Home Depot’s McCalla distribution center in line for $16 million in improvements

homedepotmccalla.JPGHome Depot opened a massive distribution center in McCalla in 2009.BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Home Depot is getting ready to do some building of its own to the tune of nearly $16 million at its 657,000-square-foot distribution center in McCalla.

The Atlanta-based home-improvement retailer has been issued two building permits totaling more than $15.7 million, according to Southern Exposure, a Huntsville firm that tracks public construction documents.

Illinois-based Glenn H. Johnson Construction was issued a $13 million commercial permit to do work for the facility, while Birmingham-based Jim Cooper Construction was issued a separate $2.7 million commercial permit.

In 2009, Home Depot opened the $33 million distribution center in the 739-acre Jefferson Metropolitan Park McCalla, one of two industrial parks developed by the county and managed by the Jefferson County Economic and Industrial Development Authority.

Efforts to reach Home Depot for details about the project were unsuccessful, but Jerry Cross, development director with the county industrial development authority, said officials told him the work is not a physical expansion of the facility. Instead, the millions will be spent to improve the interior by adding equipment and conveyer systems to help make it high-tech and more efficient, Cross said.

The regional distribution center has created nearly 300 jobs and services around 150 Home Depot stores in portions of Alabama, Arkansas, the Florida Panhandle, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.

The facility could experience another boost when Norfolk Southern‘s $97.5 million Birmingham Regional Intermodal Facility is completed next year across the railroad tracks from the JeffMet McCalla park.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/businessnews/2011/12/home_depots_mccalla_distributi.html

Report: Downtown Gadsden gains a dozen new businesses

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Gadsden gained 13 new businesses downtown and lost one during 2011, according to the Gadsden Times.

The numbers for this year are smaller than last year. In 2010, Gadsden had 23 businesses open and eight close, according to the Times. This year, the one downtown business to announce plans to close is a 32-year-old Christian bookstore. But the new businesses are promising and show that downtown is the “place to be,” said Downtown Gadsden Inc. Director Kay Moore.

“We’re continuing to grow, we need to continue to bring people back,” she told the Times. “The more we have (downtown), the more opportunities for different things that we have, the more shopping experiences that people can come to.”

Article source: http://blog.al.com/businessnews/2011/12/report_downtown_gadsden_gains.html

Consumer review websites now a force in hotel business, manager says

Hampton Inn review 122911.JPGView full sizeScreen capture image of TripAdvisor.com website review of the Hampton Inn at Eagle Point.

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — If you’re in the hospitality industry and you ignore social media, you do so at your own peril, said Deanna Jones, general manager of the Hampton Inn near the Eagle Point golf course off U.S. 280.

Jones’ hotel, which is part of the Hilton chain, currently sits atop the TripAdvisor.com consumer rankings for hotels in the Birmingham area thanks to a series of glowing reviews from customers. Travelers compare customer service there to five-star hotels in bigger cities, and share stories about their experiences. A typical story from a review: After a cab failed to show up a hotel staffer came to pick up a stranded guest — in a BMW. Several reviewers marveled at how the staff remembered their names.

She doesn’t ask customers to post reviews, Jones said. But travelers who pick a hotel because of online reviews then tend to write their own, and the momentum builds. Jones monitors the reviews closely, responds to them as a matter of routine, and also reads reviews of competing hotels.

“I see what people are saying about them, good and bad,” she said.

Online consumer reviews have been a significant force in the hotel business for about five years, Jones said, and one or two guests a week now volunteer that they picked the property because of its reviews.

The TripAdvisor reviews, and similar reviews on the website Yelp.com, now drive enough business that hotels must take them seriously, she said.

“You need to jump on, or you’ll miss the boat.”

This item appeared in The Insider, a weekly column in The Birmingham News.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/businessnews/2011/12/consumer_review_websites_now_a.html

Residents of Huntsville’s Mayfair neighborhood claim victory in townhouse dispute

Mayfair townhouse site.JPGDeveloper Blake Mullins had proposed building 10 townhouses on this .68-acre lot in Huntsville’s Mayfair neighborhood. (The Huntsville Times/Eric Schultz)

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — Residents of the Mayfair neighborhood in Huntsville’s medical district are claiming victory in their months-long fight to block a townhouse project.

Developer Blake Mullins’ preliminary city approval to build 10 townhouses at the corner of Alabama Street and Dawn Avenue expired Dec. 21.

“We had a couple of conversations about how you would place (townhouses) on the lots, but he never submitted a final plat for approval,” Marie Bostick, Huntsville’s manager of planning administration, said today.

Because of a rezoning initiated by the neighbors, Bostick said, Mullins’ only option now is to build four single-family detached houses on the property.

“It’s over,” said Mayfair resident Barbara Hughes, who led a petition drive against the townhouses. “”I hope (Mullins) can move on and find another place to do this and be happy.”

In an e-mail to The Times, Mullins said he believes the townhouses are still an option.

“At this time we are reviewing other options as well,” he said today. “We hope that all parties of interest will be satisfied, including existing and future homeowners in the Mayfair community.

“We look forward to constructing a project that will enhance the neighborhood in terms of value and aesthetics.”

The controversy began in October 2010, when Mullins proposed squeezing 10 two-story townhouses on just over half an acre of land.

Neighbors argued the project would be a poor fit in an area of mostly smaller, single-family houses built in the late 1940s. They packed Planning Commission hearings, hired attorneys and petitioned the city to rezone about 30 acres within the subdivision, including Mullins’ property.

In March, the City Council voted to change the zoning from Residence 2-A to the more restrictive Residence 1-C, which prohibits construction of townhouses, condos, duplexes or apartments.

Mullins still could have built his townhouses because the project was conceived before the rezoning. But when he failed to win final plat approval by the city’s Dec. 21 deadline, the grandfather clause expired.

Hughes said about $5,000 collected from Mayfair homeowners earlier this year will go to the neighborhood’s attorneys, John Brinkley and Dag Rowe Jr.

City Councilman Bill Kling, who also opposed the townhouses, said he’s glad Mayfair residents can finally breathe easy.

“It’s a great area with a great location,” Kling said today. “I think Mr. Mullins could make a good profit doing single-family houses there.”

Follow me on Twitter: @swdoyle

Article source: http://blog.al.com/breaking/2011/12/residents_of_huntsvilles_mayfa.html

Report: criminal charges against BP being prepared over Gulf Coast oil spill

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — The first criminal charges in regard to the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico could come in early 2012, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.
GULF OIL SPILLActivity at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico off the Alabama coast is viewed from a Coast Guard HC-144A plane Thursday, June 10, 2010. (AP Photo/ Press-Register/John David Mercer)
U.S. prosecutors are preparing charges against several Houston-based engineers and at least one supervisor over false information provided to regulators about risks associated with the Deepwater Horizon accident which killed 11 people and caused the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

The Wall Street Journal also mentions criminal charges have been brought in past oil spills, such as the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/businessnews/2011/12/report_criminal_charges_agains.html

Construction on new Southside venue is underway

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Work is now under way on two Southside buildings that are expected to reopen in September as a 20,000 square-foot event space called Iron City Live.

Steve DeMedicis, senior vice president at Auction Insurance Agency and owner of the property, said two buildings in the block to the southeast of the intersection of 22nd Street South and Sixth Avenue South will be connected by new construction, and dressing rooms and other amenities added. One of the buildings faces 22nd, and the other faces Sixth.

The space that results will be big enough to host two events at a time, and will be designed as a music venue, he said. The popular nightclub and events venue WorkPlay is nearby, as is the successful events space Ted’s Garage, and DeMedicis said the addition of Iron City Live will help solidify the neighborhood’s growing reputation.

“I like what’s going on in the city center,” he said. “I think it will make it a destination area with its own character.”

DeMedicis declined to disclose the investment he’s making in the property. “It’s more than you’d think,” he said.

A college buddy of DeMedicis, veteran bar and restaurant executive Paul Vilord, will be general manager and president of the new venture. Both men ran track at the University of Alabama.

This item appeared in The Insider, a weekly column in The Birmingham News.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/businessnews/2011/12/construction_on_new_southside.html

Speedy Print cat, star of annual promotional calendars, gone but not forgotten

speedy1.jpgSpeedy the cat oversees production. (Special)

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Regular customers of Southside’s Speedy Print Inc. have looked forward each year to a calendar featuring 12 photos of beloved shop cat Speedy.

The promotional calendars showed the cat hard at work collating documents, supervising filing or just lounging about with that attitude common to felines and graduates of certain MBA programs.

There was no doubt, shop owner Monica Barbour said this week, that Speedy thought he was in charge.

So when the cat died a couple of months ago it was with great disappointment that Barbour canceled plans for Speedy’s 2012 wall calendar. Well, the customers would have none of that. The same regulars who routinely asked for Speedy when they came in the shop lobbied hard for one last calendar, Barbour said, so the departed Speedy will grace all 12 months in a 2012 Speedy Print calendar after all. It’s not like there’s a shortage of photos.

“He was a ham for the camera,” she explained.

The rescue cat had long raised the spirits of Barbour and the staff and even helped seal deals. No customer’s poor disposition was a match for the cat, who Barbour said seemed to know who needed encouragement.

“He’d get ‘em in a good mood,” she said.

The cat had become such a part of the business where he lived that he was even a tax write-off, she said.

Customers now are hard at work trying to convince Barbour to get another cat, with some even offering up actual cats. Barbour said the shop eventually will be home to another one, perhaps even two. But it may be some time.

“I’m just not ready yet,” she said.

This item appeared in The Insider, a weekly column in The Birmingham News.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/businessnews/2011/12/post_113.html

Madison growing by leaps and bounds

Madison TargetMadison Mayor Paul Finley watches as the first of fifty-seven concrete walls is raised at the site of the new Target store under construction in Madison, AL. (The Huntsville Times/Bob Gathany)

MADISON, Alabama РThe fact that Madison was determined to be the fastest-growing city in the state by the 2010 Census came as no surprise to government leaders and residents.

The evidence is all around with the sound of bulldozers, hammers and buzz saws a constant in many areas of the city:

  • Construction on the Shoppes of Madison and the new Madison Hospital is taking place along the U.S. 72 corridor on the north side.
  • The new James Clemens High School is being built on County Line Road on the western edge.
  • The former Oh! Bryan’s restaurant building is being remodeled for the new Madison County license center.
  • New businesses are opening on a regular basis.
  • Subdivisions are popping up throughout the city.

The new Madison Growth Plan was recently approved by the city’s Planning Commission, updating the 1995 Master Plan which has had virtually no revision since it was implemented.

The Growth Plan, which has been talked about by city leaders for three years, is nearly in place. Only the City Council is left to put its stamp of approval on it, although it’s actually not required by law, said City Economic Development and Planner Amy Furfori.

The council was scheduled to vote on the plan at its last meeting of the year Dec. 19, but decided to postpone it until the Jan. 9 meeting so council members could have more time to review it over the holidays.

That action was welcomed by Madison Mayor Paul Finley.

“They are very detailed oriented, and a rubber stamp with no buy-in doesn’t mean anything to the residents,” Finley said after the Dec. 19 meeting. “They want to talk implementation, and I think it was a very positive move.”

Finley said the Growth Plan will help him and the council members “define their priorities together” as they focus on six key areas for development.

The areas include: Midtown (historic downtown/Kroger shopping center); Old Madison Pike/Slaughter Road; County Line Road; U.S. 72; the western growth area (Limestone County); and the I-565 corridor (south of Madison Boulevard).

“We heard loud and clear residents want green space and connectivity,” Finley said. Each area is different and each has its own game plan. All are defined by the community. This is all very positive for the city.”

The downtown area is already getting a much-needed facelift which began last year, but was put on hold until after the October Street Festival..

“This is very exciting for us,” said Finley. “We continue to focus for the next year to bring business to the historic downtown area.”

Finley is in his final year of his first four-year term as mayor. He announced in October he does not plan to seek re-election.

In addition to tackling all the defined growth areas, Finley also hopes one project in particular comes to fruition before he leaves office.

“Before leaving office I look forward to being able to enjoy Insanity Skate Park,” he said. “It’s not just one thing. It’s multiple pieces that includes laser tag, rock climbing and indoor skating. It’s just taken a while to get up and going.”

In addition to regular activities from skate boarding to rock climbing, the city will benefit from trade events such as a boat show scheduled for 2013.

Finley is “disappointed” in the length of time it has taken to get the I-565 interchange at County Line Road, the Old Madison Pike/Indian Creek and the Zierdt Road projects under way.

“They are moving, but it’s just a long, long process,” he said.

Finley has been instrumental in Madison getting on better relations with its largest neighbor, Huntsville, as the two municipalities and Madison County officials have come together to be “one voice” in Montgomery when it comes to representing north central Alabama.

“Our ability to speak with one voice for all the community has truly paid off,” he said.

It also paid off when one of the area’s worst natural disasters struck on April 27 when powerful tornadoes ravaged the Tennessee Valley along with other parts of the state, killing hundreds and leaving thousands homeless.

“I am so proud of all of North Alabama for coming together and how we handled April 27 and the aftermath,” said Finley.

As the husband of an educator, Bob Jones assistant principal Dr. Julie Finley, and the father of three sons, including two still in the Madison City School system, one of Finley’s top priorities coming into his position three years ago was making sure Madison schools were among the best in the country.

“Number one, we wanted to keep the level of education at the highest level possible,” said Finley. “No. 2, we wanted to make sure across the board the elementary schools are equal in socio economic percentages.”

Finley believes he has rolled out the welcome mat to residents in making city government more accessible through the city’s Web site (www.ci.madison.al.us/) and the fact the council meetings are televised for those unable to attend.

“We’ve worked hard to bring government to the people rather than people to the government,” he said. “More people feel like they are part of the city. The areas of concern in Madison are not mine as mayor. They are ours as a city. I want people to feel free to express concerns and opinions in the community.”

While Finley said he has “mixed emotions” about leaving office after just one term, he believes he needs to devote more time to his family before his sons are grown. But by not worrying about being re-elected, Finley says he can devote the entire year to the city’s business.

“I’m very comfortable with my decision, but I do have mixed emotions” said Finley. “I love the city. What’s why I ran. We, as a team, have accomplished a lot. I didn’t get in to be a full-time mayor. We needed to change the direction in key areas and I know we have accomplished it.”

Article source: http://blog.al.com/breaking/2011/12/madison_growing_by_leaps_and_b.html

Birmingham’s ActionSportsArt to create artwork on Crimson Tide season

actionsportsart.JPGChad Martin and Cort Harwood are owners of ActionSportsArt, which has been commissioned to produce an artwork based on the Crimson Tide’s 2011 season on the gridiron.BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — ActionSportsArt said it has been licensed by the University of Alabama as the official artist for the BCS National Championship game and the Crimson Tide’s 2011 season.

ASA said artist Chad Martin will work with the university’s athletic department to select images from the entire season that will be featured in the commemorative piece.

“As an Alabama-based company and getting our start creating pieces for Alabama schools, it is an honor to work with a great university and athletic department during such an exciting time in college football,” Cort Harwood, chief operating officer of ActionSportsArt, said in a statement.

Limited edition pieces will be available next month. A share of all proceeds goes to the university’s athletic scholarship fund.

“As a sports art artist, I am excited for the opportunity help capture the spirit and emotion of the game, especially since college football precedes anything in Alabama,” Martin said in the statement.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/businessnews/2011/12/birminghams_actionsportsart_to.html

Birmingham-area personal finance experts advise to cut debts and save more in 2012

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — It’s almost that time of the year again, when folks resolve to make better decisions that improve their finances in the coming year.

If you are among the many making financial resolutions for the new year, it is critical to set reachable, sustainable goals, said Max Ray, an investment adviser who heads Family Business Associates in Vestavia Hills.

“When it comes to financial resolutions, you’re not going to cut expenses by 50 percent over the next year, so don’t even say it,” Ray said. “Even if you set a goal of improving finances by, say, 10 to 15 percent in the coming year, hope for the best but expect to reach half of that, if at all.”

With the Birmingham metro area, Alabama and nation continuing to recover slowly from the worst economic downturn in decades, it is vital that families, business owners and individuals make getting their financial houses in order a top priority, said Larry Goldberg, a partner with Bridgeworth Financial in Office Park off U.S. 280.

“Budget, take a fresh look at what you need, and commit to allocating money to your goals,” Goldberg said.

Here are some other tips from Goldberg and Ray to help people improve their finances in 2012:

Commit to a savings plan. “Build up an emergency fund,” Goldberg said. Many financial advisers recommend having a rainy day fund that covers three to six months’ expenses.

Track financial flow. Monitoring spending and tracking expenses is the best way to get a better handle on your finances, said Goldberg, adding that even little items can add up over time. “You may use tools such as Mint.com,” he said, referring to the personal finance Web site.

Make personal finance wisdom a top priority throughout the year. Though setting manageable money resolutions can be an effective tool, Ray said successful financial management “starts with dealing with issues every day vs. trying to get your financial affairs in order just one time a year.”

Set a debt elimination plan. “Pay off high-interest debts first,” Ray said.

Reduce bills. Look at cable, electricity, cell phone, and other monthly bills and try to find ways to cut down on spending, Goldberg said.

Be a wiser consumer by comparison shopping to find the best deals. “Aim to make more conscious consumer buys,” Goldberg said.

Clean out your home files. Shred unnecessary financial documents, Goldberg said.

Update your estate plan or power of attorney. That is especially important for caregivers with aging parents or other loved ones in need of being protected financially, said Ray, who has taken care of his 81-year-old mother for years.

Avoid identity theft by checking your credit. Equifax, Experian and TransUnion provide free credit reports once a year, Goldberg said. To get better results, rotate through the firms during the year by requesting a credit report from one of them every four months, he said.

Take advantage of employer matching. “If your employer offers a retirement plan that matches your contributions, make sure you contribute enough to get the maximum company match,” Goldberg said.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/businessnews/2011/12/birmingham-area_personal_finan.html