Catherine Sloss Jones

Written by Joe O’Donnell
Photo by Beau Gustafson

The transformation of cities is not easy work and it doesn’t happen quickly. But the results can often be nothing short of amazing.

Just look at the heart of Birmingham. Cathy Sloss Jones does and has for decades, witnessing a transformation that has been, particularly in recent years, extraordinary.

Jones is the president and CEO of the multi-disciplined real estate firm Sloss Real Estate Company, Inc. Under her leadership, the company focuses on urban development, revitalization of the city center and on renewal and appropriate community growth. Jones and her company have made a commitment to rebuild urban neighborhoods, redevelop historic buildings, construct new buildings that honor their surroundings, and provide planning services throughout the region.

Her reach extends well beyond Birmingham,which is why you will find her on a lot of airplanes. A member of the Urban Land Institute, Jones has served on the Inner City Council and as a faculty member for the Daniel Rose Fellowship, working with mayors across the country.  Currently, she is on the national steering committee for LOCUS, an organization that works for real estate policy that supports walkable urbanism. She founded and manages the Pepper Place Market, a nationally recognized public market, and has served on the Farmers’ Market Advisory Board of the Ford Foundation.

Recently, Jones completed two years of study at Harvard University as a Loeb Fellow and Visiting Scholar at the Graduate School of Design. In addition to honing her expertise in sound design principles and green buildings, she used her time at Harvard to study innovative models for mixed-income, mixed-use neighborhoods.

Her signature project here in Birmingham has been Pepper Place. Unfolding since the late 1980s, the 13 buildings and more than 350,000 square feet of space of the Pepper Place Complex on the edge of the Lakeview district on Birmingham’s Southside have now become the blossoming heart of the city, bursting with creativity in design, food, and music—alive with the possibilities that Birmingham in the 21st century personifies. Today, design firms, home and office furnishings retailers, magazines, public relations and advertising firms, law firms, galleries, and restaurants now occupy what was three decades earlier a desolate and depopulated space on the edge of a declining downtown.

The Market at Pepper Place began 15 years ago when Jones enlisted the support of Birmingham chefs such as Frank Stitt and Franklin Biggs to develop a farmers’ market for Birmingham, the kind that had become very popular in other cities. “It began with seven farmers and a few tents in a single parking lot, open only during the summer months. And then it grew larger than we ever could have imagined,” Jones says. Today more than 125 farmers, and small vendors sell Alabama produce, meats, and hand-crafted goods to more than 10,000 weekly visitors and shoppers. That is part of an urban success story that Cathy Sloss Jones is writing every day.