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Alabama: Rocket City launches new project

Courtesy Huntsville/Madison County CVB

With one hotel under construction downtown and renovations about to wrap up at its Von Braun Center, Huntsville will soon have more to offer meeting planners.

Work has begun on a Spring Hill Suites by Marriott hotel that is the first phase of a mixed-use development called Constellation. The project has been on the drawing board for several years.

The Springhill Suites should open late this year; a second hotel, a Residence Inn by Marriott, is due to open in 2012 in Constellation. Together, the hotels will add about 300 rooms to downtown’s hotel room inventory.

“After these hotels get in there, we’ll have around 900 hotel rooms right next to the Von Braun Center,” said Don Dukemineer, convention sales manager for the Huntsville/Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The 290-room Embassy Suites Huntsville is the only hotel connected to the Von Braun, the city’s convention center and sports arena, but Dukemineer said there is talk of linking the new hotels to the center by pedestrian bridge.

Work has not begun on the retail stores or restaurants that will be a part of Constellation, named for the NASA rocket project based in Huntsville.

The Von Braun Center is nearing the end of a $25 million renovation. Yet to be completed are redos of its arena and concert hall. The 2,153-seat concert hall will have slightly fewer seats when its seating is replaced and reconfigured for better comfort and accessibility.

Propst Arena’s new glass facade, overlooking Big Spring International Park, will be available for receptions and other prefunction needs. Restaurants will also be added to the arena’s reworked lobby. The renovated arena will have VIP suites, more restrooms and an additional 1,000 seats for concert setups.

Across the street in Big Spring park, the Huntsville Museum of Arts’ expansion will create four new venues when it opens in late November.

All of the new meeting spaces will have walls of windows with views of the park. An event space for 75 to 120 on the building’s north side will adjoin the museum’s north patio. The largest event space, for 200 to 250 people, will have its own stage.

As it more than doubles its exhibition space with the $5.6 million expansion, the museum is also adding a 300-seat theater, an outdoor stage, two patios and a dedicated parking lot.

Having the outdoor stage at the museum in the park, a large green space in the middle of town, will be popular with convention groups, which already use the park and its pavilions for picnics and other casual gatherings, Dukemineer said.

“We’ll have an outdoor writers group here in October, and a lot of them get out and play their guitars at night and use the pavilions at the park,” said Dukemineer.

Aerial views of the park are among the selling points of another new venue. The Summit is a 3,000-square-foot banquet room high in an office building on the park’s edge.

Two of Alabama’s top tourist attractions — the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and the Huntsville Botanical Gardens — are now linked by a tram. The open-air tram and its linked trailer can carry up to 32 people; for now it is operating on a limited schedule as officials evaluate when it will be most in demand. Although the two attractions are on adjoining tracts, visitors have had to drive from one to the other.