drifts on a dusky breeze from the new AC Hotel patio every night as the sun goes down. A constellation projector rains down laser stars while hotel guests and local romantics partake in the hotel’s beverage ritual–a lavender and blue swirled concoction sprinkled with stardust called a Starry Night. The hotel’s signature Huntsville cocktail captures perfectly the intermingling of the city’s artsy-side with its fiery passion for space exploration.
The AC Hotel by Marriott is the first installment of a $100 million mixed-use development known as CityCentre at Big Spring. Developed by Doradus Partners in partnership with RCP Companies, the hotel is a global joint venture with Spanish hotelier Antonio Catalan.
When completed, CityCentre will consist of 30,000-square-feet of retail and restaurant space, an artisanal food hall, and 277 luxury apartment units modeled after the Artisan Twickenham Square, located a few blocks away.
The European-inspired luxury boutique hotel has six floors and 120 rooms with large flat screen smart TVs, platform beds, glass front refrigerators and stand-up residential-style showers. The hotel also has four extra-large corner suites overlooking downtown, Monte Sano Mountain and Big Spring Park.
The second floor consists of event space, an exercise gym, business services space known as the AC Library, and what will be known as The Veranda rooftop bar opening in June 2019.
The Veranda will be open to the public via a winding street-side ramp for concert goers and sports fans strolling the sidewalks of Big Spring Park after events at the Von Braun Center, the Huntsville Museum of Art and other downtown entertainment venues.
Also opening Summer 2019 is the first-floor Gemini Kitchen & Cocktails featuring Atlanta chef and restaurateur, Marc Taft. The menu will tout fresh ingredients sourced from local farmers, ranchers, and artisans.
Guests of the AC Hotel won’t find your traditional breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon and jam, but instead, experience petit déjeuner with a European flair.
“Even though the Gemini isn’t yet opened, we still offer hotel guests a unique European-style breakfast,” said Michael Owenby, director of sales. “It consists of two types of quiche, open-faced toast, a delicious baked egg dish known as cazuela, freshly baked croissants daily, and hot and iced coffee and expresso.”
The bar also offers tapas type fare for heading out into the city including freshly sliced prosciutto and chia seed pudding.
“Gemini’s going to be a great place to come for a drink before a show at the VBC or it’ll be a great place to stop in when you’re taking a stroll through Big Spring Park,” said RCP Companies project coordinator, Nadia Niakossary, “It’s designed to be very inviting and it will be a place for everybody to come.”
“Our corporate management company is based here in Huntsville and is a homegrown company,” Owenby continued. “We’re a huge component of the CityCentre project and we’re excited to be involved with the community and expect to be a really big part of all the great things happening downtown.”
A Sign of Things to Come
Across the park in the shadow of the PNC Bank building, a new Autograph Collection by Marriott boutique hotel will eventually add to the projected 1,000 hotel rooms coming soon to downtown.
Another mixed-use development will be taking shape in the months ahead on Clinton Avenue across from the VBC.
That 13-acre former Coca-Cola plant property will be developed by Rocket Development Partners out of New York City. They cite the growing popularity among young couples and empty nesters for pedestrian communities with plenty of activities, a variety of eateries, and close proximity to retail stores and shops, as a hint at what might be coming to that space in the coming months.
While Downtown Huntsville is focused on cool, sophisticated urban living – social interaction, challenging outdoor activities and just plain fun are the focus at the sprawling 100-acre MidCity Huntsville development off University Drive.
Located near the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH) campus on the former Madison Square Mall property, the $350 million MidCity Huntsville redevelopment project, when finished, will consist of 345 square feet of specialty retail space, 200,000 square-feet of high tech office space, over 900 square feet of residential, and a 150-room boutique hotel.
According to the developer, RCP Companies, MidCity Huntsville promises to deliver a one-of-a-kind regional destination designed to become a social and economic focal point for a diverse and dynamic community.
Where CityCentre offers quiet, sophisticated living, MidCity promises enough action and expendable energy to, well … launch a rocket into space!
Instead of sipping Van Gogh-inspired stardust potions under the constellations to the sound of Frank Sinatra favorites, visitors to MidCity will get an introduction to Huntsville’s versatile food and beverage scene, outdoor concerts, and activities and entertainment for every age from one to 100.
Located at The Point in the heart of the MidCity development, visitors enjoy food trucks on the event lawn; brewery festivals and wine tastings at Jake’s Mews; diverse artisan food creations from experimental concept restaurants at The Camp; and celebrity-inspired burgers, Sloppy Joes and tater tots from a 4,000-square-foot Wahlburgers.
According to RCP Companies, a 26,500-square foot Dave & Buster’s will open in July 2019 at the intersection of University Drive and Old Monrovia Road providing “The only place to eat, drink, play and watch sports all under one roof.”
If you have the urge to climb a mountain, no need to find a real one!
High Point Climbing & Fitness has added an $8 million climbing gym and a 2,700-square-foot Kid Zone with climbing elements designed for ages three to twelve.
If climbing isn’t your thing, TopGolf offers 72 climate-controlled batting bays, an indoor driving range, a full-service restaurant and multiple bars, as well as private event space and meeting rooms, a rooftop terrace with a fire pit, and hundreds of HDTVs with free Wi-Fi.
Those focused on a fit and healthy lifestyle will find a 38-acre public park with walking, jogging, and bicycle trails, alongside a functional lake system and The Adrenaline Zone with its kayak center for water adventure activities.
Beyond the park, a grand event promenade transitions east through a series of tree-lined commercial avenues featuring niche shops, restaurants, and residential-above-retail apartments, which gives way to a large new residential district.
If you are thinking Sinatra’s croon is a little too old-fashioned for your musical tastes, MidCity will offer plenty of alternative music venues when the new $40 million amphitheater is built. Designed by Matheny-Goldmon Architects, the Amphitheatre is one of the most unique additions to MidCity – and to Huntsville overall.
According to RCP Companies, the 8,500-seat venue will feature live performances of all kinds, including world-class concerts and cultural shows featuring local, regional and national talent.
Furthermore, The Stage at The Point will showcase musicians, artists and dancers from within the Huntsville community and surrounding area.
Yes, it’s always fun and even a bit fascinating to think back on 20th Century Huntsville as a hidden gem, tucked away from prying eyes in the early days of the space program, but the city’s pride in innovation and fearless pursuit of the future has elevated it to one of the most diverse and cultured cities of the 21st Century!