HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — Downtown Huntsville, Inc., the non-profit organization formed to broaden community engagement and support a creative vision for downtown Huntsville, announced this week the hiring of new CEO Chad Emerson. Emerson is the current Director of City Development in Montgomery.
Emerson, an attorney, most recently served as the development director for the city of Montgomery. Prior to taking that position in February of 2011, Emerson served in an interim capacity for 6 months as Montgomery’s Director of Planning and Development. From 2003 to 2011 Emerson was a professor at Jones School of Law where he taught various real estate courses including land planning & development and smart-growth planning.
“We had interest from all over the country, really,” says Chairman Evan Quinlivan. “What attracted us to Emerson was his urban visioning and planning background; clearly his knowledge of real estate law in Alabama helped.”
“Not to mention Emerson’s recent successes in developing in an urban Alabama setting,” says Quinlivan. The Downtown Huntsville, Inc. Chairman says what attracted Emerson to our north Alabama community were the numerous opportunity sites in downtown Huntsville.
“Obviously we’ve got some development going on today. There are a number of sites in downtown the city either owns or controls and there are a number of other sites that are in play.”
That, Quinlivan says, provides a proverbial playground for an urban developer. He says under Mayor Tommy Battle’s leadership the city continues to do a good job of investing across the community and the planning department succeeds in preparing for those investments.
In addition to further familiarizing himself with Huntsville’s local flavor and culture, Quinlivan believes Emerson’s first challenge will likely be to create demand for space in downtown Huntsville; that will include making empty store fronts desirable preferably to retail opportunities, a sector that Quinlivan says will attract the type of young, urban professionals needed to fill the jobs created in Huntsville daily.
The rise of Downtown Huntsville Inc., of course, signals a new direction for Big Spring Partners. When then-Executive Director Mary Jane Caylor retired in October, the Big Spring Partners board asked the International Downtown Association to rethink the organization’s future. Chairman John Stallworth says as Downtown Huntsville, Inc. subsumes the previous responsibilities of Big Spring Partners they are bringing to the table a much broader and more diverse collection of stakeholders.
“Businesses that are in town, folks that live near downtown, associated communities downtown, folks that want to come downtown; folks who have businesses in Research Park that want to somehow influence those young executive, high-tech, engineering types to stay here,” explains Stallworth.
Stallworth says since the inception of Downtown Huntsville, Inc. last October there are two things that really excite him. One, he says, is he believes they have truly ‘found their guy’ in Montgomery’s Chad Emerson at the helm of the initiative; the other, Stallworth says, is how many have embraced the process.
“It’s great to see how many people see the value of having a great downtown. We’ve seen that in other cities like Chattanooga, Greenville, Charleston. We think we can have that here in Huntsville,” says Stallworth.
Stallworth says he believes in order to truly reach and involve even those not closely associated with downtown–those from the north, the south, the east and west–it is going to take some early stand-out performance from Downtown Huntsville, Inc.
“We think we need some early victories, some early signs that we’re here and we’re doing well to get those people to fully embrace what we’re doing.”
Downtown Huntsville, Inc. has more than 60 founding members and has raised more than $1,000,000 in pledges, according to Evans Quinlivan. The largest donor is the City of Huntsville at $90,000 per year.