Tag Archives: Five Points South

Mixed bag

Not up to its location

Not up to its location

Yesterday the state’s team which currently controls the City school system announced the system’s longtime administrative headquarters, at Park Place and 20th Street North facing Linn Park (20th Street elevation, above) will be put up for sale. The offices are slated to move to a humbler location in the 6300 block of First Avenue North, in Woodlawn. This is great news, as this prime corner which faces the park–with City Hall, the main branch of the Public Library, and the Tutwiler Hotel as neighbors–deserves a different use, and preferably a different building. The modest, mid-1960′s design (which was already dated upon completion) was never beautiful to begin with. We’d like to see a larger, mixed-use building that injects new energy into the underused park. Parks surrounded chiefly by daytime -use government bureaucracies tend to not be so vibrant, and Linn Park is no exception.

Out of context

Out of context

The above view illustrates how the current building is out of sync with its densely developed, valuable surroundings.

Wrong in so many ways

Wrong in so many ways

Perhaps most egregious is the parking deck connected to the rear, which extends along 20th Street around Sixth Avenue North. Clad with blank concrete panels, with small slits affording grim views into a fluorescent garage, this portion of the site also needs to be completely rethought.

A step backward

A step backward

Headed south on 20th Street to Five Points South, Design Review Committee yesterday approved a new paint job and storefront renovation to The Break pool hall, the former Emily Shop (above, corner of 20th Street South and 10th Avenue). This was a longtime women’s clothing store featuring large display windows along two facades, including a curved glass display at the prominent corner (it closed in the mid-1990′s). The current owner has taken out the corner glass, and replaced it with cheap, painted plywood. Oddly, the Committee approved this unfortunate change.

Thank you Regions

Thank you Regions

Directly across 10th Avenue, a Regions Bank branch sits in an historic bank building–perhaps 15-20 years older than the Emily Shop–which exhibits the period vogue for corner glass (in this case chamfered rather than curved, above). The relative integrity of this facade contrasts considerably with the cheapness of The Break.

The display says it all

The display says it all

A close up (above) illustrates all the elements conspiring against us: the strange paint colors, the boarded-up corner, the tinted glass, the huge stock-design Miller beer poster. We don’t expect pool halls to be paragons of good taste or even welcoming. But like the Board of Education building, this isn’t the best use of a great corner.

Aspirational

Aspirational

Finally, the Committee gave conditional approval to the above graphic concept for temporary signage at the new Entertainment District–now dubbed “Uptown”–adjacent to the BJCC and new Westin Hotel. The signage will go in empty storefronts, and will come down once leased.

If you build it...

If you build it…

Above, the completed district infrastructure awaits the hotel opening next month. The empty storefronts are visible to either side of the freshly paved street. With 2 restaurants and a coffee shop announced so far, we’re awaiting more announcements in the coming weeks. Now that it’s about to open, we can only wish it success. More to come on this in January.

[thanks to bhamwiki for the Board of Ed skyline pic, and BJCC for the graphic concept]

 

 

 

New hotel inches forward

Perils of historicism

Today at Design Review Committee the developer of a new hotel on the west side of 20th Street South a half block south of the fountain in the historic Five Points South neighborhood presented a revised exterior scheme. We last saw this proposal over a year ago; since then the exterior has traded its “bland suburban” character for something more attuned to the Art Deco surroundings of the area (above). However, the proposal was denied, and the applicant asked to return to a special subcommittee that would work with him further.

Part of the issue is that the new structure sits on an historic base–a former music club and, previously, a Piggly Wiggly grocery store–and that base is unsuccessfully integrated with the new facade above. While the new facade is certainly an improvement over the earlier design, the devil is in the details (and no true details have been presented yet). If all those vertical bits and chamfers will be formed out of synthetic stucco, we may be end up with poorly-executed historicism. We’ll have to see how this one progresses.

Hip not

Also denied was a revised Pepsi advertisement (above), designed to wrap around the electronic message board at Two North Twentieth, the former Bank for Savings building at Morris Avenue and 20th Street North. The Committee found this new design still too inartistic and commercial to warrant such a huge, full-color, singular statement on the City skyline. A frustrated building representative may consider appealing this ruling. This City was built on commerce, and the old electric sign is grandfathered. But the Committee is clearly drawing a very firm line here.

[thanks to Rakesh Patel for the hotel sketch, and Harbert Realty for the banner]

Diversity = urban growth

Five Points embraces us all

Look around the country, and the most dynamic cities tend to be truly welcoming: these cities encourage out-of-towners to relocate and join local civic pursuits, and they robustly embrace all minorities and cultural groups while harnessing their diverse energies towards a greater good. During Pride Week, we’re reminded that Birmingham is a relative bastion of urban tolerance–if not always acceptance–within a state that’s often feels otherwise (rainbow flags fly at the center of Five Points South, above).

Not your everyday backdrop

It was particularly heartening to attend a Birmingham Business Alliance board meeting the other week (above) that was held not in the usual corporate auditorium, but at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute gallery housing the Living in Limbo exhibit. This groundbreaking exhibit about lesbian families (which runs through this weekend) was a fitting backdrop for local business leaders to discuss the future of this region. We all need to be reminded that this city (and its region) is truly a rainbow–and all of us should work together to celebrate that diversity and base a better urban place upon it. Happy Pride, Birmingham.

Oh Brother

Another affront to the park?

A few months back we discussed the condition of Brother Bryan (formerly Magnolia) Park which lies just a block east of the fountain at Five Points South commercial center. We return to the park today for a brief look at the sudden demolition of the former Kingsley Apartments at the important NE corner of Richard Arrington Blvd. and 10th Avenue South (above). This 1920′s-era apartment building was practically the last vestige of the original residential neighborhood that surrounded the now forlorn park.

What a way to face a park

As the neighborhood transformed from upper-income housing with some local shops to a destination, mixed-use district with offices and nightlife, poor design decisions were made around this park, including the Building Trades Tower (above), which literally turns a blank 12-story wall to what would otherwise be a prime urban vista.

Well at least they realized the view

In a related move, Magnolia Office Park (above, built 1966) sought to bring “suburban” amenities to this part of town–lots of on-site parking, modern floor plates–and absolutely no ground floor retail or commercial space. In fact, a grim parking garage stares out at the park across the street. What a missed opportunity that was.

And now it's all that's left

Across 10th Avenue South from the park is this medical office building (above) that–while we can appreciate its period Mad Men-ish architecture–again turns a mainly blank face to the park. Worse, the few large historic houses immediately to the east (to the right in the photo) have in the last few years all been demolished due to fires or for other reasons. Vacant land is all that’s left. With the apartments directly west just demolished, this  building is the sole mass facing the park from the north side. Which is depressing, but it could also be an opportunity: what if UAB (whose affiliate Southern Research Institute has a campus just north of here) partnered with the City and private developers to completely re-imagine the park and its surroundings as mixed-use office, retail, and housing to complement Five Points South and the campus?

This poor park and its edges have suffered enough.

Play ball (2)

And it's happening

The City’s Design Review Committee conditionally approved demolition of an area just south of Railroad Park to prepare for construction of the new ball park of the Birmingham Barons. The area, pictured above, is four square blocks bounded by First Avenue South (facing the park) and Third Avenue South, and 14th and 16th Streets. The hatched buildings will be taken down; noticeably unhatched is the B&A Warehouse building at the corner of 16th and First Avenue, no longer part of the project.

Conceptual--with the hope of solid urban edges

Brian Wolf of Corporate Realty presented the 2 simple documents–the demo plan and the concept ball park plan, above. The Committee’s main objection was the lack of even schematic drawings illustrating the nature of the street edges of the project. Committee member Cheryl Morgan stated her concern about the importance of the 14th Street corner, and the need for parks to have active, vibrant edges. The rest of the Committee had similar concerns. Mr. Wolf assured the Committee that much time and effort has been put into creating an active street edge, and that he’d come back in January with completed schematics showing this. In the end, given the fast-track schedule and the scale of the project, the vote was to allow only partial demolition to occur, with the remainder waiting until schematics are presented in January. The main concern of this blog has been similar to the Committee’s–having a backside of a ball park fronting a major public park is not good urban planning. That we will get even a small buffer of pedestrian-scaled architecture between sidewalk and ball park is hopeful.

Big improvement

About a year ago we posted on the unfortunate deterioration of an aging strip center in Five Points South at the corner of 19th Street and 11th Avenue South. A massive “Bail Bonds” sign that had gone up without Design Review permission seemed to symbolize the challenges of this historic commercial area’s struggle to rejuvenate. This morning, the above proposal was unanimously passed by the Committee. All existing (and mainly non-conforming) signage will be removed, and a new red sign band created to provide a unified appearance. Needless to say, there was practically cheering in the aisles. (Cohen, Carnaggio, Reynolds are the architects).

More urban amenities = good

Last but not least, the above shows a major renovation of historic structures at the corner of 6th Avenue South and 22nd Street South into a music performance space and lounge, able to hold up to 1000 patrons (design by TRI Architecture and Interior Design). Located within the same block as Workplay, across the street from the Fish Market, and adjacent to the Liv on Fifth lofts, this is a major investment in downtown entertainment. Healthy cities have lots of entertainment options that make urban places attractive to the coveted younger demographic of people in their 20′s and 30′s. We wish Iron City Live Music Hall much success, and hope it inspires additional development in the area.

[thanks to Corporate Realty for the ball park plans; Cohen Carnaggio Reynolds for the Five Points rendering; and TRI for the Iron City Music Hall elevations]

Sharpening the edge

Building a case for more amenities

Week before last, the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees declined to include on their meeting agenda UAB‘s proposal for a new on-campus football stadium (shown schematically above at the corner of  13th Street and 6th Avenue South). It seems that despite a seemingly conservative business plan put forward by UAB, and good community support (all luxury skyboxes were rented for 5 years), the stadium, for the moment, won’t be built. While I personally hope the BOT will reconsider and move forward with the stadium, this is a good time to have a brief look at the UAB Master Plan, of which the stadium is a part.

The footprint says it all--big impact

UAB is the largest employer not just in Birmingham, but in the state; it’s impact is immense. All those employees, faculty, and students (as well as the health system complex) are on a Southside campus not much more than 40 years old. The recent Master Plan update (prepared by KPS Group, above)–which is part of a broader UAB strategic plan–shows proposed new construction and green space. The full master plan document states the following as a primary goal: “Encourage Midtown and Five Points town/gown mixed use development and foster interconnection of the campus with these areas.” My guess is this is the first time such a definitive statement has been officially included in a UAB master plan. The timing could not be better.

Critical mass, needs more permeability

Above is 19th Street looking north from 9th Avenue South. Historically, many UAB campus buildings have been impressive in terms of bulk, but are missing key links to the street; in place of welcoming entrances and transparencies, one often sees solid brick walls or immense mechanical vents. Or parking decks with no ground floor retail or contextual facades. The current administration, in part through the master plan, is making an effort to correct these issues by encouraging the “interconnection of the campus” with the surrounding neighborhoods. Rather than only considering buildings as discreet elements, serving  occupants and internal functions, UAB is committed to ensuring its buildings and green spaces tie into pedestrian/bike corridors, relate to existing/proposed neighborhood context, and otherwise weave into the surrounding city. The university’s plan is more extroverted than in the past, a needed quality given the nearby proposed private development around Railroad Park, in Midtown, and in Five Points. That edge–where campus buildings meet public streets and adjacent neighborhoods–is one of the keys to the plan’s success.

Mixed use for happy students

Several universities have taken on the “edge” of their urban campus in innovative ways. One example is Ohio State University (main campus at Columbus), which built the Campus Gateway project several years ago (above). This is a mixed-use complex where parking lots and other underused land at the fringe of campus were reformulated into a 4-block, mid-rise node including housing, office space, retail, restaurants, and a cinema. Extensive time was spent with many parties–from students, to employees, to neighborhood residents–before coming up with the desired mix, density, etc. The result? A rejuvenated neighborhood north of downtown Columbus (existing, adjacent historic commercial structures have also been renovated), a happier university community with dining and entertainment options right next to campus, and an improvement in the “town-gown” relations of Ohio State. In other words, a win-win for everyone. [note that Goody Clancy, the Boston planning firm, was hired by Ohio State to design the Gateway project. This is the same firm leading the current Comprehensive Plan for the City of Birmingham].

Despite the football stadium’s current woes, there is much that UAB’s master plan could do to strengthen the existing Five Points commercial district and foster new growth in Midtown and at Railroad Park. With the right amount of smart thinking and strategic implementation, the university can create exciting urban places that improve life on campus–and in the City.

[thanks to intellidryad for the 19th Street pic; ifmuth for the Gateway pic]

Eclecticism approved

At 3 AM it's hard to resist

Birmingham’s Design Review Committee approved a new urban storefront Waffle House in Five Points South, in the Studio Arts Building facing the traffic circle. [Strictly prohibited by the committee was any additional signage/posters beyond the main illuminated "Waffle House" sign above the storefront.] Also approved was exterior projecting signage for El Barrio, the long-anticipated latin-inspired restaurant in the 2200 block of 2nd Avenue North.

One is a national greasy spoon chain open 24/7; the other should prove to be a hotspot for foodies and hipster-ish urbanites. A vibrant city center caters to all tastes, so we welcome the opening of both of these restaurants in the upcoming few months! Dig in.

[thanks to taopauly for the scrumptious WH selection pic]

Design review alert

A sad end is in the works

We have learned that the owners of the building that for many years (1945-2004) housed The Social Grill, plan to sell to downtown landowner Bobby Crook, who in turn plans to tear the building down for surface parking.

The historic building (distressed after years of deferred maintenance and showing the remains of 1960′s-era metal insert panels at the storefronts) holds the SE corner of Third Avenue North and 23rd Street, and is notable for its large projecting sign. While in an official Historic District downtown, and subject to Design Review Committee approval, unfortunately the Committee is limited in its ability to prevent owners from tearing down buildings for surface parking. Once again, Form Based Code would be helpful in setting guidelines that, for instance, would state that corner buildings in particular districts must remain; and conversely corner parking lots should be turned back into buildings.

As of yet, there is not a date set for when this proposal goes before Design Review.

Waffle House across from...the Pancake House?

We do know that this Wednesday morning one of the Design Review items will be a new Waffle House in the Studio Arts building (pictured above right) which faces the circle at Five Points South. The Original Pancake House has occupied the opposite building (pictured above left) for many years and is a local institution for breakfast (although it’s part of a national chain). Waffle House, evicted from its current location just west of the UAB campus to make way for university development, already plans a new storefront location a few blocks west of Five Points in the heart of the university medical district (recently approved at Design Review). Despite the roughly similar menus, Pancake House is only open for breakfast/brunch daily, while Waffle House is a 24-hour, 365-day/year diner.

Finally, on Wednesday the  wonderful guys (from Trattoria Centrale) opening El Barrio in the 2200 block of 2nd Avenue North will reapply to the Committee for approval of a tasteful projecting sign [see our previous post here]. Our verdict: the Committee needs to approve this sign!!!

[thanks to bhydro for the Five Points pic]

Five points possibilities

A big change

This morning at Design Review Committee conceptual approval was given to a plan for a new 7-story hotel to be constructed where the former Five Points Music Hall sits on 20th Street in Five Points South (older readers may remember this art deco building as a Piggly Wiggly grocery store, directly to the south of Woolworth’s, itself now Bailey Brothers Music). Richard Rauh, an Atlanta architect, presented early sketches of an imitation stucco tower rising above the original facade, whose glass has been removed and whose storefronts now serve as  a porte-cochere for auto traffic.  Please note this design is in very early stages, and the applicant will return probably several times to the Committee as the design progresses (concept sketch shown above).

From show windows to exhaust fumes?

The current facade, pictured above, has streamlined limestone detailing. While it’s commendable that the facade is being retained, in this instance it’s a shame that one of our most pedestrian-friendly streets would lose storefronts and gain a car-oriented use (and a curb-cut). The tower itself, in the early sketch, is a typical Homewood Suites you’d see out on the interstate somewhere. The Committee, while giving preliminary approval, stressed they’d want to see more urbanity/finesse in the new structure. It’s exciting (and perhaps surprising given the economy) that there’s demand for more hotel rooms here, given the new hotels that have already opened in the last few years in this area. It’s less exciting that a hotel can’t use a storefront for lobby and bar (like the indie Hotel Highland across the street), but instead turns inward and feels very auto-oriented.

Getting closer

Approval was also given to new steel and wood awnings which will shelter outdoor seating at El Barrio, the new restaurant opening in November to be run by the same guys who turn out the excellent food at Trattoria Centrale (pic above shows the exterior space for the new restaurant in the 2200 block of 2nd Avenue North). However, a request for exterior signage was sadly tabled. More on this in our next post.

[thanks to Richard Rauh for the conceptual rendering]

More signs of progress

Committed

This morning at Design Review Committee, several sign packages were approved. Above is a rendering of the new illuminated, projecting sign for Southpace Properties, the commercial real estate firm located in the historic Title Building at the corner of Richard Arrington Blvd. and 3rd Avenue North. Slogging out of a brutal recession that’s been crippling to the commercial real estate market, this sign is a hopeful indicator that firms like Southpace intend to stick around and that development will continue. The proportion and illumination mimics the original projecting signs installed in the 1920′s on this building; its unanimous approval signals a welcome reversal to the city’s aversion to projecting signs which started in the 1970s (it became fashionable to consider projecting signs old-fashioned and messy). If they’re designed nicely, and proportional, projecting signs are an important part of the urban fabric. Downtowns look blank and forlorn without them.

A big investment on a big corner

Above is the approved awning and signage package for the front of MetroPrime, a new steak house and bar in Five Points South right on the circle, in the former location of the Mill restaurant. Described as an upscale steak house, the restaurant will also feature a casual bar/cafe side with its own, lower-priced menu. After several half-hearted attempts to open slightly revised versions of the Mill over the last few years, it’s exciting to see a totally new concept for this crucial corner. The large outdoor patio will remain open for dining. Plans are to be open by August.

Back to the boards

On a final note, the committee rejected Corporate Realty‘s plan to paint the former Saks building (pictured above to the right, in 1908: you are looking north along 19th Street North with First Avenue just ahead) in shades of grey and white. The red brick building, accented with cast stone and metal, is in very good condition and the committee objected to its character being simplified and homogenized by the paint scheme. Perhaps it would be ideal to clean the existing red colored paint from the red brick, and leave the existing details distinct.

[thanks to Southpace and Reliable Sign Services for the sign rendering, MetroPrime and CityVision for their rendering, and Birmingham Public Library for the historic image]