More signs of progress


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]

15 responses to “More signs of progress

  1. Amen on the projecting signs. B’ham is not the only city that has had irrational fears of them. Glad to know that one less brick building will be painted. If only owners/realtors actually thought about long term maintenance when making these decisions. Once you paint brick, you’ll have to do it again and again and again. Of course, most are not used to dealing with buildings that last beyond the lifespan of a paint job. Just CLEAN it!!!

    • Yes–B’ham is not alone in its modern fear of projecting signs, and it’s great to see more committee members open to them, and more owners proposing them. Too bad the City has made its “right-of-way” agreements for projecting signs more onerous/time-consuming at the same time. I hope the City will simplify their permit requirements.

      On the paint–unfortunately it’s more common to see a brick building that’s already painted get repainted, rather than get stripped and cleaned, often due to cost. Over the long term, maintaining the paint is often costlier, but short-term funding can trump long-term thinking. It would be great if this one was able to just restore the original brick–the building faade is pretty unique downtown and, besides the paint, intact.

      • Of course, one has to be cautious when stripping paint. Aggressive methods can leave the masonry exceptionally porous. Testing for the gentlest effective method and then evaluating the results to determine if sealants or other correctives are needed all add to the cost of fixing previous rounds of short-term thinking.

  2. Like you, I”m thrilled that there will be a new restaurant at that prominent spot in Five Points — and after how long? Two decades? The perennial Mill/Grill/Mill cycle had gotten deeply depressing.

    • That circle has been very under-fronted for some time. The Mill/Grill/Mill saga was indeed depressing, and the patio area under-populated. The former Johnny Rockets was never the best place for an eye-glass store–and even that has been empty for years, again with no outdoor seating. And, as much of an institution the Pancake House, is, I hate they’re not open for dinner or late-night. So this will be a very welcome change and I wish it every success.

  3. So what are your thoughts on the possible relocation of the Waffle House from University Blvd to the Johnny Rockets space (I believe that is right)?

    • Overall it’s good to have a late-night “greasy spoon” in a pedestrian-friendly district adjacent to other uses, as opposed to the current Waffle House location which you have to drive to. As a brand, it’s a down-market chain; it would be nicer if something more original and local were at such an important corner. Also, there’s room for a lot of outdoor seating, which helps animate the circle–is Waffle House equipped for outdoor dining? If not then it’s a real loss–the City should require any restaurant opening on the circle to have outdoor dining.

      Bottom line–the space has been empty for so long, that a 24-hour restaurant is a net plus.

  4. Any thoughts as to the reasons the redevelopment of the major downtown intersections and new urbanism opportunities are so baffling to local developers? I see where Daniel Corporation is about to go into mega-overdrive at the Highway 280 “Digital Hospital” site with an uber-development AND with Grand River, yet downtown and Five Points South continue to limp along. Is the demographic makeup of Birmingham STILL keeping developers at bay? Is the problem the “seeming” disinterest from City Hall towards anything resembling quality of life enhancements? Is City Hall afraid of the middle-class? Is it a lack of general interest from the public regarding the fate of Birmingham? Is it love of sprawl from the 900,000+ living around- but not in- Birmingham? Is it sorry greedy landlords impeding new developments? Is it all of the above? I don’t get it. Birmingham has more assets than any place I’ve ever been to or lived in, yet insists on trying to lag behind Columbus, GA, Chattanooga & Mobile. What’s up?

    At any rate, keep up the EXCELLENT coverage, and for keeping the faith! These are most welcomed (literal) new signs of forward momentum. Hopefully, out-of-state developers and companies are keeping an eye on all of this. It’s obviously going to take new blood and new ways of thinking to jump-start Birmingham.

    • Hmmm–difficult questions. I think sometimes until a place feels like it reaches a tipping point, the “smart” money–and politicians–support the status quo, in this case suburban (or suburban-style) development. Birmingham is not alone here. Inspiration for another post, for sure. Thanks.

  5. Just a thought on the Waffle House idea. I think that I would prefer the Pancake House be open evenings. Unfortuately, Waffle House could take away some of the Pancake House daytime business, due to its breakfast orientation. That could damage the Pancake House’s position and might be negative in the long term. Having the Pancake House open evenings, even if not late night, would provide additional activity on that side of 5 Pts S.

    • Yes–in an ideal world, Pancake House would be open 24/7, and something cool and different would locate in the old Johnny Rockets space instead. Agreed that it’s too much breakfast food right across the street from each other for long-term comfort.

  6. “Unfortunately” this blog does not have spelll check!

  7. I agree with Bpres. Good points!!

    I’d love to see an Ethiopian restaurant in the old Johnny Rockets space. Or perhaps something Italian? There are so many possibilities. As Birmingham becomes more-and-more a foodie destination and cuisine capital, I’m confident something unique (or at least fun) will take that space.

    Honestly, I think the new Chick-Fil-A is going to be a big boost to 5PS.
    Food and trees may be City Center’s salvation, when all is said and done. 🙂

  8. And thanks, too, for acknowledging Birmingham’s seeming self-afflicted historic challenges, and no easy or pat solution. That’s OK!!
    I still maintain the position that if you only compare Birmingham to other “rustbelt” post-industrial cities, we’re doing rather exceptionally well.

  9. Pingback: Southpace sign almost a reality |

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