This morning at Design Review Committee, approval was given for new awnings and signage at the historic Massey Building (corner Third Avenue North and Richard Arrington Blvd., ab0ve) for a new bank branch for Iberia Bank. While filling a vacant corner storefront is generally good, a bank branch is a lesser replacement for Remon’s, the longtime upscale men’s clothier. After decades downtown, Remon’s expanded to the suburban Summit shopping center a couple years ago and then quietly closed the downtown location shortly thereafter. The bank is lesser because the clothing store had regularly changing, high quality shop window displays. Lesser because good retail is few and far between downtown, while bank branches are ubiquitous. Lesser because, despite the decent new awnings and signage, this intersection loses a local business that made it feel special.
A similar situation has occurred across 3rd Avenue at the historic Title Building (above): a longtime coffee shop closed, and was replaced by a short-lived O’Carr’s restaurant franchise. When the restaurant closed, the place was converted into ordinary office space, signage was removed, blinds were drawn, and another hub of activity was eliminated from the intersection.
Speaking of ubiquitous, on the SE corner of the intersection we already have another bank: First Commercial Bank‘s branch (above). The remaining corner is taken up by a large entrance lobby for the Concord Center which–while housing some of the best “lobby art” visible from a downtown street–is still an office building lobby. With the architectural prominence of the buildings on this intersection, and their massing which helps define the north-south corridor of Richard Arrington, it’s sad there are now no ground floor uses which engage the public in a more meaningful way. We have recently discussed how Mobile has a program to encourage retailers to come downtown; the state of this intersection illustrates how much our city needs one too.
Finally, now that the old “Ready in 2012″ signage has come down from the much-anticipated, much-delayed Pizitz Building development, a smaller “Now Leasing” sign has appeared (above). We suspect this heralds a serious new effort by the developer to make this project happen, albeit perhaps in a different form than previously announced. Definitely stay tuned.