Unlike cities or counties or states, “Downtowns” don’t often have official boundaries. In many cases, the area that comprises a Downtown changes over the years as a city grows and expands. That’s why defining the scope of a Downtown can be somewhat subjective.
Sometimes, a Central Business District is defined via boundaries of a governmental entity such as a business improvement district but, even in those cases, the boundaries are for technical items like taxes. For instance, in Huntsville, the Downtown Redevelopment Authority boundaries extend as far west as parts of Jordan Lane, north towards Oakwood Avenue, and south to Bob Wallace Avenue. These boundaries are in place to define the area in which the Downtown Redevelopment Authority has jurisdiction but doesn’t necessarily define the scope of Downtown for marketing and promotional purposes.
In some ways, the term “City Center” is probably better used to describe the area of Downtown and the neighborhoods and districts that surround Downtown. For instance, the city center of Nashville as a general destination includes a variety of distinct districts like Germantown, East Nashville, and 12 South in addition to Downtown Nashville area.
All of this is important because, in a well-functioning city center, a Downtown and its surrounding districts serve to complement each other with the ability to live, work, and play while remaining in a convenient central area. Oftentimes, working and shopping in Downtown is most convenient for those that live in the surrounding districts (See Downtown Housing Blog)
Because Downtown Huntsville is fortunate to be surrounded by dynamic districts and unique neighborhoods, we’ve created the “Districts of Huntsville” section of the DHI website. This section highlights several of the areas adjacent to Downtown that offer a complimentary live, work and play experience.
In each of these districts, we’ve focused on celebrating their historical features with modern amenities. Just as with a Downtown, these districts don’t have formal boundaries but are instead intended to serve as a general description to the area.
In order to be classified as a district, we required two characteristics:
The district had to include at least two of the three “live, work, play” elements.
The district had to include a “signature destination”. This was defined as a destination that appealed to not only those within the district but also to guests from other areas.
Our Unique Districts
While nothing prevents the inclusion of additional districts in the future, we decided to start with five districts in the city center: Lowe Mill District, Lincoln Mill District, Merrimack District, Monte Sano District, and the Medical District. Each of these have direct historical connections while also featuring the required characteristics. Below is a short summary related to each district.
Lowe Mill District: This district to the immediate west of Downtown serves as an important gateway into the city center. It also includes several signature destinations such as Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment, Campus No. 805, Huntsville West, and the Stovehouse development.
Each of these destinations are designed to serve the local population as well as drawn in guests from outside the district. Destinations like Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment have developed national reputations as “best in class” for their type of development.
The Lowe Mill District also offers various “live, work, play” options with developers like Nashville-based Invent Communities bringing a variety of new housing options to the district while projects like Huntsville West and Stovehouse are quickly becoming popular office options for many of the region’s most innovative companies.
Lincoln Mill District: Rich in history from its early mill days to serving as the original office location for Dr. Werhner von Braun, the Lincoln Mill District includes signature destinations like Lincoln Mill Office Campus (and its fast-growing roster of technology companies like EngeniousMicro, SkyTap, Noetic, Bangham Engineering and others) as well as the Preservation Co. and Holtz Leather Co. in the renovated Lincoln Mill commissary building.
The district also offers unique “play” options like Mad Malts Brewing on the Downtown Huntsville Craft Beer Trail plus the Historic Lowery House as well as high-quality regional shopping destinations like Brooks & Collier. The District and the nearby Northeast Huntsville area are also beginning to realize a residential revitalization based on the convenience to both Downtown and other areas of Huntsville via I-565 and Memorial Parkway
Merrimack District: If you’re noticing a trend that many of the revitalizing areas near Downtown are connected to former mill villages, you’re certainly correct. The Merrimack District no longer has a mill, but it does offer signature destinations including the Merrimack Hall Performing Arts Center and one of the largest concentrations of Huntsville City athletic fields and parks. These included the new Aquatic Center (one of the finest in the Southeast), Brahan Springs Park, Milton Frank Stadium, and the expanded Merrimack soccer complex that, when completed, will be one of the premier soccer destinations in Alabama.
The Merrimack District also continues to see homebuyers and investors renovate the district’s beautiful historic homes. This is not surprising when you consider the district’s easy access to two Redstone Arsenal gates as well as Downtown Huntsville.
Monte Sano District: Monte Sano Mountain has long been one of the signature images of Huntsville as the beautiful “Mountain of Health” overlooks the city center and its surroundings. Filled with signature destinations like Burritt of the Mountain, Land Trust trails, and Monte Sano State Park, you can immerse yourself in 30 miles of hiking and biking trails less than 10 minutes from Downtown Huntsville. This unique juxtaposition of urban and rural so close together makes the Monte Sano District unique among most cities in the Southeast.
The Monte Sano District also offers a wide array of residential options from historic homes to newly constructed ones. The district also includes one of the most unique shopping options in the city with the fun and quirky Little Green Store on the mountain.
Medical District: While not centered on a former mill village or downtown mountain, the Medical District does find its historic roots in the ever-expanding Huntsville Hospital complex.
The Medical District serve the hospital population and other downtown interest with a unique mix of local and national shopping options (including North Alabama’s only Whole Foods and the award-winning Mason-Dixon Bakery) as well as a wide variety of housing types. The district features expansive office options as well as many activities at Huntsville High School. Whether its lunch at Lyn’s Gracious Goodness, drinks at Merchant’s Walk or The Wine Cellar, or active lifestyle shopping at lululemon and Mountain High Outfitters, the Medical District serves a local and regional audience with interesting live, work, and play options.