Huntsville Starting to Grow

Charlie Sealy III, who has led the charge to bring more residents to downtown Huntsville with recent loft developments, was raised in the real estate business. His grandfather, Charlie O. Sealy Sr., launched Sealy Management Co. in Tuscaloosa in 1955 and was later joined by Sealy’s father, Charlie Sealy Jr. Under their leadership, the company became one of the largest apartment management firms in the state.

Sealy, who, with his wife, Sasha, developed Huntsville’s Belk Hudson Lofts in 2012 and recently announced plans for The Avenue, a new $30 million mixed-use development in downtown Huntsville, didn’t always plan to make a career out of the family business. But now that he has, the third-generation vice president of Sealy Management Co. realizes it’s a career he’s prepared for all his life.

“I have worked in real estate for 12 years, ” Sealy says. “However, I grew up around the real estate business, so I feel as if it has been a part of me for much longer. As I was growing up and even in college, I didn’t know I would become active in the real estate business, but I’m happy that I chose to do so, because I truly love working on these projects.”

Sealy recently has found a niche leading the growing up of downtown Huntsville into a metropolitan area with convenient, loft-style living that contributes to a big-city atmosphere — an element long missing from Rocket City residential options.

“Huntsville has a beautiful downtown with great attractions and events, ” Sealy says. “Increasing numbers of people are desiring to live downtown, due to the vibrant atmosphere, walkability, convenience, and quality of life. I wanted to undertake another development downtown because I believe in the continued growth and popularity of downtown.”

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As more young professionals landed in Huntsville during recent years, they were unable to find the upscale, downtown housing that many of them prefer and would have chosen in other metropolitan areas. Sealy, a 30-something young professional who had watched the trend toward downtown living in Nashville and Birmingham, decided to do something about it in early 2011. His plan? To turn the historic Belk Hudson department store building into 75 loft apartments.

The city of Huntsville, eager to revitalize the downtown area, agreed to help Sealy by offering $450, 000 in incentives over five years, with the stipulation that the Sealys maintain the historic façade of the building. The $12 million project opened in late 2012 to great fanfare, and the apartments have been instrumental in bringing more city dwellers downtown.

After the success of Belk Hudson Lofts, Sealy is planning another, much bigger downtown Huntsville development. The Avenue, which will be located on the 2.7-acre site of a large downtown parking lot, will include 200 loft apartments, 20, 000 square feet of retail and restaurant space and a parking garage for up to 400 vehicles. The mixed-use facility will offer luxury amenities for residents, including a saltwater pool and outdoor gathering spaces.

“Currently, the demand is increasing for residential and mixed-use properties in downtown settings in many markets across the country, ” he says. “Huntsville is following this movement and has the diverse components seeking urban living, ranging from young professionals to empty nesters. I believe Huntsville will grow in population and economic activity in the near future, and the appeal for urban living, shopping, dining and gathering will increase, as it is in other leading cities.”

Again, the Huntsville city government helped make the project happen. The city has agreed to lease the project site to Sealy Management Co. for $100 a year for 50 years. After that, the rent will increase to $120, 000 annually. Huntsville also will be responsible for improving the area around the development by adding landscaping, new brick-lined sidewalks, street lamps, traffic lights and more street parking. And the city will construct a new road behind the apartments to improve access. Total cost to the city is estimated at $2.8 million, recently retired Director of Planning Marie Bostick told The Huntsville Times.

In return, Sealy’s company will cover all construction costs for the apartment building and parking garage, which will include spaces for public use. The Avenue will cost his company around $30 million to build, he estimates. Construction on the project is set to begin this fall and to be completed in the spring of 2016.

Partnering with the city certainly makes a development of this size more palatable for Sealy Management Co., but it also promises to help the city infuse new life into its downtown. “The Avenue will add to the critical mass of downtown, ” Sealy says. “This residential base will attract more shopping, dining and entertainment venues to downtown. The retail and restaurant component of The Avenue will draw more people to downtown and add to the energy of downtown.”

As Huntsville residents, the Sealys are proud to contribute to their city’s ongoing development as a landmark center for jobs, commerce and culture in the South. The location of The Avenue, “right in the middle of everything, ” makes this particular project fulfilling, Sealy says, but he also appreciates the diversity of his work.

“One day I may be working at a jobsite with excavating and concrete subcontractors, and the next day I may be working with bankers and lawyers, ” says Sealy.

With almost 60 years of real estate history under his family’s name, a lively network of connections also is a part of his work. “I am proud that I have been able to work with great people on very diverse projects, ” he says. “These people include family such as my father, grandfather and wife, plus a wide range of people and professions outside of our family and company. We have worked on suburban projects to urban developments, from South Alabama to South Carolina.”

Nancy Jackson is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Huntsville.

text by Nancy Mann Jackson • photo by David Higginbotham

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