Constellation – A Journey
The redevelopment of the former Heart of Huntsville Mall at Clinton Avenue and Memorial Parkway into Constellation has taken a very long time, for sure. I know that many passersby have wondered what on earth is going on with the site and if anything will ever come of it. Maybe the developer just went away after coordinating the SpringHill Suites. There is a story to tell.
My late father, Gene McLain, who was also a lawyer and broker and could have been our state’s governor (another story), bought into the Mall ownership in the 1980’s. We never thought that the Heart of Huntsville Mall was the best use of the land, having been built in about 1961 and featuring Sears and a grocery store as well as other shops. The land is simply too well located for that particular improvement, surrounded by a field of asphalt. The site deserves a far more intensively developed improvement.
My father died in 2001 and we had already decided to redevelop the site. The morning of his death we were scheduled to meet with then – Mayor Loretta Spencer to discuss the project. After his death we regrouped a bit and then I formed a new partnership with a friend, also now deceased, Manu Patel, Ph.D.
We did tear down the Mall in 2007 and we were all set to explore and solicit tenants and users at the large shopping center convention in Las Vegas. I went and “no one was home.” This is to say that the Great Recession put a real damper on such a big project for eight (8) long years.
From start to just now we have had arrangements with eleven (11) fine architectural firms, and we have tried sixty – five (65) different site configurations. Trying to completely fill the site and make the retail, the office, the multi – family, the restaurants, the hotels, the parking, and all the other engineers and advisors happy is a major challenge! We will have over a million and a half square feet on the site that housed the mall with only 400,000 square feet.
There is also the matter of money. Constellation is an expensive project, really any new intense project is expensive. The total cost of all the buildings and improvements will be likely over $150,000,000. That is a lot of cash, and recall that no one had much or wanted to invest much for eight (8) years of that time.
Now I have worked through two additional previous partners, both of which were fantastic organizations but both of which bowed out, not because they did not like something, but because they had other things to do! They both also said that Constellation was hard and they wanted to work on their easier projects! Mixed – use is indeed the hardest commercial development there is, simply because there are so many moving parts.
I had one possibility to exit the project, but did not take it. Before relocating to Drake Avenue, Walmart expressed interest. The newspaper quoted me saying that I declined the sale, “Walmart cannot afford it and I do not want to go into the witness protection program.” The community deserves a fine mixed – use project on this site and not a single big box.
So, there is a story of why it has taken so long, and since we have not yet started, that story may continue. Hopefully, though, we will start construction this fall, finally!
Scott McLain, CCIM