The one sure prediction I have for 2018 is that it will be a year of growth for Huntsville, and we’ll make sure it’s smart growth.
As the economy heats up with more economic development, we can’t let it overheat. We can’t outgrow our infrastructure. We’re looking not only at this year, but what needs to be in place for residents 10, 20, 30 years down the road.
Wanted: Good neighbors and good partners to make this a great place
I want to look at four different facets of that growth: Business development, quality of life, Downtown Huntsville and infrastructure.
Not long after I became Mayor, Governor Bob Riley told me that we were in an enviable position here, to be able to pick and choose who we want to come to our community, industry-wise. That’s even more the case now. It’s important that we make sure those who come in are going to be good neighbors, good partners, who will continue to make the whole North Alabama area a great place.
There are nearly 50 projects with which we’re involved, working in tandem with the Chamber of Commerce and other municipalities. Some are major in scope, some smaller, but we have a good funnel of projects that will keep our economy strong.
Unemployment is low, and that is obviously good news. A key to continuing growth is to develop a skilled workforce and to market the community to people who are eager to move to the area. We have a reputation as a great place to work, and we need to continue to stress the other two sides of the live-work-play triangle.
There are numerous businesses looking to move here or expand. The FBI regularly sends teams to Huntsville to work on all the challenges of relocating employees as they continue to facilitate moving a number of offices here from the national capitol region.
Quality of life
We’re investing a lot of resources and money – some $37 million – in our parks this year. We have a 10-year capital plan, particularly for John Hunt Park, and now is the time to step out and really put it into action.
We’re finishing up major infrastructure improvements on the north end of the park, and we’re transforming the former municipal golf course on the south end into a multi-sport complex that includes running trails, mountain biking paths, a disc golf course and an adjacent beach volleyball complex.
BIG Picture planners will be debuting an updated Greenway Master Plan in the coming weeks to give us renewed direction on multi-modal connections, hiking trails, and recreational paths. We’re budgeting funds in our capital plan to pay for these popular amenities.
We’re looking at new things and new sports.”
For our residents, for a younger workforce that’s considering Huntsville – remember we made the top 20 of U.S. hipster cities. For potential visiting competitors, we’re looking at new things and new sports. The traditional sports are still popular and important, but our Parks & Recreation Department and the Huntsville Sports Commission are looking at a much broader landscape to host events and provide competition sites.
Our most visible park, of course, is Big Spring Park. As our Downtown Master Plan unfolds, the unique beauty of Big Spring Park will not only be preserved but enhanced.
You’ll continue to see our downtown evolve in 2018 – new restaurants, shops and businesses. The new gateway entrance from Governor’s Drive, Dr. Joseph Lowery Boulevard, will finish up in the next six to eight weeks, providing another connection from Twickenham Square to Big Spring Park.
You’ll see City Centre begin to blossom, and likely more new hotels and buildings under construction. Work will begin on the new Von Braun Center Music Hall, and we’ll start construction on multi-modal paths for the Holmes Avenue town-to-gown corridor to UAH and Cummings Research Park.
This is the year will be one in which we begin to determine what downtown will look like a quarter-century or more from now.
We’ll begin to implement our Downtown Master Plan, to move toward a new City Hall building from which we can more efficiently serve the community, and to multi-use properties – retail, restaurants and residential – that will bring more people to downtown.
No deals have been struck or decisions made, but they’re forthcoming. It’s time design Downtown Huntsville of 2038 and to make sure the momentum from so much other downtown transformation isn’t lost.
I’ve said a lot that 2017 was the Year of the Orange Cone. It may be that 2018 is the Year of Three Orange Cones.
This will be a year of continuing a lot of road work – but also completing a lot of it. I know that’s good news for all our commuters.
We’ll be finishing up the overpasses on South Parkway and we’ll soon have a seamless route without traffic lights from Mastin Lake down to Haysland Square. That will make for shorter trips, but just as importantly it will help existing companies who have patiently – in most cases – dealt with the construction headaches and it will lead to more new businesses. And we should also be wrapping up work on Zierdt Road, which serves nearly 17,000 vehicles per day.
The year of Three Orange Cones.”
Now we can move those orange cones to other places, like the Mastin Lake overpass, the Northern Bypass from Pulaski Pike to U.S. 231, and the widening of Cecil Ashburn Drive.
It’s the sign of a growing community that we have to make these road improvements – but it’s also being done strategically and as part of our Restoring Our Roads program, our cost-sharing program between the City of Huntsville and the State of Alabama. It’s smart growth.
So, as 2018 begins, you see that we’ve got a lot of balls in the air. It’s our job, as your elected public servants and the City of Huntsville team, to make sure those balls don’t hit the floor.