–Smith Music Group Inc. has operated a recording studio for almost 30 years in
the 5000 sq. ft. building at 601 Meridian St. The couple has developed three other
commercial rental properties within the two mile radius where they've resided
since 1981. –Married over 36 years, steering three girls through college, Joy
has also managed the accounts of Smith Music Group Inc. for the last ten years.
Huntsville Times Business Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Entrepreneur Smith gives Park Place his all
As an entrepreneur, Doug Smith doesn't let minor details stand in the way of his goals.
When Smith founded Sound Cell recording studio in 1981, he managed to move into the building downtown he wanted, although it was a shuttered, state-run liquor store and warehouse still tied up in a lease. Smith drove to Montgomery and asked then-Gov. George Wallace to sublease the Meridian Street building to him. "George Wallace signed the lease," Smith said. "The state figured, 'Why keep paying rent on the building?' "
Smith faced another set of hurdles when he bought the collection of buildings behind Sound Cell near the Furniture Factory restaurant. The structures were part of the A.M. Booth Lumber Yard and dated back more than 100 years. Many people - including prospective developers - felt that the historic buildings should be razed, Smith said. Despite their worn appearance and somewhat worrisome electrical wiring, he said, the buildings were sturdy. So Smith pulled out a hammer and went to work creating Park Place, a shopping and entertainment center tucked in a northeast corner of downtown.
While Smith agrees that there's a place for shiny new developments such as Bridge Street Town Centre in Cummings Research Park, he believes that many people - particularly young professionals - prefer a more artsy, eclectic environment. He's working to bring the buildings up to code while maintaining their rustic, shantytown feel. "When I first was contacted about this property, there was talk about flattening it," he said. "That wasn't my idea of what I wanted to see happen." Smith has invested nearly $1 million in the project so far. The first phase, a small strip center fronting Meridian, is fully leased. Tenants include Bicycles Etc., Allison Jansen Photography Studio and Osco office furniture gallery, a Steelcase dealer.
The plaza in back was the site of Huntsville Young Professionals' recent Halloween party. The next phase, which will include building outside observation decks and brining the other buildings up to code, is expected to begin in the spring. "It's kind of 'crawl before you walk,' " said Smith, whose recording clients include Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt and Vanessa Williams. When he presented his vision for Park Place to city officials, Smith relied on the skills he's honed over the years to pitch artists to big record labels. He had a full presentation ready. "I don't think many people do that," he said. The city has been supportive, providing advice on how to bring the buildings up to code and clearing space for about 15 parking spaces along Meridian, he said.
For more than a year, Smith has worked to clear out the site. In the 1950s, the lumber yard became the site of Bill Clemmons Auto Parts. Smith said he's probably cleared out about 100,000 pounds of "stuff" from the buildings. He's tried to salvage what he could, using the old parts to furnish and decorate the site. "I've gotten so many things from the shed over there that I've recycled," he said, including old signs and other artifacts. He's done much of the construction work himself, hiring contractors for parts of the project as needed and designing the space himself. "I got to play Frank Lloyd Wright for a day," he said.
Smith's vision is to turn Park Place into an "event plaza" that hosts art festivals and other events. He envisions a sort of "mini version of Big Spring Jam," and shuttle buses to take patrons from Park Place to other sites downtown and nearby Five Points. He'd like to have a restaurant or coffee house at the property. But he said chains have shunned the site because of a lack of parking, adding that local residents who have expressed interest didn't have proper restaurant experience.
Bicycles Etc. recently moved from South Memorial Parkway to Park Place. "We decided we needed to be more centrally located," store owner John Price said. Customers "are glad they don't have to drive down South Parkway anymore." Price also said he's glad to see downtown revitalized. He grew up in Old Town in the 1970s. "It was really a scary place to live for most of my childhood," he said. "I wished I lived out in the suburbs like all the other kids." Price said downtown is becoming a place where people can live and shop. "I looked (for a new site) for more than a year, and I knew within a few minutes that this was the right spot," he said.
Smith recently had a mural painted on the side of the rear warehouse facing Cleveland Avenue, a colorful scene depicting a locomotive, to let people know the area has new life. "If I can make it better and make a living," he said, "I'm really happy."