In a virtual setting reflective of the ongoing pandemic, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle gave the annual State of the City address at the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce.
The mayor, who was recently re-elected, said early in his remarks that he would work over the next four years to ensure he represented everyone in Huntsville.
“For all those who supported my re-election as Huntsville’s mayor for a fourth term, I’m humbled. I’m humbled and I’m honored by your overwhelming vote of confidence,” Battle said. “I still have 22 percent of the population to win over and I will continue to work daily for the 78 percent and also for the 22 percent because our administration represents everyone in the City of Huntsville.”
During the roughly 23-minute speech, Battle highlighted several areas of growth from late 2019 until now. He pointed to the 3,025 jobs created and $1.8 billion in capital investment in 2019. The city also received a AAA credit rating for the 12th year in a row.
Some key points before the pandemic were the announcement of Navistar’s $125 million expansion and the opening of the Blue Origin’s rocket engine plant.
The impacts of the coronavirus were also a notable part of the presentation. Battle noted that because of the city’s experience responding to H1N1, they were more prepared to respond to COVID-19.
“On February 27, we were the first in the state to hold a news conference to alert our community about our plans and our precautions,” Battle said.
Battle also made specific mention of the protests following the deaths of Black people like Ahmaud Arbrey, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, stating that amid spiking COVID cases, “the summer of unrest started sweeping the country, targeting law enforcement and systemic racism.”
“In Huntsville, we will continue engaging dialogue on ways to be a more just and equitable city to ensure everyone has access to opportunity. This has been a long-held commitment of my administration and we will always strive to be better,” Battle said.
He pointed to a number of changes to the Huntsville Police Department over the past 10 years, including adding implicit bias training, a certified mental health crisis intervention team, body cameras and a homeless task force.
“What we've seen over the last ten years is we’ve seen an evolving police force and the police force we see here is not the same one that you see in Ferguson, Missouri. It’s not the same police force that you see up in Milwaukee. It’s not the same police that you see in Baltimore,” Battle said.
“I think that we’re ahead of the norm throughout the nation. We’re an accredited police force and we’re going to keep working on it. We’re going to get better.”
Part of that process included restructuring the Office of Multicultural Affairs into the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Even with the challenges brought during 2020, Battle mentioned that the year has seen 960 new jobs and $2.1 billion in capital investment. One part of the speech that was celebrated by many across the city was the announcement of Trader Joe’s coming to the MidCity District. He also pointed to Google Fiber’s statement last month that Huntsville and Nashville would be the first two cities in the country to test out the new 2 Gigabit internet service.
He also mentioned that important strides were being made beyond the business sector.
The University of Alabama in Huntsville set a record for fall enrollment with more than 10,000 students and the Alabama School of Cyber Technology broke ground on its new facility as it welcomed its inaugural class.
During a panel discussion following the main speech, City Engineer Kathy Martin talked about some of the projects underway, including 70 road projects, “equating to about $800 million in federal, state and local funding infrastructure to accommodate for this growth that we’re seeing.”
"Haysland Road, we hope to open that by the end of this year with the Edinburgh connector ready to start hopefully by spring of next year under construction,” Martin said.
City Administrator John Hamilton also added that the $11 million renovation to the Iceplex will be completed by the middle of November.
“It’s a complete redo: better quality, better seating arrangements so it can host events a little bit better. Just more amenities for the user. So, it will be a great day when that reopens,” Hamilton said.
He also added that the city is working on a plan to redesign Joe Davis Stadium into a venue for multi-sports play.
To watch the full address by Mayor Battle, click here.