Townhouses downtown!

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A new piece of urban fabric coming to Morris Ave soon

Birmingham, a “New South” industrial city created after the Civil War, never had a history of attached row houses like older cities (Richmond, VA or Charleston, SC come to mind). As part of our development company Metropolitan’s efforts to bring new concepts to the City, we’re proud to announce the development of five for-sale townhouses in the 2100 block of Morris Avenue on the historic southern edge of the CBD (front elevation along Morris Avenue, above). Our development team is working with the talented designers at BILT in Alabama on this concept; the project is called Row 5.

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Goodbye parking lot, hello infill

While we sadly continue to see historic buildings demolished downtown to create more surface parking–creating harmful gaps in the important urban street edge–we’re proud to provide a small counterpoint. Two unsightly, existing surface parking lots (foreground above, looking north with Morris Avenue and CBD beyond) will be replaced with residential infill. The design is simple, crisp and modern and the scale is appropriate to a street where two, three and four story 19th century warehouse buildings predominate. Successful downtowns have diverse living options; now beyond rental apartments, lofts and condos, Row 5 brings a new option to those wanting private gardens, contemporary design, new construction, and an enviable location within easy walking (or Zyp-biking!) distance of Railroad Park, the new Publix supermarket, and other amenities. Check out the website for more images and feel free to contact our broker for more info. We plan delivery summer of 2017…thank you Birmingham for supporting Row 5 and this unique effort!

Artisanal pizza coming downtown


Longtime retail tenant What’s on Second recently moved around the corner from the 2300 block of Second Avenue North to the 2300 block of First Avenue North. The historic storefront (above), located on the north side of the street and adjacent to Pale Eddie’s Pour House, is now slated to become a casual pizzeria named Puro. It’s a new business brought to us by the same group that opened Bamboo On 2nd, the popular Asian fusion place one block east. Our understanding is they will serve dinner, as well as lunch, although hours have not been confirmed. We wish this new addition to downtown’s fast-growing foodie scene much success. Mangia!

More downtown retail!

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Goodbye Palisades, hello downtown

Longtime local purveyor of art supplies, art workshops, and custom framing Forstall Art Center will soon relocate from the Palisades Shopping Center off Greensprings Highway to downtown (current location, above). They will occupy multi-level retail space in an historic building on the east side of 20th Street North between Second and Third Avenues.

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The new space (above) is adjacent to Alchemy clothing store, Bon Ton Hatters, and the Auburn University Urban Studio; it had been vacant for some time. The business will have expanded retail space, more classroom space, artist studios, gallery space, and a prominent downtown location. We have long argued in this blog that art and artists are a vital part of any successful urban neighborhood; this project is a very welcome step towards including more artistic energy as part of this revitalizing area.

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Coming soon

The owners, Phillip Forstall and Annette Taylor, have been directing extensive renovations of the interior (ground floor retail space under construction, above). Beyond the business itself, they plan a possible future personal residence on the top floor of the building. With a rare 30-space dedicated parking lot off the alley this promises to be a very busy new addition to the Central Business District.

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Back in the day

While downtown’s earlier mix of department stores, billiard halls, and hot dog stands has departed, Forstall is part of a new wave of businesses creating a distinctive new vibe downtown–a vibe based on foodie ventures like We Have Doughnuts just down 20th Street and fast-growing entrepreneurial businesses like Shipt a block in the other direction (the Forstall space is seen in the 1920’s photo above at the large striped awning in the right foreground). With Pizitz Food Hall and the Thomas Jefferson Tower due to open later this year a couple blocks west, it seems like a particularly good time to relocate to this changing neighborhood. We wish Forstall every success among its exciting new neighbors.

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They say art is good for the soul

So whether you need an imported tube of paint, want to take an art class (like these nuns from Saint Rose Academy, above) or check out a new gallery exhibit, there’s a new option downtown.

Now, if only we could get that streetcar service back.

[thanks to Dori DeCamillis for the art class pic]

Rowhouse living

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We love the article that just went live over on StyleBlueprint about the townhouse we designed about 10 years ago on 2nd Avenue North downtown. Take a peek–and get ready for some more interesting news about townhouses hopefully coming soon!

[thanks to StyleBlueprint for the image]

Peanuts! (2)


Same peanuts, new name

Strolling down Morris Avenue this week (above, looking west between Richard Arrington Blvd. and 20th Street North) it was a pleasant surprise to smell roasted peanuts–a familiar smell here for over 100 years. As we reported a couple months ago, the Peanut Depot (founded 1907) has moved to the booming Parkside District; it was the last wholesale/retail food business left on Morris Avenue, which in the late 19th and early 20th Street had been the center for this local trade. Now, it seems that while Parkside (and nearby Region’s Field) will be enjoying Peanut Depot peanuts, the new Peanut Place business is carrying on the legacy on Morris Avenue.


Hot peanut = good peanut

As it turns out, the Peanut Depot rented the space and much of the equipment; when they departed, the building’s owners decided to keep roasting and boiling peanuts with the same antique roasters, in the same space, with the same old-fashioned simplicity (one of the owners pictured above). We look forward to Peanut Place enticing passerby with that delicious aroma for many more years to come!


Catfish + politics

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Do we have time for shrimp and grits?

Spotted a bit earlier today on Second Avenue North were Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman, Congresswoman Terri Sewell (AL-7) and Mayor William Bell of Birmingham. They flank Denise Peterson, owner of Yo’ Mama’s restaurant in the 2nd Row development (Second Avenue North between 23rd and 24th Streets). We’re thrilled Clinton stopped downtown to mingle with a local small business owner; as the frenetic few days before Super Tuesday’s primaries unfold, we hope other candidates stop downtown on their way to their events (Clinton was headed to Miles College for a rally).

And regardless of your personal politics, it’s easy to agree on the deliciousness of Yo’ Mama’s cooking. Try it out if you haven’t already!

UPDATE: We didn’t realize Clinton also stopped into Urban Standard (below she seems to charm a barista before downing an expresso). We’re proud that on her surprise visit to downtown our own project, 2nd Row, was her destination!

US Clinton

[thanks to Terri Sewell for the  Yo’ Mama’s pic and Clare Huddleston/WBRC for the Urban Standard pic]

Not your father’s Woodlawn


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Urban connectivity through caffeine

The Woodlawn Cycle Cafe has opened in downtown Woodlawn on First Avenue South between 55th Place North and 56th Street South (north and south streets converge right at this point). If a cool coffee shop filled with hipsters is a sure sign that a working-class neighborhood with low-priced housing stock, little retail, and large pockets of poverty is turning a certain psychological corner–here’s the evidence (interior, above).

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Unassuming chic

The exterior (above) is simple but well-detailed, with custom steel doors and windows that complement the Stockholm-meets-Birmingham interior. Open for only a few weeks now, it’s a jaw-dropping surprise to anyone who’s witnessed the struggles of this neighborhood over the last many decades. However, when one understands the tireless efforts of many organizations, from REV Birmingham to the Woodlawn Foundation in making improvements over the years, perhaps this coffee shop is indeed the next logical step in the rebirth of a very historic part of Birmingham.

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High standards

The coffee is from Madcap; the delicious lunch we sampled included braised oxtail empanadas and a paté melt. Armand Margjeka and Kyle Campbell are the partners behind this new business.

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Could be Williamsburg, but it’s Woodlawn

Directly across the street is Margjeka’s concept store Open Shop (above), whose design sense and product stock is again a bit jaw-dropping for those unfamiliar with Woodlawn’s current resurgence. After an expresso across the street, it’s worth a visit. And then stroll back down to First Avenue North and dream about what project may emerge next. Congrats to all of those who had a vision for change in Woodlawn; we can’t wait to see more. Walk, drive, or cycle to the new café as quickly as you can!


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Goodbye Morris, hello Parkside

The Peanut Depot, a longtime fixture on Morris Avenue in downtown Birmingham (above, looking north between 20th Street North and Richard Arrington Blvd.), is perhaps the last surviving business of this street’s original incarnation as the Victorian city’s wholesale produce and warehousing center (most every building now contains lofts, professional offices, studios and bars). But you only have a few more weeks to enjoy them here, as they will be moving to Parkside in March. A downtown fixture for almost 110 years, Peanut Depot needs to expand to support their growing sales across the US; their new location near Region’s Field will also be convenient for Birmingham Barons ball games–for which they have, fittingly, the exclusive concession for peanut sales.

Sad that Morris Avenue will lose the delicious aroma of roasted peanuts–but great news this longtime business is relocating into one of the most exciting areas currently revitalizing downtown. Here’s to another century of deliciousness–and watch out for that unmistakable scent to drift over Parkside.

Avondale’s next phase


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After oysters and beer, can’t I just walk home?

While the formerly industrial South Avondale neighborhood has been exploding with new restaurants and bars (Fancy’s on Fifth is set to open imminently on the NW corner of 5th Avenue South and 41st Street, above), the clientele of these venues has often seemed less than truly local. Instead they come from the nearby precincts of downtown, Forest Park, and Crestwood–or slightly more distant suburban locales–with the assumption being that Avondale proper isn’t a “safe” place for hipsters, craft beer drinkers and assorted urban aficionados to call home, even if they like to eat and drink there. As it turns out, this isn’t quite true–and may become even less so as pioneering developers respond to increasing demand.

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Sprucing up the block

Just east of the 41st Street spine of taverns and cafes, the block bounded by 42nd and 43rd Streets and Third and Fourth Avenue South is illustrative of a changing attitude towards housing. Above looking north towards Third Avenue is the Avondale Apartment project redevleoped by Kahn Properties. Formerly shabby apartments are being renovated for rent to medical residents, young professionals, and others for whom Avondale may not have been on the radar even a couple years ago. Response is brisk and shows that a certain demographic doesn’t mind–and perhaps appreciates–living in a transitional neighborhood still known for low-income housing both substandard and decent (framed across Third Avenue is Avondale Gardens, an award-winning low-income development we helped design about twelve years ago).

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Seen better days for sure

On the SE corner of 4th Avenue South and 43rd Street is a vacant and severely damaged apartment complex (above) which is currently for sale. Unsightly, yes–but it’s not hurting the traffic at Avondale Apartments. While an older generation may look at the vacant property and shake its head at “blight without hope,” a younger generation shrugs and sees “future development coming soon.”

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All in the eye of the beholder

On the south side of Third Avenue a collection of older houses lines the street (above). Despite the fact that Third Avenue is also a busy state highway–with too many lanes and higher traffic speeds than a rejuvenating neighborhood deserves–once these houses are even modestly renovated, they have no problem attracting tenants. One local resident who owns a number of rental properties told us that a professional couple recently rented one of these renovated bungalows sight-unseen: they were that anxious to find something decently renovated in the middle of Avondale.


Needs a solution

In the end, to develop a critical mass of attractive housing options, places like the Havenwood (above, Third Avenue just west of the bungalows previously pictured) need change. Long a haven for drug dealing and related crime, it is a destabilizing influence on on otherwise improving block. Whether this means a sale, redevelopment, or another outcome is unknown–but our guess is that pressure in the real estate market will force something to happen. It’s just a question of when.

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A grand reminder of better times

It is easier to visualize the promise of this faded beauty on the SW corner of Third Avenue and 42nd Street (above). Over 100 years old, It is in the process of being stabilized and secured. Having served initially as a doctor’s residence, it followed the pattern of many large houses in declining neighborhoods across the City and became a low-rent boarding house for many years. Now that the boarding house partitions have been removed, and the massive ceilings and elegant staircase structure have reappeared, the possibilities for the future are many.

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A new era

While downtown itself has been subject only rarely to gentrification conflicts due to the historic absence of housing in the CBD, it is interesting to watch the process unfold in South Avondale. There is a lot of lower-rent housing for people of color; right now the influx of new residents (often white, though not always) has been modest enough that no fundamental balance seems upset. However, as the Zyp bikeshare stand on 41st Street attests (above looking south to Second Avenue), this neighborhood is changing. If the right mix of market and affordable housing joins the newly rejuvenated commercial storefronts, Avondale could demonstrate that a neighborhood of diverse economic, racial, and other groups can truly succeed. Stay tuned.

[Thanks to Fancy’s on Fifth for the mural pic]

Excellent Opportunity

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In the heart of Birmingham’s Theater District, the Jefferson Home Furniture property is for sale (previously Joiner and Cain Furniture). Above is a photo from the 1940’s showing the larger concrete frame building in the center on Second Avenue North between 17th and 18th Streets; the smaller wood frame building to the far right is also included. Directly to the west is the Phoenix Building, a popular 74-loft development (the old Jefferson Theatre in the photo was demolished soon after this picture was taken and replaced with the expanded Phoenix Building). Within a half block are the Pizitz and Thomas Jefferson Tower mixed-use projects currently under construction. A Zyp bike station is directly across Second Avenue;  Railroad Park and the booming Parkside District are 3 blocks south. The Alabama, Lyric, and Carver Theatres are all within a couple minutes’ walk.

Both Federal and State historic tax credits have been substantially approved for converting this property. Please contact Southpace Properties here for more info on this opportunity!