There’s no stopping Birmingham

Maury Shevin
Maury Shevin

ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.

Today’s guest blogger is Maury Shevin.  If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.

I recently attended a meeting of real estate professionals from the Birmingham area.

Dick Schmalz, President RGS Properties, spoke about his 20 Midtown development.  20 Midtown is the new Publix, Starbucks, retail and apartment buildings that are being developed between 3rd and 4th Avenues South on both sides of 20th Street.  These are not pie-in-the-sky projects.  They are real with building permits and bank financing. Dick said these three projects will cost more than $100 million.

More than 1,000 new downtown residents

As part of the Parkside District, the landscaping for 20 Midtown will be significant; and, the demands of Starbucks and Publix make the projects first class.  Schmalz said with the new Parkside District apartments, we are going to see more than 1,000 new residents —i.e., potential voters; and most importantly, Schmalz quoted studies to indicate that even this on-coming supply of apartments will not meet demand.  Seems millennials and others are tired of commuting, taking care of yards, maintaining houses that exceed their needs, and living separate from ‘community.’ They want to socialize, eat, drink, play and live, where they work, and where there is a sense of community…sort of like the bar-family in the TV show, Cheers.  It also seems that retirees–even old white guys are tired of hanging around only with other old white guys.

 City of Birmingham being  transformed

It’s clear the City of Birmingham has achieved critical mass for economic development success.  Schmalz, Robert Simon, Scott Bryant, Stewart/Perry and many others are right on target.

Talk to Jeffrey Bayer and David Silverstein who just announced that construction has begun on the $66 million Pizitz development. Talk to bankers, title insurers, engineers and city planners.  Talk to the Auburn University team working on urban design here.   Talk to John Archibald!

Look at Avondale, Lakeview, Highland, Forest Park, Uptown, Downtown, Midtown, Parkside, Woodlawn, UAB, etc.  It is truly amazing what is transforming here.  And the cranes that you will see in the sky this summer should convince even the misguided Birmingham-haters—who by the way, now claim that Birmingham’s successes are all built on tax-payer money—which is an absolute fallacy.

Birmingham not perfect

I have never been accused of being a Pollyanna.

I know that losing UAB football and a new football stadium was a punishing blow administered by the Trustees —but as we already see, it is turning out to be a hiccup—not an irreversible set-back.

Our City Schools have miles to go—but we did pass a bond issue to support the arts and music in our schools.  We have crime—name a city, including Mt. Brook that doesn’t.  But, we have talented leadership—Woodfin, Watson, Giattina–on the Birmingham City Schools Board of Education and the City of Birmingham Police Department (which, by the way, trains all of our region’s cops) also has excellent leadership in Chief Roper.

Even our government structure can’t slow us down

The dysfunction of our State Government and our 1901 Constitution are legend—but I’ll be damned if our Governor Doctor didn’t bluntly and publicly call for a needed tax increase right there in the very heart of his Republican conservative world—the Harbert Center—at a recent PARCA meeting.  (If I hadn’t heard it with my own ears I wouldn’t have believed it.)

And, our heroes like Wayne Flynt, publicly dress down their Baptist ministers and judges—calling a hypocrite a hypocrite—without fear of retribution from the Samford University community!

And, yes, you are absolutely right about the need to combine public services and take them away from 35+ separate municipalities.  But, you know what, until suburbanites can deal with it, Birmingham is just moving on…

Transplants and young people view Birmingham differently

My wife, Joyce, and I took a young African-American couple to dinner a few weeks ago—neither Birmingham natives.  They were both recruited to Birmingham…and they love it here.  They live on 1st Avenue South.  They are the parents of two fine dogs. They are “foodies.”  They love all that Birmingham has to offer, and say that their non-Birmingham friends are jealous of them.

And I tell you about them to say this:  They do not see Birmingham through this native’s tired old eyes.  They don’t see us through the prism of fire hoses and police dogs.  They don’t see a city mired in civil rights history, the Movement and the Foot Soldiers.  They see a happening and hip place to live.  How refreshing is that!

 Success breeds success

I share all this with you to say that this economic development is reversing the sense of malaise expressed too often in your blog.  The fact is that development and progress beget innovative, opportunistic and aggressive people.   It may be cliché to say “if you build it, they will come,” but, there is some real truth in that.  Maybe that is why many of the next generation don’t seem as stressed-out as we are about the future.

So keep the faith David.  Unlike Moses, you just may have already entered the Promised Land and your people are and will be right there with you.  Had you and I not lived and toiled here for the last 30-40 years, we might not be able to recognize what progress looks like. But, I am here to say—with eyes wide open– that progress looks like Birmingham in 2015.

Maury Shevin—passionate about the City of Birmingham–lives, works, thinks and plays on Birmingham’s Southside.

Let’s turn Birmingham around.  Click here to sign up for our newsletter.  There’s power in numbers. (Opt out at any time)

David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown, a co-founder of Buzz12, a division of Intermark Group, and co-CEO of AmSher Compassionate Collections.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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9 thoughts on “There’s no stopping Birmingham”

  1. *Thank you so very much for this inspiring blog.  I am from Hoover but left many years ago and moved to Los Angeles.  I have always said that Birmingham has SOO much potential…it has just never been capitalized upon.  I’ve lived in LA, Ft. Lauderdale, Dallas, Atlanta, and now Houston.  I would love to go back to Birmingham and will if the progress continues.  BRAVO and thanks again…I’ll be watching The Comeback Town!

  2. Great article.  I live it everyday and my friends get tired of me talking about it.  I never dreamed Birmingham could catch fire like this.  I am amazed every day I got to work and see the new projects / developments coming in for permitting at city hall.  There must be 15 new residential developments active, countless bars and restaurants, office buildings, hotels……  It’s truly amazing and its happening now.  It’s like a race by private investors to get their projects done first.  Very exciting times!

  3. *We went over the mountain, now we’re coming back. There is so much great palpable energy in the city now . . . go to some of the hotter spots downtown on the weekends and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Work still to be done.

    With another 5-6 years of progress and development, people in the South — and perhaps the nation — will start to take notice. “Have you seen what they’re doing in Birmingham? That old relic that died with the 1960s? YEAH. That one. You gotta get down there.”

    Can’t wait for downtown to start buzzing with even more modern, urban vibrancy.

  4. Although I live an hour north of B’ham., I frequently envision an apartment or flat in the city.  I grew up in the burbs, have lived and worked many years in the city limits, and have never stopped my cheerleading for our wonderful, fun, eclectic city.  I’m in B’ham almost every week and make it a point of walking, playing, & spending my money there.   I am bowled over by how much there is to do and be involved in. 

    Maury’s post is a most excellent summation of where we are and heading, giving some weight to some of the issues that need rectifying on a state and local level without losing site of the brilliant future so many of us visualize.  It is also important to recognize the many small businesses, early investors, and residents who gambled and came to Downtown and all the other city neighborhoods that are on the rise.  

    Birmingham is still in the early stages of its renaissance which gives it such great opportunities.  I am fearful though that in our rush to build, we will squander them and overload the system without the proper planning.

    I take to heart the old quote, “Think globally, act locally”.  In that vein, I was thrilled to meet a young lady who was hired by Bayer Properties to consult on sustainablility.  This is an area that everyone needs to jump on, i.e. rebuilding a sustainable city.  There are great, progressive, sustainability advancements happening around the country like buildings with gardens and solar panels on the roofs.  Here, we have many bright, young, creative lights advocating for the city and they need to be harnessed.    We have progressive, critical voices like Kyle Whitmire’s, John Archibald’s, & Mark Kelley’s of Weld Birmingham  who are all important voices & consciences of the city.  

    Yes, City schools have “miles to go” and the passed bond issue is a huge step.  Some infrastructure is crumbling…recently in a discussion, a friend was telling me about the sewage overflow problems in Avondale. Poverty, education, and transportation are abysmal and need to be vigorously dealt with sooner than later.   We must take care of the least of us or the rest will eventually go down the same drain.

    So, I applaud all the dreaming, planning, and building and sure don’t want to “stop” it, but economic development has a bottom line that does not always have the people’s interests in mind. I hope it proceeds with heart, soul, and environmental care.  Residents need to make sure it does.

  5. Just got back from a visit to Birmingham and am thrilled with the vision, heart and soul this city is bursting with! Bravo to all of you who care so deeply, who work tirelessly to ensure this gritty, historical hotbed grabs the kudos it deserves in the new urban south…

  6. *Well said Maury.

    We have watched how the public/private partnership of Railroad Park has provided a great catalyst for the community. Harnessing private sector investment and jobs is key to success, and the City has to lead and provide the environment for those investments.  It is not perfect, but we are making it work and working together as a community better than I have seen in 30 years living on the Southside.

    New residents/voters with new energy and tax base will help Birmingham better address our chronic issues you identified. Now, if we can just get some unified government!

  7. Yup, nice to see and long, long overdue.

    Still quite a way to go. The streets of this city are APPALLING and in DIRE need of paving… and they can’t even fill the potholes.

    311 service is now officially a joke. *nothing get’s done.

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