What’s growing on: Huntsville Parks & Recreation building for the future

single-meta-cal August 1, 2022

No longer just the star of Alabama, the City of Huntsville is drawing national and international attention. The population is growing. Needs are changing.

At its foundation, however, quality of life remains key. Huntsville Parks and Recreation is building on that foundation with capital projects across the City.

“These are instruments for us to deliver services to the citizens of Huntsville,” says Parks and Recreation Director James Gossett. “We’re fortunate that we get to bring the people a lot of fun things, but we can’t do that without the support of the administration and the City Council.”

Over the last decade, the City has committed more than $100 million to improve existing parks, build new ones, create world-class facilities, and stay on the cutting edge of recreation opportunities.

With even more to come, City Administrator John Hamilton sees these projects as wise investments, bringing in tens of thousands of people each year for tournaments, championship games and special events.

“There’s lodging and people go to our restaurants, so it brings money to our community that helps grow jobs but there’s another piece of the return on investment that’s harder to put into dollars and cents, that’s the impact on our citizens’ quality of life.”

“We know that it’s real in the lives of our citizens,” Hamilton says. “It’s an opportunity to do something that’s healthy – physically, mentally and emotionally.”

Building Community

In every area of service, Parks and Recreation helps strengthen communities. This August marks two years since Johnson Legacy Center opened on Cecil Fain Drive in Northwest Huntsville. With a rock-climbing wall, affordable monthly gym memberships and regular wellness activities, it’s become a hub for the community.

A map showing the master plan of Legacy Park at Johnson Legacy Center.

Legacy Park Master Plan.

In May, Huntsville City Council approved a $4.58 million construction contract to build Legacy Park, which is slated for completion in spring 2023.

Located next to JLC and within walking distance of new single-family home neighborhoods, Legacy Park will feature two pavilions, one of them an entertainment area with terraced seating for up to 200 people; a plaza with a monument sign; modern playground; and space for a National Fitness Campaign (NFC) Fitness Court® installation. The outdoor bodyweight circuit training center is designed for adults of all ages and abilities, providing a free full body workout.

District 1 City Council Member Devyn Keith says, “The new Legacy Park will be a gamechanger for North Huntsville,” he said. “Seeing the Johnson High School campus come to life in a new way is already paying dividends for our community.”

A rendering of the Sandra Moon complex master plan.

Sandra Moon Community Complex Master Plan.

In much the same way that Johnson Legacy Center brought new life to the old Johnson High School site, Sandra Moon Community Complex is on its way to becoming the heart of Southeast Huntsville. The former Grissom High School property is already home to the South Huntsville Public Library, while the old gym hosts Parks and Recreation’s Youth Basketball League and a dozen pickleball courts have proven to be a popular addition.

Currently in phase two of construction, work is underway on a $4.3 million interior renovation of the former school building, bringing it up to code and creating a rehearsal space for Arts Huntsville. Phase three will include a playground and parking area. When completed, the complex will provide a place for performing arts, athletics and other leisure activities.

Kicking it up a notch

“If you build it, they will come.”

When discussions first began about what to do with Joe Davis Stadium, there were big ideas and even bigger dreams. The City knew there was a need for a multi-purpose field that could host high school football, city sports clinics, lacrosse and soccer.

A rendering of Joe Davis Stadium as a soccer complex.

A rendering of Joe Davis Stadium, scheduled for completion in Fall 2022.

Just months into a $27.9 million construction contract, the project caught the attention of a professional soccer team. This month, Mayor Tommy Battle announced a partnership with the Nashville Soccer Club (SC) to launch an MLS NEXT Pro Team in Huntsville next year. The new stadium is scheduled for completion in spring 2023.

Other venues in John Hunt Park are also undergoing construction. An expansion of the Championship Fields, expected to open in summer 2023, could bring even more soccer and lacrosse tournaments to the City. This project will include two synthetic turf multi-purpose fields, LED field lighting, two parking lots, new press box, locker room and more.

The existing Championship Fields already play host to several tournaments. “The additions will give us more flexibility, expanded seating and attract even more events, while the updated lighting will meet broadcast television standards,” said Gossett.

Meanwhile, the new Kids’ Space at John Hunt Park is also expected to open in summer 2023.  The playground renovation includes themed areas, celebrating Huntsville’s past, present and future. The focus is on fun, for everyone.

A rendering of Kids' Space

The redesigned Kids’ Space will include lots of shade and pavilions to relax out of the heat.

“In a lot of ways, it will serve the same functions as the original Kids’ Space, although we’ve designed it to be much more accessible,” says Gossett. “We think the community will make some wonderful memories here.”

The Kids’ Space renovation is part of a $6.7 million contract that also includes the new Get-A-Way Skatepark.

Team Pain, one of the world’s most popular skatepark design firms, is working on the project, along with Tony Hawk’s Skateboard Project, the Community Foundation of Greater Huntsville and Huntsville Parks and Recreation.

City Administrator John Hamilton meets with members of Team Pain, The Skatepark Project and Community Foundation of Greater Huntsville for a tour of the construction site.

City Administrator John Hamilton meets with members of Team Pain, The Skatepark Project and Community Foundation of Greater Huntsville for a tour of the Get-A-Way Skatepark construction site.

The three-acre skatepark, set to open in spring 2023, will include custom-made bowls, snake runs, a three-quarter pipe, street plaza and other unique features for skaters of all ages and skill levels.

Also coming to John Hunt Park, a new community center geared toward the senior population. The old National Guard Armory, located on the east side of the park, will become the Raymond W. Jones Community Center.

The $6.3 million project is largely being paid for through the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) program, with the city providing the remaining funds through its capital budget.

The old National Guard Armory has been closed since 2017. It will find new life as the Raymond W. Jones Community Center, with a focus on programming for the senior population.

Closed since 2017, the old National Guard Armory will find new life as the Raymond W. Jones Community Center.

The community center will receive a new roof, HVAC system and other upgrades, along with improvements. The parking lot will also be expanded to accommodate more vehicles and ADA-accessible spaces.

The target date for completion is late 2023. Once open, the Raymond W. Jones Community Center will offer senior-specific activities, including programming for those with Parkinson’s disease.

Rapid Change

With all the rapid changes taking place in the City of Huntsville, it’s only fitting that one of the most exciting Parks and Recreation projects includes some white water.

Apollo Park, adjacent to MidCity and home to the Orion Amphitheater, will offer 40 acres for people to stroll, lounge and enjoy the surrounding offerings.

An addition, that will allow for canoeing and kayaking in the park, is currently in the design phase. While it won’t be like rafting the Ocoee, Gossett says it will provide an opportunity for people to paddle right in the middle of Huntsville. “I think it will be a great experience.”

Other projects include a new disc golf course, renovations to the Legacy Pool at the Huntsville Aquatics Center and numerous other improvements to facilities and parks.

To stay up to date, subscribe to the monthly Parks and Recreation e-newsletter. You can also follow the department on Facebook and Instagram @huntsvilleparksandrecreation. You’ll find the latest offerings in the Fall Program Guide.