State of Downtown Huntsville

photo of downtown hsv

Downtown Huntsville has blossomed into a vibrant district brimming with commerce, entertainment, and recreational activities. Over the past year, Downtown Huntsville, Inc. (DHI) has dedicated itself to cultivating these experiences through various stakeholder-driven strategies and initiatives. By actively seeking community input, DHI set the stage for a year filled with exciting developments, increased engagement, and a renewed sense of vibrancy within the downtown core.

I truly believe that leaning on this feedback and empowering the community to lead helped DHI achieve a successful 2023. While last year marked a period of transition for the organization, I am proud of what DHI accomplished. These efforts have undoubtedly set the stage for a big 2024 and beyond.

The Power of Listening

The year kicked off with a comprehensive perception survey, garnering responses from nearly 1,000 stakeholders.  The overwhelmingly positive feedback provided valuable insights, with a strong desire for more music-related events emerging as a key finding.

Safety remained a national concern, however, residents responded with a high level of comfort, awarding Downtown Huntsville an impressive average safety rating of 4.6 out of 5.  DHI maintains its commitment to safety by collaborating closely with city and public safety officials.

Enhancing the Downtown Experience

Signature events and placemaking initiatives continue to be a cornerstone of DHI’s work. These events not only attract hundreds of thousands of visitors but also contribute significantly to the local economy and foster a strong sense of community pride. Taking stakeholder feedback to heart, DHI revitalized existing events like Food Truck Rallies, Movies in the Park, and Tinsel Trail by incorporating live music, local art vendors, and engaging activities for families. This innovative approach resulted in a remarkable average increase of 1,200 attendees per event, demonstrating the community’s enthusiastic response to a more dynamic downtown experience.

Tinsel Trail has become a marquee tradition, solidifying Downtown Huntsville as the premier destination for those seeking to experience the holiday spirit. This year, the partnership with Skating in the Park propelled Tinsel Trail to attract a record-breaking 136,000 visitors, a remarkable 47% increase from the previous year. Further solidifying its success, Tinsel Trail was named Best Festival in the 2023 Best of Huntsville Awards hosted by Huntsville Business Journal and EVENT Magazine.

The DHI team is actively exploring new opportunities and partnerships to ensure Tinsel Trail remains a beloved and unmissable holiday tradition in the region.

Building a Thriving Daytime Economy

While vibrant events draw crowds, fostering a robust daytime economy is crucial for long-term sustainability.  A significant portion of downtown’s vitality hinges on the presence of office workers who patronize local businesses. However, historically low vacancy rates coupled with the metro area’s strong growth pose challenges for expanding office space. Recognizing this hurdle, DHI commissioned a downtown office market study to analyze future office space needs, pricing considerations, and potential growth strategies. While welcoming new Class-A office developments remains a priority, DHI will continue advocating for additional incentives to spur further office space creation.

Storytelling and Amplifying Downtown's Voice

Storytelling has consistently been a vital tool in DHI’s mission. Throughout 2023, the organization’s newsletter showcased a downtown business, event, or advocate in every issue. This approach fueled a revamped communication and social media strategy, attracting over 80,000 engaged followers on Instagram and Facebook, and generating a staggering 4 million impressions. DHI’s social media and communication efforts serve as an invaluable resource for residents and visitors alike, keeping everyone informed about downtown happenings and providing a platform to support local businesses.

A Collective Effort: Building Together

DHI expresses its deepest gratitude to our valued partners, city leaders, dedicated members, and the entire Huntsville community. Your unwavering support is the cornerstone of our ability to create a vibrant, diverse, and economically sustainable downtown.

Without this strong collaborative spirit, the strategies, events, and programs that breathe life into downtown Huntsville wouldn’t be possible. The DHI team is incredibly grateful for the unwavering support we receive from the community, the City of Huntsville, and our members.

Together, we are shaping the future of downtown Huntsville, transforming it into a welcoming and thriving destination for all.

Rob Buddo photo

Rob Buddo

President & CEO, Downtown Huntsville, Inc.  

Originally from Charlotte, North Carolina, Rob graduated from the University of Alabama in 2011, after obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Geography with an emphasis in Urban and Regional Planning. He started his professional career in Birmingham, Alabama working as a Catalytic Development Manager for Main Street Birmingham, the predecessor organization to REV Birmingham. While working for Main Street (and later) REV Birmingham, Rob focused on the redevelopment and management of properties in the city’s historic Woodlawn neighborhood. Over the course of the last decade, Rob also worked in several commercial real estate-related roles for CoStar Group, Inc. in the Washington, DC, and Houston, Texas markets.