Huntsville Planning Commission OKs 690-space parking deck for medical district site

Twickenham Square parking deck site.JPGHuntsville Public Works crews recently began demolishing some former public housing units along Gallatin Street to test the soil for a proposed 690-space city parking deck. The garage will serve a hotel, office tower, Publix grocery store, shops and restaurants planned for the medical district property. (The Huntsville Times/Dave Dieter)

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — A $10 million city parking garage serving the proposed Twickenham Square development in Huntsville’s medical district has won city Planning Commission approval.

Planning board members OK’d architectural drawings Tuesday depicting a three-story, 690-space garage accessible from Gallatin Street and Pelham Avenue.

City officials will ask potential builders to also quote a price for an enhanced facade as well as a fourth level that would increase the capacity to about 950 vehicles.

“We’d like to be able to fund those alternates,” said Marie Bostick, the city’s manager of planning and zoning administration.

Construction bids will be opened June 12.

The parking deck is part of the city’s promise to a team of private developers working to transform the former Councill Courts public housing site.

The $85 million-plus redevelopment project will include more than 230 loft-style apartments called The Flats at Twickenham Square, a Publix supermarket, hotel, office tower and about 22,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space — all catty-corner from Huntsville Hospital.

Publix and National Bank of Commerce are the only named tenants so far.

Bostick said the ground floor of the garage, accessible only from Pelham Avenue, will likely be free parking for shoppers, diners and Publix customers.

Twickenham Square parking deck.jpgThis architect’s rendering shows the view of the proposed parking deck from Pelham Avenue. (Courtesy Chapman Sisson Architects)

Employees and guests of the hotel and office tower would enter from Gallatin Street and drive up a ramp to the garage’s second level, she said. Vehicles could exit onto either Pelham Avenue or St. Clair Avenue.

Bostick said about 40 Flats at Twickenham Square residents would have reserved parking in the city garage. But most tenants would park in a separate deck financed by the developers.

Architect Martin Sisson said there will be a covered walkway leading from the city garage, across Pelham Avenue, to the front of Publix.

Two Nashville-area firms, Bristol Development Group and PGM Properties, are working together on the apartments, grocery store and additional retail and restaurant space.

Huntsville-based Triad Properties plans to build the office tower and is also in negotiations to bring a hotel to the site.

The developers will pay the Huntsville Housing Authority about $5.6 million for the property just south of downtown.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/breaking/2012/04/huntsville_planning_commission_6.html

As Huntsville’s investment grows, Redstone Gateway office park marches forward

Redstone Gateway's first building.JPGThis five-story office building visible from Interstate 565 is the first of 52 planned office buildings at the billion-dollar Redstone Gateway office park. The City of Huntsville has spent $28 million to date grading the site, building roads and adding water, sewer and electric services under an agreement with the developers. (The Huntsville Times/Michael Mercier)

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — The City of Huntsville has now spent about $28 million laying the groundwork for a massive, Department of Defense-oriented office park near Gate 9 of Redstone Arsenal.

At its meeting Thursday night, the City Council approved two more infrastructure contacts for Phase I of the Redstone Gateway project, which includes about 200 acres immediately south of the junction of Interstate 565 and Rideout Road.

Christopher Professional Enterprises of Athens won a $535,815 contract to run electric, phone, fiberoptic and other communication lines along Market Street, the park’s planned retail area.

Christopher was also awarded a $254,288 contract to install the water lines serving Market Street.

The four-lane, divided boulevard will eventually be home to 150,000 square feet of hotels, retail and service businesses, said Shane Davis, the city’s director of urban planning.

Reed Contracting Services is being paid $5.3 million to build Market Street, as well as a four-lane loop road serving 22 large office buildings in the park’s first phase. Reed is also relocating a portion of Overlook Road.

Davis said the city has only two major contracts left to award in the first phase: demolition of a former Huntsville Utilities substation, and final grading for a five-acre lake.

Redstone Gateway map.jpg

The $1 billion office park will eventually include 52 buildings for Army employees and defense contractors, two hotels, restaurants, stores and an academic campus surrounding Gate 9.

Maryland-based Corporate Office Properties Trust is developing the office space; Jim Wilson Associates of Montgomery is handling the retail area.

Huntsville Finance Director Randy Taylor estimates Redstone Gateway will generate $275 million in new property and sales taxes for the city over the 35-year life of the development agreement.

Davis said Jim Wilson Associates has had “tremendous response” from retailers and hotel chains.

“They’re getting very close to getting some deals going and selecting the first hotel tenant,” he said Thursday.

According to the park’s website, redstonegateway.us, the first office building — a five-story glass structure visible from the interstate — is now ready for occupancy. Corporate Office Properties Trust recently hired Graham Co. as the leasing agent and property manager for Redstone Gateway.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/breaking/2012/04/as_huntsvilles_investment_grow.html

Diamond Jim’s restaurant to open in Orange Beach

 

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ORANGE BEACH, Alabama — Diamond Jims and Ms. Donnas restaurant will open in 4,000 square feet at 25638 Canal Road over the Memorial Day weekend at the end of May, according to owner Jim Dial Jr. He and his wife, Donna, have leased the former Tiki Beach Pub building. They also own Diamond Jims and Ms. Donnas in Livingston, Ala. The restaurant specializes in steak and seafood.

Five Guys Burgers Fries will open this summer in 2,500 square feet at 3117 S. McKenzie St. in Foley, according to Angela McArthur of Prudential Cooper Co. commercial division.

Little Caesars Pizza has leased 1,400 square feet on Dauphin Island Parkway next to the ABC store and will open in early summer, according to Marl Cummings IV of Cummings Associates, who represented the pizza restaurant. Ron Johnson of The Mitchell Company worked for the landlord.

A local investor paid $65,000 for a bank-owned, self-service car wash on 2.7 acres at 8111 U.S. 98 in Fairhope, according to Herndon Luce of Vallas Realty, who represented the seller. Richard Hice of Coldwell Bank Reehl Properties worked for the buyer of the site near Baldwin County 3.

A local couple paid $135,000 for 23 acres on U.S. 90 in Loxley near Yorkshire subdivision, and plan to build a house there, according to Nathan Cox of Bellator Realty Development.

Computer Sciences Corp. has leased 10,500 square feet in Riverview Office Plaza on Royal Street in downtown Mobile, according to Gavin Bender Jr. of Bender Real Estate Group. Computer Sciences Corp. provides information technology and professional services.

Quest Diagnostics has leased 2,100 square feet in Peachtree Professional Center on Ala. 59 in Foley and will open May 1, according to Raymond Zoghby, managing partner for the center owners.

Boan Contracting, an underground utility contractor specializing in crude oil and natural gas pipeline work, has moved into 2,246 square feet at 7530 Parker Road in Fairhope, according to Spence Monroe of Ashurst Niemeyer.

D.R. Horton paid $210,000 total for six lots in Weatherby subdivision off Celeste Road in Saraland, according to court records.

Cactus Flower Café, which offers California-style Mexican cuisine, has opened in Pelican Place on Ala. 59 in Gulf Shores, according to Chris Tilley of Langley Properties. TigerBytes, an Apple reseller, will open Monday in 4,000 square feet at Pelican Place, according to Tilley.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/press-register-business/2012/04/diamond_jims_restaurant_to_ope.html

A Path to success: Dean Parker leads Callis Communications with entrepreneurial spirit

Dean-ParkerView full sizeDean Parker, founder of Callis Communications, has been named a finalist for the 2012 Ernst Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the Alabama/Georgia/Tennessee region.

MOBILE, Alabama — Dean Parker, chief executive officer and founder of Callis Communications, started his last work week at company headquarters in Mobile, jumped on a plane for a business dinner in Washington, D.C., returned to Mobile for a board meeting, then headed to Los Angeles to meet with “entrepreneurs of game-changing technology on the West Coast.”

And that was just through Wednesday.

For Parker, 37, who founded Callis in 2005 to provide unified communications systems, constant movement seems in keeping with his success.

“If you’ve spent any time around Dean you know he’s an energy source,” said Michael Chambers, president and CEO of Mobile-based Swift Biotech.

Parker, said Chambers, has “what it takes to make it: passion and persistence.”

Driven by a life-long enthusiasm to sell and led by his faith in God, Parker has taken a small business that started with a handful of employees and turned it into an economic powerhouse.

Last week, he was named a finalist for the 2012 Ernst Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the Alabama/Georgia/Tennessee region.

Though excited by the honor, he deflected attention from himself during a telephone conversation from Los Angeles.

“I consider it a badge of honor for the city of Mobile,” said Parker, a Philadelphia native. Too often, he said, Mobile is “the red-haired stepchild for big corporate awards.”

The Ernst Young validation is “a big deal,” noted Deborah Spake, associate dean of the University of South Alabama’s Mitchell College of Business.

One of the criteria studied, said Spake, a former judge in the Ernst Young program, is the financial success of the firm.

“He grew revenue by more than 600 percent in three years,” said Spake, whose classes have benefited from Parker’s as a visiting lecturer.

“For students to be able to see you can stay in this community and be very successful,” she said, “is an important message.”

Religious conviction helped develop Parker’s business philosophy

After growing up in Pennsylvania, Parker headed to Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., a Christian college founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sr.

At Liberty, he said, he deepened his religious convictions and developed his business philosophy.

“People use a phrase, they say, ‘It’s business, it’s not personal,’” he said. “I believe business is personal. … My integrity is more important to me than the dollar.”

After graduation, he sold cars in Lynchburg while his wife, Joanne, finished her student teaching.

One day a man who came in to buy a car was impressed with Parker and offered him a job at a division of General Electric operating in town. Within two years, his distribution channel was generating $130 million in revenue, Parker said.

When that GE division was sold to Ericsson, Parker’s path again turned.

This time, a customer asked if he’d be interested in getting into the pager business and setting up shop in Mobile.

“We prayed on it,” he said, then the couple made the move.

He opened Allpager in 1999, but found a city full of family businesses with “many long-standing relationships.”

“We had to work and build trust with the people in the community to do business here,” he said. “My greatest strength was my ability to network and help people.”

Still, he said, the company’s wasn’t making money.

Technology was rapidly changing. Cell phones were coming in; pagers were going out.

He learned again, he said, that “innovation is driven by necessity.”

Parker turned to his customers, asking them to describe their “pain point” in business communications. He learned that while they had phones, computers, Internet providers, none of the technology worked together.

And when something went wrong, he added, “everybody pointed fingers.”

Callis — pronounced ‘call us’ and taken from the Latin word for path — is the company that emerged.

Its cloud-based service model provided “not a difference in technology, but a difference in delivery,” he said.

After arriving at a solution, Parker said, he still needed customers.

He found not only that, but a mentor as well, in Mark Foley, president of the Baptist-affiliated University of Mobile.

“He doubled my revenue,” said Parker of Foley’s early vote of confidence.

At breakfasts together, the two men talked about life, about faith, about business.

“Serving as a sounding board for Dean,” Foley said, “and talking through the challenges that the next generation of leaders is facing in their personal and professional life causes you to look deeply at your own life and keep it focused on the things that are truly important.”

Good references — and more business — followed.

Callis started in 2005 with six employees. Today, said Parker, there are more than 45.

Among its more than 500 customers, according to Deanna DeWitt, marketing manager, are Volunteers of America Southeast, Alabama Orthopaedic Clinic, Singing River Hospital, South Baldwin Regional Medical Center and Intertek USA Inc.

Wherever technology takes the marketplace, he said, Parker is determined to keep his long-held business conviction in front of him:

“People to people,” he said. “We’re going to focus on relationships.” 

Article source: http://blog.al.com/press-register-business/2012/04/a_path_to_success_dean_parker.html

State targets industry to good effect (Turner)

Goodrich fan cowl.jpgA nacelle at Goodrich Corp.’s Foley service center, a facility that is part of an industry cluster that continues to grow in Alabama. (Photo courtesy of Goodrich Corp.)

“As manufacturing picks up across the United States, Alabama has become an unexpected beneficiary. The state — best known for agriculture and textiles production — is enjoying the best pickup in industrial manufacturing in five years as U.S. and foreign companies flock there.”

So opens a recent article by Parija Kavilanz of CNNMoney, who goes on to cite experts who credit “the state’s low taxes, top-grade trade schools, a statute that curbs union power, and other incentives” with attracting manufacturers to the state.

K.A. Turner column sig.jpgK.A. Turner writes a weekly column. You may write her at the Press-Register, P.O. Box 2488, Mobile AL 36652-2488, call her at 251-219-5644 or e-mail kturner@press-register.com. Follow her on Facebook.

The Alabama Department of Commerce (the new name for the Alabama Development Office) reports that 70 new projects promising 4,879 jobs were announced statewide in 2011.

Another 313 current manufacturers announced expansions that could add 12,000 more jobs.

The total promised capital investment exceeds $4 billion.

According to the state, 747 of the jobs accompany the $345.3 million in planned investment in Mobile County, and 366 of the jobs and almost $22.5 million in planned investment is in Baldwin County.

Many of the projects announced locally illustrate the benefits of an increasing effort to target the types of industries Alabama recruits, as they involve aerospace, metals, and maritime or shipbuilding companies.

Targeting industry clusters is at the heart of the Accelerate Alabama plan that unites state and local recruitment efforts.

It targets advanced manufacturing in the broad sectors of aerospace/defense, automotive/steel, metals, agriculture/food products, forestry products and chemicals. Other targets include bioscience and technology companies, distribution operations and corporate headquarters.

Bill Taylor, head of the nonprofit Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, watched a supplier operation grow in Alabama during his days leading the Mercedes-Benz manufacturing facility near Tuscaloosa.

Supplier networks often employ more people than the plants that draw them to an area. An added benefit, said Taylor, is that the suppliers can make the parent industry more resilient and more firmly grounded in Alabama.

“When we think about the targeted approach, we forget about talking about current businesses and industries,” he said. “What is the composition of an industry … and how do we bring all those parts together, closer, and quite frankly create deeper roots for those companies here.”

As the state executes the strategy, Taylor added, education is a key component.

“What we’re talking about is advanced manufacturing,” he said. “The need for a highly qualified, skilled and developed work force is growing at a rapid pace. One of our largest challenges is to make sure we have the qualified workers to staff the high-tech industries we currently have and the ones out there shopping.”

Schools at every level — K-12, two-year and four-year– must have a clear picture of the skills Alabama’s future workers will need, he said.

“The object,” he said, “is creating sustainable, good-paying jobs that will challenge the people of Alabama and that they will find fulfilling.

“You cannot implement a plan like this unless you have that diverse group of people at the same table creating this roadmap. But all of this is for naught if we can’t match and align ourselves with the training needs and stay a step ahead in the education system.” 

Article source: http://blog.al.com/press-register-business/2012/04/state_targets_industry_to_good.html

Stock market experiences good but volatile year

Wall-Street-floor-traders.jpgApril has been a see-saw month on Wall Street. (The Associated Press)

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Call it stock market whiplash.

April has been a see-saw time for Wall Street, with triple-digit swings either way on many days.

It’s enough to give your stock portfolio or an equities-loaded 401(k) plan a bout of nausea.

Despite all of the volatility, though, it’s been a good year for the stock market, driven by strong corporate earnings and an economy that remains in recovery mode, albeit a slow one. Some investment experts say they remain bullish, based on three factors: an improving economy, a declining unemployment rate and falling gasoline prices.

Regular gasoline averaged $3.70 in Alabama on Friday, down 7 cents from a week ago, according to a survey by the AAA motoring club. The drop has helped calm fears of a return to $4-a-gallon gasoline, which was threatening to torpedo consumer confidence and sink spending, investment experts say.

“Year to date the total return for the SP 500 stock index is almost 10 percent,” said Jim Kyzer, a planner who heads LPL Financial in Birmingham. “The stock market has produced a total return this year that is equal to the entire return that a number of forecasters had predicted for the full year.”

Kyzer said some investors who were excited when the Standard Poor’s 500 Index roared to a total return of 12.59 percent in the first quarter are jittery now that its momentum has been upended. But that is to be expected, he said, adding that people shouldn’t read too much into daily moves in the market.

“It does not go in a straight line either up or down, it will zig and zag,” Kyzer said. “A number of advisers anticipate that we will have some type of a pull back since we have gone up so fast this year. I have increased the cash position in many of my clients’ accounts to prepare for the possibility of a correction.”

Kyzer said the presidential election in November will also have an impact on the markets, as some investors hope for a change in the White House. His biggest concern, Kyzer said, is how the nation, not just Congress, responds to current economic problems such as the deficit, increased spending, and the future of Social Security and Medicare.

“Some people have suggested that we will solve our problem by increased growth,” Kyzer said. “Our economy is recovering at a slow pace. Recessions that are not associated with a banking crisis tend to produce a fast recovery, while this recent recession was associated with a banking crisis and as a result we are seeing a slow economic recovery.”

Allen Taylor, a partner with Wealth Strategies LLC, said the market’s strong performance this year has been driven by strong corporate profits.

“We are getting better corporate news and guidance and seeing definitive signs of a rebounding and recovering economy, albeit early in the recovery stage,” he said.

“Companies, unlike the government, have figured out how to cut excess and manage their business by reducing expense and overhead.”

The challenges in Europe, where many debt-laden countries remain in full recession mode, could have a negative impact in the U.S., he said.

“The concerns we have at present are the issues that are driving the European economies and exactly how much carry over will we see here as a result,” Taylor said. “This in addition to our own marginal economy and the pending presidential election leaves a great deal of uncertainty. There simply seems to be an every growing list of unknowns out there that could potentially take the market in any number of different directions.”

Greg Powell, president of Fi-Plan Partners in Hoover, said events taking place over the summer months will be crucial to how the rest of the year unfolds for investors and their stock holdings.

“How the Supreme Court rules in June on health care reform will have major impact on corporate costs,” Powell said. “A major concern that I still have is the significant degree to which politics, both in the United States and elsewhere, are influencing markets.”

Joel Conn, president of Lakeshore Capital in Liberty Park, said he believes boosting employment in the construction sector is pivotal in turning around the economy. When companies invest in building projects, it is a sign that they feel confident about the future, he said.

“While the unemployment rate has come down, it remains high in construction. That is one area that has to pick up,” Conn said. “The housing market has gotten better, but it’s not where it needs to be.”

He said investors need to keep their long-term focus “and not be distracted by negative headlines in Europe and around the U.S. and the world.”

“People shouldn’t make investment decisions based on short-term movements in the market,” Conn said.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/businessnews/2012/04/stock_market_experiences_good.html

Commercial real estate on upswing for Birmingham’s Graham & Co.

GrahamCo.jpg

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Graham Co. had 15 property sales for $12.6 million and 33 leases worth $8.1 million in the first quarter of 2012, confirming the company’s expectations for the commercial real estate market coming off a strong two quarters at the end of 2011.

“The opening quarter activity is typically the slowest as year-end deals are completed giving a pop to the year-end,” said Sonny Culp, broker and senior vice president at Graham.

Culp said Graham had three sales and 11 leases in March to end the quarter.

One of the sales was the Children’s Aid Society’s purchase of the 17,350-square-foot former Bodine corporate office and 50 parking spaces at 214 14th Ave. South for its new offices, after the asking price on the building was reduced from $1.6 million to $1.35 million. Graham’s Sam Carroll represented the seller; Corporate Realty Services represented the buyer.

The new owners plan a major renovation.

In another transaction, Graham’s Ogden Deaton represented the seller of 152 acres off Interstate 59 and Alabama 174 in St. Clair County near Springville to SBE Development for $1.7 million.

Deaton said the buyer is a group that owns the adjacent land. He said the group has not announced plans for the property, but the acreage purchased “is adjacent to the interstate and on ramp and gives them better access for their future development.”

Graham’s Jack Brown brokered Dexter Fortson Associates Inc.’s purchase of a 12,480-square-foot industrial building at 5541 Powder Plant Lane in Bessemer. DFA manufactures and services equipment for the utility, manufacturing and coal mining industries.

Among the lease deals Graham completed in March:

• Trio Engineered Products leased 15,000 square feet of industrial space at The Distribution Center in Homewood. Deaton represented the landlord, while Graham’s Jordan Tubb represented the tenant.

• Event Rentals Unlimited Inc. leased 13,000 square feet of industrial space at the Distribution Center in Homewood. Deaton and Graham’s Robin Domit handled the transaction.

• Sanders Hyland Corp., a full service commercial flooring contractor, leased 2,500 square feet of warehouse space at 3433 Lorna Lane. Graham’s Tubb represented the landlord; RealtySouth represented the tenant.

• Advantage Payroll renewed its lease for 3,200 square feet at 3125 Independence Drive in Homewood Plaza. Graham’s Dan Lovell represented the tenant; J.H. Berry and Gilbert represented the landlord.

• Dominion Management finalized plans to remain in 6,500 square feet at the Meadow Brook 1200 building on Corporate Drive. Graham’s Brad Jones represented the landlord.

• HB Logistics, a transportation company, leased 9,000 square feet of office and warehouse space at 1420 Hildegarde Street in Pinson. Brown represented the landlord, and Graham’s John Coleman represented the tenant.

• Birmingham Mobile Inc. leased 5,000 square feet of warehouse space at 1520 Simmsville Road in Alabaster. Coleman represented the tenant; Southpace Properties represented the landlord.

• Hanes Companies renewed its 38,000-square- foot lease at Perimeter Industrial Park in Bessemer. Culp represented Hanes; EGS Commercial Real Estate represented the landlord.

• Mountain Brook Sporting Goods leased 2,500 square feet of office and warehouse space at 3433 Lorna Lane. Tubb represented the landlord.

Culp said commercial companies in the Birmingham area are trying to get more properties sold and leased before new development can be justified. “Graham and other firms are seeing reduced inventory in some property categories and many landlords are seeing a stabilization of occupancies that point to a positive future,” he said.

He said the rest of 2012 should see that happen, albeit slower than what most would want.

“Our pipeline of sales and leasing activity remains strong,” he said.

Southpace deal

Southpace Properties Inc. said it has completed a building sale in Hoover that will become the new headquarters for Schaeffer Eye Center.

Southpace’s Bill McDavid represented the owner of the 36,000-square-foot former RoomStore Furniture building at 1686 Montgomery Highway in a sale to Schaeffer Properties LLC, which was represented by Bill Clements of Retail Specialists.

Clements said Schaeffer, which operates a chain of optometry and eye care facilities and sponsors the annual Crawfish Boil music festival in Birmingham, plans to use the top floor of the building for its corporate offices and the ground floor for clinical and retail space.

Michael Tomberlin covers economic development, commercial real estate,construction and media. Contact him at 325-3436 or mtomberlin@bhamnews.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MAJ_Chicken

Article source: http://blog.al.com/businessnews/2012/04/commercial_real_estate_on_upsw.html

On the Record: John Grimes, intelligence expert and professor at UAB

John-Grimes-UAB-0429-12.jpgJohn Grimes is the new director of intelligence analytics for UAB’s Center for Information Assurance and Joint Forensics Research. (The Birmingham News/Bernard Troncale)

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — John Grimes spent nearly three decades in uniform as an Army intelligence officer, including two combat tours in Afghanistan.

Nine years ago, the Birmingham native returned to his alma mater, UAB, first as a volunteer then ultimately as a full-time assistant professor. On May 1, Grimes will begin using his intelligence expertise in a new role — director of intelligence analytics for UAB’s Center for Information Assurance and Joint Forensics Research, a newly created position.

In an interview, Grimes talked about how he will be using his real-life experiences to help prepare UAB students for future careers as intelligence professionals. Grimes said his work will fit in well with Gary Warner, who heads UAB’s computer forensics program and has built a national reputation as a cybercrime expert.

Besides directing the intelligence analytics program at UAB, Grimes will continue his work helping advise UAB’s award-winning mock trial team.

Q. What led you to come to UAB?

Growing up on Southside and realizing that I was going to have to finance my secondary education, it was a natural progression to migrate two blocks down the hill from Ramsay High School to the UAB campus. After serving abroad and returning 20 years or so after graduation, I like to say, ‘Blazer roots run deep,’ and when the opportunity presented itself I jumped on it, first as a volunteer without pay, then in an adjunct role and then ultimately a full-time faculty role.

Q. What will be your duties as director of intelligence analytics for UAB’s Center for Information Assurance and Joint Forensics Research?

I begin my new duties on May 1st and I will be rounding out the cyber intelligence capability that the center already offers. Whenever you think of “1′s and 0′s,” I encourage people to think of Gary Warner and his computer forensics lab within the center.

Everything else with respect to the intelligence community and its methodologies, the “2 through 9″ if you will, think of me and my area. The intelligence methodologies we bring include human, signals, imagery, measurements and signatures.

Q. How does your military intelligence background complement what you do at UAB?

My philosophy in teaching is that anyone can read a textbook; but the real value of any university level instructor is their capacity to bring the world to the classroom.

That provides the students the opportunity to not only glean what the textbook and other sources offer unilaterally, but also the opportunity to engage dialogue multilaterally with an instructor who has not only read about it and studied it but actually been there and lived it — the ultimate reality show experience in the classroom.

Q. What are you looking most forward to teaching students?

I look to inform, to encourage innovation and to serve the community to quote UAB President Dr. Carol Garrison and what she cites as the foundations upon which UAB stands. To educate, my goals are to inform but also to demystify commonly held myths about the intelligence community.

When many people think of the word intelligence they think there must be something sinister about it, and that is just simply not true. I also want to dispel the many CSI type propaganda connotations that are delivered by Hollywood.

Intelligence work is not glamorous; rather it can be demanding, tedious and taxes every fiber of the analyst’s persona. However, for those who can self-regenerate and maintain focus upon connecting the dots others have missed will find it rewarding without equal.

Q. Tell me about this new class you are teaching at UAB focused on intelligence.

The class is called Introduction to the Intelligence Community and it will be offered Tuesday evenings this summer. It is a survey course so I like to say it is a mile wide and an inch deep because we will touch on a broad range of intelligence areas from threat assessment models to the intelligence community’s role in state and local governments, business and industry.

By design it will whet a student’s appetite so they want to know more and the future course offerings will begin to drill down into more detailed treatment of some of the deeper subject matter. I am working with John Sloan, the chair of the UAB Department of Justice Sciences, toward developing a minor in criminal intelligence analysis.

Q. What did you enjoy most about your job in intelligence?

Nothing has ever intrigued as much as the workings of the human mind. The profession of intelligence analytics is truly a journey without a destination in this life. To get up every morning and to know that mentally, physically and emotionally, intellectually and socially I will be intellectually challenged in matching wits with people who are perhaps equal to the task out there is what rings my starting bell every day.

Q. Your job sounds sometimes kind of intense — how do you relax away from office?

Wow. To steel myself away in an environment that is as free of stimulation as possible with maybe the exception of a book. That would be the only media I want to have in contact — no Blackberries, no cellphones, no email — none of that. I just want to get away and give my mind an opportunity to flush and refresh.

Join the conversation by clicking to comment or email Williams at rwilliams@bhamnews.com.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/businessnews/2012/04/on_the_record_john_grimes_inte.html

Huntsville Utilities, TVA overcame long odds to restore power in wake of April 27 storms

transmission tower air.JPGAn aerial view of a TVA transmission tower destroyed in the April 27, 2011 storms. (Michael Mercier/The Huntsville Times)

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — Steve Wright remembers being in the Huntsville Utilities operations center a year ago, and the lights flickering with loud bangs from the storms.

“That meant the TVA system was being hit and it was automatically calculating another route,” said Wright, the local utility’s electric department manager. “I made the comment that if the lights went out completely, we’re in trouble — it meant they had no more routes.”

Then the lights went out.

“We’ve never had our whole system down before,” said Huntsville Utilities spokesman Bill Yell.

Last year’s devastating storms claimed lives and homes and also created the largest problem the Tennessee Valley Authority’s electrical transmission system had ever faced, said Tracy Flippo, TVA’s vice president for transmission, operations and maintenance. The storms damaged or destroyed 350 TVA transmission structures – including numerous massive towers – left 109 major transmission lines out of service and 641,000 people in North Alabama and Mississippi without power.

While it seemed a long five days without power at the time, getting power restored within five or so days given the depth of destruction now seems miraculous.

Flippo said it took until July for TVA to restore its network.

“The grid today doesn’t look really any different than April 26, 2011, it’s totally restored,” Flippo said. “It functions just like it did before, we maintain just like it did before.”

The recovery effort, repairing or replacing tons of equipment in its transmission system, cost TVA $39 million, Flippo said. Buying power from other sources to provide sufficient electricity while the system was largely down cost TVA $100 million, Flippo said.

Entire TVA system hit

Huntsville Utilities lost 390 poles and about 250 transformers in the storm. The utility estimates the storms costs were in excess of $5 million. FEMA’s calculations — aimed at repayment — estimate the damage at $4.5 million, and the local utility will ultimately be repaid for 75 percent of that damage figure, about $3.3 million, Yell said.

transmission tower ground.JPGA TVA transmission tower in the wake of the April 27, 2011 storms. (Michael Mercier/The Huntsville Times)

TVA’s entire system was hit that day, including the network of lines carrying electricity from the east, south and west to Huntsville. Power generation at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant stopped abruptly because there was no electricity coming into the plant to maintain its cooling system and other operations. Even after power to the plant was restored, there was no way to get the power down the line, because the lines were gone. Power generation from Guntersville Dam also stopped.

The blowing away of TVA’s network left Huntsville Utilities customers in the dark. Wright estimates that if TVA had the ability to transmit its electricity, about 80 percent of Huntsville Utilities customers wouldn’t have experienced the blackout.

How long the lights were out locally varied with the customer’s location. The storms struck on a Wednesday and by the following Monday, many Huntsville customers had power restored, by the following weekend, only 50 customers, whose homes weren’t intact enough to receive electricity, were still out.

That restoration followed a Herculean response from utility crews across North Alabama.

Flippo and Wright both said that utilities drill on emergency response and crews hone their skills traveling to help other communities in the wake of a major outage. The first order of business is performing damage assessments, but storms had turned whole neighborhoods into debris.

“The most critical thing to being successful in getting the lights back on is the damage assessment,” Flippo said. “How bad are the lines broken? Around Huntsville several lines were damaged.

“Our critical task was to identify one line we could rebuild as fast as we could “

Wright said Huntsville Utilities reconnaissance teams were out as soon as the weather began to clear, but it meant driving street to street across Madison County, often in badly damaged areas, to get an accurate assessment. The effort took days to complete, Wright said.

TVA faced a similar task over a much larger area. Flippo said the utility has skilled people in Huntsville who know the areas lines well. TVA also used its fleet of helicopters to fly across the valley and identify problem areas.

Wright said one lesson Huntsville Utilities has adopted from last year’s storm was used in the March 2 storms. The utility used an airplane to fly over the areas and through photos and GPS were able to make a damage assessment that will become regular practice in future major events.

The utilities had to figure out what had been lost or damaged, make a path through the trees and other obstacles to get to downed lines and transformers, remove debris, move in new equipment and put it up — all as quickly as possible.

Flippo estimated that 3,000 to 4,000 people were deployed on the recovery effort. He said that within “about a week of the storm we had 98 percent of our customers restored to power.”

For the Huntsville area, it meant the restoration of a line from the Widows Creek fossil plant in Jackson County, back into the Huntsville Utilities system. As more power was available to feed through the transmission line, Wright said, Huntsville Utilities would match that load to various areas. The process began with the water treatment plants and sewer lift stations, the downtown hospitals and care facilities, shortly after that power to some grocery stores and gas stations and then out into neighborhoods.

In most outages, customers demand to know when power will be restored, but in this case, Wright said, people understood. The phone didn’t ring, residents went out their way stop and thank the utility crews for the hard work.

“Each storm, they’re really doing their best,” Wright said. “We didn’t have a single accident in the April 27 outage or March 2. They’re slinging tons of material around and they did it safely and intensely for 10 days straight.”

Value of social media

Both TVA and Huntsville Utilities officials they learned the value of social media as a means of communicating with customers when most other avenues were cut off. Yell said Huntsville Utilities Facebook page, which had a few hundred followers – -mostly utility employees — grew overnight to more than 12,000. He said the utility’s Twitter feed adds 100 or more followers a month.

“Communication was such a problem, our social media component really took off,” Yell said. “If people can find enough power to charge a laptop or smart phone we can communicate with them. Very few people today have a portable radio.”

The span of the April 27 storms ravaged the electricity network, but it bounced back. TVA has eight connection points into Huntsville and operates a system that when there are problems in parts of the network it finds another route to deliver power.

So would adding a line, say from the north, keep the lights on?

A similar, though happily rare storm, would likely have a similar effect, the utility officials said. Options are always desirable , Flippo said. There can only be so many redundant systems.

Flippo the cost of adding a transmission a line, 100 miles long, would be massive and obtaining the necessary rights-of-way would also be daunting.

“This one in April was so big and so wide I don’t know if it would have mattered,” Flippo said. “You’re dealing with something really, really unusual.”

Article source: http://blog.al.com/breaking/2012/04/huntsville_utilities_tv.html

Huntsville Planning Commission OKs 690-space parking deck for medical district site

Twickenham Square parking deck site.JPGHuntsville Public Works crews recently began demolishing some former public housing units along Gallatin Street to test the soil for a proposed 690-space city parking deck. The garage will serve a hotel, office tower, Publix grocery store, shops and restaurants planned for the medical district property. (The Huntsville Times/Dave Dieter)

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — A $10 million city parking garage serving the proposed Twickenham Square development in Huntsville’s medical district has won city Planning Commission approval.

Planning board members OK’d architectural drawings Tuesday depicting a three-story, 690-space garage accessible from Gallatin Street and Pelham Avenue.

City officials will ask potential builders to also quote a price for an enhanced facade as well as a fourth level that would increase the capacity to about 950 vehicles.

“We’d like to be able to fund those alternates,” said Marie Bostick, the city’s manager of planning and zoning administration.

Construction bids will be opened June 12.

The parking deck is part of the city’s promise to a team of private developers working to transform the former Councill Courts public housing site.

The $85 million-plus redevelopment project will include more than 230 loft-style apartments called The Flats at Twickenham Square, a Publix supermarket, hotel, office tower and about 22,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space — all catty-corner from Huntsville Hospital.

Publix and National Bank of Commerce are the only named tenants so far.

Bostick said the ground floor of the garage, accessible only from Pelham Avenue, will likely be free parking for shoppers, diners and Publix customers.

Twickenham Square parking deck.jpgThis architect’s rendering shows the view of the proposed parking deck from Pelham Avenue. (Courtesy Chapman Sisson Architects)

Employees and guests of the hotel and office tower would enter from Gallatin Street and drive up a ramp to the garage’s second level, she said. Vehicles could exit onto either Pelham Avenue or St. Clair Avenue.

Bostick said about 40 Flats at Twickenham Square residents would have reserved parking in the city garage. But most tenants would park in a separate deck financed by the developers.

Architect Martin Sisson said there will be a covered walkway leading from the city garage, across Pelham Avenue, to the front of Publix.

Two Nashville-area firms, Bristol Development Group and PGM Properties, are working together on the apartments, grocery store and additional retail and restaurant space.

Huntsville-based Triad Properties plans to build the office tower and is also in negotiations to bring a hotel to the site.

The developers will pay the Huntsville Housing Authority about $5.6 million for the property just south of downtown.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/breaking/2012/04/huntsville_planning_commission_6.html