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.
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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).