Parking agreements now in place for $85M Councill Courts redevelopment

Councill Courts wide angle.JPGThe corner of Gallatin Street and St. Clair Avenue, as seen from Huntsville Hospital’s main parking deck. (The Huntsville Times/Bob Gathany)

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — The Huntsville City Council approved a series of contracts Thursday night related to an $85 million-plus redevelopment of the former Councill Courts public housing site.

Pearce Construction was hired to build a $9.8 million parking garage at the renamed Twickenham Square, which promises about 240 loft-style apartments, a Homewood Suites hotel, Publix supermarket, large office tower plus additional retail and restaurant space.

The four-story, 941-space city garage could begin rising in September near the corner of Gallatin Street and St. Clair Avenue.

General Services Director Jeff Easter said the city will give Pearce the green light to start work as soon as the private developers involved in Twickenham Square – Triad Properties, Bristol Development Group and PGM Properties – buy the land from the Huntsville Housing Authority.

Gerry Shannon, a Triad executive, said that is scheduled to happen Aug. 9.

“I think this (series of council approvals) gets us to a land closing,” Shannon said Thursday afternoon. “We’ve been working on this piece of property for about two years, so I’m ecstatic.”

Of the eight contractors that submitted bids for the parking garage, Pearce was the cheapest at $7,104,770. Extras requested by the city – including a fourth level, upgraded facade and LED lighting – added another $2.6 million.

The total budget for the garage, including architectural designs and utilities, is $11.8 million.

Finance Director Randy Taylor said the city will cover about $9.2 million from its capital budget, plus current and future Alabama Trust Fund money.

Councill Courts downtown development sketchThis sketch shows the intersection of Gallatin Street and Lowe Avenue as they will appear after the development is completed. (The Huntsville Times/Submitted photo)

Developers are chipping in $500,000 toward the garage and will pay the entire cost of a smaller parking deck reserved for residents of the Flats at Twickenham Square apartments.

Huntsville Hospital, located caddy-corner from the project, will pay the city $2.1 million to lease 209 spaces on the top floor of the main parking deck.

Spokesman Burr Ingram said those spaces are needed for employee parking.

“With a growing community, you always have to provide more opportunities for parking,” Ingram said Thursday. “Additional (parking spaces) will be appreciated.”

All told Thursday, the council OK’d 12 legal agreements related to Twickenham Square, including parking leases, development agreements and a land swap with the housing authority.

In exchange for the 2.1-acre tract on which the parking garage will sit, the city will pay the housing authority $380,000 and also give it 2.7 acres along Holmes Avenue at the Searcy Homes public housing site acquired several years ago as part of a flood control project.

The housing authority intends to use its Councill Courts land sale proceeds to buy or build new public housing units throughout the city.

Meanwhile, Huntsville Hospital plans to move its clinical laboratory to the Triad-owned office tower at Twickenham Square. Shannon said the lab will cover about 1 1/2 floors in the five-story building.

A pedestrian bridge between the office tower and hospital also is on the drawing board.

“It’s been a very complicated deal with all the developers and their attorneys and their financial institutions,” Mayor Tommy Battle said Thursday. “Our team has done a great job of protecting the taxpayers and achieving the goals we were looking to achieve.

“I feel really good about it.”

Article source: http://blog.al.com/breaking/2012/07/parking_agreements_now_in_plac.html

Toyota engine plant incentives include land, grant money, utility breaks

Gov. Robert Bentley at Toyota news conference.JPGAlabama Gov. Robert Bentley was on hand in May when Toyota announced an $88 million expansion of its Huntsville engine plant. The project allow Toyota to ramp up its production of V6 engines. (The Huntsville Times/Dave Dieter)

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — Toyota will get nearly free use of 134 acres to expand its engine plant at the city-owned North Huntsville Industrial Park.

An incentive package approved by the City Council on Thursday calls for the city’s Industrial Development Board to lease Toyota the rolling property — valued at $6.7 million — for a dollar per year.

Toyota has a 10-year option to buy the property for $2, but may prefer to lease the land for tax purposes.

In addition, the city will seek a $150,000 state site development grant and ask Huntsville Utilities to give Toyota an “investment initiative” credit worth $974,000.

Meanwhile, Madison County has promised a $250,000 economic development grant and $100,000 worth of site preparation work on Toyota’s planned V6 engine production line.

Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama announced plans in May to construct an additional 300,000 square feet of production space for V6 engines. The $88.3 million expansion — the company’s fourth since coming to Huntsville in 2003 — is expected to create 126 new jobs, pushing total employment to around 1,150.

Mayor Tommy Battle said he expects the new jobs to pay from $45,000 to $50,000 annually.

“Toyota has a $60 million economic impact on our community year in and year out,” Battle said Friday. “They’ve been a good corporate neighbor — the kind of company you like to keep in the area.”

Located along Pulaski Pike nearly 10 miles northeast of downtown Huntsville, the Toyota plant currently builds four-cylinder engines for the Camry, Highlander, RAV4, Sienna and Venza vehicles, plus V6 and V8 engines for the Tundra and Tacoma pickup trucks and Sequoia SUV.

The expansion will allow the factory to produce 3.5-litre V6 engines for Highlander models assembled at a plant in Princeton, Ind.

Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama President Jim Bolte.JPGJim Bolte

Jim Bolte, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama, told the City Council before Thursday’s vote that construction could start in late August or early September. The first V6 engines are expected to roll off the assembly line in the spring of 2014.

“I’m already working with our global headquarters on our next expansion,” said Bolte.

The state has agreed to provide more than $6 million in incentives for Toyota’s V6 engine expansion, including $1 million for capital costs incurred by the company in developing, constructing and equipping the facility, $400,000 for industrial access roads and $4.8 million for job training.

As part of the city’s commitment, Toyota has an option to purchase an additional 173 acres in North Huntsville Industrial Park for $10,000 an acre — a significant discount from the $50,000-an-acre market price.

Battle said the incentive package is far less than the $158.5 million that the state, City of Mobile, Mobile County Commission and Mobile Airport Authority shelled out this month to land an Airbus assembly plant.

“We’re getting a deal,” said Battle.

Toyota’s Huntsville plant produced the company’s first V8 engines made outside of Japan. It’s the only Toyota plant in the world to produce four-cylinder, V6 and V8 engines under one roof.

The expansion will bring the company’s total investment in Huntsville to more than $700 million.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/breaking/2012/07/toyota_engine_plant_incentives.html

Industry and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College: Working together for right training

IC Academy opening at JC 14Jun12 (4225).JPGView full sizeFrom left to right, student Joseph Hunter, instrumentation and controls specialist Jonathan Parker, and training supervisor Mark Franklin in the new lab at the Jackson County Campus of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. The Southern Company sponsored millions of dollars worth of equipment that will enable students to get hands on training. The two-year program launches in the fall. (Photo courtesy of MGCCC)

GAUTIER, Mississippi – Mississippi Power anticipates that about 15 percent of its 1,250 employees are nearing retirement. Along with the rest of the energy industry, the company is also entering an era where — given the tighter environmental regulations — being able to operate instrumentation and controls is ever more important.

To that end, it worked with Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College to create and launch a new program, offering two-year associate and specialist degrees.

About 25 people have enrolled in this fall’s inaugural class, according to John Shows, dean of career and technical education at MGCCC. Mississippi Power invested well over $1 million in equipment for the lab, which includes a simulated power generation plant.

As the new IC program takes off, other programs wind down, illustrating MGCCC’s ability and willingness to adapt to the ebb and flow of industry needs.

“In the case of (Northrop Grumman) Unmanned Systems, MGCCC very early on in that project stepped in, sending people out to California to be trained and bring in that first wave of skilled employees,” said George Freeland, executive director of the Jackson County Economic Development Foundation.

Now that the Moss Point facility, located at Trent Lott International Airport in Moss Point, has about 70 highly skilled employees, the training program is a skeletal version of its former self, Shows said.

Some training, meanwhile, is likely never to end, he said.

Case in point: the apprenticeship program that MGCCC does in conjunction with area shipyards, most notably Ingalls Shipbuilding, MGCCC spokeswoman Anna Faye Kelley-Winders said. The college has worked with the Pascagoula shipguilder since 1965, she said.

“For all these years we and Ingalls have trained apprentices in 10 different crafts,” she said. “It’s not unusual to have 250-300 apprentices annually.”

Training programs such as those at MGCCC and other Mississippi community colleges get a large part of their funding from unemployment compensation revenue, which is about $15 million to $20 million spread out among 15 colleges each year, depending on the economy, Kelley-Winders said.

The revenue is part of the Comprehensive Workforce Education Act, signed into law by then Gov. Haley Barbour in 2004, she said.

MGCCC reports that it has served more than 16,500 students through individual training and partnerships with more than 65 companies throughout south Mississippi.

And while it expects south Alabama community colleges to take the lead when it comes to training needed for the 1,000 workers at the $600 million plant Airbus SAS plans in Mobile, Kelley-Winders said the school is ready to work with any new supplier or spin-off industry that might result in Mississippi.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/press-register-business/2012/07/industry_and_higher_education.html

Farmers will drop wind policies locally, hike rates statewide

home.jpgA beachfront home damaged by Hurricane Ivan is shown on Friday, Sept. 17, 2004, in Orange Beach, Ala. (Press-Register, Mike Kittrell)

MOBILE, Alabama — Farmers said Monday that it plans to drop coverage of more than 2,900 properties in Mobile and Baldwin counties that it considers rentals.

Also Monday, The Farmers Insurance Exchanges said that it would raise rates statewide, by as much as 35 percent in some areas, though the cost of some policies will decrease.

About 60,000 people will see a change in their homeowner policy rates, said Farmers spokesman Luis Sahagun, with the majority facing increases that will vary depending on the area of state and policy type.

The company is trying to “address the continued volatility and severity of homeowners insurance claims in Alabama,” he said.

Ragan Ingram, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Insurance, said that the state determined the rate increase was justified.

Beginning Dec. 1, Farmers will not renew wind coverage on 957 policies sold to landlords and 1,980 policies on homes that appear to be rented at least part of the time, according to Charles Angell, an insurance department deputy commissioner.

Farmers Insurance Exchanges, managed by Farmers Insurance Group, which is a unit of Swiss-based Zurich Insurance Group, said the 2,900 policies collectively represent about 15 percent of its policyholders in the area. The company, which has 7 percent of the state market, said impacted customers will receive non-renewal notice of their existing policy and then be offered a similar policy without wind coverage.

“Farmers Insurance must manage the company’s resources in a manner that will enable it to pay its claims when losses arise,” Sahagun said. “As part of its regular review of its business risk across the state, the company has determined that it will need to reduce its catastrophic hurricane exposure in coastal areas.”

The company, which stopped writing new wind coverage policies in Mobile and Baldwin counties in 2009, has had three statewide rate increases since then — 20.1 percent in 2009, 1.6 percent in 2010 and 35 percent in 2012, according to regulators. Sahagun said Farmers has experienced significant underwriting losses in Alabama in its homeowners insurance business for several years.

Since 2004′s Hurricane Ivan and 2005′s Hurricane Katrina, property insurance in coastal Alabama has become increasingly expensive and difficult to obtain. Insurers have announced plans to drop more than 51,000 wind policies in Mobile and Baldwin since 2004.

In June, Baldwin Mutual Insurance Co. said it would drop coverage of nearly 1,700 properties in Mobile and Baldwin counties over the next 13 months and American Modern Home Insurance Co. said it would no longer offer new wind policies to homeowners in parts of Mobile and Baldwin, while dropping coverage of a few commercial properties.

Carl Schneider, an independent agent seeking to broaden insurance choices and lower prices, said as larger carriers adjust their rates and exposure on the coast, newer companies are coming into the state.

Of the state’s top five insurers, which control nearly 68 percent of the traditional market statewide, No. 1 State Farm and No. 4 Travelers are the only ones taking any new business with wind coverage, he said. A few other traditional insurers are writing a limited number of new policies as well, but much of the new coverage available in the counties is from lightly regulated surplus lines carriers. 

___

Updated at 7:27 p.m. to clarify name of company making the filing and its relationship with Zurich.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/press-register-business/2012/07/farmers_will_drop_wind_policie.html

Unemployment rates up in Mobile and Baldwin Counties

MOBILE, Alabama — Mobile and Baldwin residents found it harder to find work in June, according to the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations.

The unemployment rate in Mobile County rose to 10 percent in June, up from 8.6 percent in May, but down from 11 percent a year earlier. June’s numbers represent more than 19,300 Mobilian’s seeking jobs

In Baldwin County, the unemployment rose to 7.7 percent from 6.7 percent in May, but dropped from 8.5 percent in June 2011. The 7.7 percent rate represents about 6,700 jobless people.

The unemployment rate can fall for two reasons — either more people get jobs, or fewer people are actively looking for work, said Keivan Deravi, an economics professor at Auburn University Montgomery.

Deravi said June is the high season in Mobile and Baldwin counties for tourism and a high number of people may have traveled to the area to find a limited number of jobs.

“Mobile County is one of the most diversified counties in the state,” he said. “There may be more people relocating there than the rest of the state. There’s a more attractive business market for people to relocate themselves to in hopes of finding a job.”

Statewide, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 7.8 percent, from 7.4 percent in May and 9.3 percent in June 2011. The jobless rate represented 168,775 people seeking work in Alabama.

Industrial Relations Director Tom Surtees said the unemployment rate increased in the state because more people were seeking work as the summer break began in June.

“Just as with last month, we are experiencing an expected, seasonal increase in the labor force,” he said in a statement. “People looking for summer work as well as teachers and education employees who are not working over the summer are entering the job market.”

Article source: http://blog.al.com/press-register-business/2012/07/unemployment_rates_up_in_mobil.html

New report says sales tax holidays hurt businesses and consumers

SALES TAX HOLIDAY SHOPPINGAlabama’s back-to-school sales tax holiday has been popular with shoppers, but a new report says it hurts consumers and businesses.BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Less than four days before Alabama kicks off its seventh annual back-to-school sales tax holiday, a new report from a national think tank shows such events impose significant costs on businesses and consumers without creating major benefits.

The holidays are poor substitutes for substantive tax reform, said The Tax Foundation. The group notes that 17 states will sanction these events that target specific purchases this year, down from 19 in 2010.

The research shows the vast majority of consumer purchases during sales tax holidays are simply timed to coincide with the holiday period, rather than being stimulated by it, the group says. Therefore, such programs have little or no effect on overall economic activity.

At the same time, the holidays complicate business operations, as merchants must reconfigure software and other procedures for two or three days. Meanwhile, consumers get minimal discounts.

“Political gimmicks like sales tax holidays distract policymakers and taxpayers from genuine, permanent tax relief,” Joseph Henchman, vice president for legal and state projects for The Tax Foundation, said in a prepared statement. “If a state has to offer a ‘holiday’ from its tax system, it’s a sign that there’s a problem with the system itself. If politicians want to save money for consumers, then they should cut the sales tax rate year-round.”

Read The Tax Foundation report.

In Alabama, the back-to-school sales tax holiday runs Friday through Sunday, and items ranging from pencils and notebooks to clothing and computer equipment is exempt from the state’s 4 percent sales tax, as well as sales tax in participating counties and cities.

The Alabama Retail Association and others have long heralded the sales tax holidays as a way to draw consumers into stores, where they also spend money on products that aren’t exempt.

Earlier this month, Alabama sponsored a similar sales tax holiday on severe weather supplies. Other states also sponsor sales tax holidays on firearms and ammunition, among other items.

Read more about Alabama’s sales tax holiday

Article source: http://blog.al.com/businessnews/2012/07/new_study_says_sales_tax_holid.html

Phillip McCallum appointed head of Alabama State Bar

mclm.jpgPhillip McCallum

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Phillip W. McCallum, with Birmingham’s McCallum Methvin Terrell PC, has been appointed president of the Alabama State Bar, the organization announced.

McCallum’s initiatives will include a campaign for adequate funding of the courts, access to attorneys for the vulnerable and support for legislative proposals “that improve the administration of justice.”

McCallum, a founder and senior partner at McCallum Methvin Terrell, received his undergraduate degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and his law degree from Cumberland School of Law. A Vestavia Hills resident, McCallum serves on the Vestavia Hills Park and Recreation Foundation Board a coaches the Vestavia Hills Wrestling Club.

He served as vice president in 2009-2010.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/businessnews/2012/07/phillip_mccallum_appointed_hea.html

Alabama reverses course, will allow sale of beer with naughty name

beer(The Huntsville Times)

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Alabama’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has reversed itself, approving for distribution a beer it banned in April for having a naughty name.

The ABC board will allow the sale of Founders Brewing’s Dirty Bastard Beer, distributor Birmingham Beverage Co. said in a prepared statement.

Efforts to reach ABC officials for comment were not immediately successful.

The regulatory agency in April ruled against allowing the beer to be sold in Alabama in an attempt to protect children from seeing the foul language on the label, ABC attorney Bob Martin said at the time. The board banned the beer despite having previously allowed the sale of Fat Bastard wine. It reversed itself earlier this month, largely because of a groundswell of protest from beer lovers, Founders Vice President Dave Engbers told MLive.

Harry Kampakis, owner of Birmingham Beverage, said he was grateful that the board reconsidered, and that he expects the Michigan craft beer to be a big hit here.

“The exquisite taste of this beer that uses seven varieties of imported malts will satisfy beer enthusiasts throughout the state,” he said in a prepared statement.

Article source: http://blog.al.com/businessnews/2012/07/alabama_reverses_course_will_a.html

Times Watchdog Report: Another passenger train idea for Tennessee Valley

Speeding trainView full size(Stock image)

DECATUR, Alabama – The allure of riding the rails on a passenger train has been around probably as long as trains have existed. And the flirtation with bringing passenger trains through the Huntsville area has continued over the years.

The late Ed Mitchell for decades pushed a high-speed, magnetic levitation train that would follow the Memphis-to-Atlanta superhighway route that passed through Huntsville.

Just a few years ago, Madison businessman Doug Gooch proposed a light-rail system transporting commuters between Cummings Research Park/Bridge Street Town Centre and Redstone Arsenal.

But the high-concept rail systems proposed by Mitchell and Gooch have never come to fruition, primarily because of the high costs.

Now, a Virginia group has the idea of a railway demonstration project to haul freight and passengers between Memphis and Harrisburg, Pa., on a route that includes Huntsville, Chattanooga and Knoxville.

But the cost of the 965-mile-long rail system is a healthy $12.6 billion.

Pete Lotts, director of RAIL Solution, outlined the demonstration project called “the Steel Interstate” to about 30 elected and economic development officials Wednesday afternoon at Calhoun Community College.

RAIL Solution is a nonprofit group based in Salem, Va., that was formed to reduce heavy tractor-trailer truck traffic on Interstate 81 between Knoxville and Harrisburg.

The proposed demonstration project originally ended on the south end at Knoxville, but the group last year extended the plans to reach Memphis, Lotts said.

Improving the existing railroad tracks and building new tracks represents about $6.5 billion of the cost. Building an electrical system to power the trains would cost about $2.7 billion. Other major costs, Lotts said, include $750 million for separated crossing grades for two tracks and $660 million to buy right of way.

“We’ve got to create the atmosphere for this to happen in a public/private partnership,” Lotts said.

Lotts said guaranteed loans from the federal government would pay about half of the project’s cost, and private capital by issuing bonds would pay another 30 percent of the cost.

Norfolk Southern, which does not support the project, is counted on by the group to pay 8 percent, or about $1 billion, with state and local governments and direct private investment paying the remainder of the cost.

The recently adopted federal transportation bill could provide the $5 million to $10 million needed for a feasibility study, Lotts said.

Lotts said local officials can adopt resolutions supporting the project and talk to other officials and the public about it.

RAIL Solution envisions eight passenger trains running the route daily, Lotts said.

“We’re not talking about high-speed rail,” he said.

The passenger trains would travel between 90 mph and 120 mph, he said. They would be geared to short or medium distance trips such as from Huntsville to either Memphis or Atlanta.

Lotts said the system would be better for the environment by reducing fuel consumption, more economical, and safer for passengers and freight movers.

If the demonstration project is successful, it could lead to a new rail freight system across the entire country, Lotts said.

 

 

Article source: http://blog.al.com/breaking/2012/07/times_watchdog_report_another.html

Parking agreements now in place for $85M Councill Courts redevelopment

Councill Courts wide angle.JPGThe corner of Gallatin Street and St. Clair Avenue, as seen from Huntsville Hospital’s main parking deck. (The Huntsville Times/Bob Gathany)

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — The Huntsville City Council approved a series of contracts Thursday night related to an $85 million-plus redevelopment of the former Councill Courts public housing site.

Pearce Construction was hired to build a $9.8 million parking garage at the renamed Twickenham Square, which promises about 240 loft-style apartments, a Homewood Suites hotel, Publix supermarket, large office tower plus additional retail and restaurant space.

The four-story, 941-space city garage could begin rising in September near the corner of Gallatin Street and St. Clair Avenue.

General Services Director Jeff Easter said the city will give Pearce the green light to start work as soon as the private developers involved in Twickenham Square – Triad Properties, Bristol Development Group and PGM Properties – buy the land from the Huntsville Housing Authority.

Gerry Shannon, a Triad executive, said that is scheduled to happen Aug. 9.

“I think this (series of council approvals) gets us to a land closing,” Shannon said Thursday afternoon. “We’ve been working on this piece of property for about two years, so I’m ecstatic.”

Of the eight contractors that submitted bids for the parking garage, Pearce was the cheapest at $7,104,770. Extras requested by the city – including a fourth level, upgraded facade and LED lighting – added another $2.6 million.

The total budget for the garage, including architectural designs and utilities, is $11.8 million.

Finance Director Randy Taylor said the city will cover about $9.2 million from its capital budget, plus current and future Alabama Trust Fund money.

Councill Courts downtown development sketchThis sketch shows the intersection of Gallatin Street and Lowe Avenue as they will appear after the development is completed. (The Huntsville Times/Submitted photo)

Developers are chipping in $500,000 toward the garage and will pay the entire cost of a smaller parking deck reserved for residents of the Flats at Twickenham Square apartments.

Huntsville Hospital, located caddy-corner from the project, will pay the city $2.1 million to lease 209 spaces on the top floor of the main parking deck.

Spokesman Burr Ingram said those spaces are needed for employee parking.

“With a growing community, you always have to provide more opportunities for parking,” Ingram said Thursday. “Additional (parking spaces) will be appreciated.”

All told Thursday, the council OK’d 12 legal agreements related to Twickenham Square, including parking leases, development agreements and a land swap with the housing authority.

In exchange for the 2.1-acre tract on which the parking garage will sit, the city will pay the housing authority $380,000 and also give it 2.7 acres along Holmes Avenue at the Searcy Homes public housing site acquired several years ago as part of a flood control project.

The housing authority intends to use its Councill Courts land sale proceeds to buy or build new public housing units throughout the city.

Meanwhile, Huntsville Hospital plans to move its clinical laboratory to the Triad-owned office tower at Twickenham Square. Shannon said the lab will cover about 1 1/2 floors in the five-story building.

A pedestrian bridge between the office tower and hospital also is on the drawing board.

“It’s been a very complicated deal with all the developers and their attorneys and their financial institutions,” Mayor Tommy Battle said Thursday. “Our team has done a great job of protecting the taxpayers and achieving the goals we were looking to achieve.

“I feel really good about it.”

Article source: http://blog.al.com/breaking/2012/07/parking_agreements_now_in_plac.html