Saved?

The City’s Economic Development Committee this afternoon unanimously voted to recommend the Walgreen’s project on Clairmont Avenue and 32nd Street to the full Council.

Still fighting fires in 1976

Originally Walgreen’s had planned to demolish Fire Station No. 22–and two neighboring long-time businesses, Bogue’s Restaurant and Clairmont Auto Repair–for a new store and parking lot. After an explosion of neighborhood opposition to the demolition, and frustration at the lack of public awareness of the City sale of this property, Walgreen’s amended its proposal. Now, the company promises in writing to preserve the Fire Station and make efforts to move Bogue’s into it, or find another neighborhood tenant. The new drug store would be placed in the middle of the block, leaving the historic corner building in its role as gateway marker to the Highland Park, South Avondale, and Forest Park neighborhoods.

Once Walgreen’s changed their plan to include preservation (the community had reminded the developer, Connolly Net Lease, that Walgreen’s had agreed with the National Trust to not demolish buildings on the National Register some years ago), a lot of opposition died away. While it is true that the current proposal is immensely better than the previous, it is probably important to remain a little skeptical–this large corporation had no initial intent to save the fire station or help displaced businesses. Let’s hope their new spirit of community cooperation is genuine.

Walgreen’s committed to holding a design charrette for the proposal, with public input. They have also engaged David Blackmon of Blackmon Rogers Architects to lead the design process. Here’s hoping for an inspired design for the new building; carefully planned and shielded parking; clear pedestrian emphasis at entry points; a skilled restoration of the fire station; and a commitment from the City to help both Bogue’s and Clairmont Auto find new homes. Oh, and a new policy that whenever the City is selling property–especially property on the National Register–they at least put up a “For Sale” sign, so the community, and not just RFP insiders, is aware and able to make proposals.

A big step in the right direction. Now come the important details. Stay tuned.

16 responses to “Saved?

  1. Thanks once again for your quick and detailed report. Unfortunately, this is not a decision I believe to be in the best interest of the city. I was really hoping they would ask the Mayor’s office to reopen the original request for development proposals, giving themselves an opportunity to select the best proposal, rather than just the first one.

    Although it is heartening to hear the developer talking about preserving the station and involving the neighborhood in the design of the store, I am not happy about this recommendation. I regret that the existing businesses will be forced to relocate. I am pessimistic about the long-term viability of a tenant occupying space in another business’ parking lot, and I fear that once the property changes hands, that it will be much easier for the new owner to allow the station to fall into such disrepair that demolition is inevitable.

    I don’t entertain much hope that the council will reverse the committee’s recommendation, but I will be outlining my concerns to my council representative. If re-opening the RFP process is untenable, I will urge her to at least verify that the public statements made by the developer are cemented into the contract for sale, with some mechanism to enforce those commitments in the years to come.

    • Thanks once again for reading. I very much agree that safeguards should be in place so we don’t have this uneasy situation similar to Quinlan Castle, where one can imagine SRI showing “proof” they have exhausted their effort to restore the building, and that engineers now say it “must” come down. Some enforcement mechanism would thus be ideal here.

      Beyond this, I am thinking a bit strategically–while we may not be able to reopen the RFP process on this one (it indeed seems to have followed the letter of the law, as opaque as it is now), we should ensure (and please do lobby the council on this) that anytime a sale happens in the past, there needs to be much more done to publicize. Only real estate insiders would know to check an inside page on the city website, or to search for the ad buried deep in the Birmingham News.

      • Councilors Abbott and Austin and Commissioner Bowman attended the last “I Believe in Birmingham” meeting in Norwood and all three seemed to have been blindsided by the notion that public notice about sales of public property could be more… public.

        I could see lobbying for a policy to post signs, but I think where we could maybe get something going just as fast and with broader impact is to resurrect the neighborhood association mailers and put the Community Relations Department in charge of filling them with relevant announcements (and perhaps creating an online version and an opt-out process to save on postage)

  2. Does Walgreen’s plan a drive-through?

    • David, yes. Thank you for reminding us about this. This element may become more controversial once the new site plan is developed. But it was not even mentioned today–and has generally taken a back-seat to the preservation of the Fire House.

  3. I have no doubt that what Walgreen’s says is very different from what Walgreen’s will do. Once the sale is finalized good luck.

  4. Darn, couldn’t save the junk car lot (Clairmont Junker Service), too? What an outrageous loss for the community. Hopefully the fire station won’t collapse while anybody is inside.

    • Sterchi–while Clairmont Auto is hardly beautiful, it’s a long-time independent repair shop that many, many locals depend on. Finding it a new location would be the right thing to do. And–unless renovated improperly–the Fire Station is much sounder than most modern constructed buildings, and just needs proper attention. Remember it was still used as a Fire Station until just a couple years ago.

  5. Like Elizabeth Brown of the Alabama Historical Commission, I want to say “DON’T tell me ‘It’s better than it WAS!'” I’m not happy about the whole process, and I totally agree that the best thing would have been for the City to reopen the Request for Proposals procedure. The whole deal was pretty sneaky, in my opinion– until the community woke up and got involved.
    I’m hoping that Clairmont Auto will consent to find another home nearby– as one of Abercrombie’s customers, I know how important that shop is to my life. Beauty ain’t everything, you know.

  6. Long-time independent? Ha! So’s Krystal. Long term polluter is Clairmont junyard. Let’s see that brownfield pass a Phase I!!

    The whole corner’s a dump. And Bogue’s sold out a long time ago.

  7. http://blog.al.com/businessnews/2010/07/another_venerable_birmingham_f.html#incart_mce

    Any news about this one? Maybe David Carrigan can try the Local 22 bar there. Not as big an entry vector to Birmingham, but Avondale is supporting Parkside, Bottletree and ABC(soon) so maybe there’s critical mass for another restaurant/bar?

    • No news that I’ve heard, except, as the article states, it’s amazing that the “publicity” was as cryptic as for No. 22–despite the News’ valiant effort to at least write an article on the eve of the deadline. Crazy. But I love the neighborhood and it would be very cool to have a Local 10 at this location serving ABC beers!

  8. If anyone still has any doubts, just drive by the “lovely” Walgreens on Montclair, or 20th up by Vulcan or on the road near the exit to Region’s Park! These “lovely” buildings would add a glow to the neighborhood night and traffic that goes into the night, as well. Couldn’t something more neighborly and needed and interesting than this be found for that spot?

  9. If anyone has any doubts, they should drive by other Walgreens. There are “lovely” examples on Montclair, on 20th near Vulcan and at the exit from Region’s Park. Traffic is in and out late into the night and they add a “lovely” commercial glow to the area. Can’t anyone find a more needed, interesting and appropriate building for this neighborhood?

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