How an Alabama city is spending millions to create its own ‘Central Park’

By Paul Gattis | pgattis@al.com

John Hunt Park, named for the founder of Huntsville, stretches 387 acres along the west side of Memorial Parkway. It’s home to the abandoned minor league baseball stadium, the Alabama High School Athletic Association state soccer tournament and a former golf course being transformed into multiple venues. That’s quite an encore for the former site of the Huntsville airport.

 

“Years ago, we started looking at this as being the Central Park of the city of Huntsville,” Mayor Tommy Battle said.

 

The current four-year phase of development for the park has a price tag of about $17 million. By the time the park is completed perhaps decades in the future, more than $50 million will have been invested by the city of Huntsville.

 

Events such as fairs, festivals, concerts and other large-scale attractions are possible uses for the festival area.

 

“The festival site may be one of the biggest community assets,” is how the city described it. “Outdoor events have grown to the point that it’s difficult for the city and organizations to handle all the logistical space and traffic requirements that come with managing large crowds. This site will have plenty of space, restrooms, and lighting — a blank slate for special events with plenty of parking.”

 

Across from the former entrance to the golf course and visible on the south side of Airport Road, construction is ongoing on a sand volleyball venue. Pictured is a facility that will include restrooms, locker rooms and a concession stand.
Hamilton said the sand volleyball venue will have 12 courts and be an attraction for tournaments for out-of-town teams. Eventually, the facility will have the capacity to expand to 16 courts.
A pavilion is also under construction that will provide an open air observation area for eight of the 12 courts.
On the southwest corner of the park, the Tennis Center recently finished construction of six new clay courts, bringing the total number of lighted playing courts to 30. The park master plan calls for an addition of ten more clay courts in the future.
The city recently held its third-annual tree planting day, an event encouraging children to help plant trees in the park and get a little closer to nature. Battle pointed out that one disadvantage to building a park on a former airport site is that there aren’t a lot of trees. Dozens of trees have been planted around the park in the past three years.
The park is also home to Joe Davis Stadium, the former home of the Huntsville Stars that has fallen into disrepair and is no longer a suitable venue for public events, Hamilton said.

A faded Huntsville Stars banner still hangs in the stadium, though the team moved to Biloxi in 2015.

 

So what’s to become of the stadium? It eventually will be torn down, Hamilton said, but there are no specific plans for the site at this time.

 

Hamilton said the city has been in discussions with a developer interested in building a recreational venue on the site that would fit into the plan of the park. The venue would multiple indoor basketball and volleyball courts, among other amenities.

 

But no final decisions have been made and the city has designated the stadium site as “to be determined.”

 

So why not just tear down the stadium now and remove the eyesore from the park?

 

“Here’s the thing: If we went over there and demolished it right now, you would just have a great big mud hole,” Hamilton said. “So either way, it’s going to be an eyesore. We think the best thing is to do the demolition as the first phase of a redevelopment. That may change in the future.”

 

There are plans for the park beyond the ongoing plans. That includes refurbishment of Kids’ Space, a playground in the southeast corner of the park, as well as a skateboard park, a bike jump course and two new multi-use playing fields.

 

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