By Lucy Berry DeButy
The future is bright for Mill Creek, a distressed neighborhood near downtown Huntsville primed to see new housing, commercial opportunities and quality of life services in the next few years.
Linda Sexton, vendor at Flucy Lucy Antique Market, couldn’t be more hopeful about what’s to come.
Less than a mile from Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment, Flucy Lucy is a short walk from Campus No. 805 and Stovehouse, two redevelopment projects that have transformed the City’s west side and brought new life to the Clinton Avenue store.
Knowing Huntsville recently won a $1.3 million planning grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Sexton looks forward to continued revitalization of the Mill Creek community.
“We’re thrilled watching how our hometown is changing,” she said.
Huge step forward
Leaders met with HUD last week to start the planning process for the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, a federal program that helps transform extremely poor neighborhoods into functional, sustainable mixed-income communities.
For the next 3 ½ years, the City of Huntsville and Huntsville Housing Authority will focus on the area surrounding Butler Terrace and Butler Terrace Addition, also known as Mill Creek. Located just southwest of downtown, Mill Creek has a population of 3,081 residents, median household income of $16,052 and poverty rate of 63.03 percent.
Public housing dominates the Mill Creek community, which has long struggled with poverty, high crime and vacancies, and lack of investment. Despite Mill Creek’s strategic location near downtown, a disconnect exists between the neighborhood and the City’s thriving space- and defense-based economy.
We have this unique situation where we have high distress in the neighborhood along with this huge potential for improvement.”
Seeking to bridge the gap between Mill Creek and the broader city, Scott Erwin, interim director of Community Development for the City of Huntsville, believes the planning effort will be a “huge step forward” for the area.
“We’ll focus on one square mile (in Mill Creek) and add lots of new amenities for the neighborhood, whether it be art or parks or improving roadways – things like that,” he said.
Huntsville, one of only four communities in the U.S. selected for the Choice Neighborhoods grant, will work with local leaders, residents and other stakeholders to help carry out HUD’s vision. Camiros, a planning, zoning and urban design firm in Chicago, will also assist with the effort.
Bill James, planning coordinator with Camiros, said of all the Choice Neighborhoods projects he’s been involved in, Mill Creek “has the highest potential for true transformation.”
“We have this unique situation where we have high distress in the neighborhood along with this huge potential for improvement,” he said. “Rarely do you get those two things.”
As the planning process continues, the City and Huntsville Housing Authority will work closely with social service organizations, churches, medical providers, colleges and universities, businesses, arts and entertainment and more to gather input and address neighborhood concerns.
James said Huntsville “can make this neighborhood whatever we want it to be.”
“We should set the bar high and we should come out of this with a plan that is a roadmap for true transformation and a model mixed-income community,” he said.
Once the plan is complete, Huntsville will apply for a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods implementation grant, which would fund projects such as:
• Neighborhood infrastructure
• Replacement of affordable housing
• Employment opportunities
• Health and education
• Private investment
Luci Ann Blackburn, a representative with HUD, said a strong partnership between the City and Housing Authority will be key to developing a plan that reflects the heart and soul of Huntsville.
“Both partners are really critical,” she said. “We encourage (them) to continue to work together because it takes both partners to make it happen.”
We should set the bar high and we should come out of this with a plan that is a roadmap for true transformation and a model mixed-income community.”
Harrison Diamond, business relations officer for the City, expressed support for the effort, saying the initiative should have a major impact on the continued growth of Huntsville’s economy.
“A lot of communities have gone after the STEM jobs to try to diversify,” he said. “Now we’re starting to go after a lot more middle-class jobs to help us diversify our economy and create more opportunities, so we think this project’s going to be very important for us citywide.”
Want to keep up with the Mill Creek planning process?
Bookmark the Mill Creek Choice Neighborhoods website for updates, information on community meetings, documents and more.
Interested in participating? Contact Scott Erwin at [email protected] for details on how you can get involved.