Tag Archives: Entertainment District

More eats, and Design Review September 26

Reservations are recommended

The Dallas-based restaurant chain Texas de Brazil is bringing its grand all-you-can-eat steakhouse concept to downtown Birmingham, as reported by the Birmingham Business Journal this afternoon. It will open next year adjacent to the new Westin Hotel in the BJCC‘s entertainment district. This is the first of planned announcements for new tenants in the district.

In the meantime, below is the agenda for this week’s Design Review Committee meeting. 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 September 12, 2012 meeting.

II.        Name: Mr. Jason Robb

Site Address: 2504 Aberdeen Road

District:  Red Mountain Suburbs Local Historic

Requesting approval for: Renovations to existing residence (Painting existing brick, soffits, and fascia; installing new front doors; installing new front windows; installing front door pediment; installing columns and transoms around/over doors on the sides of the front entrance; and installing gas lanterns)

III.       Name: Mr. Mark Williams (Reliable Signs)

Site Address: 517 22nd Street, South, Iron City Live

District: Midtown

Requesting approval for: operating guidelines for sign

IV.       Name: Mr. Keith Rouss (Harbert Realty)

Site Address: Two North 20th

District: Birmingham Green

Requesting approval for: Roof top advertising sign

V.        Name:  Mr. Jared Pineda

Site Address:  18 Richard Arrington Jr., Blvd, North

District:  21st Street North

Requesting approval for:  Roofing samples

VI.       Name: Mr. Russ Walter

Site Address:  2805 3rd Avenue, South (Pittsburgh Paints)

District: Lakeview

Requesting approval for:  Sign

VII.     Name: Mr. Jerry Nelms (BJCC)

Site Address:  Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd between 22nd & 24th Street,

District:  Cultural

Requesting approval for:  Street improvements and parking

VIII.    Name: Mr. Jimmy Harvell (Larry Signs)

Site Address: 7737 1st Avenue, North (Quik Pawn Shop)

District:  East Lake

Requesting approval for:  Signage

IX.       Name: Ms. Sheila Chaffin (UAB)

Site Address: block between 5th & 6th Avenues and 11th & 12th Streets South

District: Midtown

Requesting approval for: Demolition and site restoration of the UAB Theater Storage temporary structure.

[thanks to Texas de Brazil for the pic]

More options

More foot traffic coming

The Paramount yogurt shop at the corner of 20th Street North and 2nd Avenue (above in an earlier incarnation) has started serving a full lunch menu in addition to their usual yogurt and sweets. Downtown needs more dining options across the spectrum, from lunch to dinner. We’re a lot better off than 10 years ago, but still have a long way to go.

A mix of high and low

A block down 2nd avenue at Richard Arrington Blvd. North, the former Tony’s Terrific hot dog stand (above) is being renovated into–according to the workmen–a new eating establishment, but we can’t confirm that. Many of us miss the hot dogs and chicken sandwiches that Tony Ippolito served here since 1980, following in a long tradition of (mainly Greek-American owned) hot dog stands that flourished around downtown. Today only a handful are left. Certainly the ornate Florentine Building deserves a new tenant so we’ll keep an eye out.

It’s either Subway, or Subway

Finally, over on Richard Arrington Blvd. North in the heart of the BJCC, the above scene was observed the other weekend: literally a line out the door of hungry lunch-goers dying to get into Subway sandwich shop. Why this overwhelming preference for Subway? It’s the only restaurant within easy walking distance of the convention halls (save those within the Sheraton Hotel itself, but none of those face the street or have a public presence whatsoever). This is part of the argument for the Entertainment District currently under construction, which would offer a variety of restaurants and other amenities adjacent to the convention area (although no leasing announcements have yet been made). As has been noted in these pages before, ideally the tenants would not just attract conventioneers, but also local residents and casual visitors: the mix needs to be right.

In the meantime, we hear rumors of more restaurateurs scouting for space downtown. We’re optimistic that the food (and foodie) landscape will expand considerably in the next few years, so hang tight.

[thanks to Birmingham Public Library for the Paramount photo]


Caution: sterility

Pop-up district

By now most of us are familiar with the planned Entertainment District currently rising east of the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex; a night-time view is rendered above (see construction cam here). This blog has discussed the inherent risks with creating “districts” from scratch, and with single developers or entities calling the shots, as opposed to more organic neighborhoods that grow over time with multiple participants. A very interesting article in Salon takes a dim view of this type of development, and is worth a read and discussion of its points.

It fills up for New Years

The author, Will Doig, takes Victory Park in downtown Dallas, TX to task. For him this is an extreme example of how banal an instant district can be (the main plaza is pictured above).  A much bigger project than Birmingham’s (think billions instead of millions of dollars), it includes luxury apartment and condo towers, office space, a park, restaurants, retail, a W Hotel and the American Airlines Center (home to professional basketball and hockey, as well as a concert venue). It has all been built over the last 10 years.

But it’s not New Years yet

While the main plaza and other public areas fill up during game time, New Years, and other special events–the neighborhood is otherwise quiet, according to Doig: its overpriced chain restaurants drawing too few patrons, and a revolving door of retailers leaving sidewalks empty (above). Keep in mind that there is still much more development planned for Victory Park, so perhaps it’s too soon to judge. But it’s hard not to take seriously the criticism leveled by Doig about the lack of vitality in this type place.

Everyone’s inside looking at the art

Doig also describes the Dallas Arts District as a related, but distinct example of the pitfalls of “designated district” development. A massive 68 acres of prestigious fine and performing arts venues developed over the last 30 years, it includes many well-reviewed architectural works (including the Dallas Art Museum above by Edward Larrabee Barnes, the same architect who designed the last expansion of the Birmingham Museum of Art). While there is much to admire about the high quality streetscape materials and refined architecture, street life itself is muted: unless you’re walking from an art museum to a concert, there’s just not much to do. It’s a mono-cultural district that suffers from too much of a good thing.

Ah, organic growth

The counterpoint to these listless new districts for Doig is Kenmore Square in Boston, MA (above), whose slow growth over time has resulted in an eclectic, mixed-use neighborhood that feels perfectly suited to Fenway Park without being contrived. The famous Citgo sign is a microcosm of the argument: first erected in 1940, it became so beloved by neighbors and Red Sox fans that when it was dismantled as a tired eyesore in 1979, a huge public outcry led to its restoration. It’s just one more quirky layer of the neighborhood. Such a sign today would neither be allowed under city ordinances, nor particularly loved by the public: it would be too new, too crass.

Which brings us to a final point–when Kenmore Square was first built out and connected to Boston with a subway line 100 years ago, it probably had little of today’s charm. Our best neighborhoods often need time to grow, breathe, rejuvenate, go through cycles before we realize we love them. If the entertainment district is expanded, ties together successfully with our own art museum and CBD to the south, Norwood to the north, is connected to great transit, and finds the right retail mix–it may prove Doig wrong. Since we’re investing so much money and effort into the project, let’s hope so.

[thanks to Bayer Properties for the Entertainment District pic; ecrosstexas and payton chung for the Victory Park pics; tilton lane for the Dallas Arts District pic; henry han for the Kenmore Square pic]

Checking in (2)

Variation on a theme

The News has written an article about the design refinement of the new Westin Hotel at the BJCC, noting the Mayor insisted the architects (Rabun Architects out of Atlanta) take the earlier design and improve it with “wow factor”. On this blog we’d noted earlier our disappointment with the bland, middle-of-the-road architecture first presented, and hoped for something more innovative, special, and welcoming to visitor and local alike. So we’re happy the Mayor insisted on refinement. But what about the result?

More red brick?

Above is the latest rendering the News posted from the architects, which looks extremely similar to the original shown some months ago, except the facade is now shown rendered in what appears to be red brick. The rendering angle itself is more flattering, emphasizing street-level glass and pedestrians on sidewalks. To answer the Mayor’s wish for a blend of “traditional and contemporary styles”, it also appears the low one story wing in the foreground (with swimming pool on its roof) has been configured as a traditional commercial storefront facade, while the main hotel itself is more “contemporary”.

Without seeing the design for the adjacent entertainment district (designed by local architect Fred Keith of Keith Architecture) it’s impossible to say, but my guess is those traditional storefronts are designed to complement Keith’s district across the street. Rabun is not known for edgy, high-design work. Their corporate hotel clients demand clean, safe, often predictable design. It’s easier to look at this project as a necessary addition of crucially needed rooms near the BJCC, rather than our only chance to have a truly “signature” hotel downtown. I’m confident that chance will come soon, but for now it looks like this project will be an unremarkable 4-star hotel design. Let’s hope the restaurant, public spaces–and the surrounding district of shops, restaurants, and bars–will be as thoughtfully laid out as possible. Perhaps the design won’t win national awards. But with the right mix of tenants it could still prove a solid success for the BJCC, downtown, and the adjacent northern neighborhoods. What’s key is trying to integrate the new construction into the existing downtown and Norwood. If this becomes more than just a BJCC-centric project, and reaches out to surrounding neighborhoods, then we’ve accomplished something.

Better near the park

Which brings us to a final note on the proposed new downtown baseball park for the Barons (concept rendering above). The Birmingham Business Journal showed results of an online poll where the majority of all respondents wanted a new ballpark near Railroad Park. Coming a very distant second was the BJCC area. In my opinion, there is much more opportunity for leveraged redevelopment and mixed-use in the Railroad Park area, than near the BJCC. The proximity of the new park, UAB, downtown residences, and the blocks of old warehouses are more promising than the emptied out land by the BJCC, not to mention the freeway connector which for so long has cut off that area from the central core. I know the Mayor and others are working hard to evaluate all options for a ballpark location; my vote is for up near Railroad Park.

[Thanks to markj for the pic of the Tribeca Grand atrium in NYC; the News and Rabun Architects for the Westin rendering; the News for the Ballpark rendering)