District 2 outlook: Assuring connection and recreation for residents

single-meta-cal January 23, 2018

In the coming days, City Blog will take a look at what’s in store in 2018 in each of the City of Huntsville’s five districts, through the eyes of their council representatives. Today: Mark Russell, District 2.

View City Council district boundary lines via this map.

The priority for Mark Russell isn’t so much something inside District 2. It’s something that connects District 2 to an adjoining district, and to the world beyond.

Cecil Ashburn Drive is the biggest project (for 2018) and we’re trying to stay ahead of the infrastructure, to make sure the people from my district can get to work and back in a reasonable amount of time,” Russell said.

Construction on the winding road on Huntsville Mountain that goes from Hampton Cove to Jones Valley is set to begin this spring. The project to widen a 3.4-mile stretch of the road is expected to be completed in 2020. Cecil Ashburn Drive serves some 17,000 vehicles per day, and at least two lanes of traffic will be open throughout a majority of the work; during the first six or eight months, while blasting is taking place, access will be more limited.

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Along with Governor’s Drive, which handles nearly 28,000 vehicles daily, Cecil Ashburn is the primary route to work, shopping and entertainment venues for the residents of Hampton Cove, Old Big Cove and the unincorporated areas of Madison County.

Russell’s district is primarily residential. As he said, “We’re not going to have a lot of industrial development in my district, and the residents are fine with that.”

It includes Downtown Huntsville east of Washington, the area east of Whitesburg Drive, Monte Sano and Huntsville Mountain, and the Hampton Cove area on the east side of the mountain.

Russell, who was elected to the Council in 2002 and who serves as Huntsville City Council president, has announced he would not run for re-election this year.

“It’s way too early” for any legacy discussion, Russell demurred.

Russell’s ties to sports world

However, he has been inexorably tied to the city’s sports world and is the current chair of the Huntsville Sports Commission. (He’s also a high school football official who recently worked the AHSAA Class 7A championship game.)

“Sports are in my wheelhouse,” he said.

To that end, a long-needed recreation center is in the works this year in Hampton Cove, adjacent to Hampton Cove School and Huntsville Fire & Rescue Station No. 17. Similar to another rec center at Fern Bell, plans are to include two basketball courts and a fitness room. Land acquisition will begin this spring and construction will begin in the fall. It will be built in conjunction with Huntsville City Schools, which needs the gymnasium space for the schools.

“It’ll be busy every minute of the day,” Russell said. “In District 2, we could use a gym on every block.”

Russell is proud of the city’s decision to “put a lot more money in our Parks & Recreation Department than we ever have, and to do a lot more capital projects.”

Keeping an eye on VBC

Though the Von Braun Center is just outside his district, Russell is keeping a close eye on the work there. Bids are to go out soon on the first stage of a major renovation, starting with work on a music hall, a restaurant and roof-top bar that will be followed by a multi-purpose ballroom and improvements of the North Hall in another 18 months or so

“I want to have signature events at the VBC that attract people,” Russell said. “Having the Rocket City Classic (basketball game with the University of Alabama) and ‘Elevate the Stage’ (an upcoming gymnastics extravaganza), I’m real proud of those.

“We want to have a thriving Downtown Huntsville and it’s getting better every day.”

But, as Russell said, sometimes it just gets down to the basics in serving as a council member.

“The main thing,” he laughed, “is getting your garbage picked up. And that’s what my residents want. And we’re good at it.”