The Big Picure: Your Study. Your Vision. Your Plan for the City of Huntsville

Vision

  • The City of Huntsville has focused on “better retail” over “more retail” and has redeveloped blighted commercial centers throughout the city.
  • Major greyfield sites have been redeveloped as mixed-use centers, led by the following key sites: Madison Square Mall, Builders Square & Haysland Square.
  • Huntsville has a net reduction in net retail square footage in single-use, “strip center” formats.

About

During the latter half of the 20th century, many commercial shopping developments were built in Huntsville. Millions of square feet of retail came online in the metro area. However, new centers didn’t always bring new retail, often serving as relocation sites for existing shops and services.  Older centers that were left behind searched for new tenants and struggled to maintain their viability. Helping these centers redevelop is one of the emerging challenges of the coming years.

 

Much of the strip center development along Huntsville’s major commercial corridors is ripe for redevelopment. It is important to make room for new businesses, just as it is important to make room for new residents. Retail pruning is going to be critically important, particularly along the Memorial Parkway and University Drive corridors, in the future. This basically means that having   large quantities of low-quality space is actually worse than having less space, but of higher quality. Secondary and tertiary retail uses can overwhelm the marketplace and discourage the interest of developers and potential merchants. Developing a diversity of retail uses is important to the long-term success of Huntsville.  Encouraging the redevelopment of key aging commercial centers will allow new commercial uses to serve as catalysts for City-wide reinvestment.

 

The Urban Land Institute (ULI) led the development of a process for dealing with these aging centers (sometimes called “greyfields”) and reversing the blight they can cause.  The ULI approach forms the basis of a series of policy guidelines for slowing and reversing the development of greyfield sites:

 

  • Get civic and business leaders together. Make sure there’s a shared vision for the future of the area.  Local stakeholder groups – like the North Huntsville Business Association, South Huntsville Business Association, and Grow Cove – can serve as sounding boards for making improvements to circulation and public space, and can help find partners for redevelopment efforts.
  • Understand the changing market and local demographics. Know your customers, and know what will work for redevelopment.
  • “Prune” the retail zoning, and focus redevelopment at key intersections and nodes.  Don’t try to fix everything at once; concentrate efforts on catalytic projects.
  • Tame traffic and improve connectivity. Car access is important, but the corridors should accommodate bikes and pedestrians as well.
  • Place making is important to creating a stable, lasting redevelopment. Mixing uses and improving aesthetics will make districts where people want to be.
  • Leverage capital improvements and update regulations. If private sector investment is a goal, the public sector must demonstrate commitment to improvements.
  • Develop partnerships for implementation.  Remaking a community is a significant undertaking; it requires many partners – public and private – to make it happen.

 

These policy suggestions should form the basis of actions for recapturing struggling centers and corridors throughout the city.

Actions

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    Provide facade improvement grants, landscape grants, and tax abatements within a specified timeframe of renovation as incentives to spur reinvestment in run-down commercial properties.

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    Proactively rezone along key corridors and in activity centers to incent retail pruning to ensure more viable commercial space.

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    Take a strong and proactive role in coordinating details and fully packaging sites and deals in key redevelopment areas that have aging assets.

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    Consider adoption of a Commercial Revitalization Deduction, such as an accelerated depreciation deduction period for commercial real estate property,  for owners who substantially renovate an existing building or develop a new building for commercial use within designated target redevelopment areas.

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    Encourage development of small-scale, community, walkable nodes with retail included to help stabilize and enhance the surrounding neighborhoods.

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    Encourage the creation and growth of local stakeholder groups/business associations.

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    In coordination with existing Business Associations, form Business Improvement Districts (BID).  These are self-taxing districts that usually center on commercial properties, in order to address and sometimes fund capital improvements, business recruitment assistance, cooperative marketing endeavors, and organized special events.

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    Perform regular analyses of retail corridors, including vacancy rates and surrounding demographics. 

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    Limit retail zoning to key intersections and nodes, and focus redevelopment at these areas.

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    Ensure redeveloped areas have adequate access for all modes of transportation.

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    Encourage “place making” of redeveloped areas with the mixing of uses and creation of design guidelines.

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    Coordinate with the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) to include improvements to opportunity areas.

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    Update the Zoning Ordinance to encourage redevelopment of targeted areas. Streamline the approval process. 

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    Update the Zoning Ordinance to encourage redevelopment of targeted areas. Streamline the approval process. 

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    Develop partnerships with key stakeholders for redevelopment.