Tag Archives: Regions Field

Progress in 2 districts

Black and tan, Todd English style

Downtown may be getting it’s first non-local celebrity chef restaurant: according to the Birmingham Business Journal, chef Todd English plans to open a Todd English P.U.B. (Public Urban Bar) concept at the new Westin Hotel currently wrapping up construction. While Todd English runs numerous restaurants across the US, most are in Boston, New York, Las Vegas, and LA. None are in the South (save one at Disney World in Orlando), making the choice of Birmingham pretty interesting. Could it be that our own nationally recognized local food culture is now attracting not just good press, but out-of-town nationally recognized chefs? The menu in the one other P.U.B. (Las Vegas, at City Center) is decidedly gastropub, with lots of sliders and draft beers (pictured above; we assume prices would be slightly lower in this market). Bar games such as beer pong are advertised as well. The beer-ish theme seems well-suited to a city undergoing a full-fledged renaissance in beer making and appreciation.

Curtains in the windows, dining coming soon

Above is the current state of the Westin (2200 block of Richard Arrington, Jr. Blvd. North) where workers are racing to get the hotel open in January. The main lobby will enter under the canopy with the nameplate; the restaurant space is on the ground floor to the right in the photo, with outdoor seating facing the planned Entertainment District, of which Texas de Brazil is the first announced tenant. P.U.B.’s theme and celebrity chef concept seem promising as a place that could attract convention-goers and locals alike.

Park, meet ballpark

A dozen blocks north at First Avenue South between 14th and 16th Streets, Regions Field, the new home of the Birmingham Barons, is taking shape across from Railroad Park (above, looking south from the park–check out the live construction cam here). Now that the rough massing is taking shape, the scale and edge it gives to the corner are feeling pretty good. Given the April 10 opening date, we should be able to analyze the finish materials and streetscape soon enough.

We hope there’s lots of coordination forthcoming between UAB, area property owners, developers, and the City to plan a new Parkside district that’s a win-win for everyone. With Good People Brewing Company expanding across the street, and Southpace Properties working on a new restaurant project (no drive-throughs, please!) next door, the potential is there. Now, if we just had that new streetcar to take us effortlessly from an IPA at the ballgame to a Spring Street Saison at the P.U.B….

[thanks to cdtatro for the P.U.B. pic]

Checking in (4)

Grande Dame

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]

Progress, with caveats

Very, very conceptual still

At this morning’s Design Review Committee, perhaps the biggest news was what didn’t happen–a representative of the new Regions Field project appeared, but did not present any elevations or other design details of the new structure. Instead, he requested the Committee approve the remainder of demolition work necessary to prepare the four-square block area directly south of Railroad Park. After hearing that the two renderings shown at last week’s groundbreaking (above, and the other shown in previous post) were simply conceptual suggestions, done merely for the sake of the ceremony, the Committee approved the remainder of the demolition required. At the same time, the Committee asked developers to return as soon as possible with schematic design of the project. That could happen within a few weeks–stay tuned.

Better, but...

Also approved was a revised design for the proposed Family Dollar store in West End at the corner of Tuscaloosa Avenue, SW and 13th Street (site plan above). Since we last discussed this in January, the developer has moved the building to the corner, and pushed the parking to the rear of the site. Good. However, it is disappointing to see two massive curb cuts occuring at either street, when ironically a service alley exists already behind the store. It was equally disappointing to see the entrance will be on the side, accessed from the parking lot–and not on the street frontage.  This helps contribute to a dead elevation along Tuscaloosa which is almost completely mute in its blankness:

Not exactly an engaging composition

It’s wonderful that this neighborhood, so bereft of retail options, is getting a major investment. It’s a shame the design couldn’t have been pushed further to incorporate a few more basic urban design principles.

And Lakeview gets another option

Finally, FIVE restaurant was granted approval for facade and signage improvements at the historic building on 29th Street between 7th Avenue South and University Blvd in the Lakeview district. The former Golden Rule Bar-B-Q is getting a new row of French doors (under construction, above), among other improvements. Yet another sign of this neighborhood continuing to draw investment and energy–we wish them well and can’t wait to see the menu.

[Thanks to HKS and City of Birmingham for the Regions Field rendering; Boos Development Group for the Family Dollar drawings; and the FIVE team for the pic]

Cars and people

Heavy emphasis on walking. Not so much on driving

As we await a review of detailed site and design documents for the newly named Regions Field (thus far no presentation has made it to the agenda of the Design Review Committee), it’s worth considering transportation access to this new venue.  In the rendering released at last week’s groundbreaking (above), we see the corner of First Avenue South and 14th Street (the super-graphic faces 14th). Whether by design or not, the rendering is filled with lots of people, but only one car. No bikes or public transit are visible either. One of the first questions, as a matter of course with large, destination sports or entertainment venues is: where do people park?

It's all about providing a connected environment

Part of the answer is seen above, in a shot of the Bricktown entertainment district around the AT&T Bricktown Ballpark in downtown Oklahoma City. This former warehouse district has been revitalized into a restaurant and entertainment center around the ball park (note the great reuse of existing historic warehouse structures). There are multiple small lots, and some structured parking, scattered throughout the district; the idea is not to park everyone coming to a game in one attached deck, but rather for fans to find multiple locations to park and enjoy dinner and a stroll before the game. People don’t mind walking a couple blocks as long as the walk is engaging, with lots of pleasant distractions and “window shopping” to be done. This appears to be the strategy at Regions Field, where it’s been determined that within a certain walkable radius of the facility, there’s more than enough on-street and existing parking facilities to handle the fans.

Lots of options across a well-planned district

The map above illustrates the scattered parking plan for the Bricktown district. Needless to say, the plan would be much less attractive if the streets weren’t lined with active, inviting businesses and diversions. Interestingly, the canal you see in blue weaving through the district was built from scratch in 1998 as a tourist attraction to complement the district; the water taxi service along this canal has become quite popular.

It took some vision

This is not to say that water taxis are in the cards for our new Parkside district. But it’s encouraging that the development is going with a scattered parking strategy: this should promote foot traffic throughout the area, spurring additional private development. Now, let’s just get those sidewalks paved around Railroad Park, and some more bike lanes marked, and we’re starting to make this area a model for how cities (and zoning departments) can think outside the dated, 1950’s paradigm of “every facility has to have its own parking”. We can scatter it, share it, and encourage other modes of transit instead.

These boots were made for...

Which brings us to a final note on that oddball city, New York, where zoning laws have been changed for some time to deliberately discourage developers from building on-site parking at their projects. In a fascinating recent article from the New York Times, we learn that in the last 30 years the number of off-street parking spaces in Manhattan has fallen by 20% (and this in a city borough which has gained about 100,000 in population over the same period). Part of the outcome? Well, besides increasingly expensive rents for off-street parking spaces (which routinely fetch over $1000/month), transit ridership is way up, bike lanes have been constructed everywhere–and, of course, people continue to do a lot of walking (midtown intersection, above). New York had the right idea changing its zoning laws. We need to consider the same thing here, in certain areas where it makes sense. This can only enhance the density and diversity of our urban environment. So get those boots on and get ready to walk through Parkside to all the new urban attractions that will soon await us.

[thanks to alanoftulsa for the Bricktown overview pic; babselder for the canal pic; flickr4jazz for the Manhattan pic]