Service dogs still a novelty for many businesses

Canine assistant

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – When Sam Volz tried to take his new service dog into a local post office and a Huntsville restaurant, he was stopped at both doors by management.

It may be understandable that the managers were skeptical. Sam is a typical, healthy-looking teenager who enjoys playing racquetball and going fishing. But he suffers from epileptic seizures and because of his disability, he is now the owner of a service dog.

Sam is estimated to be one of more than 50,000 people in the U.S. using canines for assistance with their disabilities said Jennifer Arnold, founder and executive director of Canine Assistants which provided Sam with his golden retriever, Sippi, March 30. “This includes guide dogs, signal dogs, assistance dogs, psychiatric dogs, and medical detection dogs.”

However, while service dogs are becoming more commonplace, they are still considered a novelty in many areas. Business owners and managers are often unaware of the laws allowing access for the four-legged helpers.

Canine Assistants, based in Alpharetta, Ga., since 1992, makes sure the recipients of the dogs are fully aware of their rights. They provide instruction on how to handle businesses which attempt to deny them access.

“First, we ask that they keep their ID capes on at all times when in public so that their dog is clearly identifiable as a service dog,” said Arnold. “Then we give them a copy of both the applicable state law and the ADA (American Disabilities Act).

“Sometimes just giving people a copy of the law is enough to resolve access issues. If not, we suggest they contact the Justice Department for ADA compliance assistance. Most places are quite accommodating to those who use wheelchairs, but our recipients who have seizure response and diabetes dogs can have a difficult time because their qualifying disabilities aren’t always apparent.”

The Volz family’s lives were dramatically altered with the arrival of Sippi. She was trained to assist Sam by alerting his mother when he has a seizure, and also should be able to detect them ahead of time as the two bond over the next few months.

“It has changed our lives,” said Lisa. “I don’t worry as much as I previously did.”

“This has brought more peace to our family,” said Sam, who is accompanied by Sippi virtually everywhere he goes, including church. “I always have a friend with me.”

The fact they were stopped from at the Post Office especially concerned Lisa.

“We tried to go into the Post Office on Governors Drive and a lady didn’t want to let Sippi in, but I told her it was the law so she finally let us in,” said Lisa. “We also had trouble with the people at Zaxby’s on North Parkway allowing us in, but the Zaxby’s in Jones Valley was great.”

Lisa eventually was able to convince managers at both the Post Office and Zaxby’s that Sippi was a legitimate service dog and had a right to be there.

When contacted about the situation, the U.S. Post Office took immediate steps to address the matter.

“We apologize for the misunderstanding and are reissuing communications with ADA information on service animals to all Alabama District employees,” wrote Debra Fetterly, communications program specialist with the Alabama and South Florida districts of the U.S. Post Office.

Fetterly emailed that service dogs aren’t required to wear any specific identifying gear, including vests, although many owners choose to do so in order to make access easier and avoids many questions and confrontations.

“It is illegal to ask for any special identification from service dog partners,” wrote Fetterly. “Some carry ID cards, and may present them voluntarily, but this also is not required. You may not ask for ‘proof’ or certification of the dog’s training as a condition of entry into the Post Office.”

The Times also contacted Zaxby’s on North Parkway about the incident and a manager, Tabitha Blankenship, said she was not aware of the law, but they have taken steps to rectify the situation.

She was on duty when the Volzes attempted to enter Zaxby’s and questioned them about the dog.

“I did not know about service dogs being allowed in restaurants and I have a disability myself,” said Blankenship. “I had never encountered that situation and did not know what to do. But once it was explained to us that the dog had a right to be there, we allowed them in and didn’t have any more problems.

“We do welcome all people with disabilities and their service dogs.”

Also receiving a Canine Assistants dog on March 30 was another Huntsville teenager, Emma Foxall, who suffers from arthrogryposis, a form of muscular dystrophy, and is confined to a wheelchair.

Sam and Emma are the first Alabama recipients of a service dog from Canine Assistants. Each had been on the waiting list for more than three years.

The dogs, worth more than $20,000 each, are given to the client at no charge and even vet care is provided for the life of the dog. When a Canine Assistants dog dies or becomes unable to perform, the dog is replaced by another. Both Sam and Emma received dogs compliments of Sam’s Club and Milk Bone, which paid for the dogs and their training.

Sam had actually met Sippi several months ago when she and a Canine Assistants representative attended a presentation of a certificate to the Volz family for a dog which was held at the Sam’s Club on University Drive. The two seemed to have clicked immediately.

“It is amazing how attentive Sippi is to him,” said Lisa. “She’s like an umbilical cord and never leaves his side. My face is hurting from smiling so much.”

To get on the waiting list, visit www.canineassistants.org.

Updated at 12:10 p.m. to reflect Jennifer Arnold as spokesperson for Canine Assistants.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/breaking/2012/05/service_dogs_still_a_novelty_f.html

Mammoths, Mastodons: ‘Titans of the Age’ now at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center

Mammoths and Mastodons

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — A creature that dwarfs a 12-foot-tall bear and roamed Earth for nearly 700,000 years makes for impressive company.

Throw in the mammoth’s slightly shorter, stockier cousin, whose family wandered the planet for nearly 2 million years – as vegetarians – and the title of the new exhibition, “Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age,” makes perfect sense.

The 10,000 square-foot exhibition was developed by Chicago’s Field Museum and features the best examples of the species the museum could put together from collections around the world, said Hillary Hansen Sanders, who oversees the museum’s traveling exhibitions.

The show includes a replica of and the compelling story of the 42,000-year-old baby mammoth discovered largely intact in Siberia by reindeer herders in 2007. Visitors learn that a mammoth could eat 500 pounds of produce a day and see more than 100 fossils of mammoths and mastodons.

It opened Saturday at the U.S. Space Rocket Center and evoked a bit of awe from the crowds that passed through. The Woolly mammoth, Columbian Mammoth and Mastodons are all featured.

“I really love it,” said Keaton Miller, 10, of Jackson, Tenn. whose family was in town for a graduation. “It’s a science museum with a lot of space stuff, it’s really fun.”

Keaton, his brother Ryan and his dad Dave, joined forces to hoist the “hay bale” set out as one of the many interactive displays. The bale the Millers lifted was just one-15th of the weight what the mammoth would consume on a typical day.

The creatures, distant relatives of the modern elephant, wandered four continents including North America, coexisted with our bipedal ancestors and survived the Ice Age.

Among the exhibition features is a cave setting, illustrating how early man made cave drawings of mammoths dating back as far 32,000 years ago. It also features spear tips that may have been used to hunt giant creatures.

There are mighty tusks, a very large cat waiting to pounce and a model of homes used by early man – homes which employed mammoth tusks for a door, bones for walls and its fur for a roof.

Interactive features, which allow children to feel the weight of tusks and pick up objects with a trunk, urge children to consider the varied terrain the creatures roamed. And there are plenty of impressive heads and trunks to pet.

“We really enjoyed this, it’s very impressive,” said Richard Hale, from Knoxville, Tenn. Hale and his family, including son Jacob, 12, didn’t know about the traveling show until they made their way through the center Saturday.

Space Rocket Center officials hope word will spread quickly. They’ve embarked on an ad campaign spanning about a 300-mile radius and hope beach travelers and day-trippers, as well as locals, will take in the show.

The exhibition began in Chicago in 2010 and will travel around the world until 2016, Hansen Sanders said.

It will be at the Space Rocket Center until Sept. 2.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/breaking/2012/05/mammoths_mastodons_titans_of_t.html

Brothers build on success at Harper Technologies

AX097_18CB_9.jpgView full sizeAbe and Carl Harper with Harper Technologies in Daphne, Ala. (Press-Register/John David Mercer)

DAPHNE, Alabama – A lot can happen in five years.

In 2007, brothers Abe and Carl Harper were hard at work and enjoying the successes of their company, Harper Technologies LLC, with several high-profile customers under their belt including Wells Fargo and Learning Tree International.

The company, started in 2002, builds, repairs and customizes personal computers, and offers Web site design and maintenance, networking, data backup, software support and printer repair services.

The business that now gives the brothers a steady paycheck, helped put Carl through college on someone else’s dime. Based on his work while still at Daphne High School, Carl, now 23, got scholarships that covered half of his expenses at the University of Alabama.

He graduated with highest honors, earning a degree in business management in December 2010.

With a brick-and-mortar office in Daphne as well as a satellite office in Tuscaloosa to service contracts in central and northern Alabama and northeastern Mississippi, Harper Technologies has weathered the economic downturn.

A private company, Harper Technologies does not reveal annual sales or profit, but the brothers said annual revenue has grown by at least 30 percent every year since 2007, and 40 percent or better in the last two years.

“We heard a lot of references to people losing business because sales were down,” Abe, 29, said of the dip in the economy in 2008. “As the economy slowed, our sales number went down but our service numbers went up.”The company’s profit margin on services and repairs rose at a time when many businesses were struggling to stay afloat. Customers opted to fix what they had rather than buy a new product, Carl said, providing the company a huge benefit.

“It’s a very favorable situation for the customer and us,” Abe said of the shift to more repairs. “It shows an established confidence between the customer and our ability and our services.”The company didn’t escape the downturn unscathed. Its office in Tallahassee, Fla., closed, and its client list shrink.

But the Gulf oil spill in 2010 provided a boost via a contract to deliver, install and maintain computer equipment used at catastrophe claims centers stretching from Bay St. Louis, Miss. to Crawfordville, Fla.

“Working that project gave us a lot of exposure, and we were able to connect with customers directly and indirectly as a result of the contract with BP,” Abe said. “After the oil spill, we actually saw an upturn in hardware sales.”

Abe said the company experienced rapid growth in both services and sales after the oil spill, and acquired several new clients for contract work in southern Mississippi and northern Florida.

Despite their success, the brothers said they continue to work at the kind of hourly rates that bred the company slogan: “Today’s company repairing tomorrow’s technology at yesterday’s prices.”

The charge is $85 an hour if they make house calls, $65 an hour if the work is done at Harper facilities. Both rates are only up $10 an hour from five years ago, reflecting a commitment, Abe says, to keeping the price point low for the customer. Federal and local government agencies remain some of the company’s bigger clients, and the business is rapidly expanding in the healthcare industry, Abe said.

Harper Technologies remains nimble, making a transition to cloud computing services that offer customers backup and storage services, web-posting and virtual private desktops.

“The service sector is requiring more offsite service and becoming more global,” Abe said. “It doesn’t require physical presence to be effective and it’s allowed us to maintain relevance and presence in the field.” Although 85 percent of the company’s services were provided onsite in the past year, the brothers say they now look toward providing remote services from the company’s new data center in Daphne. The brothers say they are always keeping their eyes open for locations for other possible offices.

“It has really been a blessing,” Carl said of the success of the company. “But that aside, I’m not satisfied. I think we can take it much farther and I’m wholly intent on taking it as far as we can go.”

Article source: http://blog.al.com/press-register-business/2012/05/brothers_build_on_success.html

BancTrust, Trustmark announce merger deal

BankTrust.jpegThe BankTrust building in downtown Mobile is seen in December, 2011. (Press-Register/Mike Kittrell)

BancTrust Financial Group Inc. this morning announce a merger agreement with Jackson, Miss. -based Trustmark Corp., a $55.4 million deal that will bring Trustmark into markets in Alabama and Florida.

The deal values BancTrust stock at $3.08 per share based on Trustmark’s closing stock price of $24.66. BancTrust shares closed at $1.90 on Friday, but opened at $2.79 this morning and were trading at close to $3 a share by mid-morning.

Under the terms of the merger, BancTrust shareholders will receive .125 shares of Trustmark common stock for each share of BancTrust common stock in a tax-free exchange.

The bank holding company announced in March that it was seeking a merger partner in the wake of a failed effort to recapitalize the company as an independent entity.

BancTrust also announced in March that it expected its net loss for 2011 to increase dramatically, from $1.4 million to more than $51 million, partly due to increasing its loan-loss provision by $13.25 million for the quarter and year ended Dec. 31.

Trustmark said it intends to repurchase the $50 million in preferred stock BancTrust sold to the federal government as part of the Troubled Assets Relief Program.

“This is a strategic opportunity that will be meaningfully accretive to Trustmark’s earnings per share in 2013 and beyond,” Gerard Host, Trustmark president and CEO, said in a statement. “We have completed extensive due diligence, including multiple reviews of BancTrust’s loan portfolio and significant real estate collateral. Trustmark’s pro forma capital will continue to significantly exceed ‘well-capitalized’ levels, providing capacity for loan growth in an improving economy.”

Mobile’s largest locally based bank, BancTrust has 49 offices in Alabama and Florida, with $1.3 billion in loans and $1.8 billion in deposits as of March 31.

Founded 25 years ago in Mobile, it operates its banks under the BankTrust name. BankTrust is the fifth largest bank, by deposits, in Mobile and Baldwin counties.

Trustmark has more than 170 offices in Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas.

BancTrust’s and Trustmark’s boards have unanimously approved the transaction, which is expected to close in the fourth quarter. The acquisition will need the approval of BancTrust shareholders.

_____

Updated at 10:13 a.m. to add additional information about BancTrust.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/press-register-business/2012/05/banctrust_torchmark_announce_m.html

BancTrust, Trustmark talked for a year before merger deal

Bancshare.jpgTrustmark Corp. President and CEO Gerald Host (left) and BankTrust Financial Group Inc. Chairman of the Board and CEO W. Bibb Lamar, Jr. speak to a reporter today. (Press-Register/Bill Starling)

BancTrust Financial Group Inc. had been talking with Jackson, Mississippi-based Trustmark Corp. for more than a year before its merger agreement valued at $55.4 million, according to the banks’ top officials.

“Banks are sold, not bought,” Trustmark President and CEO Gerard Host said of the deal. “We’ve got a very strong capital position and we have been in an acquisition mode,
really trying to expand our footprint in the Southeast.”

The two banks this morning announced the merger that will bring Trustmark into markets in Alabama and Florida.

The deal is a life vest for BancTrust, which has been struggling in recent years with a real estate loan portfolio that continues to sour.

The bank holding company announced in March that it was seeking a merger partner in the wake of a failed effort to recapitalize the company as an independent entity.

BancTrust also announced in March that it expected its net loss for 2011 to increase dramatically, from $1.4 million to more than $51 million, partly due to increasing its loan-loss provision by $13.25 million for the quarter and year ended Dec. 31.

Bibb Lamar, BancTrust President and CEO, said today is bittersweet, but he’s excited about the deal and
the gained services that will be an upgrade for BancTrust customers.

“We fought a good battle, but this is what’s best for stockholders and employees,” Lamar said. “We’ve had to put all our efforts into Florida and we didn’t have the bulk to absorb the losses as well as
some of the other players. But we’re excited. This is a group that loves
to go out and bring business in. This will be good for Mobile.”

Host said with Trustmark’s operations throughout Mississippi and
northern Florida, gaining locations in Alabama was a natural bridge
between the two areas.

“Obviously the long term benefits of the merger are the history of the people,” Host said. “It’s the
longstanding relationships that are of value to a franchise. You don’t
necessarily want to buy a business that’s built on transactions, you
want to buy a business that has core customers, and I
think that was what was appealing about BancTrust.”

He also said the BancTrust banking locations, which bear the BankTrust logo, will be rebrand to TrustMark when the
two companies converge sometime in the fourth quarter, most likely in
October.

“The branding issue is an important issue,” Host said of the name change. “What’s got to stay is the (BancTrust) people and the commitment. That’s what we’re buying.”

Lamar said the name isn’t as important as long as the same faces are there.

Host says that Trustmark’s strategy is what he refers to as a super community
bank, big enough to carry a customer through as they grow and offering services that they might not get at a community bank,
but still keeping that look and feel of a community market.

He said he expects the company can still maintain the feel of a community bank up to a $20 billion size.

To prepare for the acquisition, Host says Trustmark will form a transition team made up of employees from both organizations.

“We don’t go in with this preconceived idea that since we’re the buyer, we know more than they do,” he said. “It’s not just about cost saves, it’s about bringing more to the customer than [BancTrust] might have been able to bring together as a stand-alone.” 

Mobile’s largest locally based bank, BancTrust has 49 offices in Alabama and Florida, with $1.3 billion in loans and $1.8 billion in deposits as of March 31.

Founded 25 years ago in Mobile, it operates its banks under the BankTrust name. BankTrust is the fifth largest bank, by deposits, in Mobile and Baldwin counties.

Trustmark has over $9.9 billion in assets and more than 170 offices in Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas.

The banks’ boards have unanimously approved the transaction. The acquisition will need the approval of BancTrust shareholders.

BancTrust shares rose more than 56 percent today, with the stock closing at $2.98 a share, up from its close at $1.90 on Friday.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/press-register-business/2012/05/banctrust_trustmark_talked_for.html

On the Move: Russ Willcutt, Kimberly Miller and more

MOVES

Cahaba Media Group said Russ Willcutt has been named senior editor of the company’s Health Care Division, which includes HomeCare and Senior Care Products magazines.

Willcutt, a veteran magazine editor with extensive experience in the health care field, previously worked at UAB and HealthSouth Corp.

Former Editor Dave Parks will continue to write about the industry for both titles and serve on HomeCare’s editorial advisory board.

Trustmark National Bank said Kimberly Miller has been named a loan originator for the company’s mortgage operation in Birmingham.

She has more than seven years of mortgage experience and will be responsible for originating mortgages along with business development in the Birmingham metro area.

Kristy Redford.jpgKristy Redford

Kristy Redford has joined Trustmark Mortgage Service’s Birmingham staff as a mortgage loan originator. Redford has been in the business for more than 10 years, serving in various areas of residential mortgage lending.

Jessica Gray has joined Carol Shaw Skin Care in its treatment center as a licensed cosmetologist and skin care professional.

BUSINESSES

Mazer Real Estate LLC said it brokered the sale of the building known as the John Deere building at 420 Finley Blvd. to Kontos Holdings. Mazer Real Estate also leased the Alabama Drywall property at 1032 11th Ct. West to LW Supply for five years.

• The Beam Law Firm LLC and McWilliams Law Firm LLC have joined the Red Mountain Law Group.

Before establishing his firm, Matthew Beam was an assistant Alabama attorney general. The Beam firm focuses on administrative law, employment law, government affairs, professional negligence and commercial litigation.

McWilliams Law specializes in the areas of business transactions, real estate, environmental law, natural resources law and water supply law and policy. Previously, Vaughn McWilliams worked as a water resource specialist for the Colorado Water Conservation Board and as an assistant attorney general in the Natural Resources Section of the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.

• John Cotton, CEO of Dental Team Performance, said the firm has been selected as the exclusive practice management consulting firm for the Alabama Dental Association.

APPOINTMENTS

David M. Benck, vice president and general counsel for Hibbett Sporting Goods Inc. and an adjunct professor at Cumberland School of Law, has joined the board of directors of the American Arbitration Association in New York. His term runs from May 2012 through May 2016.

Margret Martin of Birmingham has been appointed to the Alabama Humanities Foundation board of directors.

FURTHERMORE

Jada Hilyer, senior association manager and director of operations and training at Birmingham’s McKay Management has received the Professional Community Association Manager designation from the Community Associations Institute.

Wendy Crew, founding partner of Crew and Howell, and Alyson Hood-Rains, an associate at the firm, presented a Continuing Legal Education Seminar on the topic of Common Law Marriage at the Family Law section in New Providence, Bahamas, in April.

Conde Nast Traveler magazine has named the spa at Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge the No. 3 hotel spa on the U.S. mainland.

Email announcements and JPEG photographs (150 KB minimum, with the file name including the person’s name) to biznews@bhamnews.com.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/businessnews/2012/05/on_the_move_russ_willcutt_kimb.html

Memorandum: Ruwena Healy, CEO of Birmingham’s Marketing 24/7 Inc.

RUWENA_HEALY_7826236.JPGRuwena Healy, CEO of Marketing 24/7 Inc.

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — With the graduation season coming to a close and a surge of new young professionals preparing to enter the workforce, it is an important time to consider the importance of serving as a business mentor.

The Birmingham regional business community is fortunate to have many influential and well-established professionals who are willing to share their wealth of knowledge.

“We all know that no one comes straight out of school knowing everything,” says Darlene Negrotto, president and CEO of Vulcan Park and Museum. “Mentoring is the most effective way I’ve ever found to impart years of experience to someone just starting out, whether it is a young professional or someone new to the field. Mentoring helps the individual and helps the industry you’re working in.”

Although traditional mentoring relationships often begin through a connection at a networking event or by becoming involved in a professional organization, Negrotto points out, the work place environment can also be a safe place to build strong mentor relationships based on mutual trust and respect.

“It can be a very healthy way to help staff members build up their own confidence,” she says. “This is best for the company or organization and best for the individual.”

Fran Godchaux of Operation New Birmingham also regularly serves as a mentor to interns in ONB’s office, but also through Momentum, a leadership program for women. Simply put, she says business mentoring is a matter of trailblazing. “Learning from the rest of us is how young professionals are going to get ahead,” Godchaux says. “We’re trying to build a group of leaders. They’ve got to be strong collectively.”

Godchaux is absolutely right. These young people can learn from us, but they must have access to us. Mentoring is the key to that access. But what is often overlooked in the mentoring process is what we take away from those we are trying to teach.

Last year, I met an exceptional young student, Emil Loeken, who just graduated from Jacksonville State University and is now entering graduate school. As appreciative as he was to have my input on the world of public relations, he was also wise enough to point out the reverse educational experience.

“It may be as simple as learning new ways to view old strategies,” Loeken says of strong mentor relationships.

But most importantly to these students preparing to enter the workforce is the critical connection to the business world. “While in school, most students do not know what is waiting for them in the business world,” Loeken said. “Especially in professional fields as wide as public relations. I just did not know what to expect.”

But he does now, as we’ve spent a great deal of time discussing the industry and brainstorming on what his future may hold.

“Having a mentor during one’s final year of school is a wonderful way of painting a picture of what lays ahead,” Loeken said.

It has been a pleasure for me to be part this process with him. I hope all of our knowledgeable business leaders throughout the region will do the same for other young professionals.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/businessnews/2012/05/memorandum_ruwena_healy_ceo_of.html

Downtown Birmingham luxury condo sales up

CONDO.JPGThe 2600 Highland condo development is down to its last three condos after the recession slowed sales and caused prices to be slashed. (The Birmingham News/Tamika Moore)

In less than five years, Birmingham’s luxury condo market went from boom to bust to glut to equilibrium. Now, officials say the sales have picked up to the point that less than a handful could remain available by the end of the year.

Where more than 400 units existed at the height of the condo craze in downtown Birmingham, Homewood and Highland Avenue, there are 52 unsold today, according to the Multiple Listing Service.

‘Come and gone’

Several of those are being eyed by potential buyers today, said Margi Ingram, vice president of Ingram Associates, a leading Birmingham condo real estate sales and management agency.

“I think the wait-and-see period has come and gone,” she said. “We don’t feel like you will see another chance to get into condos of this quality at these prices and I think the buyers are starting to recognize that as well.”

That’s because the days of the mega condo projects being developed in Birmingham will likely take some time to come back, Ingram said.

“I don’t know if the same developers we saw the last time will return to do more condo projects,” she said. “They still feel the sting.”

That sting came with the Great Recession that was defined by the collapse of the real estate market. It hit Birmingham in 2008 and 2009 as major development projects were being completed, including the $20 million redevelopment of the 25-story City Federal building and the $19 million, eight-story new construction project, 2600 Highland.

In Homewood, Soho Flats finished construction and sold out prior to the bust, unlike the $35 million Hallman Hill nearby that brought 72 condos on line in the teeth of the downturn.

There were other projects where developers faced bankruptcy and unfinished developments had to be completed by others. Some bought condos with plans to flip them only to be left holding the property and having to sell at a loss.

Ingram said many developers were reluctant to cut prices as deeply as necessary early on, hoping the slump would be short-lived. But as weeks turned into months and months into years, banks became more insistent and developers reluctantly cut prices.

“It was like a cycle,” Ingram said. “We would reassess the price, cut the price, make some sales and then start all over again.”

Even more disheartening was the fact that many of the projects had contracts for more than half of the units when the recession hit and drove those buyers away, causing Ingram and other agents to start all over again.

Brian Sparks, sales manager with Ingram, said in many instances, concessions had to be offered to entice buyers. Beyond the price cuts, some condo developers offered free parking spaces, paid for an extra percentage point in financing, paid homeowners association dues or gave away flat-screen televisions.

“We tried to appeal to the elements that were of the most interest to potential buyers,” Sparks said.

Now, City Federal is sold out with the exception of the unfinished penthouse.

But after all of the cuts in prices and interest rates sinking to new lows, the market came back slowly at first and now has picked up steam in recent months, Ingram said.

For instance, Hallman Hill in Homewood had 13 sales for all of 2011 and has already had 14 so far this year.

Only three units are left in 2600 Highland. Mary Sheila Tarpley, who handles sales at 2600 Highland for Ingram, said the buyers range from empty nesters looking to downsize (one couple just sold their 6,000-square-foot house in Greystone and are moving into a 1,700-square-foot condo), young professionals, and even those who live out of town and want a condo in town as a second home.

Ingram.JPGMargi Ingram, left, vice president of Ingram Associates, stands in a condo now under contract in 2600 Highland with sales manager Brian Sparks, and agent Mary Sheila Tarpley. (The Birmingham News/Tamika Moore)

An April boost

Grayson Glaze, executive director of the Alabama Center for Real Estate, said the center doesn’t keep separate data on luxury condos but does track the Birmingham condo and loft market as a whole. He said based on the improvements in the overall market, the luxury market may in fact be tightening.

“While Birmingham area condo statistics point to a market segment showing gradual improvement, more absorption is needed to move this niche market to the desired level of equilibrium, traditionally identified at six months of supply,” Glaze said in an email. “In April, the condo inventory in the greater metro area was approximately 11.3 months, a decline of 11 percent from April 2011. With approximately 13 percent of condo inventory identified as luxury (high-end), it could be estimated that this niche market was at 7.9 months of supply, an indication of further positive trending. ”

Glaze said the condo market saw a boost in the month of April, as Ingram noted.

“In April, Birmingham area condo sales were up 22 percent from last year, on par with existing single-family (up 22 percent) and higher than new construction (up 11 percent),” he said. “Year-to-date condo sales has improved by 9.2 percent year-over-year. From April’s condo transaction peak in 2007, inventory is down 40 percent while the average selling price is down by 43 percent.”

Glaze said that doesn’t mean that all condo prices been cut that deeply, but it does reflect a retreat from the market’s height.

“In comparison, the average selling price of a condo for the first four months of 2012 has declined by 12 percent,” Glaze said. “As for signs of current momentum, actual days on market has declined by 37 percent from April 2011, and that’s favorable news for the condo market.”

The next wave?

Ingram said that while new condo developments may eventually be justified again as the number of units dwindles, developers likely will not have the nerve and banks will not have the guts to finance the kind of deals the market saw five or six years ago.

“I think it’s more likely you will see smaller, boutique condo projects,” she said. “Either that or developers will take on projects they could do in phases.”

There is speculation the new owner of the 16-story Brown-Marx Tower at 2000 First Ave. North may resurrect plans for condos in the 193,000-square-foot building. That renovation project would allow for the kind of phasing Ingram mentioned. However, Hughes Capital Partners LLC, which purchased the building in March, has not announced plans for the building.

Join the conversation by clicking to comment or email Tomberlin at tomberlin@bhamnews.com.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/businessnews/2012/05/downtown_birmingham_luxury_con.html

Huntsville Hospital asks state health planners to reconsider Crestwood angioplasty vote

Crestwood Medical Center.jpgCrestwood Medical Center in Huntsville has safely performed more than 700 angioplasty procedures since 2003 as part of a nationwide research trial sponsored by Johns Hopkins University.

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — Huntsville Hospital is asking the state Certificate of Need Review Board to reconsider its vote allowing Crestwood Medical Center to establish a permanent elective angioplasty program.

In seeking a new hearing, CEO David Spillers said Huntsville Hospital is not trying to stop Crestwood from offering the procedure. Rather, it is trying to make sure Crestwood follows updated American College of Cardiology angioplasty guidelines for hospitals without open-heart surgery.

“We’re asking them to reconsider the criteria by which Crestwood would perform the procedure, which is different than, ‘Should they perform it?’” Spillers said Friday.

Crestwood CEO Dr. Pam Hudson called the motion, filed May 15, “another deliberate attempt to create delay and distraction.”

“Our community has and deserves two quality angioplasty programs,” Hudson said Friday.

Crestwood has safely performed more than 700 angioplasty procedures since 2003 as part of a nationwide research trial sponsored by Johns Hopkins University, but it needed the blessing of state medical planners to continue the program once the study ends.

The CON Review Board granted that approval at its April 18 meeting in Montgomery. It placed several conditions on Crestwood’s license, however, including informing patients that they may have to be transported to another hospital for heart surgery if the procedure goes badly.

In its motion for a rehearing, Huntsville Hospital says Crestwood’s attorney “argued against any (American College of Cardiology) Guideline criteria being included in the Crestwood CON decision.”

During a meeting of the Statewide Health Coordinating Council two days later, the same lawyer, Colin Luke, supported adoption of a section of the guidelines for hospitals without on-site cardiac surgery.

“The position presented by Counsel for Crestwood is inconsistent with the (CON Review Board) Decision in this matter and justifies reconsideration,” wrote Huntsville Hospital attorney Joe Campbell.

Luke called the motion a “ridiculous delay” and noted that Crestwood’s application won unanimous support from the board’s seven voting members.

“It’s not a substantive issue,” he said Friday. “Huntsville Hospital ought to be embarrassed by this motion and ought to be spending their resources helping promote healthcare and choice in the community.”

Luke said the motion may be discussed at the review board’s next meeting June 20. In the meantime, Crestwood will be allowed to continue performing nonemergency angioplasty.

Angioplasty, or percutaneous coronary intervention, involves inflating a small balloon catheter to open a clogged coronary artery. A stent is typically left behind to hold the artery open so blood can flow normally.

A state-appointed administrative law judge who heard three days of testimony from both hospitals in January recommended that Crestwood be allowed to establish a permanent program.

The judge, Al Agricola, said Crestwood provided “clear and convincing scientific evidence” that angioplasty can be safely performed at hospitals without open-heart surgery backup and found that it would be “problematic” for a city Huntsville’s size to have a single program.

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Article source: http://blog.al.com/breaking/2012/05/huntsville_hospital_asks_state.html

Service dogs still a novelty for many businesses

Canine assistant

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – When Sam Volz tried to take his new service dog into a local post office and a Huntsville restaurant, he was stopped at both doors by management.

It may be understandable that the managers were skeptical. Sam is a typical, healthy-looking teenager who enjoys playing racquetball and going fishing. But he suffers from epileptic seizures and because of his disability, he is now the owner of a service dog.

Sam is estimated to be one of more than 50,000 people in the U.S. using canines for assistance with their disabilities said Jennifer Arnold, founder and executive director of Canine Assistants which provided Sam with his golden retriever, Sippi, March 30. “This includes guide dogs, signal dogs, assistance dogs, psychiatric dogs, and medical detection dogs.”

However, while service dogs are becoming more commonplace, they are still considered a novelty in many areas. Business owners and managers are often unaware of the laws allowing access for the four-legged helpers.

Canine Assistants, based in Alpharetta, Ga., since 1992, makes sure the recipients of the dogs are fully aware of their rights. They provide instruction on how to handle businesses which attempt to deny them access.

“First, we ask that they keep their ID capes on at all times when in public so that their dog is clearly identifiable as a service dog,” said Arnold. “Then we give them a copy of both the applicable state law and the ADA (American Disabilities Act).

“Sometimes just giving people a copy of the law is enough to resolve access issues. If not, we suggest they contact the Justice Department for ADA compliance assistance. Most places are quite accommodating to those who use wheelchairs, but our recipients who have seizure response and diabetes dogs can have a difficult time because their qualifying disabilities aren’t always apparent.”

The Volz family’s lives were dramatically altered with the arrival of Sippi. She was trained to assist Sam by alerting his mother when he has a seizure, and also should be able to detect them ahead of time as the two bond over the next few months.

“It has changed our lives,” said Lisa. “I don’t worry as much as I previously did.”

“This has brought more peace to our family,” said Sam, who is accompanied by Sippi virtually everywhere he goes, including church. “I always have a friend with me.”

The fact they were stopped from at the Post Office especially concerned Lisa.

“We tried to go into the Post Office on Governors Drive and a lady didn’t want to let Sippi in, but I told her it was the law so she finally let us in,” said Lisa. “We also had trouble with the people at Zaxby’s on North Parkway allowing us in, but the Zaxby’s in Jones Valley was great.”

Lisa eventually was able to convince managers at both the Post Office and Zaxby’s that Sippi was a legitimate service dog and had a right to be there.

When contacted about the situation, the U.S. Post Office took immediate steps to address the matter.

“We apologize for the misunderstanding and are reissuing communications with ADA information on service animals to all Alabama District employees,” wrote Debra Fetterly, communications program specialist with the Alabama and South Florida districts of the U.S. Post Office.

Fetterly emailed that service dogs aren’t required to wear any specific identifying gear, including vests, although many owners choose to do so in order to make access easier and avoids many questions and confrontations.

“It is illegal to ask for any special identification from service dog partners,” wrote Fetterly. “Some carry ID cards, and may present them voluntarily, but this also is not required. You may not ask for ‘proof’ or certification of the dog’s training as a condition of entry into the Post Office.”

The Times also contacted Zaxby’s on North Parkway about the incident and a manager, Tabitha Blankenship, said she was not aware of the law, but they have taken steps to rectify the situation.

She was on duty when the Volzes attempted to enter Zaxby’s and questioned them about the dog.

“I did not know about service dogs being allowed in restaurants and I have a disability myself,” said Blankenship. “I had never encountered that situation and did not know what to do. But once it was explained to us that the dog had a right to be there, we allowed them in and didn’t have any more problems.

“We do welcome all people with disabilities and their service dogs.”

Also receiving a Canine Assistants dog on March 30 was another Huntsville teenager, Emma Foxall, who suffers from arthrogryposis, a form of muscular dystrophy, and is confined to a wheelchair.

Sam and Emma are the first Alabama recipients of a service dog from Canine Assistants. Each had been on the waiting list for more than three years.

The dogs, worth more than $20,000 each, are given to the client at no charge and even vet care is provided for the life of the dog. When a Canine Assistants dog dies or becomes unable to perform, the dog is replaced by another. Both Sam and Emma received dogs compliments of Sam’s Club and Milk Bone, which paid for the dogs and their training.

Sam had actually met Sippi several months ago when she and a Canine Assistants representative attended a presentation of a certificate to the Volz family for a dog which was held at the Sam’s Club on University Drive. The two seemed to have clicked immediately.

“It is amazing how attentive Sippi is to him,” said Lisa. “She’s like an umbilical cord and never leaves his side. My face is hurting from smiling so much.”

To get on the waiting list, visit www.canineassistants.org.

Updated at 12:10 p.m. to reflect Jennifer Arnold as spokesperson for Canine Assistants.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/breaking/2012/05/service_dogs_still_a_novelty_f.html