Voices from the burgeoning downtown development scene
What’s Next for Downtown?
Downtown Birmingham is enjoying a spectacular renaissance in development with new apartments, commercial space, restaurants and park space leading the way.
The growth of development along 2nd Avenue North, Regions Park, Railroad Park, The Pizitz and Uptown have been the important milestones in downtown Birmingham’s extraordinary growth spurt.
The big question is what happens next. Will the new mayoral administration be as downtown-minded as the Bell Administration was? Will there be growth in white-collar employment from existing or new corporations that can keep the office towers humming at a reasonable occupancy rate.
We took the temperature of some of downtown’s biggest players. Here are their thoughts on the future of downtown development.
“I adopted the belief that if we wanted to increase revenue, there were two ways to do it. Grow the city or increase taxes. To grow we needed to increase our visibility. The first thing you do when you invite visitors over to your house is you clean up the living room. I consider downtown to be Birmingham’s living room.”
—Outgoing Mayor William Bell
“It concerns me when I hear things like ‘why does the city do things for business and not do more for neighborhoods.’ The two go hand in hand. If you don’t have business, you don’t have a tax base. Without that there is not going to be money for the neighborhoods to do street repair or have a better police force. It is a balancing act.”
—John Lauriello, Southpace Properties.
“In 2011, there were four positive stories written about Birmingham. From 2011 to 2017 there have been 150 positive articles. In the past 18 months there have been 60. That’s powerful. The drivers going forward downtown are the historic tax credits, revitalization, technology efforts like Innovate Birmingham, and recruitment of new companies to the state. Activity has really picked up. Ten years ago, if you had a company that did a search, they would say I want to look at the suburbs, maybe midtown. A few would say downtown, maybe 20 percent. A few year ago that number moved to 50 percent. Today every search you do involves downtown. All of us are called to attract new business. You want to get the deal, but more than that you want Birmingham to get the deal. We all need to be selling Birmingham because the benefits are exponential.”
—Bill Pradat, Cushman & Wakefield EGS
“When I was at college at UAB, downtown was so different versus today. For the first time in my life, after living here for 45 years, you actually see lots of activity and see the buzz. You go into new bars or restaurants and there is a crowd. You have to wait for a table. People are having fun. You just didn’t see that 15 years ago. Activity downtown seems to be pretty solid, and there seems to be a great amount of buzz about the future. Birmingham as a whole is still doing very well, all things considered. Everything seems to be in good shape. The interest in buying remains pretty strong.”
—Chad Hagwood, Capital One Multifamily Finance
“We are competing every day for jobs. We should not be the best kept secret anymore. We have to do a better job of getting the word out. Our downtown is growing, millennials are down there. The profile of what is going on is fantastic. Second Avenue is one of the best stories we have to tell today. It is booming. We need to tell our story because Birmingham is a great story. We just need to get after it.”
— Robert Simon, Corporate Realty
“We have made a major attitude adjustment: Railroad Park, Regions Park, Publix, the Entertainment District at Uptown. Our city has demonstrated that we can do projects. This is a team sport and Mayor Bell has been the quarterback. A few years ago downtown Birmingham did not have a pulse, but we sure have one now. We often bring retailers here who don’t know much about Birmingham. When they leave our city, they are truly impressed with our people. Most want to be part of our city. What is making up the growth downtown are a lot of young people who have come back home. The vitality of the city center is so important to our overall health.
—David Silverstein, Bayer Properties
“I grew up here. I remember when I first moved back to Birmingham in 2005 after law school. I told everybody I was going to live in the city and nobody could understand why I would want to live in the city instead of Mountain Brook or Homewood. Now our associates and interns want to live downtown and no one wonders why. Urban vitality and the level of sophistication of public and private partnerships is so impactful to the community. Now the biggest opportunity I see is a focus on urban development. I am excited about where are and about the future.
—Randall Minor of Maynard Cooper and Gale
“Without the efforts of a lot of people, most importantly of Mayor Bell, Publix never would have come to Birmingham. Everyone who has spent any time promoting Birmingham deserves the credit for Publix because they are a hard bunch to convince. The final factor was whether the city was committed. We met with mayor and they left that meeting saying, ‘okay we are convinced. We are coming to Birmingham.’”
— Dick Schmaltz, 20 Midtown
“At Railroad Park, you will continue to see all kinds of great events, including free events. We want everyone to join us, celebrate our history, celebrate where we are going as a community and celebrate the fact that we have a great city. We have great people in this city. Fabulous events and festivals. At Railroad Park, we have more than 150 events every year. You will continue to see a big emphasis on bringing our community together. We want to be a place of health and wellness that brings our community together.”
— Camille Spratling
Here are some examples of some new leading-edge projects that will play right into the future of downtown.
Nequette Architecture & Interiors
Nequette Architecture & Interiors, is nearly done with its renovation of the former Harold’s Furniture building on Second Avenue North. The building will contain commercial space, nine loft apartments and a roof-top addition that will serve as the architecture firm’s headquarters.
With most of the multifamily downtown focused on apartments, Founders Station, along first Avenue North and Morris Avenue, has found some success in the condo market. The developer, Orchestra Partners, is changing the original office space plans into six additional condo units, bringing the building’s total to 18 units. A retail plaza between First and Morris will add to the vitality of the development.
This new, 86-unit apartment development on Fourth Avenue South has had significant leasing success in its first few months on market.
Their success adds to the overall story of apartment developments, LIV Parkside, Venue at the Ballpark, 20 Midtown and The Pizitz filling up nicely downtown.
Construction on the 17-story luxury apartment building, The Vesta, on Highland Avenue has begun, while plans remain in the works for an additional tower in the heart of Five Points South.
Lakeview Green is salted to be built at the site of the former Davis School located in Lakeview at the corner of 4th Avenue South and 29th Street South, one block from Pepper Place.
The development has plans for 30 condominium flats with 2 and 3 bedroom floor plans starting in the $300’s, and 73 studio, one and two bedroom apartments. Included are plans for 38,000 square feet of retail and restaurants.