Rebuilding Huntsville’s City Hall: The Problem

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Most people like to clean up the house when they have visitors. After all, you want to make a good impression.

In Huntsville though, city leaders may be struggling to do that. City Hall's best years are behind it and the aging building, once a symbol of Huntsville's innovation, could now be hampering efforts to recruit jobs and development.

WHNT News 19 anchors Steve Johnson and Michelle Stark investigated the problems facing City Hall. They found a building facing serious signs of aging.

Chain link fences and plywood boards surround the property.  Metal straps are wrapped around pillars to keep chunks of marble from crashing to the ground.

Jeff Easter, who's in charge of the maintenance for the facility, said the city has been forced to take short-term protective measures because a “long-term” fix for the old building would cost millions.

"I'm not proud of it," Easter said. "I'm proud of what we've done but I'd like to see a better image for the city."

Ron Poteat, Chairman of Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce expressed the same concerns about the city’s image – especially when it comes to recruiting interest in the area from outsiders.

What does Huntsville’s mayor think?

WHNT News 19 tracked down Mayor Tommy Battle and asked him if the cities Huntsville often competes with for development and jobs – places like Knoxville, Chattanooga, Greenville and Austin – are at an advantage because of nicer, newer government buildings.

Battle stressed his first goal is to sell companies on the tangible advantages of setting up shop in Huntsville-Madison County – a business-friendly government, low cost of living and a short commute.  Still, he admits, visitors notice the condition of City Hall.

"We’ve got a building that has served its useful life and that’s just a nice way to put it," Battle said.  "I’d like to have something classic with a little bit of modern design put into it."

It’s not just appearances that are a problem.  The building is also inefficient. Only 64 percent of the square footage of the current City Hall can be used for workers.  As a result, city offices are spread out across seven different local buildings.  Mayor Battle and others would like to see those offices combined in a single location – to save money and make life easier on citizens.

Despite the problems, getting a new city hall won’t be easy.  It’ll cost millions. The public has to be on board. Plus, what would a new city center look like? Where should it be built?

Watch Part 2 of our special report. WHNT News 19 takes action to get the answers to those questions.  We also explore some of the existing plans for a new city hall.  Plus, we look at how each would change the makeup of downtown.


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