Tag Archives: Fire Station No. 22

Mixed bag

A victory for adaptive reuse

Birmingham’s Design Review Committee had a broad spectrum of design issues on the agenda today. Universally commended and approved was the signage package for the new Walgreens complex on Clairmont Avenue and 32nd Street South, where the historic Fire Station #22 is being restored with a hair salon and Bogue’s Restaurant as tenants (above). A new Walgreens building and parking lot are displacing these two businesses directly to the west of the Fire Station. We first broke the story of Walgreens’ original plan to demolish much of the block including the Fire Station. We are thrilled the Fire Station and the historic Bogue’s neon sign are being reused, and that a very old local restaurant isn’t disappearing. We are still concerned about the relationship of the new Walgreens to its western neighbor, Henry Sprott Long and Associates. But the salvation of the Fire Station is a win for the neighborhood, and an example of how a large, national chain can work with grassroots activists to achieve a better, more urban solution for retail developments.

Not again...

In an eerie replay of the earlier Walgreens controversy, Family Dollar presented a proposal for a suburban-style store at the corner of Tuscaloosa Avenue SW and 13th Street, in West End (my own quick sketch above). Just a few blocks from the thriving Princeton Medical complex, and surrounded by a relatively dense, historic fabric, the developer (Boos Development of Clearwater, FL) insisted that he’d followed the zoning guidelines (which he had), and that Family Dollar’s commitment to the neighborhood was predicated on this site plan–where a generic, blank-box Family Dollar is situated behind a swath of asphalt parking. The Committee was not pleased.

The context is urban, not suburban

Directly across from the currently vacant site is a reminder of the historic importance of this West End neighborhood–a two-story, commercial structure now sadly deteriorated, but illustrative of the urban, pedestrian character of the streets. The rest of the block has newer buildings–a post office, a county health clinic, a library–which speak of the continued civic importance of this area.

It's already a pedestrian neighborhood

In objecting to the proposal’s suburban, car-centric design, a couple Committee members mentioned they’d either grown up in this neighborhood or have family here–and that people walk. And that many will be walking to the Family Dollar. Above is the relatively new library across the street which, despite an awkward architecture, does  form a pedestrian-friendly street edge. Parking is concealed to the side and rear. Even on a very rainy morning, a number of pedestrians were out walking between the post office and library, and from the surrounding neighborhood–a visual confirmation of the Committee’s point.

More street edge in West End

Right down the street from the site are these fine church and residential buildings (above), another indicator of how out of character the proposal is with its surroundings.

Lots of potential here

More than many other neighborhoods on this part of town, West End shows promise (house across 13th Street above). Recent investments in the area–including this possible Family Dollar–show a stability that can be a strong base for future improvements. Committee member Marc Fugnitto was passionate about treating West End no differently from Five Points South or South Avondale, where large national chains wanting to invest in urban neighborhoods were required to redesign their proposals to be pedestrian-friendly and appropriate to local context. Others agreed, and hoped that the City Comprehensive Plan, currently in the works, will address the lack of Smart Code and other tools that would tell the developer up front what’s expected, from a form-based standpoint. Or, at the very least, that the Plan will consider this part of West End as an important urban node in the City, which needs clearer design guidelines to help steer development.

A harbinger of things to come?

The Committee asked the developer to meet again, informally, to discuss solutions for the site; the proposal as presented was not approved. On a brighter note, a few blocks further west at 48th Street and Court “V” in Five Points West, Hoskins Architecture presented the above plan for revitalizing a small park adjacent to the Five Points West library. A thoughtful palette of varied trees and plantings, elevation changes, and modern furnishings bodes well for the type of design we all hope will occur around the new Birmingham Crossplex (which is a block north). A bland piece of grass with a few desultory plantings will be transformed into a real place. This one passed the Committee with flying colors.

More potential, slowly getting realized

Back downtown on the 1700 block of Third Avenue North, a small, vacant two-story commercial structure (brown brick, above), was approved for renovation into a law firm downstairs, and the lawyer’s loft apartment upstairs. The simple, historically sensitive design is by NHB Group. Just one block west of the Alabama and Lyric Theaters, this side of the street is full of potential but, in the absence of a coordinated plan for the Theater District, has been slow to revitalize. Besides the renovation of the lower building in the right of the photo (private residence), and the mixed-use tailor shop and loft (below), both of which we designed, this block has been pretty stagnant. With the planned renovation of the Lyric Theatre, a strategic focus on this district, and more investors, this row could be a real downtown jewel. City, onwards!

Retail on the street. We need more

[Thanks to Blackmon Rogers Architects for the Fire Station elevations and Hoskins Architecture for the park plan]

Design Review Alert

It’s historic too

Tomorrow morning at Design Review Committee, the conceptual design for the proposed Walgreens drugstore on Clairmont Avenue South will be presented. The most recent plan, informally shown to neighbors and community stakeholders, was discussed in a previous post here.

The meeting will be at 7:30 AM, Young and Vann building, 1731 First Avenue North, 3rd Floor.

This proposal is important because it accommodates the historic Fire Station No. 22, while demolishing several structures in-between the Fire Station and the mid-century modern office of Henry Sprott Long Architects (in continuous operation at this location for about 50 years), shown in the photo above. The drugstore’s relationship to both historic buildings, its new parking lot and drive-through, and its formal character along Clairmont should be discussed in the morning.

The public is invited to attend.

Walgreens, Phase 2

A softer approach

Yesterday Connolly Net Lease, the developer who has acquired the historic Fire Station No. 22 and several adjacent parcels along the 3100 block of Clairmont Avenue South, held a charrette to help determine what a new Walgreens would look like. Coming off of a contentious earlier effort (which involved demolishing the Fire Station), the new plan is at first glance more pleasing to neighbors and others: the Fire Station has been saved, and will house two of the existing businesses that will be demolished on adjacent lots (Bogue’s Restaurant and Triple Platinum Salon). Connolly said the famous Bogue’s neon sign will be preserved and move it to the Fire Station; a neighborhood landmark is preserved and will have two local businesses inside. Good.  But what about the plan for the new structure and site layout?

Context is complex

The largest issue here is not the architecture per se (although it’s important), but the site layout itself. Above is Clairmont Avenue, looking west from the Fire Station. Note all the setbacks along the street–except for Bogue’s, whose setback is perhaps 5 feet or so, all structures are placed back 10-30 feet from the front property line. This is due in part to the fact the street was initially laid out residentially, with houses, porches, and apartment buildings. And lawns.

Sophisticated respect for context, ca. 1960

About 1960, the architectural firm Henry Sprott Long moved from their downtown offices to the leafier region of Clairmont Avenue, which by that point had become a less desirable residential address. They built an international style gem, with exposed steel beams, plate glass, stone veneer, and a flat roof (above). However, they were careful to respect their residential neighbors, preserving trees, keeping the scale modest–and setting the building back to match the adjacent houses.

Still historic in its own right

At the design charrette, the principals of Blackmon Rogers Architects showed a site plan that has a +/- 13,500 square foot Walgreens moved all the way to the western edge of the lot, and pulled out to the sidewalk with no setback. This awkwardly hems in Henry Sprott Long. In many cases, the correct “urban” and “pedestrian-friendly” location of a commercial building is right at the sidewalk. In this case, we’re not as sure.

A bit too close for comfort

In the architect’s quick sketch prepared yesterday above (please note: these are very early sketches in the process), an option for the new Walgreens facade on Clairmont is illustrated. They have made an effort to bring down the height to relate to Henry Sprott Long seen at the left; what you don’t see is the shadow that would be cast on the older building which is set so much further back. And to the other side of the Walgreens is…

an urban void

…a large surface parking lot, the extent of which can be seen in the second part of the sketch above (note the diminutive Fire Station to the far right). Having this much surface parking running along Clairmont is not good. If I were to redesign this site, I would place Walgreens more in the center between the international style and Spanish-style historic structures (and yes, they are both historic); I would make it longer and skinnier along Clairmont to put more mass on the street; I would set it back a very modest amount from the sidewalk; and parking would be contained at the rear. As it is, the Fire Station feels marooned in isolation at the end of the sea of parking, and Henry Sprott Long has the opposite problem: it’s being strangled by its much larger new neighbor.

Contextual in Oak Park

While certain participants yesterday asked for “historical” elements in the design, what actually emerged as a favorite “prototype” was the new part of the Oak Park, IL Walgreens, shown above (the other part is a renovated existing historic structure). It’s decent, if conventional, corporate architecture. It’s much better than your standard Walgreens, which is good. And it’s good the neighborhood gets to have input into materials. It’s also good activists were able to save the Fire Station from demolition, and the developer plans to relocate local independent businesses there.

Unfortunate siting--but still early

But the neighborhood should also insist on a better site plan. The current plan (sketched crudely above by this author) does a disservice to both historic buildings. The architects are at least on the right track with a “21st century” style that doesn’t cheapen the Fire Station by mimicking it.  Hopefully, the developer will reconsider the site plan so that the block can feel more whole, and the beautiful little modernist building can breathe again.

[Thanks to Blackmon Rogers for allowing us to show the elevation sketches; Oak Park Walgreens pic courtesy of Walgreens]

Fire Station No. 10

Hopefully better publicized than No. 22

Just a quick post on historic Fire Station No. 10 in Avondale for which the City is soliciting redevelopment proposals . Anybody who may be interested in preserving this gem with a creative reuse should respond to the Request for Proposal here.

Hopefully this RFP will be much better publicized than the one for Fire Station No. 22 on Clairmont Avenue, so we don’t all wake up surprised by a Walgreen’s!

Deadline for submission is November 15, with the Mayor announcing the winner December 15. Interestingly, unlike the ill-fated RFP for No. 22, this RFP is emphatic about the historic nature of the fire station, and encourages preservation.

Now or Never: Chick-Fil-A and Walgreen’s Updates

It is time to make yourself heard. Public hearings are set for two controversial issues:

The City Council’s Economic Development Committee will discuss the proposal to sell the historic Fire Station No. 22 to Walgreen’s Drugstore on June 7 at 4 PM in the Council conference suite at City Hall. In related news, local developer and Highland Park resident David Carrigan has put together a counter-proposal that fully preserves and restores the Fire Station into a neighborhood gastropub. You can see the website here.  (Full disclosure — the rendering below is by the writer of this blog)

Another path

Second, the Birmingham News reports today that a special panel–set up to hear Chick-Fil-A’s appeal after the unanimous decision of the Design Review Committee to deny their building a stand-alone restaurant and drive-through at the corner of 20th Street and Highland Avenue South in the heart of Five Points South–will hold public hearings June 16, 18, and 21. They will then rule on the matter within 7 days of the last hearing.

This is one particular situation where Form Based Code would be potentially very useful. While Chick-Fil-A argues that this is purely a zoning matter (and indeed drive-throughs and stand-alone restaurants are allowed by zoning on this property), the neighborhood and other advocates (including myself) argue that the Commercial Revitalization and Historic District organizing papers clearly state that new development should be in keeping with the character of the neighborhood. These papers are city ordinance, just like zoning. Instead of one lawyer arguing that an ordinance takes precedence over another, Form Based Code would settle the matter up front, telling any prospective developer that along certain streets, or within certain blocks, there can be no drive-through. Or no building less than a certain height. Or all parking must be hidden at the rear of the lot.

The process of putting together a Form Based Code is typically driven by neighborhood consensus. Highland Park is the first City neighborhood to adopt such a code–just a few weeks ago. In order to protect the urban assets we have, and enhance them with thoughtful, coordinated development, Five Points South and other neighborhoods should consider following Highland Park’s lead.

If you care about the urban environment in Birmingham, please plan to attend any or all of these important meetings.

Stay tuned for reports on the upcoming public hearings in both cases.

Putting out fires

An open letter to Kathy Okrongley, President of Connolly Net Lease, LLC–the developer of a proposed Walgreen’s drugstore at the site of historic Fire Station No. 22, Bogue’s Restaurant, and Clairmont Auto on Clairmont Avenue South:

Dear Ms. Okrongley:

I read with interest the article in today’s Birmingham News, where you state you want to work with the neighborhood and the Design Review Committee to come up with a proposal acceptable to all. Given the current neighborhood aversion to the project as depicted so far–tearing down the historic Fire Station No. 22 and other small, local businesses including the 70-year-old Bogue’s Restaurant, and replacing them with a generic, boxy Walgreen’s drugstore, asphalt parking lot, and drive-through–I welcome this willingness to explore alternatives. I know the members of the Facebook protest site, as well as the brand-new civic group I Believe in Birmingham, are also cautiously optimistic about your next steps.

A second chance?

First: the excellent points you discuss. You say you’re an architect by training, and have an appreciation for historic structures. You say you’re interested in developing a sustainable design, possibly with LEED certification. You say that you are seriously considering saving all or part of the Fire Station and incorporating it into the design. You also say you will work to find another neighborhood location for Bogue’s, carefully restoring the historic neon sign at a new location.

As Alison Glascock, Highland Park neighborhood president states in the article, a lot of opposition “would end” if the above goals were all achieved.

Second: the note of caution: I’m reading good things, but an actual detailed plan is yet to be presented. I don’t want some clumsy pastiche that makes a few “references” to the historic Spanish-style architecture of the Fire Station. I don’t want Bogue’s and Clairmont Auto to just disappear for a parking lot–I want an earnest effort to relocate them. I know the corporation, Walgreen’s, that you represent has the resources to commit to fine design, neighborhood involvement, and relocation of existing businesses–if the will is truly there.

Ms. Okrongley, there are plenty of local community leaders and neighbors–and designers (this author included)–who’d be delighted to work with you to make this a winning project for everyone. Please understand that if the Walgreen’s effort falls short of your newly stated intentions, I feel the City has an obligation to reopen its RFP process to other developers who stand by committed to preserving the Fire Station and local businesses. I’m eager to see your next step.

Yours sincerely, etc.

Walgreen's CAN do urban, pedestrian, and contextual. And historic neon.

[thanks to acnatta for the Bogue’s shot, and willcrusta for the Walgreen’s in New Orleans]

Design Review Alert

Design Review Committee will meet Wednesday morning (May 12) at 7:30 AM on the Third Floor of the Center for Regional Planning and Design, 1731 First Avenue North. Thus far there are only 2 items on the agenda (more may be added by Wednesday:

1. Street Banners for Woodlawn;

2. Chick-Fil-A project for Five Points South.

Magic City Manifesto posted an interesting piece this morning about Councilor Austin being upset about several concrete benches being removed to make way for expanded outdoor seating for Cafe Dupont on downtown’s 20th street. Personally, I would rather have vibrant storefronts with lots of outdoor seating–as opposed to empty storefronts and lots of benches. Especially sad, tired old benches. You can view the Birmingham News piece here.

Great architecture and trees; not so great 1970's sidewalks, street furniture, benches

If Councilor Austin were really concerned about 20th Street, he would be working on a long-range complete renovation of the dated, 1970’s -era plantings and street furnishings, which lend a worn-out air to the whole street.  These benches are hardly “historic” or “art” as he states.

Finally, please check out the new Facebook protest site for anyone interested in stopping Walgreen’s from destroying the gorgeous, historic Fire Station No. 22 on Clairmont Avenue. The City Council should vote tomorrow on the sale. City Councilors, please heed the wishes of concerned citizens and don’t sell this historic landmark for $200,000 to Walgreen’s!

(thanks to pjchmiel for the pic)

Fire Station No. 22–What’s Next?

It’s time to get up and do something.  Explaining and garnering interest is one thing; sometimes the hard part is corralling all this interest into a cogent plan for moving forward.  Many readers have asked “what can I do?” to help prevent the lovely Fire Station No. 22 (and its neighbor Bogue’s Restaurant) from being demolished and redeveloped into a Walgreen’s drugstore and parking lot–and drive-through. While I don’t have all the answers, here are some suggestions:

1. Media pressure. Set up a facebook page, write letters to the editor, get local TV and print coverage: then the City would feel the heat.

2. Petition the City with a long list of citizens great and small, opposed to this particular development.

3. Propose an alternative use for the site that preserves, rather than demolishes.

4. Call Jonathan Austin (City Councilor for that district) and express your opinion. And call Valerie Abbott (City Councilor for the district directly across the street) and express same.

5. Grow the cause — make up some cheap posters/yard  signs that could direct people to the facebook page for more info (for personal yards and maybe even at the Firehouse itself : SAVE ME!)

6.  Show up at the next Design Review (I will confirm in a later post when this is) — with things to say, ready to address the committee, and talk to the media there.

I am hardly a community organizer — if there is an individual out there (this could be you!!) who has the time to spearhead this effort — I am all ears and all the folks who have gotten up in arms about this would be SO grateful.

All of the above could be basically applied to the Chick-Fil-A situation in Five Points as well.

Take change into your hands folks, and let’s get something done in a positive way for this City!