An eagle-eyed reader pointed out that small signs have gone up in the two-story commercial building just east of the more elaborate Graves Building in the 1800 block of Third Avenue North (above) announcing a new development, k lofts. The owner (who also owns the Graves Building) plans two live/work spaces of about 2,200 SF each on the ground floor, and four loft residences on the upper floor of about 900 SF each. Design/build work is by Appleseed Workshop. Pre-leasing will begin in January for planned occupancy early 2014.
This project is particularly significant as the vacant Lyric Theatre–on the other end of this block–prepares for a fundraising campaign for renovation. Across the street are the massive McWane Science Center and Alabama Theatre, both in renovated historic buildings themselves. The other components of this block have had a disappointing trajectory until recently: When McWane opened back in 1998, all the commercial storefronts across Third Avenue were still filled with furniture and jewelry shops, as well as offices. It actually felt like one of the “fullest” blocks downtown. Now except for the long-standing Lyric Hot Dogs (since 1957) and the office of 2D Studio the buildings are all vacant.
Part of the difficulty in this former retail district (McWane Center was the original Loveman’s Department Store) has been the lack of good planning to capitalize on the popularity of McWane and the Alabama. In 1998 the City contemplated hiring a firm to develop a plan for attracting new users to the area around McWane but ultimately decided against it; this sort of planning has shown success in many urban areas (above, Nashville‘s downtown retail plan). As most retailers or restaurant owners will affirm, few want to go it alone: plans, with coordinated recruitment efforts, can steer investment wisely and create critical mass. It’s a shame this hasn’t happened here–or anywhere downtown. The only bright spot is that, as we’ve often pointed out in this blog, small building owners, developers, and businesses continue to “go it alone” despite the lack of planning or coordination–sometimes with great success. Once k loft fills up, the owner plans more retail/restaurant space next door in the Graves Building. We could finally get the Theatre District this City deserves–the Alabama, Lyric, Carver, and RMTC Cabaret all supported by shops, restaurants and lounges within easy walking distance.
In the end, the market will dictate what fills buildings and storefronts. While we long for lots of ground floor retail activity everywhere, places like Nashville understand that’s not realistic–their market-savvy plan wisely targets a handful of key blocks and streets. Above we see another recent project designed by Appleseed, in the 2400 block of Second Avenue North, in an historic storefront building down the street from Space One Eleven and Beta Pictoris art galleries. A large single-family residence, the unobstructed view is arresting (not everyone would be comfortable with this degree of transparency). It’s not a retailer or restaurant, but especially at night it adds a curiously intriguing perspective into the future of downtown. These investments are the sort of quirky, small-scale elements that keep Birmingham interesting, and we welcome them. Don’t forget about the need for better planning and strategy, though. A combination of individual charm and targeted planning would give us the truly 24/7 environment we dream of.
For more information on k loft, contact Kyle Kruse at firstname.lastname@example.org
And now, tomorrow’s Design Review Committee agenda. Remember, the meetings are open to the public and take place at 7:30 AM at Auburn Urban Studio, 3rd Floor of Young and Vann Building, corner of 18th Street North and First Avenue downtown.
I. Call to Order: Minutes of the October 24, 2012 meeting.
II. Name: Mr. Mike Gibson (Appleseed Workshop)
Site Address: 2023 Morris Avenue,Kinetic Communications
Requesting approval for: colors and window replacement
III. Name: Mr. Charles Russel
Site Address: 423 20th Street South
District: Midtown / Birmingham Green South
Requesting approval for: Paint, awning and sign
IV. Name: Mr. Brant Beene (General Manager)
Site Address: 1817 Third Avenue North (Lyric Theater)
District: 19th Street (Theater & Arts District)
Requesting approval for: Exterior Renovation (Phase I)
V. Name: Mr. Daryl Williams
Site Address: 514 19th Street Ensley
Requesting approval for: Exterior Renovation
VI. Name: Mr. Robert Buddo
Site Address: 5529 1st Avenue South
Requesting approval for: Exterior Renovation and Landscaping
VII. Name: Mr. David Brandt (Fravert Services)
Site Address: 2815, 2817, 2819, and 2823 Highland Avenue
District: Highland Park Local Historic
Requesting approval for: Signage
VIII. Name: Ms. Lara Watson (Reliable Signs)
Site Address: 301 19th Street, North (Wiggins, Childs, Quinn, Pantazis)
District: 19th Street
Requesting approval for: Temporary Holiday Banners
IX. Name: Mr. Rakesh Patel
Site Address: 1016 20th Street, South
District: 5 Points South
Requesting approval for: Elevation revision approval and site plan & signage.
X. Name: Mr. David Brandt (Fravert Services)
Site Address: 2520 3rd Avenue North (Iberia Bank)
District: 21st Street
Requesting approval for: Projecting sign and window graphics
[thanks to Nashville Downtown Partnership for the graphic]