Downtown Huntsville Progress Report: Washington Street

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Washington Street in downtown Huntsville has been torn up and peppered with bright orange safety barrels for quite some time, but weather permitting, the improvement project’s last phase is drawing to a close.

The project consists of improvements along Washington Street, from North Side Square to Veterans Memorial Park. Improvements were made in phases, begin south to north, to minimize conflicts during construction, says Huntsville Director of Engineering Kathy Martin.

The contractor is currently working at the intersection of Monroe Street and Washington Street and should be complete within 3-weeks, weather permitting. As a result of the project, Washington Street north of Monroe Street, will be reduced to two lanes with no changes to traffic movements when complete.

The project will also provide for 9 additional parking spaces along Washington Street for Veterans Park, Martin says.

Chad Emerson, CEO of Downtown Huntsville, Inc. says when it’s all said and done Washington Street will be one of the most walked streets in the city. He says the improvements accomplish two things:

“They are some functional improvements – they make the crosswalks easier and better and make parking easier – but they are also attractive so you have to balance the functional side with the aesthetic side, and we think this project does it perfectly.”

Aesthetics, Emerson says, including brand new parking area pavers, grip plates, new lighting and landscaping along Washington.

“The lessons we’ve learned from places like shopping malls,” says Emerson, “is if you want to get people to walk around you need to give them safe places but you also need to give them attractive places; people want to be able to walk along a sidewalk and think it’s a safe sidewalk, an easy sidewalk to walk but it’s also an attractive place to be.”

Emerson explains the improvement project goes far beyond adding convenience of additional parking or a swanky new light post – Washington Street improvements help connect business areas and attractions as well as draw people in – people from around Huntsville or otherwise. And visitors, Emerson says, equal revenue.

“Hopefully these street improvements will help better connect the core of downtown with a great asset like the veterans memorial and then that connects through the greenway to the Meridian Street area, to the playground by the National Children’s Advocacy Center, so it’s about creating connectivity and this is another step in that direction.”

The phrase ‘Pardon Our Progress’ may not always make frustrated drivers maneuvering around cones and partially closed roadways feel better. But Chad Emerson says the temporary inconvenience is well worth it in the long run – it’s like an investment, he says.

“You need to have patience and that investment will realize its full value,” Emerson explains.

Final wearing and striping for the entire Washington Street project is scheduled for mid-February.  The final appearance of the project upon completion will be similar to what is currently in place between North Side Square and Holmes Avenue, with the exception of the final paving and striping.

8 comments

  • Nuclear Mike

    Go walk the “connected ways” in Greenville, SC…you will enjoy being by yourself most of the time…parking space is the underlying problem for any Downtown including Huntsville…people just do not walk to town anymore.

  • Freshair

    Walking? Walking to what? There’s nothing major down there to go for. Shops can’t pay the rent and make it without lots of customers and they just don’t go there. Trendy restaurants open and close because they are two pricey for the average person except for special occasions and they can’t make it on weekend business. What is the security plan for making people feel safe walking around after dark except for the walkers to pack heat and pepper spray? What is the plan to make the area a “no panhandling zone” for the hobos and bums that frequent the memorial park area looking for their next drink? This project may be a case of trying to pump oats in a dead horse hoping it will stand up. It didn’t work years ago and I don’t see it working this time..

  • mattfowler23

    Its actually already working, primarily because of the new businesses and new apartments downtown. I have owned and operated a business downtown since 1998 and it’s so much better now there’s no comparison. Back then we had Bubba’s Sushi Bar and that’s about it for lunch, except for the stale old now defunct Heritage Club. When Charlie Seeley’s new development is finished and Twickenham Square gets open and filled with new renters, there will be another 400 to 600 people living within walking distance of Big Spring. It’s not Greenville but it’s closer, far closer than it was. And Chad Emerson has done a great job, I don’t think most people in Huntsville know how much that organization is doing to catalyze growth downtown, they’re doing a great job with very little$ $$. Oh and if you want someplace to eat that’s not expensive, there’s Sam and Greg’s, Pan e Vino, Below the Radar and Humphreys, all of those are equivalent to a Friday’s or an Applebee’s in terms of cost/entree. I wish there was an even lower end option like a FireHouse or a Moe’s but that’ll come with more street traffic.

  • Nuclear Mike

    10 bikes and 12 jobs does not make a recovery for Downtown…the continued attempts to recover property values for the Downtown business owners will not boost the overall declining economic situation here…nor make a significant tax revenue increase at all to pay off the cost of these focused efforts for a few businesses Downtown…

    • mattfowler23

      I study property values downtown pretty carefully and have for almost 20 years. My buildings have gone up and down over that time but in the last 10 years there has been a steady if slow increase. There is no evidence of an economic decline in Downtown Huntsville. Many of the remaining historic buildings are in such bad shape that it’s not yet economically viable to rehab them, the resulting rents would be too high for business to support. That’s slowly changing though. As I said before, the biggest catalyst is the new residential which is actually happening not just planned.

  • Chuckie39

    Seems like this downtown stuff has been going on for years. Time to get it finished before a new regime comes in with a different plan. I have pretty much quit going down there because of the mess and rough streets. Let us know if it ever gets done.

    • Nuclear Mike

      You are right…each new regime in City government caters to the interests of a few in Downtown to insure they investments just don’t fall into the abyss of the decaying Downtown…property values=tax revenue=more of the same cycle of special interest spending…

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