Tag Archives: Parkside

Peanuts! (2)

PP2.jpg

Same peanuts, new name

Strolling down Morris Avenue this week (above, looking west between Richard Arrington Blvd. and 20th Street North) it was a pleasant surprise to smell roasted peanuts–a familiar smell here for over 100 years. As we reported a couple months ago, the Peanut Depot (founded 1907) has moved to the booming Parkside District; it was the last wholesale/retail food business left on Morris Avenue, which in the late 19th and early 20th Street had been the center for this local trade. Now, it seems that while Parkside (and nearby Region’s Field) will be enjoying Peanut Depot peanuts, the new Peanut Place business is carrying on the legacy on Morris Avenue.

PP1.jpg

Hot peanut = good peanut

As it turns out, the Peanut Depot rented the space and much of the equipment; when they departed, the building’s owners decided to keep roasting and boiling peanuts with the same antique roasters, in the same space, with the same old-fashioned simplicity (one of the owners pictured above). We look forward to Peanut Place enticing passerby with that delicious aroma for many more years to come!

 

Peanuts!

Peanut Depot.jpg

Goodbye Morris, hello Parkside

The Peanut Depot, a longtime fixture on Morris Avenue in downtown Birmingham (above, looking north between 20th Street North and Richard Arrington Blvd.), is perhaps the last surviving business of this street’s original incarnation as the Victorian city’s wholesale produce and warehousing center (most every building now contains lofts, professional offices, studios and bars). But you only have a few more weeks to enjoy them here, as they will be moving to Parkside in March. A downtown fixture for almost 110 years, Peanut Depot needs to expand to support their growing sales across the US; their new location near Region’s Field will also be convenient for Birmingham Barons ball games–for which they have, fittingly, the exclusive concession for peanut sales.

Sad that Morris Avenue will lose the delicious aroma of roasted peanuts–but great news this longtime business is relocating into one of the most exciting areas currently revitalizing downtown. Here’s to another century of deliciousness–and watch out for that unmistakable scent to drift over Parkside.

Checking in again

 

 

Hilton Parkside

Could be anywhere

This morning at Design Review Committee, the new dual-branded hotel (Hilton Garden Inn and Home 2 Suites) along 2nd Avenue South between 17th and 18th Streets received approval for final materials (snapshot of rendered elevations above). This project, one block south of Railroad Park, will be the first hotel to rise in the Parkside neighborhood; the site is already cleared and construction should start soon. The materials are a combination of brick and stucco; the architect is Bradley, Schmidt & Carn from Dothan, AL. While the massing, color palette, and generic detailing are all scripted from Hilton’s playbook–with the result being a rather unmemorable composition–at least from an urban standpoint the facades come up to the sidewalk edges (with attractive landscaping by Birmingham’s Macknally Land Design) and the lobby lounges and cafes open to terraces facing the streets. The biggest disappointment is the large amount of surface parking in the rear which takes up half a city block–the City needs to do better creating shared, structured parking for the Parkside district so that each individual project isn’t forced to use valuable land for this purpose.

Homewood Suites

Trying to do the right thing

Also presented this morning was the long-awaited Homewood Suites hotel project (architect Richard Rauh above) which has already broken ground; it too was coming for final material approval. If you look closely at the image above, you’ll see a diagram on the screen of every piece of the historic ground floor facade (formerly Five Points Music Hall and Piggly Wiggly) documented for a meticulous replication. The original Art Deco facade was found close to collapse during demolition and could not be saved; the developer will now reproduce it. A synthetic stucco material was rejected by the Committee; the developer will return most likely with true limestone for this portion (the remainder of the eight story Art Deco-style building will be brick and stucco).

Empire Exterior

A notch up

A few blocks away, as we’ve previously noted the historic Empire Building (above, First Avenue North looking east to 20th Street) is under massive renovation into a luxury boutique hotel under the Marriott Autograph brand; the new Grand Bohemian Hotel in Mountain Brook a few miles south shares this branding. A more modest 3-star Marriott offering will abut the Empire in the former Alagasco building directly west. Campo Architects of New Orleans is the architect.

Empire Lobby

100 years old and beautiful

A peek into the Empire’s lobby (above) shows the original marble, staircase, and light fixtures that we hope are on their way to loving restoration. Whereas the Hilton hotels in Parkside are resolutely bland and generic, this one should be full of character and specific. And it’s exciting that Birmingham will have more 4-star lodging options.

Redmont

And 4 stars more

Finally, as the Birmingham Business Journal reported earlier this week, the Redmont Hotel–at this point Birmingham’s grande dame having opened in 1925–will reopen next month as another 4-star hotel under Hilton’s Curio brand. We wish the Redmont, and these other hotels, much success as they increase City Center hotel options and–hopefully–provide us with some interesting new food and beverage choices.

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season whether in a hotel or at home, and we’ll be back in January!

[thanks to Bradley Schmidt & Carn for the Parkside renderings]

If you build it…

National brands move in

National brands move in

The new Parkside neighborhood taking shape around Railroad Park is promoted as a mixed-use urban neighborhood with plenty of retail, restaurant, and entertainment. It seems basic, but new projects must provide rentable ground floor space to sign up the retail, restaurant and entertainment that attract people to live, visit and stroll the streets. How are some current projects stacking up in this regard? Currently under construction, 20 Midtown is one of the most prominent, retail-wise, in the area (multi-sites along 20th Street South between Second and Fourth Avenues; architect: Cohen Carnaggio Reynolds). The first building’s Starbucks has recently opened (above); a Chipotle is on its way, and a Publix supermarket is coming in 2016. This lineup of national retailers is fairly unprecedented for a single project downtown or midtown. The supermarket alone promises to be a major anchor that will pull other developments into the area.

Density on 20th Street

Density in Midtown

The next phase of the project (above) has even more retail space along both frontages. According to the retail leasing site, about 110,000 SF of retail and commercial space will be provided in the completed project (ground floor retail appears to be approximately 85,000 SF). From a pedestrian-friendly planning perspective, the “urban drive-thrus” servicing Starbucks and other businesses aren’t ideal, and the curb cuts required between these and the other inner parking decks feel excessive–but at least the overall mass of the buildings are dominant, and these cuts are relatively minor breaks to the retail street frontage. In sum, 20 Midtown does an excellent job providing storefront space to the neighborhood.

The park deserved a bit better

The park deserved a bit better

The Liv Parkside mixed-use development (above, main elevation on First Avenue South between 18th and 17th Streets; architect: Charlan Brock & Associates) fills an entire half-block in a very prominent location directly across from Railroad Park. Due to its size (it will contain 228 rental apartments) and its location, it’s disappointing that it will offer only 4,000 SF of retail. And it’s not just the paucity of retail that’s a concern–the treatment of the storefront is architecturally weak, an odd combination of brick and punched openings that feels out of proportion with the major civic space it faces. In comparison, 20 Midtown’s more straight-forward storefront feels sophisticated and well-scaled to the streets. Overall Liv Parkside is a missed opportunity for invigorating the sidewalks fronting the park. On the bright side, local coffee house Red Cat will anchor the retail mix and plans a Sunday brunch that will no doubt prove popular for residents and visitors alike.

Uncertain at the street

Uncertain at the street

Just southwest of Liv Parkside is the Venue, providing 236 rental apartments (above, looking at the corner of Third Avenue South and 16th Street; architect: BOKA Powell). In a blow to potential adjacent street life, this development offers no retail storefronts whatsoever, with the lobby and leasing office providing the only ground floor activity. If Liv Parkside offers too little rentable storefront, the fact that Venue offers none is truly a letdown.

Maybe there's hope

Maybe there’s a little hope

As a consolation, the developers do state that, while no retail is being offered, there is ground floor space behind roll-up glass doors suitable for food trucks; perhaps this same space can be finished out for retail in the future. In the rendering above (along 16th Street) it’s possible to see these openings in the middle-to-far distance. For a mid-rise, dense urban project, the architectural massing and materials are better than some, but the street level leaves, unfortunately, much to be desired.

Unfit for urban life

Unfit for urban life

Along 18th Street South and Second Avenue, Healthcare Realty Trust, the REIT which owns a building directly north, is constructing a parking deck on a former surface parking lot (above, looking east along Second Avenue). There is not much to say here, except that there’s no attempt at an architectural fig leaf: we get a stark, block-long wall of brick, with smallish pierced openings looking directly into the garage. That this is being built a half block from Railroad Park is pretty devastating. Zoning laws in the City should be amended to require any parking deck constructed in prominent urban places to contain ground floor retail or other components to enhance the adjacent public space of the street, rather than cheapen it.

Filling up

Filling up

Headed back over to 20th Street, the good news is the large Station 121 building (completed 2010, seen above looking east at the corner of 20th Street South and First Avenue; architect: Niles Bolton and Associates) is rapidly filling its storefronts. Having been mainly vacant due to the recession generally as well as market hesitation at this location specifically, the 21,000 SF of retail is now succeeding due to its proximity to newer developments including the Publix supermarket, and the general growth of Midtown which 5 years ago was still hypothetical. This block of retail and restaurant should nicely complement 20 Midtown’s efforts directly south.

A lost opportunity

A lost opportunity

Which brings us to our final, cautionary image: Athens Flatts, seen above along Second Avenue North between 23rd and 22nd Streets (completed 2007; architect: Rob Walker Architects). The ground floor is a cousin to the new parking garage mentioned above–arched openings with metal security barriers look into a bleak parking garage which, especially at night, is completely at odds with the pedestrian character of this part of Second Avenue which is filled with bars and restaurants. Perhaps one day a portion of this garage will be carved away allowing these arches to open into shops and cafes. Until then, it serves to show us what happens when developments neglect the life on the streets that every urban structure has an obligation to engage. Let’s ensure future Parkside developments don’t fall into the same category.

[Thanks to Cohen Carnaggio Reynolds and BOKA Powell for the renderings]

13 months and counting

This morning’s Design Review Committee unanimously approved building and landscape design for Regions Field, the new downtown home of the Birmingham Barons baseball team (above, Virginia Williams with the Mayor’s office introduces the project).  Looking closely at the colored plan on the easel above, you can see the baseball diamond oriented for optimum home plate and spectator comfort (shade will fall across the stands at almost all times). In pink are the ancillary elements along the 1st Avenue South edge up top and the 14th Street edge to the left; their character was the subject of most of the Committee’s discussion.

As interactive and porous as possible

The main floor plan is shown above (Lead architect HKS and local partner GA Studio). Again, 1st Avenue South is across the top (with Railroad Park directly across the street), and 14th Street to the left (west). 16th Street is to the right (east), and 3rd Avenue at the bottom (south). The project takes up 4 square blocks–15th Street and 2nd Avenue are consumed. The main entry plaza is the corner of 14th and 1st Avenue; along 1st Avenue are a ticket office, Barons merchandise store, and ice-cream shop as you walk east towards B&A Warehouse. Those 3 elements will be open daily to the public (and can be entered from the sidewalk as well as from the interior), regardless of whether the Barons are playing. Along 14th Street is a wide landscaped plaza with tables and chairs, that again will be open to the public regardless of the day. There is a connector of landscape walks, green berms, and children’s playground running on the east around the field which will likewise be open to the public at all times as a promenade connecting UAB campus to the Railroad Park.

Still in need of finesse

As we’ve noted previously, in an ideal world this project, or part of it, would be located at least 1/2 a block south of 1st Avenue, to allow a good, solid street wall of mid-rise development to take advantage of views and real estate premiums afforded by Railroad Park to the north and Regions Field to the south. Given the situation on the ground, while the designers have done a good job aligning several public elements at the street edge–to activate the public realm–there are still large swathes of one story elements, blank walls, and open space as you move from west to east across 1st Avenue (above, moving from right to left). The Committee asked that the details of the ice cream shop be worked on so that it could help continue the energy of the western part of the building in a more layered, vibrant way. Vacant land just behind B&A Warehouse (far left above) is reserved for future development–both a Negro League Museum and others–and hopefully those will go some way to helping densify that corner of the site.

An active public realm

The concern is that the energy of Railroad Park (above, at 15th Street Skate Plaza) won’t be fully leveraged by the edge of Regions Field across the street. Again, given the reality of the siting, the designers have done a pretty good job of incorporating as much as they could–but a ticket office, merchandise shop, and ice cream parlor don’t equate to the potential of continuous mixed-use development with restaurants, shops, and multi-story residences facing the park. The good news is that the baseball park moving downtown is a huge plus; hopefully the surrounding blocks and future development on the site itself will go a long way towards alleviating the current concerns about the edge condition.  We can’t wait for the first game in April 2013.

And just a dozen blocks north...

Which brings us briefly to the other big downtown project underway, also on a fast-track–the BJCC entertainment district and new Westin hotel, above. Unlike the construction site for Regions Field, which is even now surrounded by curious pedestrians, housing, Midtown offices and mixed-use, UAB, and Children’s Hospital (all elements which point to an exciting new Parkside neighborhood), the BJCC site has almost no pedestrian traffic, is bounded by interstate ramps, the convention center, and blocks of empty land cleared for future development to the north. It’s easy to visualize Regions Field integrating into the surrounding fabric; at BJCC, the fear is without integration into the rest of downtown and up to Norwood, the project can’t reach its potential. Hopefully the City is working on these connections. I want to go seamlessly from a baseball game, to a restaurant in Parkside, then to get a beer down at the entertainment district–but right now, its unclear how that would happen.

Bringing it down in scale

Speaking of beer, approval was also granted this morning to Pale Eddie’s Pour House on the 2300 block of Second Avenue North, to extend their existing rear patio (fenced, above) almost to the alley. We welcome more outdoor space to enjoy a drink downtown, and remind ourselves that while the Westin and Regions Field are exciting, we need to keep nurturing our small, entrepreneurial businesses and places like Pale Eddie’s that help keep our city center unique. Cheers.

 

City as artifact

Worth documenting

As the City prepares to demolish the 4-block-plus area between directly south of Railroad Park between 14th and 16th Streets South to prepare for the new ball park for the Birmingham Barons, we are about to lose a good bit of historic, warehouse fabric that’s been little discussed. It is the opinion of this blog that the ball park is a good thing for downtown and the City, and that the old warehouse neighborhood around it (tentatively dubbed Parkside) has vast potential to be revitalized into a vibrant mixed-use district connecting UAB to the park. Before the bulldozers arrive, however, it would be great to try to document the buildings that are about to disappear forever (example above).

Remnant of another era

Some of these old structures serviced prominent retailers located several blocks north in downtown’s shopping district, such as the above warehouse which still has its “Jefferson Home Furniture” sign prominently displayed.

Not something you see here often

In a central city laid out on a relentlessly orthogonal grid, it’s downright shocking to see this curving alley way between two warehouses (above), which followed the curve of a rail spur. Goods could be loaded directly onto rail cars from the warehouse docks. Wouldn’t it be great if the new ball park facility had a graphic display somewhere with images and history relating to this neighborhood and its (unsung) relationship to the better-known areas adjacent to it?

First sign of progress

Once these buildings are documented properly, and their history outlined for the public, we hope that upon completion of the ball park many of the surrounding warehouse-type buildings will be renovated to complement new, infill construction in a district with housing, restaurants, bars, shops, offices, and other amenities. A hint of what could come is seen above at the corner of 18th Street and 2nd Avenue South, where the real estate firm Shannon Waltchack moved from the suburbs into a freshly renovated former National Biscuit Company building (they plan phase 2 with loft apartments next door; architect for the project is Cohen Carnaggio Reynolds).

Yes you are

Only a few years ago, the building across 18th Street from Shannon Waltchack had fully rented storefronts. The tenants left and took the storefronts with them; now all that remains is a (still beautiful) shell. Understanding the value of historic buildings is important, and we hope this one can be returned to service. Part of what will make this neighborhood work are built-from-scratch projects like Railroad Park, the Barons park, and proposed new UAB buildings. Destruction of some existing historic buildings will be inevitable. Let’s get them professionally documented before they go.

Home run?

Getting closer

The Birmingham News ran a story yesterday which pinpoints the proposed location of the new Barons Ballpark (see News graphic above). The facility itself would be entered from 14th Street or a 15th Street Plaza, with stands arranged on the SW corner of the site facing the downtown skyline. The outfield faces Railroad Park from across First Avenue South. Ancillary structures (assumedly patron and team amenities/facilities) and a Negro League Museum flank the ballpark along First Avenue; “future developments”, i.e. related private investments, are shown on property to the south.

It is rare to see a ballpark facing another public park like this. The reason is that typically a City will use a park like Railroad Park to encourage private investments in the immediate area; that same City will use a baseball park in a similar way. By putting the outfield right up against First Avenue, the City in effect gives up the ability to market each public frontage to private development.

From serving loading docks to serving urban consumers

Knowing how hard it’s been to assemble property (and two owners are still holding out at either corner of First Avenue), this siting may not have had much flexibility. If indeed the ballpark ends up as shown in the graphic, it’s essential that the design handles the outfield edge creatively, so that it animates that frontage even when the ballpark is dark and empty. Additionally, it would be wonderful if some of the old warehouses and alleyways in the adjacent “Parkside” district could be retained and rejuvenated (the Alley off Tallapoosa Street in downtown Montgomery, pictured above, is a direct result of private investment around their riverfront ballpark). A combination of historic restoration and new construction would be a great mix for the new district (which we also hope will have sharp, creative district branding–see our previous post on this).

It worked in Memphis

The downtown ballpark built in Memphis 8 years ago (above) has rejuvenated an 8-block area; once desolate and boarded up, it now sports restaurants, bars, and apartments. As this project develops in Birmingham, we’ll continue to advocate for the best possible architectural and urban design.  Because we want this project not just to compete with Montgomery or Memphis. We want it to be better. And to exude that quirky, undefinable quality that is the Magic City.

[thanks to the News for the graphic; larry miller for the Alley pic; dragonmistral for the Autozone pic]