Today’s guest columnist is Doug Martinson, II.
Tom Cosby, a long time Birmingham Chamber of Commerce champion, penned a column recently to proclaim that Huntsville is never going to be Alabama’s largest city.
Though Mr. Cosby probably had the best of intentions, he appears to be completely unaware how much Huntsville has grown and prospered.
I should start by saying that I don’t feel it’s necessary to denigrate Birmingham in order to feel good about Huntsville. This isn’t a “bash Birmingham” response. I, like many citizens of the Rocket City, love Birmingham.
My son attends Birmingham Southern College, and I think the leadership and education there is superb. I am also currently working with several Birmingham business and charitable leaders, members of the Birmingham Bar Association, and the Birmingham Rotary Club. We love the Birmingham restaurant scene and I always encourage out of state friends to take a trip there to see how great the restaurants are.
Our Mayor, Tommy Battle, is a Birmingham native and we appreciate his visionary leadership of our city. He has worked with the municipalities and County Commissions in our metropolitan area to bring these projects to our area.
As a fourth generation Huntsvillian, I am proud and somewhat astounded at what my city has accomplished. One thing that we realize in Huntsville is that we have to model ourselves on cities beyond the State’s borders. We have gone to, and learned from, cities such as Austin, Nashville, Raleigh, Greenville and Chattanooga.
Just as Birmingham hasn’t been Smoke City with a bronze haze over it for decades, Huntsville hasn’t been a sleepy cotton town since well before we helped put a man on the moon in the 1960’s.
Now to set the record straight on some things that were written in the Cosby column.
Had the writer gone a little off of the “Orphan Spur of I-565” that reminded him (but no one else) of the Mississippi Delta, he would have seen the $2B Toyota Mazda plant, the 1,000,000 square foot Target Distribution Center, the new Polaris manufacturing plant, and Boeing, where they are designing the new SLS space vehicle that will take us back to the Moon. Drive a little farther and there is the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and Space Camp, the top paid tourist attraction in Alabama (with the exception of last year).
Had he read the news, he would have known that we just beat out over 50 cities from 26 states – including Colorado Springs, San Antonio, Albuquerque, Melbourne, FL and Omaha, for the headquarters of the US Space Command, one of the largest military projects in decades.
Had the writer gone into downtown he would have seen over $500m in hotels, lofts, Class A office and retail developments recently completed or under construction.
Facebook is investing over $1b here and Amazon and Blue Origin are here as well as a Toyota Engine factory.
Thanks to Sen. Richard Shelby’s leadership, the FBI is investing over $1.3 Billion in a new campus on Redstone Arsenal and moving over 4,000 FBI employees here with an annual payroll of several hundred million dollars.
We are happy that Bill Smith relocated SHIPT and its 816 jobs from San Francisco to Birmingham. Likewise, Huntsville is equally proud of the group of Stanford University genomics researchers, led by fellow Alabamian Rick Myers, who came to the HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology and are doing amazing genomic research here.
Over the past decade HudsonAlpha has grown to employing over 1,000 people, including over 48 associate companies employing people in very high-tech jobs. It was local leaders Jim Hudson, Lonnie McMillian and Mark Smith, whose vision and charitable giving spurred this on.
Had Mr. Cosby ventured up to the Mountains overlooking downtown, he would have seen over 30 miles of hiking and biking trails, including a State Park, inside the city limits, less than 10 minutes from the city center. There are hundreds of additional miles of hiking and biking trails throughout the community thanks to our very active Land Trust and visionary city leadership.
As for our music scene, we have a new state of the art MARS music hall at the von Braun Center that has an excellent restaurant and roof top bar and we have a new Mid-City Amphitheater under construction. All of these are owned by the City of Huntsville as well as so many sports facilities from ice rinks (where we even have curling and a bar, Zambrewski’s), to soccer and ball fields, lacrosse, tennis, pickleball, sand volleyball, cross country track along with mountain biking.
And we have an REI and are finally getting a Trader Joe’s!
A simple internet search would have shown that the University of Alabama in Huntsville in fact has over 10,000 students. UAH is tied with Auburn with the highest ACT scores (28) in Alabama and boasts the US News “best value” award for college degrees.
As to ballparks, I love Regions Field and have seen several ball games there. But Toyota Field for the Trash Panda’s is just as nice even if it has slightly fewer seats.
I would invite you to make a visit to Huntsville. Stay at a downtown hotel, have a coffee, beer or cocktail at our Coffee, Beer or Cocktail Trail establishments, go to the Space Center, mountain bike or hike, go curling or ice skating, play pickleball or tennis and walk around our historic downtown.
The Birmingham metro area will likely be bigger than Huntsville’s for the foreseeable future. Huntsville’s goal isn’t to be the biggest city in Alabama, we just want us all to be the best that we can be. That will help all Alabamians.
Doug Martinson is an attorney at Martinson and Beason , which was founded by his grandfather in 1937 and is a fourth generation Huntsvillian. He has served as President of the Huntsville City School Board, the Huntsville Rotary Club, the Huntsville Madison County Bar Association, Chair of the Huntsville Madison County Public Library Board, is a Commissioner of the Alabama State Bar, and numerous non-profit boards. He also was an NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Official until 2016.
David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
Invite David to speak to your group for free about a better Birmingham. firstname.lastname@example.org.