Spotlight on Madison County: Community Development

Madison County and its cities are improving schools, parks, downtowns and residential areas

A view of downtown Huntsville. Photo courtesy of Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Last spring, Gov. Kay Ivey approved three major road projects in Madison County and pledged 60% of state funds to support them, with the cities of Huntsville and Madison and the Madison County Commission collaborating to provide the remaining 40%. The state-funded projects include widening Interstate 565 from County Line Road to Wall Triana Highway, widening U.S. 72 West from Providence Main to Nance Road and widening Alabama Highway 53 from Taurus Drive to Harvest Road. All three projects are priorities in Round 2 of the Huntsville-area Restore Our Roads plan and are expected to have far reaching impacts for commuters in north Alabama.

Citing an influx of students, last fall the Madison County Board of Education approved a $196 million capital budget plan that includes adding two new schools. One of the future schools will be built on McKee Road in Toney and the other at an as yet unidentified location in Hazel Green.

The Madison County School System serves nearly 20,000 students in Buckhorn, Gurley, Harvest, Hazel Green, Meridianville, New Hope, New Market and Toney. The system includes 28 campuses, with five high schools, four middle schools, two intermediate schools, 11 elementary schools, two K-8 schools and two K-6 schools. The system also operates a career tech center, the PACE Academy and Virtual Academy. It is the eighth largest school system in Alabama.

City of Huntsville

With high scores in housing affordability and quality of life, Huntsville won kudos from U.S. News & World Report as the best place to live in the United States in 2022-2023. U.S. News analyzed 150 large metropolitan areas, taking into consideration job market, housing affordability, quality of life, desirability and net migration. In addition to rising from its No. 3 spot on the previous year’s Best Places to Live list, Huntsville also was named the third most affordable place to live in the country.

The largest and fastest-growing city in Alabama shows no signs of slowing down. In 2022, Huntsville grew by more than 450 residents per month, and commercial, industrial and residential real estate developments are working hard to keep up with the pace. In 2022, the city’s Inspections Department issued more certificates of occupancy than any year since it began keeping records in 1983.

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Development in north Huntsville is still going strong after the 2021 opening of the new Madison County Service Center on Memorial Parkway. In May, the city council approved a $4.6 million construction services contract with Consolidated Construction Co. to build Legacy Park near the Johnson Legacy Center. Residential developments in the area also are underway in the Blue Springs, Pulaski Pike and Bob Wade Lane corridors.

As construction progresses on a new federal courthouse and city hall, other dramatic changes and additions are taking place in downtown Huntsville. The Von Braun Center is boasting new upgrades, including a $1.4 million exterior facelift and the installation of a decorative Lumenpulse LED lighting system. Across the street, construction is underway on the Autograph by Marriott, a six-story, 187-room hotel overlooking Big Spring Park. The downtown area will be further transformed by its largest redevelopment to date: Front Row Huntsville, a $325 million mixed-use development to be built on the 11-acre site of the former Coca-Cola bottling plant. A $68 million permit issued by the city in December means CityCentre at Big Spring is ready to proceed with construction on two additional phases: a food hall, boutique hotel and parking deck and a mixed-use retail, office and residential space.

The Orion Amphitheater. Photo by Josh Weichman.

In the MidCity District, the 8,000 capacity Orion Amphitheater opened in May and attracted more than 150,000 patrons during its first season. The Anthem House project, a $110 million mixed-use space that includes 30,000 square feet of retail space, 20,000 square feet of office space and 330 residential units, broke ground in September. In January, construction began on Wellory Living, a $108 million, net-zero energy, multi-use residential development. Situated on 4.2 acres, the six-story development will include 328 apartment units, 13,528 square feet of ground floor retail, coworking spaces, a roof-level lounge and an outdoor terrace. A five-story, 120-room Hotel Indigo also is in the works. It is one of three hotels planned so far for the district.

Other major mixed-use developments in Huntsville include the Hays Farm development in South Huntsville, which has 1,000 residential units and 200,000 square feet of commercial space in the renovated Haysland Square development; and the Village of Providence, which added 61 homes in 2022 and has roughly 1,000 apartment units under construction.

The 2.2 million-square-foot Huntsville Logistics Center is expected to be completed in 2023. The roughly 132-acre, four-building industrial park is located at Old Highway 20 and Gunters Way, with access to I-565.

Huntsville Public Transportation is preparing for a major overhaul and unveiled a five-phase plan to add more buses, more route hours and a Sunday bus service, announced at a February City Council meeting.

In September, Huntsville City Schools (HCS) announced plans for a new central office and a new technical education academy that will be built on 14 acres at the intersection of North Memorial Parkway and Max Luther Drive. Currently scheduled for completion in summer 2025, HCS plans to move to the new headquarters that fall; students will start at the career tech academy at the same time. More than 5,000 students are enrolled in more than 18 HCS Career & Technical Education Academies.

The new Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering (ASCTE) opened its facility in Cummings Research Park in September. The new location has 125,000 square feet of academic and research space. ASCTE is a public, commuter and residential magnet high school that serves 254 students representing 61 Alabama communities in the 2022-2023 school year. Tuition and housing are free. It is the nation’s first high school to teach cyber resiliency in all disciplines and Alabama’s third state magnet school.

In October 2022, representatives from HCS, Calhoun Community College and Drake State Community & Technical College announced a new partnership to support Career Technical Education (CTE) students after graduation. The Graduate Ready with Opportunities to Work initiative gives CTE graduates an opportunity to earn a total of 12 scholarships covering tuition and other education costs at both community colleges. Starting in April 2023, each of the six HCS high schools will award one scholarship from each community college to a graduating CTE senior.

New Century Technology High School (NCTHS), Huntsville High School and Grissom High School were listed among the top high schools in the state last year. U.S. News & World Report ranked high schools based on data from the 2019-2020 school year. NCTHS was rated the second-best school in Alabama; Huntsville High ranked 17th and Grissom ranked 31st.

HCS has 23,665 students enrolled for the 2022-2023 academic year in 26 elementary schools, 11 middle and junior high schools and six high schools.

City of Madison

Madison added 275,000 square feet of business space in 2022 and another 269,000 square feet has been approved or is already under construction for this year. Several of those new businesses are slated for the sprawling Town Madison project, including the state’s first BJ’s Wholesale Club, a Massachusetts-based membership-only warehouse chain. Town Madison also will be the future location of North Alabama’s first dual-branded Marriott, The Courtyard and Residence Inn by Marriott.

In November, the Madison City Council approved the city’s first arts and entertainment district for Town Madison. The ordinance will allow customers aged 21 and older to purchase alcoholic beverages and carry them outdoors within the district’s designated boundaries, which includes Toyota Field.

In February, construction began on a $37 million project for flyover ramps that will connect westbound traffic on I-565 to Town Madison. The project, expected to be completed by November of 2024, brings the city’s investment in Town Madison to around $76 million; that amount includes infrastructure projects and $46 million for Toyota Field.

Across town, Clift Farm is busy with its own expansion, including the addition of 12 new stores and restaurants this year and several new housing complexes. The mixed-use development’s 2019 master plan allocates roughly 400,000 square feet for retail space and 350,000 square feet of office space, as well as 1,735 residential units.

A new community center is coming to Madison in the form of a renovation of the old Three Springs facility. The 30,000-square-foot facility will have meeting rooms, arts and craft spaces, a multi-use gym and 30 acres of outdoor space. The renovation is expected to be complete by August 2024.

Construction on the new Journey Middle School is almost complete. Coming in under budget at $51 million, the 170,000-square-foot facility is expected to serve 1,200 students when it opens this fall. It will be Madison’s third middle school.

In response to the city’s rapid growth, Madison City Schools (MCS) announced in March that its board has approved financing plans to build a new elementary school in the district. MCS also announced plans to expand its high schools.

MCS and each of its schools received all A’s on their 2022 State Department of Education report cards, one of only five districts statewide to do so.

MCS also received an A+ rating from, a national school ranking research group. MCS is ranked No. 1 out of 138 school districts statewide and 57th out of 10,571 school systems nationwide. All of its elementary schools were on the top 10 list out of 741 elementary schools ranked statewide. Discover placed first and Liberty fifth out of 397 middle schools, and James Clemens and Bob Jones placed sixth and ninth, respectively, out of 365 Alabama high schools.

MCS, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, is the 12th largest school district in Alabama with 12,400 students enrolled across 11 campuses.

This article appears in the May 2023 issue of Business Alabama.

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