Council Names New Recreation Center after Former Council President Mark Russell
Published on September 12, 2019
Fittingly, former City Council President Mark Russell is much more anxious to discuss the soon to be constructed recreation center in Hampton Cove than the name expected to be affixed to the project.
On Sept. 12, the Huntsville City Council will announce that Mark Russell will be honored with his name on the new recreation facility in the district he served as Council Member from 2002 to 20018.
“I know that Mark will hear of this and just say “Aww shucks,” but it’s important to acknowledge that he paid attention to people in the Cove and kept it front and center in the minds and budget for the (Parks and Recreation) Department,” said District 2 Council Member Frances Akridge. “The idea to name the building in honor of his passion for recreation originated with Council Member Jennie Robinson. I respect her common sense and I respect Mark’s long-standing commitment to guide our City in a direction we can be proud of, so at the right time, I was happy to ask my cohorts to approve the name of the facility.”
Russell’s exact words weren’t ‘Aww shucks,’ but they were pretty close.
“I’m proud of the rec center and don’t want to seek attention,” said Russell. “I’m a little bit trying to stay out of the limelight. I’m humbled about naming it after me, appreciative and all, but my personality is just to stay in the background and do good things, I guess.”
Russell has been a fixture in the Huntsville athletic scene for a long time.
“He’s been involved with sports in so many other levels, whether it was his advocacy for Parks & Recreation as a council member, his leadership with the Huntsville Sports Commission, his days as an athlete himself or his dedication and talents as a football official,” said Mark McCarter, Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Sports Convention Sales Manager. “He’s long been one of the most important and influential people on the Huntsville sports landscape.”
Russell’s involvement with bringing a recreation facility to the Hampton Cove area began soon after his election to Council in 2002. He recognized the need quickly and began work toward making it happen.
“It was a very long and slow process,” Russell said. “It was hard to find the funding and hard to find available land at the right price. Everybody worked really hard to make this happen.”
In 2018, the City Council announced that a 26,000 square foot facility would be built on 10 acres of undeveloped land on Taylor Road, near Goldsmith Schiffman Elementary School. The facility is expected to include a recreation center with two courts, a weight room and meeting space. It will also include two lighted multi-purpose outdoor fields and a walking trail.
“I was campaigning but attended the Council meeting last year when the purchase of the land was approved,” Akridge said. “I immediately knew it was a defining moment for the residents of the Cove and the Parks and Recreation Department.”
It is certainly a defining moment for the Eastern League, a continuously growing part of the Huntsville Parks & Recreation athletic program.
Without a specific recreation center dedicated to the Hampton Cove area the basketball teams have been traveling to the Sandra Moon Community Complex and Optimist Recreation Center to play. This soccer season, the league has 61 soccer teams traveling all over the city to ensure time to play games and practice. The two lighted multi-purpose fields will help eliminate overcrowding and some travel.
Relief is definitely on the way. Mayor Tommy Battle said the project has been bid and the City is putting the finishing touches on the contract, which should go before Council on Sept. 26. If approved, construction is slated to begin in October.
“By fall 2020, we will have the honor of cutting the ribbon on the new Mark Russell Recreation Center,” said Mayor Battle. “I can think of no one more dedicated to student-athletes and no one more worthy of this honor.”
Russell is excited to see the final product.
“I believe youth sports builds communities,” Russell said. “It’s proven, here in Huntsville, that we rally around our baseball parks, rally around our soccer fields and rally around our gyms. We are very much a family-oriented town and youth sports provide that community that we’re all looking for. I believe in providing opportunities for our children and this fits right in with that.”