2010—the year that changed Birmingham forever

Birmingham Southside pre 2010
Birmingham Southside lot pre 2010

There are two important dates in the history of Birmingham:  1871 when Birmingham was founded and 2010 when Birmingham found itself.

I’ve lived in Birmingham my entire life.  I’ve always hoped for a better Birmingham, but I never imagined the Birmingham that is being created today.

Five years ago, except for UAB, Birmingham was frozen in time.

It was generally accepted that we could do nothing right—so why try?

Then on September 18, 2010, Railroad Park opened to the public.  It took more than twenty years from idea to implementation.  Most people doubted it would be built and virtually no one saw the impact it would have on Birmingham—both physically and emotionally.

The trash-filled, weed-infested lot pictured above–was Railroad Park prior to 2010.  As you can see, the neighborhood wasn’t much to look at either.

Railroad Park & Neighborhood
Railroad Park & neighborhood (Picture courtesy of BBA)

Look at the park and the construction around it now.

When I walk around Railroad Park today, I feel like I’ve landed on a different planet.  There’s construction everywhere.

Ty West, Managing Editor of the Birmingham Business Journal, recently wrote an editorial, “Birmingham needs to find its next Railroad Park.

I’m convinced we don’t need another Railroad Park.  For some unexplainable reason, Railroad Park ignited Birmingham all by itself.

There are at least 46 major projects just completed or in the works representing almost $1 billion in investment – including approximately 2,000 new or proposed apartment and condominium units.  I believe the $66 million renovation of the historic Pizitz building will do for downtown north of the railroad tracks what Railroad Park did for midtown.

Take a look at the list—it’s mind boggling.  It doesn’t even include Regions Field which was built next to the Park.  (Provided by REV Birmingham as of June 15 , 2015)

  1. U.S. Treasury Building
  2. Federal Reserve Bank
  3. Redmont Hotel
  4. Gray Construction Headquarters
  5. Lyric Theatre
  6. Jefferson Lofts
  7. Thomas Jefferson Tower
  8. Pizitz
  9. Brown Marx Annex & Building
  10. Intermodal Facility
  11. Alagasco Service Center
  12. Negro League Museum
  13. Stockyard 8
  14. Liv Parkside
  15. The Venue at the Ballpark
  16. Alabama Power Steam Plant
  17. UAB Student Center
  18. Veteran Affairs Project
  19. 5 Points Hotel
  20. Highland Tower
  21. Rotary Trail
  22. 16th Street Pedestrian Bridge
  23. 20 Midtown
  24. Iron City Lofts
  25. Publix
  26. Powell School
  27. Baker’s Row
  28. Lewis Communications
  29. Lewis Communications Parking Garage
  30. Metropolitan Apartments
  31. 15th Street Lofts
  32. LabCorp Deck
  33. Retail Specialists
  34. LBA (Hotel)
  35. Empire Building (Hotel)
  36. Clinic Community Care Building Addition
  37. UAB School of Nursing Renovation
  38. UAB College of Arts & Sciences
  39. UAB Collat School of Business
  40. Florentine Building
  41. #10 Avondale (Office)
  42. Iron Age Building (Retail/Apartments)
  43. Mack Truck Garage Building
  44. Shepard Sloss Building (Retail)
  45. Flats on Fourth
  46. Ideal Building

WHEW!!!

Thank you to the visionary Birmingham leaders who had the imagination and stamina to build Railroad Park.

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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5 thoughts on “2010—the year that changed Birmingham forever”

  1. All of this building and hardly any entertainment to compete with other cities. My son is an avid skater with NO skateparks in Bham. Huntsville has one, as well as Montgomery and Tuscaloosa,  but NOT Bham the Magic City! The people have been screaming for a Dave & Busters even retail down town ie. GAP, Old Navy, Footlocker. I am a musician here in the City, I host one of the city’s longest running open mics at Plum Bar on Wednesday and have spoken to countless people about having some kind of New years eve event like the Peach drop in Atl or the Apple in Time Square but to no avail. I love my city I just wish folk would listen more to those of us who is not in politics like that.

  2. This is an interesting article, I didn’t know Railroad Park was such an important project. I knew a lot changed since the opening of the park but didn’t realize it was one of the founding reasons for the city growth to initiate. I was also unaware of how long it took to build the park, that is impressive determination.

    Thanks for this article.

    1. Michael, There were a few people who wouldn’t give up on RR Park. This is another lesson on what can be accomplished when a few good people want to make a difference.

  3. David (Sher),

    Maybe momentum is finally on our side.  Confidence certainly breeds confidence.  I was in agreement with Ty West long before he wrote that article.  Unlike residential developments, which often consume more than they contribute to the community, a project like Railroad Park is intended primarily to contribute to the community and spur development. Their payoff is usually long term and sometimes intangible. For a while I was really concerned that too much focus was being placed on apartment development, which might lead to an unbalanced redevelopment of downtown (more consumption than production).  The current list of developments from REV shows a healthy and growing list of commercial businesses and hospitality development.  And that list does not include businesses that are moving downtown like Infinity Insurance or the cool things happening at Innovation Depot (Velocity accelerator and Venture For America).

    As for retail and entertainment, that will follow soon as we reach a critical mass of residential.  I personally think the City and developers should start planning a new retail corridor along 2nd Avenue South between the ballpark and 20 Midtown (Publix).  That would be a truly walkable district with residential, commercial and retail (and maybe some entertainment at the Steam Plant).  Speaking of the Steam Plant, I want to suggest that the ground level become the next Chelsea Market. http://www.chelseamarket.com.  While the major developers are often required to focus on credit tenants (Starbucks, Chipotle, etc) to secure their funding, the Steam Plant is an incredible opportunity for Birmingham to showcase its amazing and prolific local food, art and music talent.  You look at where the soul of Birmingham is most evident, and it is in places like Avondale and Woodlawn and others, where local people are leading the charge and sharing their talents.  The Steam Plant has the opportunity to infuse a little Birmingham “soul” into downtown and keep it “authentic”, which is what visitors remember the most when they leave.

    David (musician skate dad),

    Look how much has happened in five years.  Entertainment and retail will be here before you know it.  But why wait? Maybe this is the time for you to start your own music venue with a special New Years Eve celebration that the City can embrace as their Peach or Apple.  If people will gather under an overpass to look at the pretty colored lights or outside the Lyric to watch them light up a sign, then maybe that is all the proof you need to know that Birmingham is excited about downtown and they will find any reason to gather together and celebrate.  We can wait for the City to do it, but who knows.  Why not start a social campaign and ask the People what they think would make a cool New Year’s Eve celebration.

    I’m with you on the skate park need.  The more activities we can offer people (downtown), the more attractive it will be to residents, businesses and visitors.  Skating is not the past time of alternative youth like it used to be. It has evolved into a mainstream sport for kids (and their parents).  I have no doubt that Birmingham would support the “idea” of a skate park, but as we’ve seen frequently, funding is their biggest hurdle.  A skate park, like Railroad Park, would not generate significant revenue, at least not directly.  Ask how much revenue Railroad Park generates each year, and then ask how much revenue is generated from all the development that spurred from the Railroad Park.  It might be hard to accurately attribute, but you just know it is a lot. I have a concept for a skate park in the heart of downtown along the future Greenway.  What might be viewed by old minds as a detractor (the skaters), I say would add vibrancy and eyes on the street, both of which are keys to urban vitality.  I’ll say it again; We can wait for the City to do it, but who knows.  Maybe I’ll just do it myself.  It would not be the first time I brought a new recreational activity into Birmingham.

  4. The park is amazing and it is no wonder the development around the park continues and will likely expand.  The bike/jogging trail they are building extending the park east to Avondale will do wonders. Mark my words.  I was in Tampa and they have a large walking/biking path built on the river and while Tampa’s downtown is so-so, there were tons of people out on that walkway every night.  Development will happen there too.  People like to be outdoors and this gives us a safe, interesting place to walk and meet people. Bravo Birmingham!

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