Through NAR’s Transforming Neighborhoods, a partnership with the Counselors of Real Estate® (CRE) Consulting Corps, an elite team of experts that advises communities on redevelopment with an emphasis on housing and economic growth, a nearly four-mile swath of downtown Huntsville, Alabama has a bright new outlook. Working with the Huntsville Area Association of REALTORS®, the city received one of the CRE’s three consultations sponsored by NAR last year, and with the final report in hand, is looking forward to implementing its plans.
“Huntsville was recently named ‘#1 in Best Places to Live’ by U.S. News and World Report, but this means nothing if not all our citizens are feeling it,” says Sean Magers, Director of Association Outreach for the Huntsville Area Association of REALTORS® (HAAR). “The city has wanted to breathe opportunity back into the Meridian Corridor for some time now, but hasn’t had the resources or bandwidth for research and analysis – until now.”
In their extensive application to the program, HAAR and the City of Huntsville identified the Meridian Corridor as a historically underserved but promising area. A lengthy zone with safety issues, an inadequate streetscape, misplaced industrial sites, aging housing stock, and almost no food or retail, the corridor is nonetheless advantageously located between downtown Huntsville and Alabama A&M University. Given the trend toward re-urbanization and the rise of Smart Growth principles, the REALTORS® and the city wanted an analysis of viable opportunities, and recommendations for redevelopment strategies that aligned with sustainable growth, equity, and stakeholder input. “It was a lot of work, but we were all happy warriors,” recalls Magers. “The amazing CRE team worked hand-in-glove with us. They were not ever satisfied – meaning, they were hungry for data, and interviews, and doggedly went after the information and insights they needed from the community. We had weekly video calls on the front end, and the team leader made a preliminary visit in which he met with twenty people in 36 hours.”
In mid-November, the full six-member CRE team spent a week in Huntsville, meeting with forty stakeholders including City Council members, officials from the city’s Urban Development Office, the Chamber of Commerce, the school system, the housing authority, various NGOs, several developers, and a handful of residents whose life-long perspective was especially valuable; input from Drake State Technical College and Alabama A&M University was also critically important. The city organized a highly productive bus tour of the area. “The team squeezed all the juice out of every minute, and even cancelled a planned dinner in order to maximize their time looking, listening, and learning about the site,” says Magers. “They were completely focused and efficient.”
Following an initial presentation to the HAAR-City of Huntsville leadership team, including the mayor, the CRE team delivered a comprehensive report in January, complete with detailed recommendations. It was optimistic that “A thoughtful, collaborative, cooperative, equitable and well executed development process and plan could make [the Meridian Corridor] one of the most desirable areas in Huntsville.”
The REALTORS® are now working with the city to announce the next steps, reports Magers. He is hoping that, as one of its first projects, the city will repurpose a bleak underpass as a welcoming, branded gateway to signal the vibrant neighborhood revival.
While 2022 was the first year for the Transforming Neighborhoods Program, HAAR is a veteran consumer of REALTOR® Party resources: “We’re endlessly thankful for all the support that NAR has to offer,” says Magers. “We’re always on the lookout for these opportunities. Besides the obvious direct benefits to our community, the programs make us look so good, by association! To any local REALTOR® board that may be on the fence about investigating the REALTOR® Party resources, I cannot stress enough: just do it!”
To learn more about how the Huntsville Area Association of REALTORS® is providing transformational support to the city’s most promising neighborhoods, contact Sean Magers, Director of Association Outreach, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 256.763.7798.