Stone Middle School’s reimagining to invigorate west Huntsville corridor

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Huntsville City officials announced Monday two craft breweries and a concert amphitheater are coming to the old Stone Middle School campus near downtown Huntsville.

“This is an exciting, game-changing redevelopment for west Huntsville and the city’s western gateway into downtown from I-565.  We’re excited about what it can do for west Huntsville, for downtown and for our entire community,”  said Chad Emerson, CEO, Downtown Huntsville, Inc.

“With two incredibly breweries, a planned new green space and amphitheater, and a world of potential for the areas around us, this will be a project that continues Downtown Huntsville, Inc.’s charge to build our downtown area into one of the nation’s best.”

Stone Middle School has risen from the proverbial ashes once before. The school burned 31 years ago, was rebuilt in 1986 but then closed to students in 2009.

Since then the property remained on the market with speculations a new VA hospital may be built on the site.

The Huntsville Board of Education Thursday authorized Superintendent Casey Wardynski to negotiate the sale of the sprawling Stone Middle building to developer Randy Schrimsher, who already owns part of the school grounds.

While terms are still being finalized, Schrimsher is expected to pay the appraisal value of about $1.13 million for the old school building.

“We’re excited about being able to have this revenue and being able to put that in other projects for the school district,” said Huntsville City Schools Spokesman Keith Ward.  He expects the money will be earmarked for building projects.

When you look at the vacant school building on west Clinton Avenue, it may be hard to imagine it’s going to be a game-changer for west Huntsville – but that’s exactly what developers, long-range planners and future tenants have in mind.

Long range planer Dennis Madsen says this model is really the predominant one we are seeing all across the country with cities retooling their existing resources.

“It’s communities taking advantage of their existing contexts, inviting in local business owners – keeping money local keeping the activity local, growing your economy locally and creating this fantastic, unique districts and places for the city,” Madsen said.

Plans call for converting part of the Stone Middle building into a 40,000-square-foot brewery for Straight to Ale, currently located in a warehouse on Leeman Ferry Road.  Yellowhammer intends to build a new 6,000-square-foot brewery – complete with a beer garden and tasting room – on land that used to be the school’s athletic fields.

Between Straight to Ale and Yellowhammer, the city is looking at creating a large amphitheater for concerts and other outdoor events.

Straight to Ale founder Dan Perry said the craft brewer will be the anchor tenant for a revamped Stone Middle building that could eventually also include a restaurant and other uses. The move will allow Straight to Ale to expand its beer production exponentially.  There will also be a larger tap room and more space for Straight to Ale’s popular Saturday tours.

“The success we’ve had with Straight to Ale has been because of a quality product but also because of an incredible community that has supported us.  First with our local residents and now more and more we see people coming from all across the region to see what the Huntsville microbrewery scene is all about,” said Perry.

Stakeholders are hoping the reimagined Stone Middle School property will not only become a popular destination spot, but will eventually create a domino effect of revitalization for west Huntsville and the Governor’s Drive corridor.

Existing businesses like Bandito Burritto are welcoming the long-due upgrade as well.

“I’m really excited about it actually,” says Bandito owner Oscar Gutierrez. “You know, it’s good to see the local guys come in, you know they’re friends of mine at Yellowhammer and at Straight to Ale.”

The purveyor of arguably the best Mexican food around says the sale of Stone Middle is a good change for the west Huntsville community.

“Seems like they want to do a lot of good things to it that;s going to help out the area. I’ve been here for almost 24 years and you know it was pretty well down tot he bottom of the ditch,” Gutierrez explains. “But we stuck with it and we’re doing well and we’re happy to see it.”

Not only would bustling duel breweries and a concert venue bode well for Bandito which hangs its sombrero directly across Governors Drive from the Stone Middle property, but Gutierrez says he’s interested in more than just the overflow business.

“I understand they may put a restaurant in there so I’ve thrown my hat in for that. Because I need more room; you know I’ve been here forever and I’ll probably still keep something going here or make it express, but I’d like to be able to expand,” Gutierrez says hopefully.