Strip club across from University Place Elementary School? Huntsville police ask City Council to say no

Steve Doyle |


Steve Doyle |

The Huntsville Times

on October 30, 2012 at 3:39 PM, updated October 31, 2012 at 6:29 AM

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Silver Dollar club.jpg
The Silver Dollar adult club near the corner of University and Boxwood drives has been closed since October 2010, but a Birmingham businessman wants to open another adult club there called Volcano 256. (Steve Doyle |

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – Police, parents of young children and some nearby residents are urging the Huntsville City Council to say no to a Birmingham businessman who wants to open an adult club almost directly across from University Place Elementary School.

Daryl Williams recently received a city certificate of occupancy to open his Volcano 256 club near the corner of University and Boxwood drives, but a separate city board has refused to grant him a liquor license. The building most recently housed another adult club, the Silver Dollar, and has a long history as a bar.

Williams is asking the City Council to override the decision of the Liquor License Review Committee. The council tabled a vote until Dec. 6 to give west Huntsville’s council representative, Will Culver, time to see how nearby residents feel.

“Whatever my constituents want is what I hope to deliver,” Culver said Tuesday.

Williams’ attorney, Lucien Blankenship, could not be reached for comment.

If Tanya Newsom is any indication, Volcano 256 doesn’t have much neighborhood support. Newsom, who has a son in kindergarten at University Place, started a petition drive against the club last week and has gathered about 40 signatures. Her church, Woodland Hill Baptist on Sparkman Drive, is also involved.

Newsom said she has a hard time believing the city would allow a club with exotic female dancers and “drunk, sexually aroused” customers within about 500 feet of an elementary school. She said many University Place students walk past the proposed club every day on their way to and from class.

“When we already have so many problems with children being abducted, why would you do this?” Newsom said Monday. “It’s because we’re a Title 1 school. You’d never see this happen in the Grissom district.”

Dennis Cole, who chairs the Liquor License Review Committee, said the group rarely denies a liquor license but was swayed by crime statistics from the old Silver Dollar club and other concerns raised by Huntsville police.

Police Sgt. Mark Roberts said there has been a “considerable decrease” in criminal activity at the University Plaza shopping center and in the surrounding neighborhood since the Silver Dollar went out of business in October 2010.

Of the 87 crimes reported at the shopping center from December 2008 to October 2010, Roberts said, 49 involved Silver Dollar customers. In the almost two years since the club’s closing, there have been 39 reported crimes at the shopping center. Located just east of the University of Alabama in Huntsville, University Plaza has an ABC store, adult video store and several other small businesses.

Total police calls in the surrounding neighborhood dropped from 4,709 during Silver Dollar’s last two years in operation to 3,452 in the two years since, said Roberts. There are approximately 1,000 apartments within a short walk of the club, he said.

Denying Volcano 256 a liquor license “gives us an opportunity to lessen the impact of that type of adult business on the surrounding area,” said Roberts. “That’s what we’re asking the council to uphold.”

Culver said he hopes to schedule a meeting in late November to hear from people for and against the proposed club.

Will Culver.jpg
Huntsville City Councilman Will Culver

“It’s not the type of business I want to see in my district,” said Culver, a former police officer. “But if that’s what the people want, I’m fine with it. You can’t legislate morality.”

Culver said the neighborhood’s wishes need to be balanced against concerns raised by Williams that he was denied a liquor license after spending more than $50,000 on building renovations.

“Why couldn’t that have been nipped in the bud before he spent all that money?” said Culver.

During a meeting last week, Councilman Richard Showers said Williams appears to have “met the intent of the letter of the law” to open his club. He also said the city can’t judge what kind of business owner Williams will be without giving him an opportunity.

Williams operates an adult club called Club Volcano in Birmingham’s Ensley neighborhood.

Roberts said Williams began renovating the old Silver Dollar space without the necessary Huntsville permits and was given a warning on March 25, 2011. When city building inspectors again spotted contractors inside six days later, they issued a written stop-work order. Roberts said police arrested Williams on April 26, 2011, after unlicensed contractors were seen inside the building a third time.

Williams was charged with doing business without a permit, a misdemeanor, and found guilty in municipal court that summer. He was ordered to pay $308 in fines and court costs, records show.

Roberts, who serves on the liquor review committee, said adult clubs are generally prohibited within 1,000 feet of a school, day care or home. Williams can legally open a club in the former Silver Dollar space because the building’s use as a lounge predates the city’s 1989 zoning ordinance.

Cole said the city has denied liquor licenses before amid questions about public safety. In March 2011, the review committee said no to a proposed strip club near Farley Elementary School in south Huntsville. The owner appealed, but the City Council upheld the committee’s decision.

Newsom, the University Place parent, said she isn’t questioning whether adult clubs should be allowed in the Rocket City.

“My concern is just that it doesn’t belong on top of an elementary school,” she said.

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Hidden cemetery discovered in Meridianville

Jonathan Grass |


Jonathan Grass |

The Huntsville Times

on October 31, 2012 at 4:43 AM, updated October 31, 2012 at 6:33 AM

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MADISON COUNTY, Alabama — Construction on the Madison County Executive Airport in Meridianville has unearthed a surprise. According to The Times’ news partner, WHNT News 19, an unknown graveyard was discovered while digging the runway expansion.

Madison County Executive Airport
Digging for the Madison County Executive Airport expansion has uncovered hidden graves. (Contributed by WHNT News 19)

WHNT reports that experts from the University of Alabama Office of Archaeological Research found the remains of four adults and 11 children on a hill near where the Meridianville Bottom Road was to be moved.

The road will move 50 feet away to avoid disturbing the graves. Airport officials say that a fence will be put in around the cemetery and a pull off area will be built for visitors.

WNHT reports that experts believe the graves could date as far back as 1820 through 1830 and could be part of a family plot. Madison County District Four Commissioner Dale Strong says they may be connected to his ancestry.

Click here to read WHNT’s full story.

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U.S. Chamber Chairman Ed Rust: Widening skills gap limiting economic recovery

Ed RustU.S. Chamber Chairman Ed Rust challenges members of the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce to leverage their expertise to help create public policy to address a widening skills gap. (Kelli Dugan,

MOBILE, Alabama – U.S. Chamber Chairman Ed Rust is not one to mince words, and his message Tuesday during the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2012 Free Enterprise luncheon put the business community on notice.

Economic recovery both nationally and at the state level is a lost cause unless “thoughtful, considerate” public policy closes the widening skills gap that’s leaving millions of workers ill-equipped to compete in a global economy, Rust said.

“It we continue to kick the proverbial can down the road and fail to get our financial house in order,” he said, that final kick could be the one that sends the economy over the “edge of the fiscal cliff.”

Rust, who also serves as chief executive officer of State Farm Mutual, focused the majority of his comments on the the challenges the nation faces with the rise of a truly global economy while encouraging attendees to make the most of opportunities available to America’s businesses and industries.

He did, however, call Mobile a “bright spot” in a state where only “tepid” economic growth is expected between now and the close of 2013, and said it’s simply a matter of “spreading that enthusiasm and resolve across the state and the nation.”

Rust said he is most troubled by the “growing mismatch” between the skills workers achieve and those needed for companies to compete in an “increasingly tech-driven, 21st-century global economy.”

Economists have theorized, he said, that the United States needs to create roughly 21 million global-economy jobs by 2020 to remain competitive, but if there are currently some 3.6 million jobs nationwide left vacant for lack of skilled workers, he considers that projection a “significant and, maybe, almost impossible climb.”

“We must be engaged in the effort to create a world-class, competitive educational system,” Rust said, noting the business community is particularly equipped to “clearly articulate” the skills needed to balance the equation.

“We must be engaged with the political sector…as a clear, focused, well-reasoned part of the solution,” he said.

The luncheon, held at the Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza, was presented by local State Farm affiliates, the Makeda Nichols Agency and McElhaney Insurance Agency. The leadership of both companies serve on the Mobile chamber’s board of advisers.

Follow Kelli Dugan on Twitter @KelliMDugan98

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fred.jpg.pngFred Shell (Photo courtesy of Children’s Medical Group)

MOBILE, Alabama — Fred Shell will retire from Children’s Medical Group after working for 40 years, effective Oct. 31.

A lifelong Mobile resident, Shell is a graduate of Springhill College in business management and attended the University of South Alabama Graduate School of Business.

He has been a medical consultant for years and has assisted numerous physicians in establishing their medical practices.

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BancTrust remains in the red with 3Q results

bank.JPGTthe Bienville Club on the top floor of the RSA BankTrust Building is pictured Dec. 1, 2011 in downtown Mobile, Ala. (Press-Register/Mike Kittrell)

MOBILE, Alabama — BancTrust Financial Group Inc. in Mobile struggled in the third quarter, blaming soft loan demand, a fall in deposits and continued weakness in the value of real estate collateral.

The company lost $10.3 million, or 57 cents per share, in the quarter ending Sept. 30, compared with net loss of $743,000 in the same quarter last year.

Year-to-date, Mobile’s largest locally based bank reported a net loss of $23.2 million compared to a loss of $457,000 for the first nine months of 2011.

Net interest revenue in the quarter was $13.2 million, down from $15.8 million in the third quarter the year before. The bank cited a decrease in average earning assets and net interest margin as the reason for the loss.

Total loans were $1.2 billion in the third quarter, down from $1.3 billion in the same quarter last year. The bank blamed soft loan demand in certain markets and the transfer of loans to other real estate and loan charge-offs.

The bank’s provision for loan losses — $9.5 million in the third quarter — was $3.5 million more than the provision during the same quarter a year earlier, but down from $13.7 million in the second quarter of 2012.

Net charge-offs rose to $4.6 million, compared to $3.2 million in the July through September period in 2011.

Deposits fell slightly to $1.78 billion in the third quarter from $1.84 billion in the quarter ending Sept. 30, 2011.

BancTrust has 49 offices in Alabama and Florida. Founded 25 years ago, it operates its banks under the BankTrust name and is the fifth largest bank, by deposits, in Mobile and Baldwin counties.

In May, BancTrust said that it would sell the company to Jackson, Miss.-based Trustmark in a deal valued at about $55.4 million. The agreement, which had been expected to close by Dec. 31, has been extended to February 28, 2013.

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H&M Mechanical moves from Pelham to Birmingham, bringing nearly 200 jobs

baseball park.jpgConstruction continues on Regions Field, the future home of the Birmingham Barons next to Railroad Park. The ballpark is being credited with helping to drive private sector investment in the city. (The Birmingham News file/Joe Songer).BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — HM Mechanical Inc. plans to dedicate its new corporate headquarters in Birmingham next week, after completing a move to the city from its previous home in Pelham.

The company, which is bringing nearly 200 jobs in the move, spent $2 million on the purchase and renovation of the former Alabama Trailer Truck Parts Inc. site at 3100 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. N.

HM received a $140,000 incentives package from the city of Birmingham.

The company’s president, Tim Head, said most of HM’s customers are in Birmingham, but other factors also drove the decision to relocate.

He said the company is looking forward to being close to the new downtown baseball park, entertainment district and Railroad Park.

Mayor William Bell said the baseball park is helping to spur other private sector investment, similar to HM’s move.

“These projects are still coming out of the ground, but the city is already starting to realize a return on its investment,” Bell said in a prepared statement.

HM provides engineering, fabrication, piping, plumbing, refrigeration, service and sheet metal systems for commercial and residential customers in Alabama and the Atlanta area. The company plans to start an apprenticeship program in Birmingham City Schools.

Bell and members of the Birmingham City Council will help dedicate HM’s new headquarters on Monday at 3 p.m.

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Alabama’s economy might be ready to really grow, Philly Fed says

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Tom Cosby leaves BBA for fundraising firm, will head Lyric Theatre fundraising (Updated)

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Birmingham Business Alliance and chamber of commerce veteran Tom Cosby is leaving the BBA to manage fundraising for downtown’s historic Lyric Theatre.

Tom Cosby Photo.jpgTom Cosby

Cosby, a 35-year veteran of the BBA and its predecessor chamber, on Thursday will begin work as senior counsel for National Community Development Services Inc., an Atlanta-based company that specializes in fundraising for chambers of commerce and economic development agencies.

Birmingham Landmarks, which owns the Lyric, has retained NCDS to manage its fundraising and Cosby, who will remain in Birmingham, will head the effort.

“I’ve been involved in a lot of fundraising campaigns,” said Cosby, who has worked on campaigns for Rickwood Field and Vulcan, among others. “It’s kind of a perfect marriage.”

The 1,000-seat Lyric opened as a vaudeville house in 1914, and its stage has been graced with performances by many of the biggest stars of the first few decades of the 20th Century. The Marx Brothers, Mae West and Milton Berle all performed there in the theater’s heyday.

But the Lyric began to lose its luster as talkies replaced vaudeville in the 1930s and 1940s, and the theater closed in 1958. It reopened in the 1970s as a short-lived art house theater called the Grand Bijou, and later became an adult movie theater. The 1972 pornographic film “Deep Throat” was among the last movies shown before the theater was shuttered.

Cecil Whitmire's legacy

Through it all the Lyric remained an acoustic gem, designed for live performances before amplification. Today, even with many of the seats gone and decades of dust covering portions of the theater, a soft-spoken person on the stage can be clearly heard in the upper balcony.

The nonprofit Birmingham Landmarks, which also owns the Alabama Theatre across the street from the Lyric, and volunteer coordinator Glenny Brock have raised more than $600,000 to begin work, but recent estimates indicate it may take $15 million to $18 million to completely renovate the theater.

terminal.JPGBirmingham’s Terminal Station. (News file)

Cosby said Birmingham is uniquely suited to meet the challenge, because the community has come to view the 1969 demolition of its grand Terminal Station as a grave error. The business community and wealthier families will be asked to lead the effort, he said. And, he said, there clearly is demand for another performance space downtown. The Alabama Theatre turns away more than 100 events a year because it’s already booked.

“Birmingham has always had a very strong theatrical tradition,” he said. “And this is something the people of Birmingham can have that’s just really cool.”

Brant Beene, executive director of Birmingham Landmarks, said the goal is to have the theater restored and open in 2014, for a celebration of its 100th anniversary. The short-term goal, he said, is to open the lobby for events to help sell the concept to potential benefactors.

“Our goal is to have something big happen in 2014,” he said.

Brock, who coordinates the theater’s volunteers, said the Lyric is worth preserving in part because it is uniquely Birmingham. Cosby’s BBA retirement party was held in the theater’s lobby on Friday evening, she said. Across the street at the Alabama a crowd gathered for the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and a couple of doors down a Magic City Classic party was underway at a nightclub.

Each event was a magnet for a different demographic, but the city’s theater district is a melting pot, with the Lyric at its center, she said.

“It was a remarkable Birmingham moment,” Brock said. “We think the Lyric is an anchor for a lot of possibilities.”

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Hurricane Sandy impacts Redstone agencies, local contractors with close ties to East Coast

Leada Gore |


Leada Gore |

The Huntsville Times

on October 29, 2012 at 3:33 PM, updated October 30, 2012 at 10:11 AM

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Huricane Sandy
Heavy rain falls along Front street in Wilmington, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012 as Hurricane Sandy churns in the Atlantic Ocean. Hurricane Sandy, upgraded again Saturday just hours after forecasters said it had weakened to a tropical storm, was barreling north from the Caribbean and was expected to make landfall early Tuesday near the Delaware coast, then hit two winter weather systems as it moves inland, creating a hybrid monster storm. (AP Photo/The Star-News, Ken Blevins)

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – Hurricane Sandy’s high winds and destructive floods are
cutting a path through the vital lines between Washington, D.C. and Virginia
and the governmental agencies and contractors that call Huntsville home.

Huntsville and Redstone Arsenal are home to a plethora of
government offices and contractors that either have headquarters or offices
along the East Coast, particularly in Washington, D.C. and Virginia. With the
storm set to pummel that area, local agencies and contractors are left waiting
as flights are delayed, offices closed and work comes to a halt.

“We are essentially shut down until further notice,” Public
Affairs Officer Pamela Rogers said of Missile Defense Agency’s East Coast operations. MDA’s
headquarters in Fort Belvoir, Va. closed at noon today. Its operations in
Huntsville continue without interruption but only essential personnel are reporting to the Virginia headquarters.

Rogers said they do not know how long the Virginia office
will be closed.

“We’re all just waiting and seeing what’s going to happen,”
she said.

Army Materiel Command, headquartered at Redstone Arsenal, is
working with the U.S. Northern Command to prepare if help is requested by the
federal government via the Stafford Act, which would trigger Federal Emergency
Management Agency assistance in the affected areas.

AMC officials said support would include work for
activated forces through the Army Sustainment Command and the Army Contracting

While they are readying to assist, AMC is also bracing for
its facilities to be impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Several AMC subordinate
agencies and facilities are in the projected path of the storm, including the
U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command and other entities at
Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md., Tobyhanna Army Depot. Penn., and U.S. Army
Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, Mass., among

Local contractors are facing similar situations. Doug
Shores, Public Relations for Missile Systems at Raytheon Company, said his
company has cancelled meetings along the East Coast, mainly because of the
inability to fly into the area.

Boeing suspended its Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and
Pennsylvania operations today.

“We will determine any potential business impacts after the
storm, when we will have an opportunity to do a thorough assessment. Operations
for Tuesday and the remainder of the week will be determined on a day-to-day
basis as events unfold,” company officials said.

Lockheed Martin, with headquarters in Bethesda, Md.,
activated its emergency response plan last Friday. The plan includes the
formation of an emergency response team and safety information provided to
employees in those areas impacted by the storm. Lockheed officials said the
majority of its facilities along the East Coast are closed.

“There are no reports of facility damage at this time,”
Lockheed officials said.

The cancellation of flights out of Washington, D.C. is
impacting plans for the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce, too. The
chamber was hosting a CEO Roundtable with Mike McConnell, former director of
National Intelligence and current vice chairman of Booz Allen and Hamilton, on
threats to cyber security.

On Monday, chamber officials learned flight cancellations
won’t allow McConnell to travel to Huntsville and the event was cancelled.

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Hurricane Sandy continues to hamper Huntsville businesses, government agencies

Leada Gore |


Leada Gore |

The Huntsville Times

on October 30, 2012 at 12:25 PM, updated October 30, 2012 at 3:00 PM

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NASA’s satellites show images of Sandy. Though no longer a hurricane, Sandy continues to affect a large area of the eastern United States after coming ashore on Monday evening. (NASA photo) 

Former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell was
supposed to be in Huntsville Tuesday to speak on cyber security at a
Huntsville/Madison Chamber of Commerce event. Instead, Hurricane Sandy left him stranded in
Washington, D.C. as the storm and its aftermath continued to cancel flights,
delay meetings and interrupt the flow of work and information between the East
Coast and Huntsville.

With many Huntsville government agencies and contractors
having offices in the storm-impacted areas of Washington, D.C. and Virginia, communication
and travel have been severely impacted by massive power outages and closed

It was the lack of flights that cancelled East Coast meetings
for Raytheon, according to Doug Shores, Public Relations for Missile Systems at
Raytheon Company.

Boeing suspended its Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and
Pennsylvania operations Monday and they remained closed on Tuesday. Company
officials said operations will be “evaluated on a day-by-day basis,” but said
there were no notable issues or site damage as of Tuesday.

Lockheed Martin, with headquarters in Bethesda, Md.,
activated its emergency response plan last Friday. Company officials said
several of its East Coast facilities remained closed Tuesday and the company is
working to verify all its employees are safe. The company has also opened the
Lockheed Martin Employee Disaster Relief Fund to assist those whose homes were
damaged in the storm.

Lockheed Martin said none of its facilities received major

Pamela Rogers, Public Affairs Officer Pamela Rogers of the
Missile Defense Agency, said MDA’s Virginia headquarters at Fort Belvoir, Va.
remain closed Tuesday with no information on when it will reopen.

“We are essentially shut down until further notice,” she

Much of Fort Belvoir remains without electricity and it is operating under its Emergency Essential Only Conditions status.

Several Army Materiel Command subordinate agencies and
facilities were in the path of the storm, including the U.S. Army Research,
Development and Engineering Command and other entities at Aberdeen Proving
Grounds, Md., Tobyhanna Army Depot. Penn., and U.S. Army Natick Soldier
Research, Development and Engineering Center, Mass., among others.

According to AMC, the facilities at Aberdeen Proving Ground received “severe weather and storm damage.” Tobyhanna received some wind damage but is open and Natick Center is open with a liberal leave policy.

AMC, headquartered at Redstone Arsenal, is working to
support the U.S. Northern Command. The Northern Command is charged with
providing support to FEMA through the Department of Defense. They also work
with the National Guard and the recently appointed Dual Commanders, who are
charged with leading both the state and federal National Guard forces in the
affected areas.

AMC supports the Northern Command through its work with the
Army Sustainment Command and the Army Contracting Command in a variety of
logistical operations.

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