All posts by Nadia Niakossary

Huntsville Hospital announces $150 million expansion

Huntsville Hospital will be undergoing a $150 million expansion in downtown Huntsville beginning next year.

The hospital announced plans Wednesday for the construction of a tower on Gallatin Street that will include 72 beds and 24 operating rooms as well as shelled-in space for future use.

The tower will be built directly across Gallatin Street from the hospital’s main entrance and be connected to the hospital via an elevated walkway.

The project is expected to take about two years to complete, according to the hospital.

In the announcement, hospital CEO David Spillers said the hospital needs the additional space to accommodate growth in the Huntsville area – specifically citing the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA plant expected to create 4,000 jobs.

“We’re blessed to be in a dynamic area where companies want to locate,” Spillers said in the announcement. “For us, the challenge is making sure we are prepared to meet the health care needs of all these new residents in addition to the existing population. The approval of our new West Bed Tower is an important step in that direction.”

The additional patient rooms will also allow the hospital to convert some semi-private rooms into private rooms.

Huntsville Hospital first notified state health planning officials in June 2017 of its intention to build a new free-standing bed tower. The Alabama Certificate of Need Review Board approved the project at its meeting Wednesday in Montgomery.

Introducing The Gemini Kitchen + Cocktails

First Southern Fried CityCentre restaurant coming this fall

By William Thornton at

Construction is expected to begin later this month on the first restaurant concept from Southern Fried Hospitality for Huntsville’s CityCentre at Big Spring.

The Gemini Kitchen + Cocktails is described as a “polished-casual, modern American restaurant designed to provide an affordable quality dining experience.”

It is expected to open later this fall at City Centre at Big Spring, the $100 million, mixed-used development on Williams Avenue between Monroe Street and Lowe Avenue.

Last month, RCP Companies, the developer of City Centre and MidCity, announced a partnership with Georgia-based Southern Fried Hospitality – and award-winning chef Marc Taft, an Alabama native – to provide hospitality management and restaurant development for the two mixed-used projects.

The name Gemini alludes to the mythological twins, Taft said, but also to the concept in play for the new restaurant – two different sides adept at blending into different groups “based on the vibe and energy perceived.” The menu will feature comfortable, familiar dishes that are affordable.

“Much like the duality of the Twins, The Gemini embraces the idea that you can have an upscale business dinner or casual social experience in the same location,” he said.

The Gemini will be open for dinner Monday through Sunday and brunch service on Saturday and Sunday. The bar will offer “classic and modern versions” of American cocktails, as well as craft beer and a wine list.

Taft said the restaurant plans to support local farmers, ranchers and artisans in the Huntsville area when choosing “thoughtfully selected ingredients.”

Max Grelier, co-founder of RCP Companies, said The Gemini concept will connect with Huntsville, down to its design reminiscent of the city’s early days with the space program.

The restaurant will have a 100-plus-seat dining room, a bar for up to 20, a patio seating almost 50 with a view of Big Springs Park and a private dining room for 20.

The mid-century design will use reclaimed wood, leather, bronze mirrors, patterned tiles and white marble, as well as art work providing homages to Huntsville’s history, space history and the restaurant’s namesake twins.

But the food has the spotlight. Many times, Taft said, chefs lose sight of the job – producing the best possible dish. That will be the goal of The Gemini.

“All too often, we try too hard and think that we must create dishes that require the ‘education’ of our guests,” he said. “I believe that eating should not be work and that people typically know how to eat and what they like. It doesn’t take being educated by a chef or restaurant staff to recognize delicious.”

Mayor calls new $110M federal courthouse a ‘legacy’ for Huntsville

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle called Washington’s decision Friday to build a new federal courthouse in downtown Huntsville a “legacy project” that will change the face of the city for decades.

“The federal courthouse, a legacy project for Huntsville, would not have been possible without the support of Sen. Richard Shelby,” Battle said in a statement. “He has worked diligently for decades to secure this much needed facility for Huntsville to serve North Alabama.”

Shelby is credited with getting a $110 million appropriation for the courthouse added to the Omnibus Funding Bill passed by Congress Thursday and signed by President Trump Friday. That is exactly the amount federal officials estimated it would cost to design and build the new courthouse.

The site is a given. The city bought five acres at the corner of Gallatin Street and Lowe Avenue about five years ago for the courthouse. The land formerly held the local Mental Health Center and was purchased when the center moved.

The existing federal courthouse building in Huntsville sits at the corner of Jefferson Street and Holmes Avenue across the street from The Avenue residential and retail complex. The old courthouse built in 1936 will be replaced by a new courthouse further south in the downtown area. (Lee Roop/ 

The existing courthouse sits at the corner of Holmes Avenue and Jefferson Street in a building constructed in 1936 for use as a post office. A WPA mural is painted on the main courtroom wall, and the long, wooden spectator benches are a direct linkto courthouses and churches of a century ago.

The future of the old courthouse building will be the subject of a community conversation, mayoral spokeswoman Kelly Schrimsher said Friday. “It’s an important historic building,” Schrismsher said.

There has been relatively little public talk about the need for a new courthouse, but the federal government had ranked it the second-highest building priority in the federal system. That ranking was approved by the Judicial Conference of the United States in 2017, and the conference put the $110 million price tag on the project.

“The $110 million provided in the bill to fund a new federal courthouse in Huntsville is excellent news for North Alabama and has been a priority of mine for many years,” Shelby said in a statement. “I am proud to support this effort and look forward to its completion and lasting impact on the area.”

Sen. Richard Shelby: Critical Funding Approved for Huntsville, Including $110M for New Federal Courthouse

By Huntsville Madison County Chamber 

The new $1.3 trillion spending package passed by Congress late Thursday night and signed by President Trump Friday will benefit many federal activities in North Alabama. The spending bill will keep the government funded through the end of September.

Senator Richard Shelby

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, said the FY 2018 appropriations bill will benefit many federal activities in Alabama and national defense.

“Through this appropriations measure, Alabama will receive significant funding for a number of priorities around the state,” Senator Shelby said. “I look forward to seeing our state benefit from this robust bill.”

Alabama-related items include:

  • Redstone Arsenal – Important funding for critical research and development activities that are being conducted by the Army Space and Missile Defense Command that will enable the U.S. Army to deter and prepare for conflicts of the future, including investments to advance our cybersecurity, directed energy technology and capabilities in space;
  • Development of a new rocket propulsion system to modernize our national security space launch – Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV), which is $100 million above the President’s budget request.
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration – The bill includes $20.7 billion for NASA, which is $1.1 billion above the FY2017 enacted level and $1.6 billion above the budget request, to support the human and robotic exploration of space, fund science missions that enhance the understanding of the Earth, the solar system, and the universe, and support fundamental aeronautics research.
  • Huntsville – $110 million to fund a new federal courthouse in Huntsville.

The Huntsville/Madison County Chamber thanks Senator Shelby for his strong support of our region.

“Senator Shelby has been our champion on the Hill, fighting for our nation’s continued leadership in the human exploration of deep space and supporting critical programs to enhance our national defense,” said Chip Cherry, the Chamber’s President and CEO. “This appropriation far exceeds what we could have hoped to get for the program.”

“We are very grateful to Senator Shelby for his leadership to secure funding for so many Alabama projects and especially for his support for our local Huntsville projects,” said Mike Ward, the Chamber’s Senior Vice President of Government & Public Affairs. “In addition to support for our key space and defense programs, Senator Shelby also helped to fund a long overdue new Federal Courthouse for our district.”

Award-winning chef bringing hot new dishes to MidCity, CityCentre

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) – Fresh off the heels of the big announcement that Dave and Buster’s is coming to MidCity in Huntsville, developers are revealing some more good news, and this time it’s for all of the foodies out there.

A popular Atlanta chef is bringing his eateries to the Rocket City at both MidCity and CityCentre. The master-planned, mixed-use communities are currently under construction in Huntsville.

Chef Marc Taft, CEO of Southern Fried Hospitality

RCP Companies, the real estate firm behind MidCity and CityCentre, has partnered with award-winning chef Mark Taft out of Atlanta and his Southern Fried Hospitality company.

Taft has a few restaurants in Atlanta that he’s looking to bring to Huntsville, including his Brine Seafood Shack and FEED Fried Chicken.

RCP executives went to Atlanta to try some of his creations and they were very impressed.

Taft, who happens to be an Alabama native, will start with opening several concepts at The Camp, which is at MidCity and that’s going to feed into other projects at MidCity and CityCentre.

“We were looking for someone with modern concepts, fresh ideas, fresh menu items and good price points. We found Mark Taft and it was an easy fit. He has an extensive background in hospitality and we’re excited to have him on board and to see what he brings to MidCity and CityCentre,” Nadia Niakossary, RCP Companies Project Coordinator.

MidCity is currently the city’s largest mixed-use development and the nation’s fourth-largest commercial real estate project. CityCentre is a $100 million development in the city’s rejuvenated urban core.

“Marc Taft’s reputation along with his countless hospitality successes and what is undoubtedly a vast depth of industry knowledge, make this partnership a hands-down win-win opportunity for us as well as Huntsville, especially our growing foodie population,” said Max Grelier, cofounder of RCP Companies.

Most notably, the 2012/13 Zagat Survey recognized Southern Fried Hospitality’s metro Atlanta-based Chicken and the Egg as one of the “Top Five Best New Restaurants in Atlanta,” while AirTran’s GO magazine named the restaurant one of five culinary destinations for an upscale meal in Atlanta. Southern Fried is also known for Brine Seafood Shack at Avalon in Alpharetta, Georiga; FEED – Fried Chicken + Such at The Battery at SunTrust Park in Atlanta; along with CO-OP Community Table + Bar and Best Burger, two new concepts debuting next year at HALCYON in Forsyth County north of Atlanta.

“Brine and FEED are two brands that we plan to grow, The opportunity to deliver and manage restaurant concepts at these two developments is incredibly humbling,” said Taft. “Partnering with RCP will enable our company to embark on new ventures and create unique concepts while continuing the success of our established flavors that carry our southern heritage.”

Initial Southern Fried plans for MidCity include two to three chef-driven concepts for The Camp, a music and arts outdoor entertainment venue that launched last summer. Taft and his team will open and manage additional restaurants throughout the mixed-use development, including a food hall that will align with regional and national concepts already lined-up at MidCity.

At CityCentre, Southern Fried is expected to open several concepts adjacent to and inside the AC Hotel as well as a 12,000-square-foot artisanal culinary market, both of which will showcase Taft’s approach to southern delicacies.

“We intend to infuse the food hall craze with our unique approach to food and flavors of the South and introduce it to Huntsville’s culinary scene,” Taft stated.

Located on Williams Avenue between Monroe Street and Lowe Avenue, CityCentre is slated to include 40,000 square feet of retail and restaurant and 10,000 square feet of commercial space surrounded by 270 upscale apartment homes and a 125-key AC Hotel. MidCity is a $350 million redevelopment at the 140-acre site of the former Madison Square Mall with plans for 345,000 square feet of street-level retail and dining, 200,000 square feet of technical and creative office space, 500 hotel rooms and 900 residences. The development is situated at the intersection of two of Huntsville’s primary commercial corridors: University Drive and Research Park Boulevard.

The new AC Hotel & restaurant by Marriott at Big Spring at the old Holiday Inn site is scheduled to open in October.

Meanwhile, Dave & Buster’s will open in July 2019.