Birmingham: A lot more than Roll Tide fans and BBQ

Casey Howard
Casey Howard

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

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

Ok, so I have to come out and admit this up front – when my husband, Robert, mentioned that there was an opportunity at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, my first thought was, “Why on earth would we move to Birmingham, Alabama?”

I had never stepped foot in Alabama, and I immediately imagined pictures of cotton fields, crazed “Roll Tide” fans, and lots of BBQ joints….yeah, I know, we have a lot of the last two, but I quickly found that this is part of what makes Birmingham so incredible.  

During the recruitment process, it became clear that UAB was a great fit for his career, but what about my career and our kids?

So bear with me, I’m a bit of a nerd, but I tend to look at a city from the perspective of its demographics, growth patterns and government structures – I’ve been in commercial real estate for almost 14 years, and I have a fairly analytical nature.

Research showed Birmingham in a negative light

So, naturally, before I started visiting Birmingham, I did some research online about the City and was not impressed at first – I kept seeing the high crime rates (keep in mind, I kept ‘googling’ City of Birmingham, not knowing that the City only represented about 200,000 people in the metro area).  Little did I know at the time that there are 37 different entities that make up our city, which makes it difficult to research when you’re an outsider and don’t know all of these different entities and how they are interconnected (or not, in many cases). Again, I was a tad ignorant.

A place my family could love

Several months after Robert started with UAB, it gradually became clear that this was a place that each member of our family could be successful.

Even during this transition, we started realizing that Birmingham had so much more to offer than we ever expected.

We spent several weekends taking the kids to The Birmingham Zoo, hiking Red Mountain, visiting McWane Science Center, visiting churches, walking neighborhoods, looking around downtown to check out the latest new project, etc. With every trip I’d make to visit Robert in Birmingham with the kids, I’d see more and more evidence that this really was a city filled with people that value education, are passionate about community involvement and want to see our city grow to be the best version of itself that it can be.

We love the people

Birmingham is also a unique community because of the philanthropic nature of our people. I think this common trait promotes a healthy, strong and vibrant community and makes Birmingham an amazing place to live, work and play in.

We also have a pretty diverse mix of transplants from out-of-state (primarily due to UAB and the incredible medical community in our City) as well as local folks that have grown up here their entire lives’, so there’s a great balance of “new” and “old” blood that creates a sense of diverse perspectives with new ideas that also have a lot of loyalty and invest back in to our City.

Then I met Miss Birmingham

One of the biggest advocates for the City of Birmingham that I’ve had the pleasure to meet is Barbara Burton. I call her “Miss Birmingham.” Barbara formed The Chalker Group, a company that helps families ‘get plugged into the area when someone like UAB has recruited them – and this kind of help was huge for us. Barbara and The Chalker Group are connectors. They understand and harness the power of connection.

The Chalker Group was critical in helping us make connections not only on a professional level, but also on a personal level in showing us what an incredible place Birmingham is to live and raise a family. Barbara and people like her are the best ‘salespeople’ for Birmingham – they’ve helped outsiders like us that are trying to decide whether to move here, figure out what the City is all about…..and there’s a BIG, FANTASTIC story to tell!

A revitalized Birmingham

As a transplant from Savannah, Georgia and being in commercial real estate, I was fortunate enough to be a part of a recent revitalization of the Historic Downtown Savannah area. I got to see first-hand what an amazing difference it made for those working, living and playing there.

And now, as I look out of my office window over the downtown Birmingham area and see cranes peppering the skyline, heavy equipment and scattered construction trailers, I see our incredible city going through that same kind of revitalization.

I see young professionals moving downtown so they can bike to work. I see multi-family, retail and office projects being built on almost every corner and old, dilapidated buildings being gutted and transformed in to amazing lofts, stores, restaurants, and more.

Just look at The Pizitz project, Venue at The Ballpark, The Powell Steam Plant Redevelopment, Thomas Jefferson Tower, and revitalization of The Lyric Theatre.  Naturally, when you see a city go through a major redevelopment, there are key projects like our Railroad Park, Regions Ballpark, and Rotary Trail, that act as anchors and let the investment groups and other capital players see that the City is putting its money where its mouth is – that they want to better our city and are willing to do what it takes.

Birmingham’s opportunity

So what is Birmingham’s next step to further this momentum we have as a City? These 37 municipalities that make up the City of Birmingham and surrounding areas, have to commit to work together so that we can compete with cities that have more unified governments with common goals – cities like Nashville and Indianapolis.  Both of these cities have successfully consolidated county/city, but allowed the smaller communities to still maintain their autonomy.

The reasoning this unification is so important is because we need to be able to create more jobs, streamline transportation plans, and build infrastructure that can meet the needs of not just a few suburbs, but of our entire area. If we don’t have this set of common goals, this becomes nearly impossible to accomplish.

I’ve lived everywhere from the Midwest to the Northeast to the Southeast throughout my life, and I still strongly believe that the quality of life here in Birmingham is the best I’ve experienced. Birmingham is exhibiting progress on so many levels.

Here is our opportunity to build the Birmingham that will not only produce even more jobs, but allow our community to reach its greatest potential. We are delighted to be here and can’t wait to contribute to the success of our community and see what great things are in store for Birmingham!

Casey Howard, Vice President/Associate Broker with Harbert Realty Services, Inc., has over 14 years of experience providing commercial real estate advisory, brokerage and asset management services with concentrations in NNN lease, multi-family, office and retail real estate      

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David Sher is Co-Founder 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).

Invite David to speak to your group about a better Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com.

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