Birmingham may have lost historic Terminal Station, but…

Gordon Martin
Gordon G. Martin

Today’s guest columnist is Gordon G.  Martin.

I love Birmingham!

But I feel we sometimes focus on our failures and forget to celebrate our victories.

How many of you have had an opportunity to visit Charlotte, North Carolina?

Charlotte’s downtown will impress you with its shiny new buildings.

But where are the historically rich buildings they replaced?

They appear to be mostly gone.

We in Birmingham have done a much better job of saving our robust inventory of historical buildings and venues and that should make us proud.

Alabama Theatre (Photo courtesy of Birmingham Landmarks)
Alabama Theatre (Photo courtesy of Birmingham Landmarks)

We saved our Alabama and Lyric Theatres—unreplaceable gems. They both came within inches of falling to the wrecker’s ball.

Lyric Theatre
Lyric Theatre (Photo courtesy of Birmingham Landmarks)

Instead these two theatres are adding to the momentum of our downtown’s revival.

Sloss Furnace (Photo: Arron Jackson/City of Birmingham )
Sloss Furnace (Photo: Arron Jackson/City of Birmingham )

How about Sloss Furnaces?

Not only has Sloss been preserved, but now the water tower, boilers and smokestacks are being lit, transforming them into permanent nighttime features for our city.

Most cities had the misfortune of tearing down their old baseball parks. Not us—we had the vision to save our historic ballfield.

Rickwood Field
Rickwood Field (Courtesy Friends of Rickwood)

Our Rickwood Field is recognized as “The oldest professional baseball park in the United States.”

Most of our historically rich buildings downtown are still standing–including the Woodward Building (1902), Brown Marx Building (1906), Empire Building (1909), and American Trust and Savings Bank Building (1912) that were once celebrated world-wide as the “Heaviest Corner on Earth.”

And let’s not forget Vulcan and Vulcan Park.

Our next big save

Powell Avenue Steam Plant (Photo courtesy Alabama Power)
Powell Avenue Steam Plant (Photo courtesy Alabama Power)

The Powell Avenue Steam Plant, a former coal-burning steam plant is one of our oldest buildings downtown.

“It was constructed in 1895 by the Consolidated Electric Light & Power Company which was folded into the Birmingham Railway, Light & Power Company in 1898. The plant provided steam and electrical power to businesses and downtown streetcars.”

In recent years, the Parkside District has been completely transformed, beginning with the development of Railroad Park and the Regions Field Ballpark. Urban Supply, the area just west of Railroad Park, is being designed as a connector to the surrounding neighborhoods.

The once industrial area is now a bustling neighborhood with more than 2,000 condos, 500 student-housing beds, and 200 hotel rooms. And it’s only going to get better.

The Steam Plant is a huge property.

The two-story building occupies an entire city block between 18th and 19th streets.

It would have been easy to disregard the history of this building, but we understand the historical significance of this real estate. We aren’t going to make the same mistake that was made with our one-of-a-kind Terminal Train Station.

Vision of Powell Steam Plant
Vision of Powell Steam Plant (Photo courtesy Alabama Power)

The newly transformed Powell Steam Plant will become a nationally renowned entertainment hub – a core of retail, restaurants and events that will welcome locals and visitors alike to the city’s center.

With Alamo Drafthouse Cinema anchoring the project, we expect a multitude of exciting tenants to follow.

Orchestra Partners is working on creating detailed designs for Alamo and continuing to lease. On the first floor, we’re planning a variety of great restaurants and retail spaces with leasing for office spaces on the mezzanine level.

By connecting Urban Supply to the Powell Steam Plant, and thus connecting both to Rotary Trail and beyond, we’re building a place where people will want to live, shop, eat and play.

In December, Conde Nast Traveler  highlighted Urban Supply and recognized Birmingham as one of the 22 best places to go in 2022.

Keep watching those lists because the Powell Steam Plant will soon be garnering similar accolades.

Gordon G. Martin, senior vice president of Alabama Power, is a native Birminghamian who has been actively engaged in the community, including as chairman of the board of Leadership Alabama, the A+ Education Partnership, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, the American Village, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, and the Blackburn Institute at the University of Alabama.

David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown.  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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10 thoughts on “Birmingham may have lost historic Terminal Station, but…”

  1. Terminal Station was not historic. It was just old. Rickwood Field is a decrepit piece of garbage that should have been torn down long ago. Ditto for Legion of Doom Field. Other cities have had the good sense to tear down their old ballparks. These ballparks, by the way, are also not historic. I would much rather have sleek new skyscrapers than old, run down, “historic” buildings. Bring stuck with these relics is not in any way a victory.

    1. I think We should rebuild the old Terminal Train Station. I’m sure businesses & individual would donate to see a piece of history in Birmingham rebuilt. Some of my neighbors got brick to build a patio with the history of that terminal. Someone bought that huge chandelier, and had to have steel reinforcement put in their home to support the weight. I would be happy to donate my time if this is possible. The land where it stood, is just a eye sore, vacant & overgrown behind the mail post office. I hope This will be considered. PLUS, Birmingham would be in all the news, that we are rebuilding history in our Beautiful Birmingham, Alabama.
      I hope You all will comment & support the new rebuild of that beautiful history.
      Also, I remember when the Alabama Theater was almost history !!

  2. You say Birmingham has done a much better job of saving our historic buildings… Really? We didn’t have a choice. It’s not like anyone wanted to buy the property and build those new Charlotte style shiny buildings. We all know that the minute a company wants to build a new “shiny” building anywhere in/around Birmingham, the whole city will salivate and talk about renaissance. You act like we’ve chosen to revitalize INSTEAD of build new.

    Powell Steam will be great but “nationally renowned”? It looks very similar to what you see in Atlanta or Texas as commonplace. Very nice, don’t get me wrong but come on. Nationally Renowned? Alamo Drafthouse is mid-tier – love it- but yes mid -tier.

    It’s this kind of boosterism that makes people roll their eyes.
    It’s like I used to brag that my cloth seats were more comfortable than leather. Well yeah, because I couldn’t afford a car with leather seats.

    I do agree, I love the historic aspects and glad we’ve kept them, don’t act like we’re ahead of the game for it. We’re just doing the best we can with grandmas old Buick.

    1. Alex, thanks for your thoughtful comments–much of what you say is true, but it was much harder to save some of these venues than you might imagine. Both the Alabama and Lyric were saved by the hard work and sweat of a few dedicated people. There are a few committed volunteers who work everyday to keep Rickwood viable. We may not have had demand for these building, but we could have lost them anyway. We are actually lucky, because one day we are going to be glad these building/venues are still standing. Birmingham has its own personality. It would have likely been much easier and cheaper for Alabama Power to tear down the Powell Steam Plant, but they didn’t. I predict it will one day be a great asset for Birmingham. There’s nothing special about a city where all the restaurants are national chains and all the buildings look alike.

  3. I will choose to stay positive and thank you for the reminders of what we’ve saved historically. I, too, can think of many things we couldn’t save, and maybe that’s a different article for another time.

  4. I have to say it was a sad day when our mayor sold out the terminal station for a new royal Oldsmobile under the table. Then the social security building was never built on that location. I wish the press were more open about the dangers associated with railroad park at night it’s not safe and people need to not have a false sense of safety. We let the castle come down after the powers to be were lied to by southern research knowing from the start they were going to raise it just like they have every other historic property they touch it’s a shame we have such corruption in our fair city.

  5. I was born and grew up in Charlotte. Short of retail (Belk/Ivey), it was known for its cotton mills,trucking and freight industry…and a sort-of airport. Charlotte chose in the 1960-70s to bulldoze all the “wards” and clear a huge center city of residential poor people, mostly Blacks. City leaders wanted a clean slate to build the “new” Charlotte…well, they did. Wealthy whites also flew to SE Mecklenburg (sounds like 280, huh?) and to low tax S.C.

    But it created huge gentrification issues in later years. I sold my mothers house near the water tank in Midwood in 1985 for $20K. That same house with only minor updates has listed as high as $450K. My mother told me when I graduated from UNC to flee Charlotte-Mecklenburg and go out of state. She said the city/county and state would tax your fingernail clippings. So I went to Atlanta…wasn’t bad in 1970.

    So what, you say. Well I’d still prefer Birmingham/Hoover/Shelby County to anywhere else I’ve lived and worked, including Mobile. So you keep at it David, don’t let go. And ‘Ham, you keep at it too!

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