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Category: Bham Development

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016: A Year in Posts

One of the big questions we ask ourselves for each blog post is “What does this say about the neighborhood?” It’s the guiding editorial principle we use on the spots everyone’s talking about as well as the ones sometimes overlooked. As we round out the year, it seemed fitting to look through our posts by neighborhood and pick the single most representative one. These are the posts we think tell you most about eight major Birmingham neighborhoods in 2016 and, just maybe, where they’re headed in the new year.

From game-changing openings to quieter expressions of community, here are the highlights.

 

Avondale’s Live/Work Expansion

birmingham neighborhoods in 2016 avondale

“We’re so used to thinking about Avondale in terms of its food and entertainment options that we forget the ways it’s also increasingly becoming a business district. Already there are some retail options and small business locations, but we can’t help thinking the new MAKEbhm space is Avondale’s defining business moment.”

 

Crestwood’s Community Character

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016 Crestwood

“It’s that community atmosphere that stands out most in Crestwood’s neighborhood branding. Crestwood is less associated with hip amenities than places like Avondale, or downtown’s Loft District. Instead, it’s a great community with close access to other great parts of the city.”

 

Crestline’s Choice Location

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016 Crestline

Crestline is a best-of-both worlds kind of area, and that’s what we’ve tried to capture in siting our newest community development. The Gladstone location — 4447 Montevallo Road — lies between the neat single-family streets of Crestline Park and the everyday essentials available in the neighboring Crestwood/Irondale corridor. It’s convenient to the big-box resources of the Montclair Road Publix and the independent gems of Dunston Avenue.”

 

Downtown Loft District’s Landmark Re-Openings

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016 Downtown Loft District

Commentary on the Redmont suggests this renovation is more than just an exciting commercial project in the city center. It’s a clue to the city Birmingham once was and, we hope, an omen for what it’s becoming again.’The Redmont Hotel is important because it tells us what a particular era, the ’20s, was like in our city,’ Patricia King, then serving as a preservation consultant and as development coordinator for Operation New Birmingham, told the Birmingham Business Journal in 2000. ‘We know it was a boom time, and the richness of the hotel supports that.’ ”

 

Five Points’s Easy Patio Vibe

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016 Five Points South

With its casual vibe and blues soundtrack, Delta Blues seems destined to be a neighborhood hangout, like the ultra-Southern version of everything we love about neighboring J. Clyde. We can imagine more than a few warm evenings spent on their patio, catching up with friends over baskets of hot tamales and bottles of cold beer. ”

 

Lakeview’s Retro Future

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016 Lakeview

“The restaurant describes itself as a place “giving a nod to the past while shaping the future,” and we’re inclined to agree. With its throwback name and place in Lakeview’s premiere mixed-use development — 29 Seven — it has feet firmly planted in both local lore and present progress.”

 

Parkside’s Public Symbols

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016

In so many ways the Parkside area defines Birmingham right now, from its new construction to its existing transformation, its corporate conveniences and Smallbox startups. Baseball season at Regions Field is the epitome of Birmingham in the summer, and now Railroad Park is offering a quintessential winter balance.”

 

Woodlawn’s Modest Transformation

Birmingham Neighborhoods in 2016 Woodlawn

There’s also something very European about the idea of a modest cafe offering truly interesting food. That’s what we see as the cafe’s real strength. And it feels at home in the artsy, up-and-coming area around REV Birmingham’s office. There’s something a little under-the-radar about Woodlawn, where truly exciting things — mixed-income housing, musical hubs, an urban farm — are quietly boosting the area.”

Our Top 3 Birmingham Development Trends for 2016

“Birmingham’s housing market has been on a hot streak in 2016,” reported the Birmingham Business Journal earlier this month. And Alabama Center for Real Estate graph shows just how dramatically the market has picked up, with home sales staying relatively flat after 2011 until a big jump in the past year. But there’s more to the marketplace than macro growth patterns, and today we’re looking at Birmingham development trends that affect the market.

We’ve narrowed it down to three top trends that are impacting our city’s real estate climate:

 

National Buzz

Birmingham has made headlines–in a good way–over the last several years. From Avondale’s anointing as the state’s Brooklyn in 2015 to Birmingham’s spot on the Travel Channel’s list of “The Next Great Destinations” for 2016. Just recently, we earned the number 14 spot on Zagat’s list of “The 26 Hottest Food Cities of 2016.” In fact, the piece named Lakeview’s Ovenbird “one of the biggest openings in all of the South.” And of the eight restaurants name-checked in the piece, all but one–Real & Rosemary–was within Birmingham proper. Like us, the Zagat folks love El Barrio, Fancy’s on Fifth, and Saigon Noodle House.

 

Historic redevelopment

One of our biggest achievements as a revitalizing city is the adaptive reuse of historic spaces. In cases like Railroad Park and this year’s addition of Rotary Trail, we’ve successfully turned a forgotten landscape into an enchanting urban greenspace. In those of the Redmont Hotel or the nearly-finished Pizitz Building and Thomas Jefferson Tower, we’ve taken a storied past and reinterpreted it for a modern city. This phenomenon isn’t new to 2016, but the year has boasted some high-profile progress.

 

Cosmopolitan living

Birmingham has long featured some trappings of a thriving city scene–culinary and cultural resources among them–but less glamorous resources have often lagged behind. Besides the many mixed-use projects opening this year and next, we’re witnessing complementary features that make full city living possible. Besides entertainment and green spaces, we’re seeing transit options like Uber and Zyp, and we can nearly boast of a downtown Publix.

 

From style to convenience, there’s really never been a better time to #liveinBham. If you’re ready to make the move, contact us today.

 

Talking “Comeback Town” Birmingham

railroad park

We love sharing stories from happy clients who’ve decided to live in Birmingham, but we also love when we find similar feelings from neutral parties. David Sher’s Comeback Town blog offers plenty of useful perspective, but the posts that have stuck out most to us are the ones on Birmingham living. Two posts from this year looked at why people chose to #LiveinBham and how they felt about that decision. (Spoiler alert: they wouldn’t change it.)

So what’s living in “comeback town” Birmingham actually like? Here are the themes we picked up from posts by Mimi Shannon and Claire Parker:

Unbeatable Amenities

Shannon describes the incredible diversity of public spaces like the Rotary Trail and how “completely safe” she feels in her new neighborhood, despite having a thoroughly suburban upbringing. She describes the beauty of light installations and the institutional necessities like the (almost here!) downtown Publix that help communities thrive. She talks about the features many new developments offer that make living downtown an exercise in luxury and not a brave vanguard.

Parker said she and her husband made the real estate leap when they constantly found themselves doing things downtown. Now instead of trekking in from the suburbs, their Avondale home is a quick bike trip away from the big attractions downtown and walking distance from Hotbox.

Vanguard Community

“People ask if we feel safe,” Parker writes. “Yes.  I have never lived anywhere that neighbors took such great care of each other.” She also defines this “urban lifestyle” as “real,” explaining that she’s found not just the accoutrements of community but a genuine network in her neighborhood. There’s a sense of looking out for each other that she hadn’t found before. And in some ways the urban revival–with its emphasis on street life and community fabric–is a return to a different time. A more connected one, despite the leaps and bounds we’ve seen in technology.

Shannon talks about how much downtown’s success means for the broader Birmingham community. Downtown defines an outsider’s view of the entire metro area, she explains, from pride points to crime numbers. On the flip side, she finds exciting opportunity here, too. Shannon moved downtown, she writes, because “there was sense of urgency inside of me to be part of this revolution, and fast.”

Feel the same way? Check out our listings in Downtown and Avondale.

 

Louis Nequette on Buying Downtown Birmingham Living

nequette architecture downtown birmingham living

Wondering if downtown Birmingham living is right for you? And if so, which part of the Loft District really has your name on it? Our friends at Nequette Architecture & Design recently made the leap from renting a downtown office to creating their own downtown development on 2nd Avenue North. They loved the neighborhood enough to buy into it, and we think it’s worth sharing why.

Even since we started this blog–two years ago now–the 2nd Avenue corridor has undergone some dramatic changes. Urban Standard, El Barrio, and Charm were all there, but Bamboo’s owners were still running Tavern on the Summit. And Paramount was an empty former yogurt shop. The “walkable energy” of this now very mixed-use area was part of the draw for his firm, Louis Nequette told us.

“We were trying to find a walkable community environment,” he explained. The firm considered our two favorite over-the-mountain spots, Homewood and Mountain Brook, but also set their sights on the downtown market. They quickly honed in on Second Avenue, according to Nequette.

“We said, let’s move down here and do a short-term rent and just see what it feels like. But it didn’t take but a few months to fall in love with the energy down here and the people and the character.”

Sold on the neighborhood, we helped them close on a building within the same block. A combination of street-level retail, upper-floor lofts, and their own penthouse design studio, Nequette said construction on the development should be completed in November 2017.

And their current space won’t have a chance to be empty, Nequette said. Not only is there a tenant lined up to replace his firm, but an art gallery should be moving into the ground floor as soon as April 2017.

For a firm with a big stake in building community, Nequette believes 2nd Avenue is the ultimate design lab for his firm. “It represented everything we wanted to embrace and the type work we do and learn from by participating in.

“We said, why not find a way to be permanently involved.”

How the Gladstone Adds Character to Crestline Park

crestline

Our Birmingham developments are a way to access older neighborhoods without living in an older home, our own Carter Hughes told AL.com. The Gladstone townhomes in Crestline Park are no exception. They’re a best-of-all-worlds model, and we asked architect Louis Nequette, of Nequette Architecture & Design, to explain how he created it with us.

The Gladstone provided “a unique opportunity to take a larger piece of property in the middle of a pretty thriving neighborhood area and add some affordable, more urban living offerings,” Nequette said. And of course, it was right in line with our goals for development in Birmingham more generally.

“There’s really been nothing developed in the Crestline area in probably 60 years,” Hughes told AL.com as Gladstone Building One was reaching completion. “Our focus is really to provide products that people haven’t had lately to encourage people to live in our city.”

But there are also the realities of urban infill, of putting a new development into an older area. The design brief for Nequette? “We had to fit into the price points of the area, we had to fit into the character of the area, and we had to create a sense of place,” he said.

Crestline Park “is a collection of influences,” Nequette explained. But there’s a prevailing English character his firm captured in the Gladstone’s “simple, cottage-inspired” design. “So you have some traditional influence mixed with modern-day living,” he said.

Nequette has also been conscious of designing a community, not just a collection of homes. The Gladstone is “its own little destination–a nice green surrounded by townhouses that look out onto a walkable street, rather than just being townhouses surrounded by a parking lot,” he said. “It’ll be its own little district within Crestline.”

Instead of an isolated enclave, it’s a model of the way new communities interact with older ones. Or, in our book, urban development at its best.

Topgolf Birmingham’s Lessons on Downtown Development

With Kinetic Communications’s adorable rooftop putting green, it was only a matter of time before golf arrived in the downtown Loft District. And this summer news broke that a Topgolf Birmingham may be coming to Uptown.

There’s no definitive announcement, the Birmingham Business Journal reported. But the combination of zoning changes and press statements the journal could confirm sounds promising.

“With all the recent development in the downtown Birmingham area and all that the Uptown Entertainment District around the BJCC offers, we look forward to continuing our efforts to finalize a venue in the Birmingham market,” Topgolf executive Zach Shor told the journal.

The BBJ put together a slideshow of other Topgolf locations as part of its reporting on the news. It’s an impressive highlight reel of fire pits and city views, casual streetwear and virtual sensors.

Topgolf’s vibe is very much young professional, not simply professional. Uptown’s fun restaurant concepts and the nearby Birmingham Museum of Art’s Art on the Rocks have a similar feel.

Topgolf Birmingham wouldn’t be a place you bring your custom clubs or get trailed by a trusted caddy. The facility would have a “driving range style,” according to the BBJ. Besides adding a faster downtown pace, that approach should make the golf experience more novice-friendly.

Golf has a longstanding association with business culture, and Topgolf makes sense with the high-end business travel new downtown hotels expect. We’ve already outlined those boutique effects on the district restaurant scene.

This isn’t just any golf though. Which has us thinking it’s a nice tie-in to the tech atmosphere Birmingham’s building with Sloss Tech. The twin boom of hip loft rentals and high-end hotels is creating a downtown friendly to both the business traveler and the digital native.

Like downtown’s Loft District, where our own Matt Neal noted a shortage of units for sale, Topgolf would represent a chic rental game. It’s less a story of ownership–neither fancy equipment nor expensive memberships needed–and more one of experience. It’s more cool than opulent, more new world than old.

But for all of Topgolf’s flash, it seems the fundamentals would remain: the driver, the clubhouse, the conversation. It would be a start-up layer over a game with history.

Live in a Landmark: The Thomas Jefferson Tower Renovation

There are lots of reasons to be excited about the Thomas Jefferson Tower renovation, among them the availability of more apartments in the downtown loft district. But now there’s one more: the newly restored zeppelin mooring atop the building.

Both the Birmingham Business Journal and WBRC reported on the reproduction mooring last month not just as an addition to the building but a mark on the city’s “skyline.” WBRC even called the mooring “a return to the city’s iconic skyline,” based on comments by Robbie Cather, a project manager for Stewart Perry Construction.

And it’s clear–both from their own writing on the mooring and from published comments on the project–that its developers see the Thomas Jefferson Tower renovation as a landmark project for the city. Developer Brian Beshara told AL.com that once opened the mixed-use tower would be “a really impactful center of gravity for this area.”

Birmingham already has an edge on the number of downtown residents compared to other US cities, project developer Scott Reed told the site. And he believes that bodes well for the broader outlook.

“Great cities have great downtowns,” he said. “If Birmingham wants to be one of the great American cities, it has the potential to get there.”

We agree with Reed on both counts, and we think the city’s skyline is a critical branding factor. The new mooring will even have customizable LED lighting, according to Stewart Perry’s Planting Acorns blog, to “light it as a modern symbol of our city.” The best part of this particular symbol, though, is the ability to live in it.

Inhabiting the skyline is unique to the downtown living experience. There’s a funny fizzle of excitement that happens when you realize your home is part of the city’s visible landscape. When you can literally tell people they’ll be able to see it as they enter the city, well, that never gets old.

Birmingham Craft Breweries Center Urban Community

good people brewing birmingham craft breweries

good people brewing birmingham craft breweries

It’s no secret this city loves its craft breweries. But what’s interesting is the way the model has expanded. Birmingham craft breweries have become, in their own funny ways, our new urban community centers. Not that any of us are complaining.

So what makes the brewery more than just a glorified bar? Many have helped launch a neighborhood — Avondale was the first 41st Street draw, and Good People pre-dated Regions Field. They also tend to be located in repurposed older buildings–originally a legislative requirement–making them an important part of a neighborhood’s architectural heritage.

Each brewery has its own personality, but all of them offer draft beer and, more recently, sales of growlers for off-site consumption. They’re laid-back, kid-friendly places that usually have a food truck in tow for good measure. And in neighborhoods that tend toward smaller housing, a brewery’s casual meeting space is a big draw. Bars this size would not have the same community feel.

There’s a universality to the craft brewery scene. It’s not a hard party but a casual get-together that happens to involve beer. It’s the bar equivalent of a backyard barbeque. Fun fact: we know an octogenarian grandmother who has been to Cahaba twice. Of her own free will. In fact, the second time it was her idea.

But back to that community center idea. Consider the range of events that happen at your local brewery. Most offer regular public tours and host community events, like parts of Birmingham Design Week or the Birmingham Creative Roundtable. Trim Tab hosts art shows, and last year Good People launched a Sunday market. Cahaba, Good People, and Avondale have all been offering yoga classes, albeit in very different configurations.

And in truth, it’s the yoga proliferation that prompted our community center association.

After all, yoga doesn’t fall into the typical alcohol/music/entertainment nexus. We’ve always thought the breweries had a more balanced feel than standard bar culture; yoga classes have made that distinction more literal.

Birmingham craft breweries aren’t the places you go for a big night out but for easy socializing. Or maybe even for your health. Either way, they’re one of our favorite neighborhood amenities.

Rotary Trail’s Model for Modern Design

rotary trail

rotary trail

We’ve talked before about the Rotary Trail’s value from a real estate perspective, and about its importance to both our civic infrastructure and public memory. So you might well wonder what else we could possibly have to say. But with time to finally explore the trail on foot and soak in its design, we found ourselves continually inspired. What we see now is how the trail carefully balances high design in an existing neighborhood.

Walking Rotary Trail echoes the experience of a rail line — passing through tunnels then emerging topside. The vision, Rotarian Cheryl Morgan told AL.com, was of “a gesture to our history” shifting toward an “opportunity to look at future development.”

We wonder if that isn’t the way to approach any project in an established neighborhood. It’s not that the design should be limited to what’s come before, but that it makes sense to honor a neighborhood’s history.

AL.com reviewed the Rotary Trail’s many visual references: its own prior form, Birmingham’s 20th century emblem, and the city’s most notable design idea today. More impressively, those references all lie in a single, contiguous space along four city blocks. If that’s not multitasking design achievement, we’re not sure what is.

One of our favorite features, the flowing rock formations beneath the viaducts, are both practical and highly conceptual. Architecture firm Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood’s portfolio explains that “the design’s rail-bed-to-river association” highlights “Birmingham’s development around locomotives, as opposed to steamships.” The rocks also function as a stormwater filtration system, according to the firm.

And then there’s the sign. The sign that’s shown up on every Birmingham Instagram feed and seems destined to be part of our city’s revival branding. It calls to mind Birmingham’s former Terminal Station and the underpass below it, without allowing the station’s more ornate style to muddy a modernist sensibility. Plus, its bare framing works with the area’s surviving industrial buildings.

Of course, Rotary Trail’s not alone in the neighborhood for blending modern architecture into an existing landscape. The nearby Pullman Flats are one of our very favorite modern/historical mashups. The Appleseed Workshop-designed Walding Law renovation carved out modern interiors in a historic facade. The Williams Blackstock Architects office streamlined longstanding brick with a flowing marquee awning.

It turns out the trail is a reflection of its corridor, where some of the city’s major architecture firms have set the stage for a restrained modernism. The lesson for other places in the city? To honor the existing landscape, both natural and built. Not recreate it, per se, but keep time with its visual rhythms and repeat motifs that transcend their age.

Pizitz Building to Redefine Downtown Entertainment

pizitz building downtown birmingham

pizitz building downtown birmingham

The Pizitz building renovation isn’t just saving a historic property, providing more Loft District housing or advancing our food culture, though the Birmingham Business Journal has reported on all those things. It’s also providing a new downtown space for the Sidewalk Film Festival, one of our favorite Birmingham events.

This year brought the Lyric Theatre to Sidewalk’s collection of venues. Next year, Sidewalk’s Executive Director Chloe Cook told the Birmingham Business Journal, the festival itself should have “a permanent home.” And it will continue all year long. Sort of.

Besides a new headquarters, the Sidewalk space will include an “arthouse” theater offering everyday access to festival-style films, according to the BBJ. The festival has already been holding screenings throughout the year at places like Carrigan’s Public House, but Cook told the BBJ that using borrowed space was hampering the festival’s growth:

“Every time we host an event, we are renting someone else’s room to do that. That means we’re packing up all of our supplies and taking it across town and setting it up and hosting an event. Then we’re breaking it all down and dragging it back. It’s sort of a very involved process and for a two-person, full-time team, it prevents us from doing as much high-level strategic work as we should be doing because we’re unloading a car twice a week.”

The BBJ story also reveals the power of mixed-use spaces like the Pizitz building to make bigger things possible. Cook said that the existing food hall plan would provide a built-in avenue for concessions, allowing Sidewalk to offer the theater amenities people expect.

And then there’s the economic argument. Cook estimated an additional $1.4 million in the local economy after last year’s festival, according to another BBJ report. And she’s talked about hiring another 6 staffers with the bigger project portfolio at the Pizitz building, reported the journal.

Even five years ago, downtown Birmingham still felt like a sleepy little place. With food and bars and event spaces, the Loft District has already grown tremendously, but Sidewalk means it’ll change even more.

“With Pizitz and everything else happening downtown, we believe this will be a major milestone in bringing that entertainment component that will operate 365 days a year,” Pizitz building developer Jeffrey Bayer told the BBJ.

A brick-and-mortar Sidewalk also means a defining moment for downtown’s Theatre District: We’re not just restoring theaters we’d lost. We’re adding something new.