Downtown Branding and Authenticity

Each day, I try to read at least five articles on Downtown strategies in order to keep current on the dynamic growth that city centers are experiencing. There are many great resources such as the International Downtown Association weekly e-newsletter, the Project for Public Spaces e-newsletter, Strong Towns blog and many more listservs, discussion boards, and on-line forums.

One of the most useful is the CityLab daily email that includes a variety of City Building-centric articles to choose from. One that recently caught my attention is Aaron Renn’sCities: Don’t Fall in the Branding Trap”.

The article emphasizes the importance of Place Branding but stresses that the story of your City should focus on its uniqueness rather than sameness to other places:

Look at any piece of city marketing material, from promo videos to airline magazine ad inserts. It’s amazing how so many of them rely on the same basic ingredients: hipster coffee shops, microbreweries, bike lanes, creative-class members, startups, intimations of a fashion scene, farm-to-table restaurants, new downtown streetcars, etc.

Why cities with great identities and heritages of their own so seldom lead with them is something of a mystery.

Here in Huntsville, this is a really important observation. While Downtown and the surrounding Districts are fortunate to have great entrepreneurs opening coffee shops, breweries, and the like (as Renn calls them “basic ingredients”), the identity and heritage of Huntsville is tied closely to space exploration and rocketry. This is, after all, “The Space Capital of the Universe.”

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While not every Place Branding experience has to focus on rockets, you also cannot tell the authentic Huntsville story without recognizing that space and rockets are one of the pillars of our Place Brand. That is why DHI includes the tag-line “Space to Innovate”. While the play on words is intended to apply to more than “outer space,” it is deeply-rooted in that meaning though (for more on the DHI Branding process, check out this previous blog article).

This is especially true with the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo moon landing taking place this July.  While many different NASA centers played an important role in getting to the Moon, all roads to the Moon ran through Huntsville and the rocket design that lives here.

Our space exploration heritage is why we’re so excited that Downtown Huntsville is playing a major role in the official 50th Apollo Anniversary Celebration activities. In particular, we’re hosting a free community-wide Dancing in the Streets event on the Downtown Square where we’ll be taking Dr. Von Braun’s words to heart:

"My friends, there was dancing here in the streets of Huntsville when our first satellite orbited the earth. and there was dancing again when the first Americans landed on the moon. I'd like to ask you don't hang up your dancing slippers."  

We’ll do this be hosting live music and entertainment from each of the past five decades all around the Square.

We believe the Huntsville Place Brand cannot be told without our space and rocket heritage since that’s something inherently authentic and unique to the Rocket City. We hope you can join us for the big party this July as we “Party like its 1969”…

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Parking Improvements in Downtown Huntsville

As a city with a strong tech and innovation culture, Huntsville is often quick to consider new technologies that can enhance the overall guest experience. Projects like Google Fiber, Pace Bikeshare and ride hailing (Uber or Lyft) services were quickly successful here because of their innovative approaches.

Unfortunately, this innovation-centric approach hasn’t been in place for Downtown public parking.  Until now!

After extensive research and hard work by the City of Huntsville’s Parking and Public Transit Department, innovative parking solutions continue to make parking more convenient in Downtown.  This is especially important because of the number of people who live, work and play in our city center keeps growing every year. These Downtown users are often tech-savvy and expect a tech-forward approach to city services including public parking.

While the City has been steadily adding credit card payment options to many of the Downtown garages, the on-street, metered parking is now receiving an innovative makeover!  Below are a few highlights of this program:

  • The City has added the Passport payment option to approximately 450 metered spaces in the Downtown and the Medical District.   

  • To use Passport, simply download the free Passport App (available on both iPhone or Android) or visit ppprk.com and register for an account. Then enter a major credit card.

  • Users still have the option to pay with coins at a meter.  You also now have the option to use Passport to pay with a major credit card.

  • Once you find your parking spot, you will need to enter your vehicle tag number.  You can register multiple vehicles.

  • Users can pick what time you think you will need and will receive reminders when the time is close to expiring. Users can extend their parking session remotely if needed, and can also view payment history and receive email receipts.

In addition to the Passport app, the City will also soon be installing multi-space parking meters in Lot H which adjoins The Avenue and along Church Street adjoining Big Spring Park.  To learn more about this technology, you can visit here.

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For more on these exciting enhancements to Downtown parking, you can check out this WAAY story and this WHNT story.  Great examples of making our Downtown a hub on innovation on many different levels!

Winter Festivities in Downtown Huntsville

While summertime in Downtown Huntsville is filled with many of the year’s signature events, that doesn’t mean late Winter and early Spring don’t have their fair share of fantastic gatherings in our city center. 

In fact, one of the big ones takes place this Saturday as Von Brewski invades the Von Braun Center. This indoor craft beer festival offers over 170 beers to sample inside the VBC’s South Hall where, no matter the weather outside, it’s always 70 degrees and sunny at Von Brewski. For a bit of extra fun, the Downtown Huntsville Craft Beer Trail will be sponsoring the event wristbands and will feature free Trail Cards and free local brewery swag at our table at the event. Plus, keep a look on the Craft Beer Trail’s Facebook page this week for ticket giveaways!

Just a couple weeks later, Downtown Huntsville will be filled with the sights and sounds of Valentine’s Day (have you seen some of these great window displays already up?)  We’ll have all the details in a special edition of our free e-newsletter, The Downtown Explorer, (sign up here). Needless to say, there will be romantic dining options, casual Valentine’s gatherings, special live music (like this concert at Tangled String Studios) and even an Anti-Valentine’s Day party at Green Bus Brewing.  One great way to follow the Valentine’s happenings is via the #iHeartHsv Valentine’s videos which you can follow here. So, whether you’re solo, with a group of friends or sharing the evening with that special person in your life, Downtown Huntsville is the best destination for Valentine’s fun anywhere in Huntsville!

The seasonal fun continues with Mardi Gras festivities on March 2nd in Downtown Huntsville. The popular Grand Parade returns including the “tail end” of the parade featuring the Krewe of Barkus.  The parade fun continues on March 16th with the 42nd Annual Ellen McAnelly Memorial St. Patrick's Day Parade winding through Downtown.  The big green day kicks off with Kegs & Eggs at both Jefferson Street Pub and Keegan’s Public House and wraps up with a St. Patrick’s Day party at Butler Green in the middle of all the Campus 805 fun.

As you can see, February and March make for great months of fun in Downtown Huntsville. It’s so hard to pick which one to attend so we recommend that you make your life easier and just enjoy them all!

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Downtown Huntsville In the News!

The fast-growing success of Downtown Huntsville continues to receive great coverage from local media outlets.  Both WAFF and WHNT have recently featured the Downtown development boom on their television and web platforms.

The WAFF story highlighted major projects like the AC Hotel and VBC Music Hall—both under construction in the city center.  The article features a great quote from Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle on the positive impact of Downtown growth not just in the city’s core but throughout Huntsville as a whole:

We're having more and more emphasis on Downtown and as Downtown grows, we spread out and we see more development as you go down South Parkway and North Parkway. The success of Downtown grows to the whole city. It's what we would call the living room of our city and people come down there, we have retail, shops, dining. It gives everyone an identity for this city so it's great to see all those things happening, he said.

Meanwhile, WHNT recently published this story and this story highlighting the Downtown Huntsville Annual Meeting and Downtown Awards that featured the exciting group of groundbreakings slated for 2019 in the city center. In addition to featuring the also “under construction” Curio Hotel, WHNT noted the big new investment dollar-wise in Downtown Huntsville:

Building continues at a feverish pace in Downtown Huntsville, part of what Emerson says is over $250 million worth of investment to attract more foot traffic.

The exciting growth in Downtown isn’t just limited to development projects though. In fact, a major $500,000 plus investment in public art was recently announced for the city’s core near the new City Centre and Redstone Federal Credit Union projects:

Arts Huntsville announced an international Request for Qualifications to design a large-scale, multi-site public art installation in downtown Huntsville.

The project, expected to span three sites will include a renovated plaza area in Big Spring Park, an interior plaza at RCP Companies’ City Centre mixed-use development, and a pocket park adjacent to Redstone Federal Credit Union’s new branch located along Huntsville’s developing greenway system. The award for the project is $530,000, making it the largest-scale public art project ever recorded in Huntsville.

Last, but certainly not least, one of the biggest announcements was the International Downtown Association’s selection of Downtown Huntsville for its national Place Branding and Placemaking Summit this May.  This huge honor directly results from the continued successes in our city center and will bring hundreds of the leading Downtown marketing and promotional minds to the Rocket City for three days of interactive sessions, Master Talks, and unique receptions.

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Registration is now open here.  If Downtown marketing, promotions, and creative placemaking interest you, we encourage to register soon and support this great event in Downtown Huntsville!

Unique Retail Spaces Available

DHI recently hired national retail analysis firm RCLCO to conduct a Retail Demand Study for Downtown Huntsville. You can check it out here.

The gist of the study was that there continues to be significant unmet demand for new retail in Downtown in a wide variety of categories. When you think about it, this isn’t really surprising though.  Downtown is not only a destination retail location for visitors throughout the region but is also the primary retail area for city center neighborhoods like Old Town, Blossomwood, Five Points, Twickenham and the Medical District. Add in the numerous out of town guests visiting the VBC and other Downtown venues and the combined effect is very powerful purchasing power in the city center.

This leads to strong demand for dining, drinking, shopping, and other retail in Downtown. 

Fortunately, there remain several options—both conventional spaces and unconventional spaces. Below are a few that are currently available for retail use:

Clinton Row

The Clinton Row shops continue to feature fantastic retail options like In Bloom Downtown, Clachic, Maxwell’s Music, Clinton Row Gifts and more. Several great spots remain available including street-facing spaces on Jefferson Street and Clinton Avenue. 

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The Avenue

Like Clinton Row, The Avenue is already home to great retail like Scout & Molly’s, Pet Wants, Purveyor, Oshi Poke Bowl and Sushi, and Zoom Indoor Cycling. Plus, Melt and The Moon Bakeshop are coming soon. Even with all of this growth, there are still a few remaining spaces available including a fantastic patio space across from Purveyor that would be ideal for a day spa, salon or additional food and beverage. For more information, contact Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate or The Avenue at info@avenuehuntsville.com.

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109 Jefferson

Right across from Clinton Row is another intriguing retail possibility. While 109 Jefferson has most recently served as office space, the property owner has expressed an interest in considering retail for the ground floor. With the existing Clinton Row, The Avenue, Garage at Clinton Row and coming Curio Hotel, this Jefferson Street space presents an ideal retail opportunity.

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 200 Westside Square

In addition to great office space, 200 Westside Square also offers great retail space. Already home to Keegan’s Irish Pub, the building also has a 3,000 square foot space and an 800 square foot space (with a small patio and dedicated entrance) available directly off the building’s Spring Street entrance. For more information, contact Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate.

125 Northside Square

Northside Square remains a great retail destination with popular options including Domaine South, Big Oh’s, Jimmy John’s and two upcoming new retail additions. In addition to these, the former Amendment XXI space between Jimmy John’s and Big Oh’s remains a fantastic ground-floor retail option that could also include additional space above. For more information, contact Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate.

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Coming Soon…

In addition to these great retail spaces, new opportunities will be coming to Downtown Huntsville soon at City Centre, the new city parking facility on Holmes Avenue, 106 Southside Square, and a variety of other projects breaking ground in 2019.

If you would like to learn more about any of the Current or Coming Soon retail spaces in Downtown Huntsville, please contact DHI CEO Chad Emerson at chad@downtownhuntsville.org.

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The Nominees Are In!

Each January, we get to do one of our favorite things all year long: partner with al.com/Huntsville Times on the Downtown Huntsville Awards featuring Downtown Project of the Year and Event of the Year.  Since we started the collaboration five years ago, the competition has become stronger and stronger as more new projects and events find their way to the city center each year.

Past award winners have included some of the most dynamic projects and most unique events in the Southeast which is not a surprise because Downtown Huntsville draws regional quality investment and ideas throughout the year.  This year is no exception with a great roster of event and project nominees.  Let’s take a quick look at each one.

Project of the Year Nominations

AC Hotel by Marriott

As the first piece of the $100 million plus City Centre at Big Spring development, the AC Hotel beautifully frames the southwest corner of Big Spring Park.  The Downtown Huntsville AC Hotel is also the first AC opened in the state.  The sleek new concept offers a new type of lodging in the market and will also include iconic food and beverage options overlooking Big Spring Park.

The Martin Bar & Bistro

Located in the heart of Downtown, The Martin offers amazing food and beverage with an equally great view of Washington Street.  The open-air, second floor design uses garage doors and other unique design elements to bring a great new place to gather in the city center.

Domaine South

Relocating to Northside Square, Domaine South has expanded to offer fantastic bistro food in addition to its stellar collection of retail wine as well as wine and craft beer by the glass.  Add in one of the coziest patios in Downtown and its easy to see why Domaine South has become a great new destination on the Downtown Square.

InnerSpace Brewing

Located less than a mile from the Von Braun Center, InnerSpace is a family-owned brewery just east of Campus No. 805.  It’s galactically themed beers and interior design combine to create an easy-going atmosphere with a geeky-chic vibe.  And, of course, the beer tastes (inter)stellar!

In Bloom Downtown

Expanding from their 5 Points location, In Bloom Downtown anchors the corner shop at Clinton Row with beautiful flowers and an expansive gift and décor selection.  Focusing on unique and often local items, In Bloom Downtown provides one of the most interesting shopping experiences in the city center.

Event of the Year Nominations

Tweed Ride

Downtown’s fast-growing bicycle culture is the big beneficiary of the Tweed Ride each November.  The slow ride event includes a variety of stops at local businesses for themed experiences such as afternoon tea. While not mandatory, riders are also encouraged to dress stylishly for one of the most eclectic experiences in Downtown Huntsville.

Tangled String Fest

The former Spring Fest event was relocated, rebranded, and reconceived as Tangled String Fest in Big Spring Park East. The outdoor music event features a wide variety of music types as the collaboration between Tangled String Studio and Yellowhammer Brewery re-introduced a live music festival to the heart of Downtown.

Christmas Parade

The city center was aglow with holiday floats and parade participants as the collaboration between 96.9 and the Von Braun Center provided Downtown guests with a happy holiday parade. Winding past holiday features like Skating in the Park and Tinsel Trail, the Downtown Christmas Parade is the only nighttime parade in the Rocket City which only enhances the event’s festive lights.

Von Brewski

Downtown is the epicenter of the Huntsville craft beer scene with the Downtown Craft Beer Trail and many other local craft beer experiences.  One of the most popular has become the Von Brewski beer festival at the Von Braun Center.  This winter brew festival features a large collection of beer and other food and beverage with the big benefit of being indoors where the weather is always 75 degrees and Sunny in the VBC’s South Hall.

Hunt + Gather

The 2nd Annual Hunt + Gather saw the return of one of the state’s most interesting artisan gatherings.  With an emphasis on unique maker wares and selections, Hunt + Gather has become a Downtown destination for artisans from throughout the region.

Microwave Dave Day

Named after local music icon Microwave Dave, the Sunday afternoon and evening event brought a fun festival experience to Washington Street in June.  With a full slate of talented musicians, the event also raised money for the great work being done by the Microwave Dave Foundation.

As you can see, the nominees all enhance the overall Downtown experience.  If you’d like to learn more, visit our friends over at al.com to vote, or join us at the 2019 DHI Annual Meeting and Downtown Awards by purchasing tickets here: downtownhuntsville.eventbrite.com

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Downtown Secret Art

As you stroll around the city center, you’re increasingly likely to come across some type of public art.  From murals to sculptures to quirky options in between, Downtown Huntsville is filled with creative and unique artistic installations.  That’s one reason DHI has partnered with Arts Huntsville to develop the Downtown Huntsville Purple Cup Secret Art Tour.

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Opportunity Zones: What Are They and How Could They Affect Investment in Downtown Huntsville?

On March 21, 2018, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey nominated 158 population census tracts, including 10 in Madison County, for designation as “qualified opportunity zones” pursuant to the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 signed into law by President Trump on December 22, 2017. As of July 9, 2018, the final list of qualifying Opportunity Zones was published by the IRS in Notice 2018-48.

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The Measurable Metrics of Downtown Huntsville

As we’ve discussed in previous posts, we place high value on using metrics to measure how Downtown is developing.  This can include market studies like our Downtown Retail Demand Study or our (soon to be updated) Downtown Housing Study Summary. It can also include less conventional metrics like traffic counts and how they are affecting activity in our city center.  Fortunately, we have great partners like the City of Huntsville’s Traffic Engineering Department that can help analyze changes using empirical data. 

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It’s Tinsel Trail Time

If you’ve walked through Big Spring Park East in the last week, you’ve noticed something special has started—Tinsel Trail preparations!  With the picket fencing being installed, the beginning of a Huntsville holiday tradition is well underway. Soon, 300 trees will be delivered, installed, and selected by our fantastic tree sponsors.

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Reflections on the 2018 International Downtown Association Gathering

Each year, the International Downtown Association hosts its annual conference where Downtown thought-leaders and advocates from around the world gather to share their successes (and challenges) in revitalizing city centers.  This year’s event was held in Downtown San Antonio with the host team Centro San Antonio working with IDA staff and volunteers to organize an amazing three days of tours, plenaries, breakout sessions, and networking.

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A Big LIT Thank You

If you are reading this, you might have been one of the thousands of people who enjoyed the 5th Annual LIT: Light+Innovation+Technology Festival this weekend in Downtown Huntsville. Each year, we don’t think we can be more amazed by our talented light artist.  But, each year we are.  The 2018 LIT was no exception.  As we finish up the 5th Anniversary of this signature event, we thought it would be a good time to reflect on the growing success and look forward to the unique possibilities.

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What is Your Place Brand?

Place Branding is driven by authenticity.  Discovering what makes your "place" unique and then sharing that uniqueness with guests in novel and interesting ways is critical to success.  Place Branding expands well beyond marketing campaigns or slogans because its goal is to help the audience experience a Place rather than just be told about it. 

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Unique Office Spaces in Downtown Huntsville

The term “Class A” office building generally refers to the highest end office spaces in a city.  Oftentimes, these are concentrated in the Downtown area but can also be found in other metro areas such as suburban office parks.  That’s exactly the case here in Huntsville where you find the largest concentration of Class A office space in the research parks and Redstone Gateway focused around Gate 9 of Redstone Arsenal.

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The Many Housing Types of Downtown Huntsville

The advantage of a strong Downtown residential population is that people typically shop for essentials and spend the largest amount of time near their home.  While Downtown worker populations are great for the lunch trade and some categories of shopping, individuals will often buy their groceries, fill their prescriptions, pick up supplies and the like close to their home if that option is available.  

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The Urbanizing of Shipping Containers

One of the most durable structures that engineers have developed over the years is the shipping container.  Designed to transport a wide variety of products and materials on long journeys through harsh elements like oceans, the shipping container is built to last (much like its close cousin the train box car).  In light of this, what if durable shipping containers could serve as the “structures” in an urban real estate development.

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