Retail clothing becomes retail banking
This morning at Design Review Committee, approval was given for new awnings and signage at the historic Massey Building (corner Third Avenue North and Richard Arrington Blvd., ab0ve) for a new bank branch for Iberia Bank. While filling a vacant corner storefront is generally good, a bank branch is a lesser replacement for Remon’s, the longtime upscale men’s clothier. After decades downtown, Remon’s expanded to the suburban Summit shopping center a couple years ago and then quietly closed the downtown location shortly thereafter. The bank is lesser because the clothing store had regularly changing, high quality shop window displays. Lesser because good retail is few and far between downtown, while bank branches are ubiquitous. Lesser because, despite the decent new awnings and signage, this intersection loses a local business that made it feel special.
The gates are now closed
A similar situation has occurred across 3rd Avenue at the historic Title Building (above): a longtime coffee shop closed, and was replaced by a short-lived O’Carr’s restaurant franchise. When the restaurant closed, the place was converted into ordinary office space, signage was removed, blinds were drawn, and another hub of activity was eliminated from the intersection.
…and another bank branch
Speaking of ubiquitous, on the SE corner of the intersection we already have another bank: First Commercial Bank‘s branch (above). The remaining corner is taken up by a large entrance lobby for the Concord Center which–while housing some of the best “lobby art” visible from a downtown street–is still an office building lobby. With the architectural prominence of the buildings on this intersection, and their massing which helps define the north-south corridor of Richard Arrington, it’s sad there are now no ground floor uses which engage the public in a more meaningful way. We have recently discussed how Mobile has a program to encourage retailers to come downtown; the state of this intersection illustrates how much our city needs one too.
Perhaps a new lease on life, yet again
Finally, now that the old “Ready in 2012” signage has come down from the much-anticipated, much-delayed Pizitz Building development, a smaller “Now Leasing” sign has appeared (above). We suspect this heralds a serious new effort by the developer to make this project happen, albeit perhaps in a different form than previously announced. Definitely stay tuned.
This morning at Design Review Committee, several sign packages were approved. Above is a rendering of the new illuminated, projecting sign for Southpace Properties, the commercial real estate firm located in the historic Title Building at the corner of Richard Arrington Blvd. and 3rd Avenue North. Slogging out of a brutal recession that’s been crippling to the commercial real estate market, this sign is a hopeful indicator that firms like Southpace intend to stick around and that development will continue. The proportion and illumination mimics the original projecting signs installed in the 1920’s on this building; its unanimous approval signals a welcome reversal to the city’s aversion to projecting signs which started in the 1970s (it became fashionable to consider projecting signs old-fashioned and messy). If they’re designed nicely, and proportional, projecting signs are an important part of the urban fabric. Downtowns look blank and forlorn without them.
A big investment on a big corner
Above is the approved awning and signage package for the front of MetroPrime, a new steak house and bar in Five Points South right on the circle, in the former location of the Mill restaurant. Described as an upscale steak house, the restaurant will also feature a casual bar/cafe side with its own, lower-priced menu. After several half-hearted attempts to open slightly revised versions of the Mill over the last few years, it’s exciting to see a totally new concept for this crucial corner. The large outdoor patio will remain open for dining. Plans are to be open by August.
Back to the boards
On a final note, the committee rejected Corporate Realty‘s plan to paint the former Saks building (pictured above to the right, in 1908: you are looking north along 19th Street North with First Avenue just ahead) in shades of grey and white. The red brick building, accented with cast stone and metal, is in very good condition and the committee objected to its character being simplified and homogenized by the paint scheme. Perhaps it would be ideal to clean the existing red colored paint from the red brick, and leave the existing details distinct.
[thanks to Southpace and Reliable Sign Services for the sign rendering, MetroPrime and CityVision for their rendering, and Birmingham Public Library for the historic image]