Era ends at The Huntsville Times as longtime employees leave, paper moves to 3-day per week publication

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — Friday was the last day of work for many Huntsville Times employees, and Monday is the first day for a new Alabama media company that includes both familiar and new faces in Huntsville and across the state.

The Huntsville Times buildingThe Huntsville Times converts to three days a week publication and a digital-first focus beginning Monday.

Alabama Media Group launches its new products and services Monday and immediately becomes the state’s largest media organization. It was created to provide news and information in the ways consumers increasingly seek it today: personal computers, tablets and smartphones, as well as newspapers.

The new company’s staff will post on up-to-the-minute breaking news, sports, features and helpful information about events and activities, and it will publish three editions each week of The Huntsville Times, The Birmingham News and The Mobile Press-Register.

There will be no newspaper on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, but a heftier Times – with expanded news, features and sports sections, more daily comics and your favorite puzzles from each prior day – will still appear in driveways and news racks on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Every day, journalists will post news on as it happens, around the clock, and produce new and detailed reports for the three daily newspapers.

A reader’s guide to the new media company will be with Sunday’s Huntsville Times, including an introduction to the news team and details about subscribing and communicating with us in the new era. A guide to finding news on the new platforms will land on subscribers’ driveways Monday morning.

Taking Alabama Media Group live meant jobs ending and changing as the company’s digital-first focus moved daily production of the newspaper to three times a week and print production shifted from Huntsville to Birmingham.

A number of familiar bylines and photo credits will be missing beginning next week, and a number of support personnel and advertising representatives are also gone.

Across all three papers and, about 400 employees received layoff notices and severance packages on June 12, after the new publishing schedule was announced by Advance Publications.

For those employees who left Friday and those going forward with the new company, Friday was the end of a historic era for The Huntsville Times.

“In our 102 years of continual daily publishing, The Times has provided award-winning coverage of everything from World War II to the space race to the devastating tornadoes last year. That is a credit to the type of staff we have here, including those people who are no longer with the company,” said Shelly Haskins, The Times’ city editor since 2003, who will be the managing producer for news going forward. “Our dedication to in-depth journalism that matters to North Alabama won’t change. We’ll just be delivering it to you faster and on the platforms that readers today prefer.”

Questions? Click here for an FAQ about the changes at The Huntsville Times and the launch of Alabama Media Group.

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Belk is helping out cause for animals

belk pics 8-29-12 001.JPGThis Belk shopper enjoyed holding a Safe Haven kitten while in the store. (Submitted photo)


– Safe Haven founder Melissa Utech was a little surprised when she received a call from an official with Belk at Madison Square Mall earlier this month asking her to take part in an educational event at the store.

While she is always looking for ways to get the message out about her nonprofit no-kill shelter in Jackson County, Utech was hesitant because it was scheduled at the same time she usually does adoptions at the PetSmart store on University Drive.

“I told her if we could bring our animals with us, we would do it,” said Utech.

The Belk official said OK so Utech and her volunteers loaded up several animals and set up shop inside the Belk store, much to the delight of many shoppers, including three who adopted a pet while there.

“It was just something different,” said Utech. “People would light up when they saw the animals. They said, ‘This is awesome.’”

Safe Haven is housing 90 animals, most in foster homes, and Utech is desperate to have more venues than just local pet stores where all of the clients already have one or more pets.

The next event is scheduled for Nov. 3, from 6-10 a.m., during Belk’s charity sale.

belk pics 8-29-12 008.JPGThis Safe Haven puppy is getting some extra love from a Belk shopper. (Submitted photo)

She hopes the events at Belk will become a regular event and said future dates will be posted on the organization’s website (

Calls to Belk and Madison Square Mall were not returned.

Utech said many volunteers, foster homes and donations are needed to continue the work of finding animals homes.

“It’s all about saving as many animals as we can,” she said.

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Mobile’s Ashland Garage celebrating 100 years, in pictures

MOBILE, Alabama — When Wayne Holifield opens the bays at Ashland Garage Inc. on Monday morning, a little piece of history will pass far more quietly than the traffic speeding past on Old Shell Road.

For the complete story, click here.

Original Ashland Garage

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Walgreen paid $1.4 million for land


MOBILE, Alabama — Walgreen developers paid $1.4 million for almost 2 acres at the southeast corner of Spring Hill Avenue and Mobile Infirmary Boulevard, and plan to build a 15,000-square-foot store, according to Johnny Watson of Watson Realty, who represented the buyers. B.T. Roberts of Roberts Brothers Commercial Property Management worked for the sellers, Infirmary Health System. Aronov Realty in Montgomery has an option to purchase the southwest corner and has been talking with Publix Supermarket and other grocers to anchor a retail center there.

Local investors paid $1.6 million for a bank-owned, 43,180-square-foot industrial warehouse on almost 3 acres on Ala. 59 in Loxley, according to Nathan Cox of Bellator Realty Development, who represented the buyer, Gulf Coast Opportunities Fund LP. John Vallas of Vallas Realty worked for the sellers. The buyers plan to lease the building located 1.3 miles south of Interstate 10.

A local investor paid $230,000 for 82 bank-owned acres south of Southtown subdivision on Baldwin County 48 in Robertsdale, according to Bill Menas of Bellator Real Estate Development.

A private investor paid $165,000 for a 10-acre site on Magnolia Grove Parkway off Moffett Road next to The Legends in Magnolia Grove subdivision, according to Bob Cooper of Prudential Cooper Co. commercial division, who represented the seller. Leighton Dees of Better Homes Gardens worked for the buyer, who plans to develop residential lots.

LifeSouth Community Blood Centers plans to relocate to a 4,800-square-foot facility at 26125 Capital Drive in Daphne, according to Spence Monroe of Ashurst Niemeyer, who represented the tenant. Allan Cameron of Grubb Ellis/Peebles Cameron worked for the landlord.

Paradise Marine Center of Gulf Shores has leased a 1,400 square-foot building on U.S. 98 in Daphne near Baldwin County 64, and plans to open in early October, according to Joe Steen Real Estate Development. Paradise Marine also has a boat sales business on Ala. 59 in Gulf Shores.

Papa Murphy’s Take ‘N’ Bake Pizza will open in December in 1,200 square feet at 2370 Hillcrest Road in Hillcrest Plaza Shopping Center where a construction is under way on a Publix Supermarket, according to Angela McArthur of Prudential Cooper Co. commercial division, who worked for the tenant. David Dexter of White-Spunner Associates represented the landlord.

The Family Service Center of Catholic Social Services has leased 2,040 square feet of office space at 2402 U.S. 31 S. in Bay Minette, according to Sharon Wright of White-Spunner Associates.

Local contractor Jerry Lathan sold 50 of 313 acres off Kooiman Raod and Todd Acres Drive at absolute auction for $253,577, according to William Bone of The National Auction Group. There were eight registered bidders and Alabama Railroad Construction Co. bought most of the land, he said. The auction firm is working with several buyers on the remaining land near the Airbus plant site at Brookley Aeroplex.

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Evonik selects Mobile as possible site for multimillion dollar plant

evonik.jpgA building at the Evonik Degussa chemical plant, December 2008 in Theodore, Al. (Photo courtesy of Evonik)

MOBILE, Alabama — Specialty chemical company Evonik Industries AG today said it is launching an engineering study for a new multimillion dollar methyl methacrylate plant at its Mobile site, a project that could create about 100 new jobs if built.

Methacrylate monomers are used in products for lightweight construction and the automotive industry. The Evonik executive board last month authorized a basic engineering study to evaluate the site’s feasibility for a 120,000 ton per year facility, said Gregor Hetzke, head of Evonik’s performance polymers business unit.

“This is an important strategic decision for Evonik,” Hetzke said in a statement. “Mobile has an extremely friendly business climate, an excellent infrastructure and a world class port. This decision reflects our strong commitment to the Mobile site, our talented workforce there and the local community.”

If approved by the board, Evonik would start construction on the facility in 2013 and the plant would be online by mid-2015. Evonik officials said the plant would be located at the site of Evonik’s 750-employee facility in Theodore.

Based in Essen, Germany, Evonik makes a variety of chemicals at its Theodore plant, including those used in the production of pharmaceuticals, paper and chicken feed, among other uses.

“Being selected for the engineering study is terrific news for the Mobile community and for all our dedicated employees,” Bonnie Tully, Mobile site manager and vice president of Evonik North America, said in a statement. “Construction of a new plant would lead to the creation of nearly 100 new jobs and have a ripple effect throughout the local economy.”

Evonik officials said the company looked at more than 20 locations around the world for the MMA plant. Mobile was chosen as the final candidate for the basic engineering study and has been selected as the probable site.

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On the Record with Tim Lewis of Talapro Professional Services and Salesity

Tim Lewis.jpg











BIRMINGHAM, Alabama–For 25 years, Tim Lewis has built a reputation as a telecommunications consultant as founder of Tala Professional Services.

   Earlier this year, Lewis co-founded a new company, Salesity, a consulting firm located in Innovation Depot in downtown Birmingham that provides coaching for clients seeking to boost sales of goods and services. Lewis and his co-founders, Danny Patterson and Doug Haynes, have more than 90 years of combined sales, marketing, and business development experience.

   Lewis is also known as founder with lawyer Jim Rotch of the Birmingham Diversity Summit, which hosted an annual event for many years that focused on the importance of diversity in the workplace.

In an interview, Lewis talked about his new business venture and the fast-moving world of technology. He also shared his thoughts on the new Tuscaloosa incubator, where he is serving as “entrepreneur in residence.”

What is the key to boosting sales in today’s environment?

One: A clear, concise value proposition that produces immediate results and lasting positive impact.

  Two: Professional salespeople that understand both the art and science of selling.

  Three: Products, services and a support team that exceed customer expectations, every day in every way.

  It sounds impossible, but the companies that follow these points are thriving even in a down economy. 

  Salesity is presenting a series of sales seminars and workshops this fall for both new and experienced sales people in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa.

Do you still run Tala? Divide time between both firms?

   Yes, I am managing both Tala and Salesity with a team of key managers. Most of the Tala management team has worked together for over 12 years.

Tell me about some of the projects what you’ve been involved in at Tala.

   Over the past few years, Tala has worked across the Southeast and in Europe on technology solution design, implementation, and management projects that include a municipal wireless broadband network for the city of Chattanooga and the region that helped the city be recognized as one of Top 7 Intelligent Communities of the Year in 2011.

   Chattanooga is continuing to use the wireless network to lead the nation in deploying over 26,000 wireless-controlled LED street lights that are projected to save the city over $1 million per year.

  Tala is currently working with Walker Associates and Thompson Consulting Services on engineering design and administrative coordination for the city of Tuscaloosa on a new CityWalk, a walking, running, jogging, and biking path that follows the path of destruction caused by the April 27, 2011 tornadoes.

   The CityWalk will include a wireless network, gig fiber, LED street lights, surveillance and security cameras, and digital signage technologies to enable various smart green applicatoins. We are also working with Tuscaloosa City Schools and other corporate and municipal clients. 

Technology is changing so rapidly. As a consultant, give me your take on the role technology is playing in workplace today.

   The rapid changes in technology require that we readjust our approach to what and how we apply technology in the workplace. We are recommending our clients spend more time during a detailed assessment of their needs and current situation to determine if changes in workflows, workforce, and non-technology resources are needed or if they are aligned and working properly.

  At Tala, we believe it is important to fix a broken process before you add more technology.

What role are you playing in the new business incubator opening in Tuscaloosa in October?

   Tala has opened a new office in Tuscaloosa to better serve our clients in Tuscaloosa, south Alabama, and potential opportunities in Mississippi. The West Alabama Chamber, the city of Tuscaloosa, and the University of Alabama are collaborating on a small-business incubator to support local entrepreneurs, and I agreed to serve as the “entrepreneur in residence.”

 In this role, I will spend time each month meeting, coaching, and training on topics such sales, marketing, customer service, growth strategies, and cash flow. I am excited about the opportunity to give back to the community and to help both college students and entrepreneurs turn their visions into successful businesses.

What are the biggest mistakes young entrepreneurs make?

   Not understanding the difference between sales and cash in the bank, sales and marketing and business development. Not managing time — yours, employees, and the client’s. Not understanding the difference between growing fast and growing smart.

What advice would you offer young business owners?

Tip No.1: Learn every aspect of the business and only do what you do best — hire the rest. Tip No.¤2: Listen more than you talk. Tip No.¤3: Do more than expected before the due date.


Title: President of Tala Professional Services and chief sales executive, Salesity

Hometown: Tuscaloosa

Education: Bachelor’s in electrical engineering, University of Alabama

Work history: Worked in electrical engineering for Alabama Power Co. and TMC Long Distance before founding Tala Professional Services, a telecommunications consulting firm, in 1987. Co-founded Salesity, a sales consulting firm located Innovation Depot, in May.

Favorite books: “Thinking for a Change” by John C. Maxwell and “Good to Great” by Jim Collins

Music: “On my smart phone and iPad I listen to gospel and jazz”

Family: Wife, Phyllis; daughter, Courtney

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Many Birmingham News staffers depart as paper ceases daily publication, moves to 3 days a week

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — The Birmingham News will cease daily publication on Monday, after 125 years.

On Wednesday, a new three-day-a-week printing schedule will begin for The News, along with its sister papers in the state: The Huntsville Times and Mobile’s Press-Register.

The papers will be published on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and there will be a greater emphasis on digital news coverage at their online home,

The move was driven by the migration of readers and advertisers from print to digital platforms. For many employees, Friday was the end of decades-long careers of profiling newsmakers, uncovering public corruption and telling the stories of their communities.

Across all three papers and, about 400 employees received layoff notices and severance packages on June 12, after the new publishing schedule was announced by Advance Publications. At The News alone, more than 100 employees were laid off, roughly a quarter of the total workforce. The majority of the layoffs — about 60 — were reporters, editors, photographers, copy editors and others in the newsroom.

Some were re-hired and have joined other new hires made by two new companies: Alabama Media Group is the sales and content arm, while Advance Central Services Alabama will handle production, distribution, technology, finance and human resources.

Birmingham News Publisher Pam Siddall, who will lead Advance Central Services Alabama, said Friday was a difficult day, with mixed emotions.

“I have never worked with a more talented team than what exists at The Birmingham News,” she said.

She cited the yearlong, in-depth series, “Reinventing Our Community,” which examined ways the metro area could move forward, as well as the extensive coverage of last year’s tornado outbreak. The News’ ad sales team also has done well growing in the digital sphere.

Siddall singled out Editor Tom Scarritt, who is stepping down after a 37-year career, as a key driver of the accomplishments.

But she said she’s also excited about the new companies.

“Birmingham and Alabama, in my opinion, are actively leading the industry in making a change that ensures the journalism is not only protected, but expanded,” she said.

Mixed emotions were common throughout The News’ office on Friday.

Chuck Dean, senior reporter and a 35-year journalist, called his new enterprise reporter position with Alabama Media Group, or AMG, a leap of faith.

He received a layoff notice on June 12, but during conversations with the new leadership, Dean was asked whether he would embrace the imperative of digital reporting. He had his own questions about whether AMG would place a priority on investigative journalism.

He said he believes that is the intent of Kevin Wendt, The Huntsville Times editor who will be the vice president of content for AMG.

“They’ve taken a leap of faith with me that I will embrace digital. I’ve taken a leap of faith with them that they will do what they say,” he said. “I hope on more days than not, that we will provide (readers) with the same type of public service, watchdog journalism that they need.”

Elsewhere at The News, longtime employees said goodbye on Friday.

Voncille Williams is ending a 38-year career. She started as a temporary file clerk in the circulation department, where she typed address labels for newspapers that were being mailed to local U.S. servicemen who were in Vietnam.

Later, she became a secretary in the photo department, and 14 years ago, Chief Photographer Walt Stricklin challenged her to start shooting photos in the office studio. He and his staff trained her.

“I’ve had a wonderful time, and I’ve met some of the most amazing, talented people. I’ve had a bird’s eye view of history, going through all the files and film,” Williams said.

Wayne Hester, who’s served in a variety of editing roles during his 28 years, called his previous stint as sports editor his dream job.

He grew up in Birmingham, reading the bylines of Alf Van Hoose, Clyde Bolton, Jimmy Bryan, Wayne Martin and others.

“My dad taught me to read the newspaper by reading box scores,” Hester said. “That I got to do that, be sports editor here for nine years, is one of the things I’m most proud of.”

Tom Spencer, who joined The News in 1999 and covered the environment and higher education, is going to work for the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama.

He has covered the work of expanding green spaces in the Birmingham area, brought attention to pollution that prompts regulatory action and tracked political donations that pull the strings of Alabama’s elections.

“Trying to tell the story of Alabama and its people, our perpetual struggles, our triumphs and our tragedies .¤.¤. it’s been a great honor,” he said.

AMG has filled about 85 of the 110 new positions it intends to add on the content side statewide.

Wendt said the loss of institutional knowledge with the departures of many veteran journalists is a challenge.

“We’re trying to balance the institutional knowledge and experience with the need for a new digital skill set. I think the folks that were offered positions plus the folks we’ve hired keep us in a balance where we can overcome some of the loss of that institutional knowledge,” he said.

Scarritt said he hopes aggressive, informative reporting continues.

When asked what he’s most proud of, he said the work that people do every day is admirable. That’s the coverage of city councils, school boards, new businesses and other news that affects people’s homes, families and wallets.

“Overall, I’m proud of the professionalism and dedication of the folks who have worked in our newsroom across four decades,” Scarritt said. “I’m proud of the work we do every day.”

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Crestwood Park officially reopens, as Birmingham Mayor William Bell stumps for support of bond initiative

Crestwood Park.JPGChildren play on the new playground at Crestwood Park this morning. (News photo/Dawn Kent)BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Birmingham city officials and residents of the Crestwood neighborhood turned out this morning to formally re-open Crestwood Park following a $2.56 million renovation project.

The park, which dates to the 1940s, was revamped over the past 10 months. It opened earlier this month, but an official ribbon-cutting was held today.

Improvements include new wildflower plantings, a children’s playground, a “tailgate lawn” for picnicking and updates to the pavilion, patio, pool, tennis courts and walking track.

Mayor William Bell and Councilwoman Valerie Abbott both called for support in the Oct. 9 referendum on a $150 million bond initiative for city projects, including parks, street improvements and economic development.

On the ballot, citizens will be asked for their support of bond money in different categories; if approved, the Birmingham City Council will decide specific projects.

Bell asked for support of the measure “so we can make sure Birmingham continues to grow and all of our parks look like this wonderful park.”

Whit Macknally of Macknally Land Design and Kris Nikolich of Design Initiative, both Crestwood residents, spoke about their firms’ work on the park.

Macknally said natural, strong and sustainable materials were used in the construction, so it would hold up amid frequent use. There also was a concerted effort — through flyers, emails and Facebook — to gauge residents’ opinions on the new features.

“Our whole design philosophy was to make it a reflection of its neighborhood,” he said of the park.

Sister Mary Oliver, secretary of the North Crestwood Neighborhood Association, gave an account of its history.

The city bought the land for the park, on Crestwood Boulevard, in 1946. Nothing happened until the early 1950s, when civic groups began collecting money for it.

The city got involved then, clearing land for the tennis courts, a baseball diamond and other features. Residents also pitched in, building barbecue pits and doing other work.

Years later, a grassroots effort in the neighborhood prompted the most recent renovations.

“This has been a neighborhood project since its  inception,” Oliver said. “From the beginning, it’s been a joint effort between the neighbors and the city.”

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It’s official: Bridge Street’s new department store will be a Belk (updated)

Belk logo.jpgHUNTSVILLE, Alabama — Bridge Street Town Centre just announced that its new department store opening in early 2015 will be a Belk.

“We look forward to having Belk, a high-quality traditional department store, added to our tenant mix,” Doug Badia, executive vice president for OS Management Services, said in a news release.

“Belk will bring their extensive assortment of premier fashion merchandise for the whole family, as well as their excellent customer service,” said Badia.

Thursday night, the Huntsville City Council voted to spend $4 million on utility and drainage improvements needed to help Bridge Street land a major department store, large chain restaurant new to the Madison County market, and 45,000 square feet of additional retail space.

Most of the manmade lake on the west side of Bridge Street will be drained and filled in to make room for the new shopping and dining. The development contract approved by the council requires the department store to be open by March 31, 2015.

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Belk will close Madison Square Mall location after Bridge Street store opens in 2014 (updated)

Belk logo.jpgHUNTSVILLE, Alabama — Belk is closing its store in Madison Square Mall and casting its lot with the newer, trendier Bridge Street Town Centre.

The moves were announced Friday afternoon — less than 24 hours after the Huntsville City Council approved $4 million in utility and drainage improvements sought by the owners of Bridge Street.

Along with Belk, the outdoor shopping center says it will add 45,000 square feet of additional retail space and a large chain restaurant by March 31, 2015.

Most of the picturesque manmade lake on the west side of Bridge Street will be drained and filled to make way for the new shopping and dining. Only a tiny finger of water will remain near Connors Steak Seafood. The lake east of the pedestrian bridge will be left as is.

Bridge Street plans to add approximately 900 new parking spaces by turning the surface lot outside Red Robin Gourmet Burgers into a two-story garage. A new surface lot is planned for the grassy area behind Designer Shoe Warehouse.

“We are grateful to city leaders for embracing this expansion,” said John Neutzling, chief operating officer of Miller Capital Advisory. The suburban Chicago-based firm bought Bridge Street earlier this year on behalf of Institutional Mall Investors.

“We view Huntsville as a dynamic and growing community,” Neutzling said Friday, “and we look forward to a long and prosperous relationship with the city and the community.”

Institutional Mall Investors, or IMI, also owns Riverchase Galleria in Hoover.

Belk said its new Bridge Street store, targeted for a fall 2014 grand opening, will cost $20 million.

Jan Clevenger, who chairs Belk’s Birmingham-based western division, said the 170,000-square-foot store will offer “a fabulous new shopping environment featuring expanded selections of premier fashion merchandise with more brands and styles that our customers are looking for.”

Belk said its Madison Square Mall location will remain open until the Bridge Street store is ready. There are no plans to close the Belk in Parkway Place, which was remodeled last year.

Huntsville will spend a maximum of $4 million bringing utilities to the Belk site and installing an underground culvert to divert storm runoff to a city-owned lake nearby. The city is obligated to have those things done by July 1, 2013.

In addition to Belk, IMI promises to bring in a large sit-down restaurant new to the Huntsville market.

The contract also references a future expansion of Bridge Street that would include another 50,000 square feet of retail space or a second hotel. The 210-room Westin Huntsville opened at Bridge Street in April 2008.

Shane Davis, the city’s director of urban development, said Huntsville will pay for the utility and drainage work with proceeds from past Cummings Research Park land sales. Bridge Street occupies the southeast corner of the research park.

Mayor Tommy Battle said at Thursday’s council meeting that sales taxes on construction materials should net the city well over $1 million. Once the new stores and restaurant open, officials expect sales tax collections to jump $550,000 to $600,000 per year.

“A three- to four-year payback is kind of what we look for in these processes,” said Battle.

The council approved the development deal 4-0, with Culver, Bill Kling, John Olshefski and Mark Russell all in favor. Councilman Richard Showers left the meeting early and did not vote.

Updated at 6:28 p.m. with quotes from Belk executive Jan Clevenger, information on new Bridge Street parking, details on city’s development agreement with shopping center owner Miller Capital Advisory.

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