Finally 4 stars

230 count cotton is coming

Today the Design Review Committee gave the go ahead for foundation work to start for the new downtown Westin at the BJCC. Courtesy of Joseph Rabun of Rabun, Rasche, Rector, Reece Architects, we show you the design of the hotel exterior (note: these renderings will continue to change as the design develops).

Do we spy Chris Hastings to the right?

The exterior is planned as a mix of brick and Centria metal panels, a high quality architectural panel system. Above you see the planned covered terrace and seating for the “signature restaurant” to the right of the image–Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club has announced he’s negotiating to run it.


As noted in this blog previously, the design has been revised so that not just the restaurant, but conference areas to the other end of the hotel open onto the street. Above you see the “storefront” articulation in the wing which houses the swimming pool on the roof. I’d prefer real stores to conference rooms/corridor space, but at least the scale of the wing is human.

Almost vegas

Last but not least, the second floor pool, surrounded by terraces, health club, and cabana bar. OK, it’s not exactly the Tower Suites pool at the Wynn Las Vegas, but it looks nicer than most other downtown hotel pools I can think of in town.

More on this project and the surrounding entertainment district as we get more info.

[by clicking on the images you can enlarge them]

[Thanks to Rabun Rasche for the renderings]

21 responses to “Finally 4 stars

  1. Nice of them to insert that 3′ planting strip between the main entrance drive and the outdoor seating area for the “signature restaurant”. Without those hardy urban trees the traffic could almost become a nuisance to diners.

  2. Good to have you staying on top of this. It appears to be crisply articulated and, as you point out, the storefront scale and rhythm of the low wing should speak to what happens nearby.

    • It does feel crisper, which is good. I’m feeling that the entertainment district itself–how it’s articulated, programmed, and connected to the surrounding areas–is in the end more important than the architecture of this hotel per se. So I’m anxious to get a look at the details there.

  3. Very glad we are departing from the previous gray and beige color palette in that area. Long overdue!

  4. I am happy that Birmingham will finally be getting a flagship 4-star hotel to go along with nearby historic hotels like the Tutwiler and the Redmont, although I hope this doesn’t put one of those out of business.

    I wonder if this project will once again push the city to revisit burying I20/59 through this stretch so that the civic center and hotels aren’t physically divided from the rest of the city.

    • My hope is that it will inspire the Tutwiler to continue to upgrade and compete, and the Redmont to do the same. Either could be a great boutique historic hotel with the right vision/management.

      The project to bury the connector is complex–the state is involved, long time-lines, etc. Overall it would be a good move. But in the short term, we need to figure out a creative way to make the BJCC and its new development feel more connected under the connector–a challenge, but an interesting one.

      • I think the Tutwiler upgraded not too long ago – I stayed there a few years ago and the rooms and service were pretty nice. They have done a good job on the interior of the lobby as well, using classic Birmingham photos to show the history of the city.

  5. Is anyone else out there old enough to remember the Block 60 mixed-use project proposed for Downtown in the late 79’s/early 80’s? A 25-story Westin Hotel was to sit where the Wachovia Tower now stands. I don’t mind dating myself!

  6. In regard to the Entertainment District, I have strong feelings of deja vu. I keep thinking about the sad fate of all those spanking new festival market places built in the 80’s to recreate the success of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and Fanuel Hall in Boston. From what I can tell after 30 years of wathcing these efforts, the truly successful “entertainment districts” are those that have evolved organically within old downtown or neighborhoods like Beale Street, Music Row, the French Quarter, Lakeview and Five Points South, or are seamless extensions of such areas. That will not be the case here. I truly hope the Entertainment District is successful in spite of the overwhelming historical evidence that it indicates it will not be.

    • Agreed. This is why the planning of the district is ultimately more important than architectural details of individual buildings. If this district feels like an artificial “festival marketplace” then it will be very difficult for it to succeed. If it’s designed thoughtfully, ties into the exiting grid, allows for multiple designers to take on individual projects within an overall progressive plan, and is mixed-use and oriented to tourist and local alike, maybe we have a chance. Since it’s going forward, we need to push for it to be the best it can be.

  7. Time, indeed, to revisit the pedestrian passages under I 20/59, especially the key one between BMA and BJCC. With all the new LED lighting technology, and maybe sound, too, something vibrant could be done until the highway is dropped into a cut.

  8. Philip- Are you familiar with Philly’s big lighting initiative for public buildings and spaces? Also, the City of Greensboro,NC recently used a public design competition to generate ideas for energizing their railroad underpasses with art and lighting. Something to consider.

  9. The connection between the BJCC and the municipal center was one of the primary concerns in the architectural competition that produced Geddes Brecher Qualls Cunningham’s design. All the finalist’s competition models had to extend to include Woodrow Wilson (Linn) Park and show the proposed connections.

    Given the inward-looking design solution, one is forced to assume that the architects either underestimated the importance of fulfilling that part of the competition program, or correctly estimated that it was an impossible task.

    I have some optimism that the public has been sold on the idea of lowering (and simplifying) the I-20/59 corridor through downtown. It is a long term project, but, as Urban Design Associates explained in their 2004 City Center Master Plan proposal, the bridge is due to be replaced. There have been some preliminary engineering studies performed, indicating that we’re looking at a project of the magnitude of $600 million. ALDOT has accepted the initial design study as feasible. Last I heard, Parsons Brinckerhoff is doing some additional traffic analysis with UAB and the Community Foundation has delivered some support to keep the grant money coming.

    It would be a REAL shame if short-term thinking leads ALDOT to replace the bridge with another bridge just because the legwork and willpower to carry out our City Center Master Plan hasn’t been sufficient. If we believe in the project, we all need to keep up the pressure and publicize the potential benefits to the city.

  10. Yes, yes, yes.

  11. bhamarchitect – Unrelated, do you have any updates on the status of the shut down Ruby Tuesday’s in Five Points? Also, related to your earlier Five Points postings I noticed today that a Jimmy John’s restaurant is coming to Five Points across the street from Jim N’ Nicks.

    • I don’t have an update–we need to get one though. My understanding is that Chick-Fil-A is proceeding, but their schedule is a mystery. Yes, Jimmy John’s is coming–good news that a vacant storefront will be filled by what I hope will be a popular place.

  12. Those renderings sure are dull. Not terrible, just dull, like a lot of the newer structures are UAB.

    • Brad, I would agree there’s nothing ground-breaking or head-turning in the elevations. It’s safe, “corporate-modern” that you see all over the place (although not that often around here). However, I’d say it appears–at this point– a cut above UAB’s typical designs, which have been more or less the same since the late 1980’s–lots of brick, pre-cast detailing, clunky massing. This at least feels crisper, cleaner, lighter (less brick, more glass/metal panels). Could it have been something more compelling/surprising? Definitely. If a new “W” hotel had been announced, I would’ve expected more. But a 4-star Westin of this type rarely gets more than the “expected”. Look at it this way: it will shine compared to the Sheraton and its blank, pre-cast surroundings.

  13. I know it’s been six months since anyone discussed this project, but now that we can physically see the construction moving forward, and given the continued bone-headed threats upon the Carraway Medical Center campus (300+ prison re-entry beds next to a 4 star Westin Hotel!!!), I believe it’s time to start putting tremendous pressure on City Hall to focus on and implement Norwood’s 12th Avenue North Commercial Corridor plans.

    First, Norwood needs and wants Interstate-focused fast food chains with or without drive-thrus. Those can be positioned down by the 31st Street North I-20/59 gateway next to the extant McDonald’s. I would like to see 12th Avenue North nearest the BJCC redeveloped as a neighborhood commercial zone similar to 29th Street South in the Lakeview District. I would encourage developers to use Creole, Beaux Arts or Jazz Age influenced styles as inspiration, to reflect the surrounding culture & people of the newly self-empowering neighborhoods.

    Turning to the Garden Walk between the BJCC & Linn Park, I think neon strips, LED lights, patio lights and multicolored footlights along the way would add a sense of drama and excitement. This pedestrian gateway needs its own CAP officers to keep the vagrants at bay, too.

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