This morning’s Design Review Committee unanimously approved building and landscape design for Regions Field, the new downtown home of the Birmingham Barons baseball team (above, Virginia Williams with the Mayor’s office introduces the project). Looking closely at the colored plan on the easel above, you can see the baseball diamond oriented for optimum home plate and spectator comfort (shade will fall across the stands at almost all times). In pink are the ancillary elements along the 1st Avenue South edge up top and the 14th Street edge to the left; their character was the subject of most of the Committee’s discussion.
As interactive and porous as possible
The main floor plan is shown above (Lead architect HKS and local partner GA Studio). Again, 1st Avenue South is across the top (with Railroad Park directly across the street), and 14th Street to the left (west). 16th Street is to the right (east), and 3rd Avenue at the bottom (south). The project takes up 4 square blocks–15th Street and 2nd Avenue are consumed. The main entry plaza is the corner of 14th and 1st Avenue; along 1st Avenue are a ticket office, Barons merchandise store, and ice-cream shop as you walk east towards B&A Warehouse. Those 3 elements will be open daily to the public (and can be entered from the sidewalk as well as from the interior), regardless of whether the Barons are playing. Along 14th Street is a wide landscaped plaza with tables and chairs, that again will be open to the public regardless of the day. There is a connector of landscape walks, green berms, and children’s playground running on the east around the field which will likewise be open to the public at all times as a promenade connecting UAB campus to the Railroad Park.
Still in need of finesse
As we’ve noted previously, in an ideal world this project, or part of it, would be located at least 1/2 a block south of 1st Avenue, to allow a good, solid street wall of mid-rise development to take advantage of views and real estate premiums afforded by Railroad Park to the north and Regions Field to the south. Given the situation on the ground, while the designers have done a good job aligning several public elements at the street edge–to activate the public realm–there are still large swathes of one story elements, blank walls, and open space as you move from west to east across 1st Avenue (above, moving from right to left). The Committee asked that the details of the ice cream shop be worked on so that it could help continue the energy of the western part of the building in a more layered, vibrant way. Vacant land just behind B&A Warehouse (far left above) is reserved for future development–both a Negro League Museum and others–and hopefully those will go some way to helping densify that corner of the site.
An active public realm
The concern is that the energy of Railroad Park (above, at 15th Street Skate Plaza) won’t be fully leveraged by the edge of Regions Field across the street. Again, given the reality of the siting, the designers have done a pretty good job of incorporating as much as they could–but a ticket office, merchandise shop, and ice cream parlor don’t equate to the potential of continuous mixed-use development with restaurants, shops, and multi-story residences facing the park. The good news is that the baseball park moving downtown is a huge plus; hopefully the surrounding blocks and future development on the site itself will go a long way towards alleviating the current concerns about the edge condition. We can’t wait for the first game in April 2013.
And just a dozen blocks north...
Which brings us briefly to the other big downtown project underway, also on a fast-track–the BJCC entertainment district and new Westin hotel, above. Unlike the construction site for Regions Field, which is even now surrounded by curious pedestrians, housing, Midtown offices and mixed-use, UAB, and Children’s Hospital (all elements which point to an exciting new Parkside neighborhood), the BJCC site has almost no pedestrian traffic, is bounded by interstate ramps, the convention center, and blocks of empty land cleared for future development to the north. It’s easy to visualize Regions Field integrating into the surrounding fabric; at BJCC, the fear is without integration into the rest of downtown and up to Norwood, the project can’t reach its potential. Hopefully the City is working on these connections. I want to go seamlessly from a baseball game, to a restaurant in Parkside, then to get a beer down at the entertainment district–but right now, its unclear how that would happen.
Bringing it down in scale
Speaking of beer, approval was also granted this morning to Pale Eddie’s Pour House on the 2300 block of Second Avenue North, to extend their existing rear patio (fenced, above) almost to the alley. We welcome more outdoor space to enjoy a drink downtown, and remind ourselves that while the Westin and Regions Field are exciting, we need to keep nurturing our small, entrepreneurial businesses and places like Pale Eddie’s that help keep our city center unique. Cheers.