A downtown Birmingham residential project so big it may require its own zip code

Barry Copeland
Barry Copeland

Today’s guest columnist is Barry Copeland.

Back in 2005, the former Birmingham Chamber of Commerce hosted one of its annual BIG Trips (Birmingham Innovation Group) to a competitor city to help our leaders learn lessons from their leaders.

That year in Nashville, guess what we saw under construction?  A 50-story residential building in the heart of downtown.  It was going up a block or two from the Ryman Theater, and within an easy stroll of their “Broadway” entertainment district.

That building was so big, it qualified for its own zip code.  And it was just one of many little pieces in the mosaic that is Nashville today.

At the time, we never thought a project like this could be possible for Birmingham.

So how exciting is it that we’re now doing the same thing here?

A new downtown neighborhood

There’s about to be a new neighborhood right smack in the middle of downtown.  And it’s exactly what Birmingham needs these days as a “next step” on its path toward re-emergence as a great place to work, play and live.

Birmingham is growing ever closer to being just that – a downtown where more and more people want to live.

That’s what the developers at 600 North 19th Street are betting.  And they’re betting big.  It’s a substantial task they’ve undertaken to grow a new neighborhood inside and around a 30-story building.

You know the building, I’m sure.  It sits catty-cornered to the block bordered by 6th Avenue North and 19th Street.

It used to be the headquarters of the five-state telephone company South Central Bell, which became BellSouth, which became AT&T, which is becoming…a neighborhood.

Soon, it will be converted to apartments or condos (maybe both), and therein lies the neighborhood connection.  With maybe hundreds of new neighbors, institutional properties around the site will immediately become potentially more profitable.  Look for new restaurants, new shops, services like a drug store maybe, or a dry cleaner.

And talk about the ultimate WFH (work from home) environment.  That building is literally loaded with fiber cable.  If I worked at Alabama Power (across 18th Street), I might be looking to re-locate in a new space nearby.  Ditto for workers at the nearby bank headquarters and the almost-adjacent government centers flanking Linn Park.

Who knows, First United Methodist Church across the street might get some new visitors. How about a short walk to the historic Alabama or Lyric theatres, the many great restaurants now downtown, the BJCC Legacy Arena, the pickleball courts underneath the interstate, the Birmingham Museum of Art . . .or the Linn-Henley research library?

Time for another Chamber BIG trip

In 2006, the Chamber took another BIG trip.  A hundred of Birmingham’s top leaders spent three days in Pittsburgh, where they learned about the immense value of a connected parks and trails system.  You see some of the inspired results of that in today’s Red Rock Ridge and Valley trail system here.  In St. Louis in 2003, we learned about the magical connection between that city and the bio medical research effort then blossoming at Washington University.  Dr. Carol Garrison was the President of UAB at the time.  She took notes.

So much of what we now are able to enjoy has come to fruition because leaders here learned from leaders there – in these places and others, like Baltimore, Charlotte, Denver, Austin.

These annual BIG Trips exposed our leaders to new ideas, innovations, positive economic development and the energy that feeds a city on the move.

We are now one of those cities – on the move.  But we shouldn’t rest on our laurels.

Isn’t it time to energize a new generation of leadership on the newest trends of progressive cities nationwide? It seems apparent that there is a lot to be learned “out there.”

Why not plan another BIG Trip?  Heck, I might even go along!

Meantime, welcome to the neighborhood!

Click here to see renderings of the project.

Barry Copeland is a retired business executive who spent most of his 42-year career with companies and agencies in the Birmingham area. He served in positions of senior management in television news, in telecommunications and in community development, retiring as Senior Vice President of the Birmingham Business Alliance. Barry is married and lives in Homewood.  He and wife Kathy have three married children and three grandchildren.

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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Invite David to speak for free to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com.

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14 thoughts on “A downtown Birmingham residential project so big it may require its own zip code”

  1. If anyone can get Birmingham moving forward, it’s Barry Copeland.

    Cathy Rye Gilmore
    President Emerita
    Virginia Samford Theatre

  2. My apologies in advance for the length of this comment. I hope it’s useful. If it’s been almost 20 years since the BIG group visited Nashville, it might be time to return. The changes you’ll see are considerable, even if you limit your tour only to downtown: numerous new high rise residential, hotel, and office buildings; major investments and jobs due to new regional corporate hubs for Amazon and Oracle; plans for a domed stadium and complete reinvention of the East Bank of the Cumberland; new museums, restaurants, and entertainment venues; teeming throngs of tourists. But with 7 years now under my belt in Nashville—after 27 in Birmingham—I think a visit from a Birmingham delegation should include not only the city’s physical and economic growth. It should also include a look at an important similarity between the Magic City and Music City. It addresses the idea of intergovernmental cooperation, and it’s a cautionary tale for Birmingham’s leaders and readers of Comeback Town. Like Alabama, Tennessee has weak home rule, and the state legislature has been quick to attack Nashville when the city has fallen out of line. Last year the Tennessee legislature gerrymandered the longstanding 5th Congressional district essentially out of existence, splitting what was a unified Nashville district into three districts. Each is now represented by a rural Congressman. This year the legislature has taken measures to punish Nashville for refusing to host the Republican national convention. It slashed the Metro Council from 40 members to 20 (although a court reversed that decision), asserted control over the international airport, and attempted to wrest control of the highly successful Music City Convention Center. The lesson that Birmingham should learn from Nashville’s experience is that cooperation among the area’s municipalities is essential, but not sufficient. Even a countywide Metro form of government and status as the state capital hasn’t been enough to protect Nashville. Keep your eyes on the Alabama legislature—not only the local delegation but also on every member who lives outside the metro area. As in Tennessee rural and small town members of the Alabama legislature often call the shots, and the more successful metro Birmingham becomes, the more jealous and vengeful they may become. So while the Birmingham area strengthens cooperation among its cities, it should make sure its partnerships and lines of communication include Goat Hill, too.

    1. I’m startled by your report of the retaliations against Nashville for being too successful… for paying so much taxes into the State’s coffers…for attracting too many new jobs for its children… for being MUSIC CITY and its historic contributions to the entertainment industry…for its treasured universities…sports venues…
      AND, this is their reward! SHAMEFUL!
      I do not understand why so many of us …so very very fortunate … cannot live together in harmony… putting aside vindictiveness, hate, jealousies!

      1. Nashville will have a new mayor next fall, as John Cooper decided not to seek reelection. That may not bridge the divide that’s opened between the city and the Legislature, however. Nashville will remain Democratic no matter who is elected, while the Legislature will remain overwhelmingly Republican. As I said in my comment, successful cities in the South such as Nashville—and increasingly Birmingham too—should never take their eyes off what’s happening in their state legislatures.

    2. Thanks, Barry, for always being a promoter and cheerleader for the Birmingham metro area! The untapped potential here is astonishing…

  3. Is is nice to have another example of a growing number of downtown residential options. I am also glad that, for once, a building from he 1960’s and 1970’s is getting the same historic treatment as buildings from the 1920’s and 1930’s.

    However, we have to ask ourselves why this office building is empty in the first place.

  4. Yes, a big positive for the heart of the metro! Who knows how long it might have been before that building was utilized? Yes, it is unfortunate that AT&T moved away, but change is inevitable. Reaction to that change determines if the results are positive or negative.

    Barry, thanks for pointing out the positive. Coffee again soon?

  5. I hope at least one of those BIG trips provided insight on successful sustainability plans. It’s wonderful to have the urban parks, green spaces, and connected trails in the metro area. However, what is being done to make a larger impact on building a healthier environment? We are lacking in many of the core intiatives that create a green, eco-friendly city (and metro area) with equitable access across all socio-economic citizens.

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