Nadia Niakossary grew up going to Madison Square Mall, a former regional shopping center that spanned nearly 1 million square feet at University Drive and Research Park Boulevard in Huntsville.
During the ‘90s and early 2000s, Niakossary and her family spent their weekends at the mall. That was before the advent of online shopping, which completely changed how people buy and sell goods and services.
Today, Niakossary is instrumental in the revitalization of the property, now home to MidCity District. As the business development manager for MidCity developer RCP Companies, Niakossary holds a unique perspective few Huntsvillians have.
“As a native and a local here, it’s been really cool to see what this is transforming into,” she said. “This is historically the greatest retail artery in Huntsville and accounts for almost a quarter of our sales tax. To be able to revitalize that retail artery on University Drive with MidCity from what we lost when the mall was declining serves its own purpose.”
History of the mall
Madison Square opened to great fanfare, massive traffic jams and a visit from Miss America Suzette Charles in August 1984. The mall, once owned by Chattanooga-based CBL & Associates, drew shoppers from across North Alabama and southern Tennessee and generated millions in annual sales tax dollars for the City.
As online shopping grew and new developments popped up, Madison Square and some of the surrounding area along University Drive began to decline.
“Even as Madison Square struggled, it remained one of the best retail focal points in all of North Alabama,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “The question we faced as a City was, ‘How do we tap into the site’s potential while elevating the surrounding businesses that had suffered as a result of the mall’s decline?’”
A culture-forward district
Since 2016, Huntsville-based RCP Companies has worked with the City to develop MidCity District, built on the land formerly occupied by Madison Square.
Connecting people across the region through music, art, food and technology, MidCity was planned through careful research into how people congregate, what communities look for in a place and how venues, buildings, parks and public spaces can be used in varied ways.
MidCity is for everyone, from families to different demographics to all different age groups.
Niakossary said they’ve listened closely to the community to get a better understanding of what people want at the University Drive development.
“MidCity is for everyone, from families to different demographics to all different age groups,” she said. “We’re being very careful in how we curate the retail offerings and what we’re building out here. The mix needs to make sense for the market and for how the industry is trending.”
Next-gen gathering space
MidCity has many retailers, restaurants and entertainment options that are unique to the region, including:
- TopGolf – all-weather sports entertainment venue
- Dave & Buster’s – full-service restaurant and video arcade
- High Point Climbing and Fitness – indoor rock climbing
- The Camp – outdoor destination
- REI Co-op – retail and outdoor recreation services
- Wahlburgers – burger joint founded by Mark and Donnie Wahlburger
- Kung Fu Tea – bubble tea store
- Kamado Ramen – ramen takeout and eatery
Trader Joe’s, one of Huntsville’s most sought after retailers, is slated for completion at MidCity later this year, while Color Me Mine, a pottery studio, will open at the project soon.
Operated by Yedla Management, Marriott’s 130-room Aloft Hotel is expected to launch at MidCity in 2023. Hotel Indigo, a 120-room, five-story facility developed by ViaNova Development, will begin construction this fall with a targeted 2023 opening.
Live, work, play
Metronome at MidCity will be the project’s first residential building with 296 multi-family units over retail and restaurants in the core of the District. Pre-leasing will begin in late 2022.
Encore will be a wellness-focused community that includes 232 luxury apartments, four chef-driven restaurants, an integrated aquaponic farm, and holistic health and wellness space and activities. It will also have an industry-leading visual arts program, medical office space, and housekeeping, concierge and room service for residents. MidCity expects to begin taking reservations in late 2022.
In April, the MidCity Accelerator Foundation, Inc. announced a new partnership with gener8tor to help accelerate startup technology companies in North Alabama. Starting in mid-2021, four annual programs for entrepreneurs will be offered through this collaboration.
The collaboration includes three annual gBETA “pre-accelerator” programs and one annual “gener8tor Accelerator Studio” program. For more information, click here.
“This will really help our North Alabama startups thrive,” Niakossary said. “There’s so much potential because Huntsville is so smart. This partnership will help us get to the next level and grow our startups to hopefully become the next smaller Silicon Valley.”
The next steps
MidCity will continue to grow, especially as the new 8,000-seat amphitheater comes online in 2022. Managed by Huntsville Venue Group, the outdoor venue will support top talent and showcase community events such as farmers markets, a food hall, craft fairs, educational events and more.
By locating the venue in a new City park, the classic Roman-style forum will be accessible to the public year-round.
“To do something like MidCity, to take 110 acres and start from scratch to create this, is a big undertaking,” said City Director of Urban and Economic Development Shane Davis. “Since we’ve done it, we’ve had over 12 different cities call or even come visit to ask how we did this.”
City Council Member John Meredith, whose district includes MidCity, agrees. Meredith, who took office in October 2020, said the offerings at MidCity aren’t like anything else available in our community.
“It is not a reshuffling of businesses that are already in Huntsville, but rather bringing new businesses and opportunities to Huntsvillians that they don’t otherwise enjoy,” he said. “That’s one of the beauties of MidCity.”