Huntsville’s explosive growth is on track to make it the largest city in Alabama within five years. New businesses and thousands of new jobs are keeping the local economy on the fast track.
Certain parts of the city, though, are at risk of being left behind, specifically North Huntsville.
A sixth-generation business owner is paying his success forward to see that doesn’t happen.
Mose Hall can’t say enough good things about Betty Mae’s restaurant.
“I probably eat here two or three times a week. The food is good. The quality of the food is good. The serving size is good, and the people are great,” Hall said.
That’s why he followed them to their new location at 2007 North Memorial Parkway in what used to be a rundown eyesore of a shopping center.
Jim Batson, the owner of H.C. Blake Company, saw beyond the blight and past the reputation of North Huntsville. He bought the strip mall and moved his family’s 135-year-old plumbing, A/C and electrical business into the old A&P that used to anchor the shopping center.
“It was in really bad shape. Very bad shape," Batson said. "We just saw a vision of being able to utilize the space. It had good bones. We basically took the bones and added some lipstick to it.”
He’s fixing up and leasing the rest, transforming it into something the city and the neighborhood can be proud of.
“I’m glad they’re doing something with the area, because it’s been going down for so long,” Hall said.
Batson won’t say exactly how much he’s spent.
“I can tell you this. It’s cost a whole lot...It’s cost a whole lot of money,” he said.
Batson is confident of a return on that investment. He predicts 300 to 400 employees in and out of the shopping center daily, and hundreds more eating at the restaurants.
“It’s just like grabbing the whole community, and so we’ve grabbed the whole community and we’re trying to grow with the community,” he said.
Batson and his team are revitalizing and re-purposing at the same time. It’s not just about bringing an old building back to life. It’s about keeping the memory of Huntsville’s past businesses alive as well.
The space is full of pieces of the Rocket City's history. He has a table, for example, that is one of several made out of the wood from the lanes of the old Playmor bowling alley. The glass came from a local car dealership, and the antique light fixtures came from Hale Brothers Furniture.
“The doors came from Bryce Mental Hospital in Tuscaloosa, so we reclaimed all of those,” Batson said.
The turnaround is already having an impact on people like Hall, who grew up just a few blocks away.
“No one has moved in and made any improvements, and by them coming here and renovating this place, it’s been nice. Matter of fact, I’m seeing a lot of renovations going on in this area all around,” Hall said.
Reggie McKenzie is president of the North Huntsville Business Association. He calls this complex a catalyst for change in North Huntsville.
“It’s going to be a win-win for everybody,” McKenzie said. "We’re excited about it, and the city’s committed to it. Business people like Jim are committed, and that’s all you need. The community’s been ready for it, and they will support it.”
Batson says he doesn’t see compass points, north, south, east or west. It's all Huntsville, and together, we can make all of Huntsville the best it can be.
“You just have to become good members of the community, and so that’s what you do. You become a good member of the community, and when you become a good member of the community, the community usually strives and helps, and everybody comes together,” Batson said.