Huntsville OKs $70M Development

Redevelopment given green light.

Huntsville OKs $70M downtown mixed-use development next to Big Spring Park

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Steve Doyle
The Huntsville Times

The Huntsville City Council has given the green light to a $70 million redevelopment of the former downtown Holiday Inn property.

At its meeting Thursday night, the council voted to lease the prime tract overlooking Big Spring International Park to CRS City Centre LLC for $144,000 a year. The contract runs for 99 years.

CRS City Centre – which is also building a new Whole Foods-anchored shopping center on South Memorial Parkway – says the project will include 230 apartments, a 150-room hotel, multiple restaurants and stores, professional office space and a six-level parking deck.

The hotel, which Huntsville Director of Urban Development Shane Davis said will be a contemporary brand such as Hotel Indigo or Aloft, is expected to begin rising in October.

Called CityCentre at Big Spring, the mixed-use development will bring “thousands” of new jobs downtown, said Mayor Tommy Battle. The developers have promised nearly 60,000 square feet of high-end retail and office space.

“The whole effort out of this is to make a healthy, prosperous, vibrant city – not just downtown,” said Battle. “This will provide jobs for people throughout the county.”

A development contract that passed the council unanimously says the city will pay for the ongoing demolition and removal of the old Holiday Inn; perform an environmental study of the property; make improvements to Williams Street in front of CityCentre; and turn part of unsightly Fagan Creek into a below-ground culvert.

‘Road diet’

Battle said the city needs to put Williams Street on a “road diet” so people who live, work and shop at CityCentre won’t have to walk across four lanes of traffic to get to the park.

CityCentre will initially cover more than six acres.

The developers have an option to lease or buy another 2.6 acres next door that houses the city’s Williams Aquatic Center and Scruggs Recreation Center. Both facilities are scheduled to close after Huntsville expands Brahan Spring Park Natatorium.

If CRS City Centre decides to build a second phase, said Davis, the company can lease the aquatic center site for $60,000 annually or purchase it for $1 million.

The second phase would include another hotel with at least 100 rooms near the downtown public library, he said.

Along with retaining ownership of the old Holiday Inn tract, the contract gives Huntsville the final say on CityCentre’s hotel brands and architectural features. The city would also have to OK any proposed transfer of the lease to a different developer.

August start date

Davis said he expects the company to begin preparing the site for development in August. Construction on the hotel is scheduled to start in October, followed by the parking deck in December.

CityCentre’s apartments, restaurants, shops and offices will start to take shape in early 2016.

Not everyone at City Hall on Thursday night was a fan of the project.

City government watcher Jackie Reed pointed out that Huntsville paid $6.8 million for the Holiday Inn site, which had been leased to Big Spring Partners. She balked at the city charging CRS City Centre only $144,000 annually.

“You’re giving this city away,” said Reed.

Davis said CRS City Centre offered far better terms than the other two companies vying to redevelop the property. One firm wanted the land for $1 a year; the other bid $60,000.

“Not only did (CRS City Centre) have the best design, they offered the best price to the public,” said Davis.

Help for Councill High

Battle said proceeds from the future lease or sale of the Williams Aquatic Center tract would be earmarked to redevelop the vacant former Councill High School on St. Clair Avenue. For decades, it was the city’s only public high school for black students.

It was closed following desegregation and graduated its last class in 1966.

“For the first time in almost 40 years, we have some solid plans for that school,” said City Councilman Richard Showers. “It is a delight.”