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Idea#111

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Preserving Historic Buildings »

Courthouse

Let’s add a category: "County Courthouse." Either the epicenter of downtown is a government center surrounded by lawyer’s offices or it is an entertainment, small shops and living zone--but the two do not easily mix. Rows of attorney offices hardly project the idea of "fun" and the dilapidated and overwhelming monstrosity of a courthouse is the white elephant in the room. We are trying to re-purpose around it without dealing with the central problem. Of course moving county government to another area would be expensive but it would also redevelop areas needing attention. Serious revitalization of the Huntsville downtown is impossible as long as this unfortunate courthouse dominates that space.

Submitted by darrylgoldman 1 year ago

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  1. The idea was posted
    1 year ago

Comments (13)

  1. Could not agree more. Our courthouse looks ugly, but then when you look at Madison County's first three courthouses... The current one looks REALLY ugly!

    1 year ago
  2. There are lots of vacant spaces downtown already. Is it necessary for all the departments and services to be in the same building? Why not tear down the courthouse, put in some other very cool civic/park/recreation space on the site, and move workers into nearby buildings. This would take care of the eyesore problem, maintain proximity to the lawyers and others who rightfully expect courts to be accessibly located downtown, and also revitalize some of the existing empty spaces. Outside of demo costs and some temporary moving pains, what's the downside?? If we are to have a primary courthouse, it should be worthy of being even a background picture on this website...

    1 year ago
  3. Imagine the same square without that building - would be, most likely, the most beautiful town square in nation.

    1 year ago
  4. Moderator

    As a planner, the Courthouse really strikes me as problematic. The style, to me, is not really the issue (though I'm not a fan); it's that the building is completely out of scale with its context. It has the effect of squashing the square and impacting the surrounding pedestrian experience.

    If there were some way to make it make financial sense, I'd love to see that mistake erased. I don't think I'd build anything back, either. I'd redo it as a classic town square, and improve the link between it and Big Spring Park. A man can dream...

    1 year ago
    1. Yes, let's dream! And maybe repurpose Madison Square Mall - with it's free parking - for court activities? It would be so wonderful to have a beautiful park area where the Courthouse now sits...

      1 year ago
  5. darrylgoldman Idea Submitter

    From my view, the courthouse is no longer in the center of the county metropolis. Today that would probably be somewhere on hwy 72 or near Bridgestreet. North of the square there is plenty of space needing redevelopment. Trying to integrate fun attractions with county government will never work. Lets get serious about downtown, bite the bullet, and take the most necessary step of all-- move the courthouse.

    1 year ago
    1. Pardon me, I'm not a fan of the exterior of the courthouse either, but you obviously don't know what a successful downtown is. THE epitome of a downtown is government entities AND all other levels of activity--it is the gathering space for the democratic forum, and you want to separate activity in Huntsville even more? Huntsville is the most sporadic, disjointed, and disconnected city in Alabama (and is quickly gaining a bad rep because of this) and you want to disengage people even more? A vibrant and successful city has only ONE vibrant downtown. What makes a downtown successful is not just two or three levels of activity-- it's about critical mass--the gathering space--the democratic forum--it is a diverse mix of differing activities anchored in one central urban core-- it is private AND public entities-- commercial, retail, small business, residential, municipal, institutional, civic, entertainment, historic district, an arts and cultural hub within the same vicinity. A gathering space to foster partnerships, economic growth and vitality. It should be the center of public AND cultural activity. It's about human behavior, a sense of inhabitable scale and space (which I agree, the courthouse is lacking) it's about regional and central markets, massing of activities, walkability, providing diversity and choice-- something Huntsville has failed miserably in this most fundamental concept of a great downtown. Our downtown is fledgling. The courthouse square definitely needs rehab, but don't suggest moving this vital public activity even farther away from everything else. Right now, Huntsville is a hodgepodge of New Urbanist communities plopped here and there, for shopping and leisure, and no public activity or vital city services. That is the failure of New Urbanism-- at the implementation level--it fails miserably because we still have to drive miles to get there--disconnecting the city even further. Look at Montgomery, Chattanooga, and Opelika's Downtown Renaissance. They didn't move their city and county courthouse. They have been successful at anchoring critical mass and preserving their historic, cultural, public, and commercial activity in a centralized location. And it has stimulated economic growth, vitality, and quality of life. What do you MEAN government, entertainment, and residential do not easily mix???!!

      1 year ago
    2. Moderator

      I'm all for a mix of uses, but I think Mr. Goldman has taken an accurate measure of this particular mix. From a market standpoint we often (but not universally) find that government uses - in particular legal/administrative - are not great generators of ped traffic and activity. Rarely does one meander downtown, have a casual lunch, shop at a historic store and then pay their parking ticket or go to court. These are low-intensity uses with minimal secondary impact.

      That said, my issue from a planning standpoint is less with the specific type of use in the courthouse than it is with the structure itself. It is grossly out of scale with its context and despite the sidewalk network, it does little for the quality of the pedestrian environment. I agree, we need to support and enhance the amount of activity Downtown, but we have to make sure we don't sacrifice variety and quality for volume and quantity. My initial assessment is that the County program should remain downtown, but perhaps not on that site.

      One additional caveat: The courthouse is but one piece in the complicated tapestry of downtown redevelopment. Removing it is unlikely to serve as a magic bullet, but I think it's a step in the right direction. However, I am enjoying all the ideas and input on this board, and I hope we can keep up the lively discussion.

      1 year ago
    3. I think jogle475 makes a very important point. The entire concept of a downtown is not just to eat, drink and play. You can do that at Bridge Street of Providence or any number of strip malls. "Downtown" is the heart and center of a city. If we turned the existing courthouse square into merely a play zone, it might be an interesting place to go but it wouldn't be "downtown" anymore. So much of the discussion that revolves around what to do with the courthouse square starts and ends with moving everything that makes it the center of town. I'd love to see the ugly courthouse go... but I don't think moving government to another part of town will make downtown a better place to be. Instead, it will just decentralize the city even more.

      1 year ago
  6. The exterior is grossly out of scale--and I believe that was the intent of the architect, Loyd Krannert. When one looks in the interior space, however, you get a sense that Mr. Krannert was definitely influenced by Gaudi and LeCorbusier. It is quite spectacular. Again, I agree, the monolithic scale obstructs the pedestrian experience of the square. The interior, however, is a much different experience, but the exterior leaves much to be desired.

    1 year ago
  7. I am very hesitant to enter into this discussion but I agree with many points from all so far. The courthouse architecture is very unfortunate- scale and style. A park in the square like in Savannah (surrounded by parking) would be beautiful and draw so many more businesses and visitors in. I also agree that government should stay downtown. If I understand correctly that the old (beautiful) Regions Bank building is possibly available- could it and other vacant buildings downtown house the needs of the courthouse? Yes, terribly expensive but seems it would be money well spent for all that would be gained.

    Beautiful job on the sidewalk renovations down Washington!!

    1 year ago
  8. The courthouse does not have hot water, has men's bathrooms in one floor, women's on another, is extremely energy inefficiently. It and city hall are an embarrassments for a city and area that once awnt man to the moon and that prides itself on being a smart, advanced community.

    1 year ago
  9. darrylgoldman Idea Submitter

    I agree. The courthouse is dark, gloomy, black on the outside and depressing inside. Broken glass, "Do Not Enter" signs, and years of neglect make the courthouse a regrettable representative of a city and county famous for our optimism. A block away City Hall continues to lose exterior marble slabs with an unsightly permanent wood structure protecting citizens and employees from falling debris. Huntsville is a wonderful city--we can do better than this. Do our elected leaders not notice?

    1 year ago