Pictured Above: February announcement at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center on Huntsville becoming a Gig City with Mayor Battle, Huntsville Utilities and Google Fiber’s Jill Szuchmacher. Google Fiber is expected to start service in 2017.
This has been a year of great accomplishment in the City of Huntsville 2016 checklist.
But for Mayor Tommy Battle, some of the most significant facets of this past year have been “foundation blocks” to assure success in future years.
Those blocks run the gamut from roadwork on South Parkway to teamwork with leaders in Washington, D.C., from city newcomers to city council newcomers.
“It’s been a great year in where we’ve been able to go,” Battle said, “and also a great year to start on the projects that are going to take us into the 2020s and beyond.”
In the past half-dozen years, Huntsville has grown from 180,000 residents to an estimated 194,000; couple that with the 110,000 people from outside who come into the city limits to work each day, and there are definite challenges.
“What wakes me up at two in the morning is thinking about that fine line, that we grow, but we don’t grow so fast that we overshoot our infrastructure,” Battle said.
“You go all around the Southeast and see where that’s happened. In terms of industry, we’re in an enviable position to be able to pick and choose, and we’ve got to make sure we are wise in selecting companies that come in and fit with the fabric of the community.”
This growth and accomplishment must be achieved with “good economic policy,” Battle said. “We’ve got to get the most we can out of every dollar. Our taxpayers deserve that.”
Here are some key elements of this growing community that made progress and made headlines in 2016:
With the changing administration and landscape in Washington, Battle and other city representatives made two trips to the nation’s capital late in 2016 “to put across the idea that we’re going to work with whoever is there, we’re going to work for the good of the community and we’re going to work to make sure our community is a good partner.”
Locally, Battle was re-elected to a third term by an overwhelming margin in a state where 30 percent of incumbent mayors did not win re-election. The City Council got a new member in 27-year-old Devyn Keith, representing District 1.
“He will tell you he’s standing there on the shoulder of giants, like Dr. Richard Showers,” Battle said. “Dr. Showers served 28 years on the Council, and he made history. He was a tremendous force. Devyn will be great for the Council and his district, but there’s a learning curve and he’s been working hard to shorten that curve.
“We’ve had a great partnership with our Council and I look forward to that continuing, because they’re good people, they care about their community and they work hard.”
Infrastructure and Construction
The road projects on South Parkway and Zierdt Road have been going full-bore and the work on the northern stretch of Highway 72 has been finished, part of a $450 million Restore Our Roads project in conjunction with the state of Alabama.
The City of Huntsville announced it will become a GIG City, with a number of companies – including Google Fiber – offering the fastest broadband services on the planet. Southern Light is offering high-speed commercial service, AT&T and Comcast are building out fiber networks in anticipation of Google Fiber’s market entry in 2017. Google Fiber is leasing excess dark fiber from Huntsville Utilities fiber build-out.
The Twickenham Square and The Avenue developments downtown are complete and the “foundation blocks” are in place for urban development at City Centre and the MidCity area where Madison Square Mall once thrived.
A new plan is in place for revamping Cummings Research Park from “something designed in the 1960s and 1970s into a true 21st century park,” Battle said.
The BIG Picture comprehensive master plan continues to inform City planning decisions, and the City is moving forward with an update to the downtown plan to further address public spaces, streetscaping, public parking, and the ideal location for a new City Hall.
Jobs and Industry
“We’re adding jobs and people have the opportunity for a better standard of living,” Battle said.
“We have a very diverse portfolio in advanced manufacturing and have added new product lines and new companies in the past year,” Battle said. “Research Park is where we continue to get pushed with people who want to make us their U.S. headquarters, where they can consolidate and bring in more jobs. We’ve had growth but I don’t think we’ve seen anything yet.”
A 1,252-acre tract of prime property in Limestone County cleared the final hurdle this year to become an official TVA Mega Site. The certification positions the site for a major industry.
Entrepreneurship is taking off and the City is seeing more support for innovators and creatives who want to take a chance and start something new.
Nothing exemplifies “diverse portfolio” as much as Redstone Arsenal. Some 85 percent of the country’s missile defense work is done there and the Army Materiel Command is a robust program. The FBI presence has grown in leaps and bounds, with the addition last winter of the Terrorist Explosive Devices Analytical Center.
At Marshall Space Flight Center, NASA workers are leading the way on the propulsion component that will launch a spacecraft to Mars.
Huntsville City Schools has curriculum designed to help feed into that workforce with its college-and career-ready emphasis in STEM education.
“I’ve been in classrooms in a dozen schools this fall and every teacher and administrator say everything is going smoothly,” Battle says. “There is a culture of highly motivated education going on in our schools and I’m excited about what they’re doing. What I see happening in classrooms is something very special.
The school system is one of myriad partners for the City of Huntsville. It becomes the proverbial “too many to name” problem for Battle. The partners range from the other local governments, like Madison County and the City of Madison, to the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce, Huntsville Utilities, Huntsville Hospital, UAH, Alabama A & M, and the array of entrepreneurs.
“When you put all of us together,” Battle said, “it adds up to a picture of success.”
Quality of Life
Parks, recreation and greenways are key amenities citizens want to see more of in Huntsville. “There’s not an event I attend where someone doesn’t ask me about a new greenway,” said Battle.” The Mayor and Council agreed to fund a partnership with the Land Trust of North Alabama to help implement the City’s greenway plan. A new Aquatics Center opens next year, a major renovation to Big Spring Park will be complete in April, and continued improvements are under way in John Hunt and Brahan Spring parks.
The Mayor says he is most proud of the great strides at Animal Services, where the live release rate hit 92 percent this year.
“Our staff and volunteers at the Shelter are the most passionate and dedicated you will find anywhere in the country,” Battle said. “They have turned this shelter around from one that largely housed and destroyed to one that promotes adoptions, fostering, spay and neuter.”