The Thomas Jefferson Hotel (pictured above, corner of 17th Street North and 2nd Avenue) has yet another chance for salvation due to the formation of a non-profit dedicated to stabilizing and restoring the 1929 structure to its former glory.Thomas Jefferson Tower, Inc. plans to acquire the building, stabilize it–and then work hard to put a viable restoration plan together.
This hotel opened within months of the Great Depression, and is a symbol of the last days of heady 1920’s optimism that had engulfed Birmingham real estate. It’s height and adornment testify to the belief that the City’s growth would extend inexorably westward; the Depression put a stop to such growth, and the hotel suffered somewhat from its relative isolation (in comparison to the Tutwiler Hotel, for instance).
Needs some work
The mix of larger main levels (with retail, restaurant, and ballrooms) and smaller upper floor plates means a mixed-use development with hotel, meeting, living, and retail/restaurant spaces could work well. The location is much more desirable than even a few years ago: the Phoenix Building lofts is across the street, Innovation Depot a block away, Railroad Park a few blocks south, and planning for bike lanes/revitalized Civil Rights district/bike-pedestrian bridge all within a few minutes’ walk. This building is also very prominent on the near skyline from the new Baron’s baseball park under construction. Yes, it will be a lot of work (George Wallace Suite, above)—but a lot of other cities would kill to have such a fine piece of architecture to restore. They don’t build them like this anymore.
A certain elegance
Please consider supporting this effort by signing up for the non-profit’s website, and following their twitter feed. The time is right to help make this project happen!
[thanks to dystopos for the exterior pic; istvan s. for the suite; naamanfletcher for the detail]
When a city embraces its potential
In a great piece written by Kyle Whitmire over in Weld, what happened in Oklahoma City–in part due to the voters’ approval of several MAPS (Metropolitan Area Projects Strategy) initiatives starting in 1993–is contrasted with what hasn’t happened in Birmingham–in part due to the voters’ rejection of a MAPS initiative in 1998 which was closely modeled on the one in OKC. One of the many downtown improvements that have transformed OKC’s central core after that initial 1993 vote is the SkyDance Bridge (above), a new pedestrian bridge linking a soon-to-be-constructed downtown park with reclaimed riverfront development across I-40. The design by S-X-L collaborative out of Oklahoma City is at once practical and inspirational, a gorgeous new icon on the skyline. [We previously discussed the revitalization of OKC’s Bricktown neighborhood around their new baseball park here.]
Our firm is now working on the feasibility study for a new pedestrian/bike bridge that would connect 16th Street North downtown to Railroad Park and the Southside (projected northern terminus of the bridge, above at First Avenue North and 16th Street looking south). This is an extremely exciting and challenging project, and we are honored to be working on it with the City of Birmingham and MBA Engineers. Our goal is not just to design something practical and beautiful, but also to help link the Park into a network of greenways, bike lanes, and street improvements that will fan out around the adjacent neighborhoods. This bridge will be an important part, but only a part, of a greater plan.
Birmingham has struggled to overcome its troubled past to move forward decisively. Part of this struggle is evidenced by our lack of long-range planning: OKC first took the leap in 1993, and methodically built consensus around early successes to link subsequent initiatives together in a coherent, strategic fashion. Birmingham tends to create a project here, develop a pocket there–but there is no overall strategic plan to bind these together into something greater than its parts. It is our firm belief that Railroad Park, and the upcoming development surrounding it, will break this cycle. This bridge, if indeed proven feasible, will be part of a rejuvenated 16th Street, a revitalized mixed-use Civil Rights District, and a greenway and bike system stretching east, west, north, and south across the City.
So get ready to embrace a new era, Birmingham. A bridge is just the start.
[thanks to tylerokc for the SkyDance bridge pic]