When it comes to economic development, overcoming a pandemic takes more than having a vaccine in your arms and a campfire made of face coverings.
There is a resurgence in the commercial construction business and an increase in material. There is a gradual restoration of the confidence of financial institutions to borrow and re-ignite projects cooled by economic uncertainty.
So that was the backdrop on Tuesday when five restaurants in Town Madison held groundbreaking ceremonies to take a small step in moving out of COVID-19 in the past.
“I don’t think it’s a sign of reopening,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. “Despite the rising prices of building materials and the difficulty of getting them, these people are eager to get into the ground and start knowing that it will only be much better in a year.”
At least one of the restaurants celebrating a groundbreaking Tuesday, Outback Steakhouse, was announced before the pandemic ravaged the U.S. economy.
Other groundbreaking restaurants included Slim Chickens and a three-restaurant building from Power Brands Hospitality that will include Five Guys Burgers & Fries, Super Chix Chicken & Custard, and a new “self-curated concept” Prohibition, a 2,200 square foot gastropub covered roof terrace.
All restaurants will be located along Zierdt Road at the east end of the property near Toyota Field. Outback and Slim Chickens are expected to open by the end of the year, while Five Guys, Super Chix and Prohibition are expected to open in spring 2022.
“COVID is gone and people are back to business,” said Joey Ceci, spokesman for Town Madison developer Breland Companies.
However, an economic reopening is not a snap of your fingers.
“The good news is that you are done with COVID and the banks are starting to make these funding decisions to move things forward and then you run into high material costs and low material inventories,” Ceci said. “These guys were very creative in getting around that. Some waited a few months later when they wanted to, just waiting for steel and some other things. “
While restaurants are shedding COVID trains, hotels are a different story, Ceci said. Town Madison has announced two hotels – a brand owned by Marriott and Margaritaville – that are still in the pandemic limbo. The hotel industry, Ceci said, is still suffering from a year of dramatic customer decline during the pandemic.
“If you look at bank finance with COVID, in the last (few) months or so we’ve started pushing restaurants with no drive-through,” he said. “You still haven’t really made any headway on hotel deals. They will be very careful – both the brands that are driving new projects and the financial institutions that fund them until they really believe they will get through COVID. “
Speakers at the ceremony praised the groundbreaking as evidence of the strong economy in northern Alabama, and Louis Breland, president of Breland Companies, said many more retail announcements were in the pipeline for Town Madison.
That also keeps Finley and the City of Madison under pressure to keep up with demand.
“It’s one more reason we as a city work hard to make companies do business,” said Finley. “When these guys need an inspection to move on to the next stage and stage, we want to be there for them. For us it is of vital importance to keep the staff from the city’s point of view. Because that supports these guys who made the investment.
“(Town Madison) is becoming the destination we all thought we would.”