HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - It is the hub of downtown Huntsville where many families go to enjoy special events together and now, a massive overhaul is about to get underway at the Von Braun Center.
The facility is getting the ultimate face lift with two major renovation projects.
Paul Matheny, president of Matheny Goldmon Architecture & Interiors, shared virtual renderings of what the finished product is going to look like.
"It'll be a pretty dramatic reinvention of what's happening along that Clinton Street corridor," he said.
First on the plan is a new music venue, restaurant area and rooftop bar at the corner Clinton Avenue and Monroe Street.
It will be a "plug-and-play" venue with permanent stage, lighting and sound systems for the artists' use. The rooftop bar and restaurant will be open seven days a week.
"The music venue features about a 1200 capacity music hall which is a little different than what they currently offer. This would be more of a standing room venue with a stage more appropriate for bringing in bands and performances," Matheny said.
Right now, that part of the VBC is the home of the Broadway Theater League and the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra offices. Those spaces will be relocated within the facility elsewhere.
"It's just kind of a big white block and this will be something with a really compelling plaza space with a restaurant venue. So whether you're going to a hockey game or a play or a community function, you can go in there and they have pre-function activity where you can buy food and beverage," Matheny said. "There's currently no a great deal of restaurants and food service elements in the immediate vicinity of the VBC so this is an introduction of something that's been needed for quite some time."
Brooke Izzo, marketing and public relations manager for the VBC, said the new music venue will help hit a new demographic.
"This is just another addition to a great facility we already have," she said. "Mark C. Smith Concert Hall has been doing great with concerts, as well as the our Broadway Theater League performances and the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra. If you love that concert environment, that standing live experience, that is what this is going to offer to you."
The second phase of the renovation will be a large convention center expansion. There will be a new state-of-the-art ballroom. North Hall will be totally revamped. A new kitchen complex is going in, as well as a new break out rooms to support larger conventions and groups. There will be a lot of interior improvements to existing areas so they look new and fresh.
"We get a lot of great conventions and conferences but we have had that threat that some might need to leave because we don't have the space anymore. So expanding and being able to offer that space for them it's very important to keep those conventions and conference and visitors coming to Huntsville," Izzo said.
The primary entry point will connect all the way through to the South Hall so it will be one long straight concourse.
"So it will be a lot easier to find your way around. It's really a re-invention of the facility as a whole which has required a lot of careful planning and thought," Matheny said.
For the VBC, it was about re-evaluating their needs and the life cycle of the facility. The goal is to bring it up to contemporary standards. The VBC was built in 1975.
"We want to try to bridge these elements and pieces as we wrap our way around to Big Spring Park so that it becomes an extension of green space and more places for people to walk and enjoy being outdoors downtown," Matheny said. "On Clinton Street, you're looking at loading docks and that sort of thing. We're bringing in more visible, more user-friendly, more inviting spaces that will access this urban plaza so even if you're not going to a convention it might be a place where you'd want to walk through and wander around."
It's the most ambitious construction project in the VBC's 43-year history with a cost of $44 million. When it comes to the music venue portion, the VBC itself is paying $7 million of the $9 million price tag over the next 20 years from projected revenues from the facility. The additional costs are budgeted from available taxes paid by visitors to the city. It will be covered over the next 20 years by the recently enacted increase in lodging taxes and surcharges.
Construction will span four years, beginning with the new music venue this April. Once that's completed in 2019, the convention center expansion will get underway. The VBC will remain open and operational during that time.
"One of the great things about doing work at the VBC is that somehow it touches everyone's life in the community- from high school graduations, to the symphony orchestra and Broadway Theater League and truck pulls. Somebody at some point in time is going to be going through the facility so it's very meaningful for North Alabama and in that way, we feel like we're doing something that's serving everybody," Matheny said.
The design will play off the existing architecture at the VBC, but Matheny says it will a compelling addition to the downtown area.
"It will be very urban and interesting with plazas and outdoor spaces where people can gather. Edgy and interesting architecture," he said.
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