Rebuilding Huntsville’s City Hall: The Possibilities

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Huntsville’s City Hall is an aging building. Once a symbol of the community’s innovation, it could now be hampering efforts to recruit jobs and development — making it hard for city leaders to make a good first impression.

In a WHNT News 19 Taking Action report on the building’s problems, Steve Johnson and Michelle Stark outlined the esthetic issues – falling marble, chain link fences, plywood boards and wire-wrapped pillars – as well as efficiency problems. The building can’t really meet the needs of city government anymore.

Community leaders acknowledge the issues. The real question is, what should a new City Hall look like? Where should it be? How much should be spent? There are a number of ideas already circulating.

Architect Tim Packard has a pretty simple concept for Huntsville’s future City Hall. He’d demolish the annex next to the existing building, build a new City Hall where the annex was, then move everyone over, demolish the original building and expand the nearby park.

Developer Scott McLain, on the other hand, envisions a new City Hall on property he owns at the corner of Memorial Parkway and Clinton Avenue – along the busiest highway in north Alabama. The mixed-use development, which he calls Constellation, would combine city, county and even school district offices.

“You can have all of the people in one facility,” McLain explained. “[A building] that looks appropriate and those people [visiting] from Chicago or Japan will say, ‘This community really has its act together!’”

McLain said he’d be taking the risk in construction and development on the roughly $30 million plan – a potential plus for city leaders wary of another Madison County Jail situation. That building ended up way over budget.

According to McLain, Constellation would also fundamentally reshape the area – since it moves City Hall to the west edge of downtown.

“It makes downtown have a greater center of gravity. More to do. More happening,” McLain said.

Mayor Tommy Battle isn’t too keen on that idea, though.  He’d prefer to keep City Hall closer to existing shops and restaurants in the city’s core. Battle estimates a tear down-rebuild on the current City Hall site would, like McLain’s plan, cost about $30 million.

Battle would like to see any new facility pull together the currently scattered city offices. Those vacated office spaces could be sold to offset the costs of a new facility. Bonds could also help pay for the project.

As for combining city and county government? Battle’s not sure that’s the best move.

“There’s value to having your own signature there too,” Battle noted.

Any plan for a new City Hall will have to win City Council approval. That might not be so easy in a still-recovering economy. Battle tells WHNT News 19 $1 million was put toward a new City Hall in 2013’s Capital Plan but the Council stripped it.

What do you think should happen with Huntsville’s City Hall? Share your comments below.

You can also watch Rebuilding Huntsville’s City Hall: The Problems to see the condition of the current building up-close and what business and political leaders think of it.

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