Huntsville man stands up to Birmingham

Doug Martinson

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.

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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. dsher@amsher.com.

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21 thoughts on “Huntsville man stands up to Birmingham”

  1. Great words Doug! Thank you so much. I have always advocated that positive progress anywhere in Alabama helps the whole state, and it’s just silly to pit one area against another.

  2. Correction: Bill Smith relocated LANDING to Birmingham from San Fransisco.

    Shipt has been headquartered in Birmingham since its founding and post Target acquisition.

    I am now a Birmingham resident but am a Huntsville native – am so proud of both cities but especially Huntsville 🙂

  3. Communities are known by the quality of the sum of their parts and boundary lines are not recognized by prospects on the outside.
    Great job Doug describing the quality that exists in the Heart of the Tennessee Valley “region” show cased by the crown jewel Huntsville and it’s trajectory of a brighter future for all communities in our region.
    The article by my friend Tom and yours respectfully showed the class of it’s people that makes Alabama great.

  4. **standing ovation**

    Well said Doug. Thanks for being such a great ambassador to our sleepy little cotton town😉

  5. These articles are…..well, sad. I’ll just say that both of you girls are pretty even if you’ve broken both arms patting yourselves on the back. While you are patting yourself on the back Huntsville still has a convicted murderer employed as a policeman. Oh wait, it appears another suburban group is trying to break away from Jeff Co BOE to continue Birmingham’s legacy of white flight. You’re so busy applauding yourself for the business accolades of your city that you’ve completely forgotten about the people….citizens. Be useful by discovering and correcting the root cause of issues like white flight. Use your powers for people not use businesses.

  6. BUT, Huntsville also should accept credit for Mo Brooks and the climate deniers, Roy Spencer and John Christy.

  7. John Black makes a good point. Birmingham’s leadership should try to emulate the successes of all cities near and far. We may learn from them how to make our city and state a better place for its residents and visitors.

  8. I am a Huntsville Native and have lived in Birmingham for 15 years. I thought I would always find myself back in Huntsville but my husband is a reporter here in Birmingham and I have a flexible and happy job as a school secretary. With amazing State benefits. We stay where we can work and enjoy what we do. I absolutely love Huntsville, love it with all my heart. It is an older city and there are some steady roots there dating way back. It’s real to me in a way Birmingham sometimes is not, but it is my hometown so it’s my heart. There
    is an eclectic old feel to Huntsville that Birmingham will never match. Huntsville feels slower and more diverse as a whole due to NASA and Research Park. My grandfather was as Rocket Scientist and those ties are so special and unique. In Huntsville the regular Joe can live affordability and go to a great school, that is appealing. Birmingham attacks amazing people in the medical field that flock to UAB. UAB feels more college like in the last few years and is an amazing University as well! I love Birmingham and find happiness driving through the green winding roads over the mountain, and popping into all the great restaurants. It’s like a red apple and a green apple. They are both loved it depends on what you are in the mood for. I am a big fan of Regions Field and wish that the Trash Pandas stadium was in downtown Huntsville instead of along side the the interstate. The view is basically nothing and feels like it’s in the middle of a corn field with no Hussle bussle and surrounding energy. There is something for everybody in both places you just have to find your people. They say home is where the heart is and my heart is in both places.❤️ When I drive over the Tennessee River Bridge on my way to my hometown I always exhale. You can take the girl out of North Alabama, but you can’t take the North Alabama out of the girl. Huntsville is a Blast🚀! Birmingham is magic✨

  9. Thank you so much for making people understand that we can all prosper together it doesn’t have to be a competition. Growth and development of both cities is beneficial to all Alabamians . We can win together

  10. Get ‘em Doug!!

    Let me tell ya, as a 4th generation Huntsvillian myself, I’m sick and tired of people, especially those from our own state, bad mouthing Huntsville, Alabama!! I’m a very proud Huntsvillian, Huntsville High Alumnae (Class of ‘88), and love the amount of culture, pride, and offerings of our beautiful city.

    An acquaintance of mine says that she’d never go to any doctors here because Birmingham is far superior…. I, however, have had the most incredible care since moving back to my wonderful hometown 5 years ago.

    My son, a UAH grad and aerospace engineer…. Loved his experience… and yes, great value for an incredible education.

    I’m so PROUD of our beautiful city. We have the best of the best….. we’ll have it all when we get our Trader Joe’s. Of course, I’d love a Nordstrom!

    Thanks Doug for putting this nobody in his place!! The Rocket City Rocks!!

    1. Applaud your loyalty for your home town! But, your enthusiasm is “over the top” in some areas. For example our UAB and MED CENTER outclasses anything in or near this state! My family and I have personally benefited from the phenomenal doctors, nurses scientists and cutting-edge equipment stored right Downtown Birmingham. All Alabama benefits from this World-Class complex … which is also Alabama’s largest employer.

  11. Thank you Doug for the wonderful article, because quite frankly I was offended by the original article. The author didn’t even take the time to look into the wonderful new things our beautiful city has to offer & how we are continuing to grow. I’m not a native Huntsvillian, but I’ve lived in Huntsville since 1985 & I love my city.

  12. I absolutely agree with you and your statements, but I cannot understand the assertion of Tom Cosby that Huntsville is never going to be Alabama’s largest city. For me, it is an absolutely thriving city with a lot of prospects. You are absolutely right that this city has been moving forward and continuing to do it. I think all mentioned achievements indicate it and show how great in so many aspects Huntsville is. I really like art and it is absolutely true that the musical hall MARS is awesome. It deserves a lot of attention and I always admire the architecture and the atmosphere of this place. From my point of view it is unfair to underestimate this city which is heavily developing because there are so many incredible places that cannot leave you indifferent.

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