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Elements of Urbanism: Birmingham

Metro Jacksonville explores Alabama's Magic City: Birmingham

Published November 2, 2009 in Learning From      20 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


Birminham Population 2008: 228,798 (City); 1,117,608 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1871)

Jacksonville Pop. 2008: 807,815 (City); 1,313,228 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Birmingham (326,037)

City Land Area

Birmingham: 149.9 square miles
Jacksonville: 757.7 square miles

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2000-2008)

Birmingham: +6.21%
Jacksonville: +15.86%


Urban Area Population (2000 census)

Birmingham: 663,615 (ranked 55 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 882,295 (ranked 43 nationwide)


Urban Area Population Density (2000 census)

Birmingham: 1,692.5
Jacksonville: 2,149.2


City Population Growth from 2000 to 2008

Birmingham: -14,042
Jacksonville: +72,312


Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Birmingham: Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex (1974) - 220,000 square feet
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1986) - 78,500 square feet

Adjacent to Convention Center:

Birmingham: The Sheraton Birmingham (838 rooms)
Jacksonville: N/A


Tallest Building:

Birmingham: Wachovia Tower - 454 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet


Fortune 500 companies 2009 (City limits only):

Birmingham: Regions Financial (280)
Jacksonville: CSX (240), Winn-Dixie (340)


Urban infill obstacles:

Birmingham: Downtown is completely boxed from surrounding neighborhoods by three expressways and a railyard.
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.


Downtown Nightlife:

Birmingham: Five Points
Jacksonville: East Bay Street, located between Main Street and Liberty Street.  


Common Downtown Albatross:

Both cities have great historic urban assets that they have not been able to take full advantage of.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Birmingham: 92 out of 100, according to (DT Birmingham, AL as keyword)
Jacksonville: 88 out of 100, according to

Downtown Birmingham Photo Tour

The McWane Science Center is a science museum and research archive located in downtown Birmingham, Alabama (USA). The state-of-the-art science center, aquarium and 280-seat IMAX Dome Theater is housed in the historic and refurbished Loveman's department store building. It opened to the public on July 11, 1998.

Inside are more than 9,000 square feet of interactive exhibits, including the Challenger Learning Center of Alabama, created in memory of the Space Shuttle Challenger Flight 51-L crew. The World of Water exhibit showcases more than 50 species of marine and freshwater aquatic life.

The Alabama Collections Center is the home for more than 500,000 artifacts from the former Red Mountain Museum. The center houses precious minerals, fossils and Native American artifacts. Highlights in the collection include the world's fourth-largest collection of mosasaurs; the Appalachiosaurus (similar to Tyrannosaurus); and the state fossil of Alabama, the Basilosaurus cetoides (an 80-foot fossil whale).

The McWane Science Center is named after the McWane family and McWane, Inc. both of which helped fund the center.

Charles Linn Park

Charles Linn Park (formerly Woodrow Wilson Park, Central Park, and Capitol Park) was one of three parks included in the original plans for Birmingham. It was built in what would later become downtown during the city's early boom days. It was given the name "Capitol Park" initially because Birmingham's early boosters planned to lobby for moving the state capital from Montgomery to the new city.

The park was first renamed, for Woodrow Wilson, after World War I. It was later renamed Linn Park to honor Charles Linn, who created the first landscaped park in the city near the Relay House.

Linn Park is surrounded by the original Birmingham Public Library bulding, now the Linn-Henley Research Library, the Jefferson County Courthouse, Birmingham City Hall, Park Place Tower and other office buildings. It is bounded by 20th Street North to the west, Park Place to the south, 8th Avenue North to the north, and both Linn-Henley Research Library and the Jefferson County Courthouse to the east.

The park contains several statues and other monuments, including a marker designating the official center of Birmingham.

As Birmingham's primary civic space, Linn Park hosts numerous events such as the Birmingham Christmas tree lighting ceremony, City Stages, the Magic City Art Connection, Magic City Blues Fest and other gatherings.

Park Place is a Hope VI mixed-income housing development built on the site of the now-demolished Metropolitan Gardens low-income housing projects.  When fully complete, the 12-block infill community will feature 560 apartments, 56 town homes, a K-8 school in a refurbished Phillips High, a culinary school, and a youth development center for the YMCA.

The Tutwiler Hampton Inn and Suites was originally constructed as the Ridgely Apartments building in 1913.  In 1986, the building was converted into a luxury hotel named after the original 13-story Tutwiler, which was demolished in 1974.  A $9 million preservation project that includes new interiors, finishes and furnishings was completed in April 2007.

Built in 1925, the 114-room Redmond Hotel is Birmingham's oldest operating hotel.

The vacant 20-story Leer Tower was a residential high rise building constructed in 1920.  The building features a moorage mast which was designed to tie down zeppelins and balloons at the time of its completion.

The Birmingham Central Station located at 1735 Morris Avenue in downtown Birmingham. The station is constructed atop the site formally occupied by the Banana Warehouse demolished in 1996. The two story, gold domed facility designed by Volkert & Associates was officially dedicated on June 25, 1999. The facility serves as the headquarters for the Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority as well as the main terminal for all MAX buses.

In June 1999 a resolution to name the soon-to-be completed facility "Nina Station" in honor of former City Councilor Nina Miglionico was submitted and withdrawn without a vote.

Future expansion of the hub are planned to serve Greyhound buses and Amtrak passenger rail as well as the BJCTA and a dedicated airport shuttle. In 2008 the City of Birmingham approved $9 million in matching funds to release $23 million in federal allocations for the $32 million project. Approval of a contract with Goodwyn Mills and Cawood to design the expanded facility was delayed after questions arose about the relationship of Jeff Pitts, who was Larry Langford's campaign manager for the 2007 Birmingham mayoral election, with the company.

Birmingham's Amshak station is located across the street from Birmingham Central Station.

The Heaviest Corner of Earth

The Heaviest Corner on Earth is a promotional name given to the corner of 20th Street and 1st Avenue North in Birmingham, Alabama, United States, in the early 20th century. The name reflected the nearly-simultaneous appearance of four of the tallest buildings in the South, the 10-story Woodward Building (1902), 16-story Brown Marx Building (1906), 16-story Empire Building (1909), and the 21-story American Trust and Savings Bank Building (1912).

The announcement of the latter building was made in the Jemison Magazine in a January 1911 article titled "Birmingham to Have the Heaviest Corner in the South". Over the years, that claim was inflated to the improbable "Heaviest Corner on Earth", which remains a popular name for the grouping.

A marker, erected on May 23, 1985 by the Birmingham Historical Society, with cooperation from Operation New Birmingham, stands on the sidewalk outside the Empire Building describing the group. The buildings have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places: the Woodward Building was listed on June 30, 1983; the building on the southeastern corner of the intersection, now named the "First National-John A. Hand Building," on September 29, 1983; and the remaining buildings, on August 11, 1985.

The Alabama Theatre was built in 1927 by the Paramount-Publix Corporation.  It was the first public building in Alabama to have air conditioning.  It is the only remaining of its size from that era in downtown.

Second Avenue Loft District

The historic loft district is centered on 2nd Avenue North, between 24nd and 24th Streets.

The Civil Rights District

The Birmingham Civil Rights District is an area of downtown Birmingham, Alabama where several significant events in the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s took place. The district was designated by the City of Birmingham in 1992 and covers a six-block area.

Landmarks in the district include:

16th Street Baptist Church, where four young African American girls were killed and 22 churchgoers were injured in a bombing on September 15, 1963.
Kelly Ingram Park, where many protests by blacks were held, often resulting in recrimination by Birmingham police that included famous scenes of policemen turning back protesters with fire hoses and police dogs. News coverage of the riots in this park helped turn the tide of public opinion in the United States against segregationist policies. Several sculptures in the park depict scenes from those riots.
The Fourth Avenue Business District where much of the city's black businesses and entertainment venues were located; the area was the hub of the black community for many years. The business district includes A. G. Gaston's Booker T. Washington Insurance Co. and the Gaston Hotel, a meeting place for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Alabama Christian Movement during the early 1960s.
Carver Theatre, once a popular motion picture theater for blacks in Birmingham, now renovated as a live-performance theater and home of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, a museum which chronicles the struggles of the civil rights movement, opened in 1993.

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church is a large, predominantly African American Baptist church in Birmingham in the U.S. state of Alabama. In September 1963, it was the target of the racially motivated 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four girls in the midst of the American Civil Rights Movement. The church is still in operation and is a central landmark in the Birmingham Civil Rights District. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2006.

Kelly Ingram Park is a four acre park bounded by 16th and 17th Streets and 5th and 6th Avenues North in the Birmingham Civil Rights District. The park, just outside the doors of the 16th Street Baptist Church, served as a central staging ground for large-scale demonstrations during the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Reverends Martin Luther King, Jr. and Fred Shuttlesworth of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference directed the organized boycotts and protests of 1963 which centered on Kelly Ingram Park. It was here, during the first week of May 1963, that Birmingham police and firemen, under orders from Public Safety Commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor, confronted demonstrators, many of them children, first with mass arrests and then with police dogs and firehoses. Images from those confrontations, broadcast nationwide, spurred a public outcry which turned the nation's attention to the struggle for racial equality. The demonstrations in Birmingham brought city leaders to agree to an end of public segregation. In addition, they helped ensure the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Civil Rights laws.

The park was named in 1932 for local firefighter Osmond Kelly Ingram, who was the first sailor in the United States Navy to be killed in World War I. In 1992 it was completely renovated and rededicated as "A Place of Revolution and Reconciliation" to coincide with the opening of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, an interpretive museum and research center, which adjoins the park to the west.

The park is the setting for several pieces of sculpture related to the Civil Rights Movement. Besides a central fountain and commemorative statues of Dr. King, Rev. Shuttlesworth and other heroes of the movement, there are three installations by artist James Drake which flank a circular "Freedom Walk". They bring the visitor inside the portrayals of terror and sorrow of the 1963 confrontations. One corner of the park remembers other "unsung heroes"' of Birmingham's underrepresented.

The park hosts several local family festivals and cultural and entertainment events throughout the year. The Civil Rights Institute provides audio-tour guides for the park which feature remembrances by many of the figures directly involved in the confrontations. Urban Impact, Inc. also provides guided tours by appointment.

Unique Birmingham

- Birmingham is located in two counties: Jefferson and Shelby Counties.

- Greater Birmingham contains roughly one quarter of the population of Alabama.

- Early Birmingham's rapid growth earned it the nicknames "The Magic City", "The Song of The South," and "The Pittsburgh of the South."

- Birmingham is the only place worldwide where significant deposits of iron ore, coal, and limestone (the three principal raw materials used in making steel) can be found in such close proximity.

- In the 1950s and '60s Birmingham received national and international attention as a center of the civil rights struggle for African-Americans. Locally the movement's activists were led by Fred Shuttlesworth, a fiery preacher who became legendary for his fearlessness in the face of violence, notably a string of racially motivated bombings that earned Birmingham the derisive nickname Bombingham.

- The population of Birmingham peaked in 1960, with 340,887 residents.

- Birmingham was developed as an industrial town.  The city's streets and avenues were unusually wide, purportedly to help evacuate unhealthy smoke.

- In 2008, with a new mayor demanding streetcars within 18 months of being elected, Birmingham appeared to be on its way to joining the ranks of cities with fixed rail transit.  Unfortunately, before the plan could get traction, Mayor Larry Langford was recently convicted on 60 counts of conspiracy, bribery, fraud, money laundering, and filing false tax returns in connection with a long-running bribery scheme.  Former Mayor Langford is currently awaiting sentencing.


The Southside encompasses the southern half of Birmingham's downtown area from the Railroad Reservation to the crest of Red Mountain and from Interstate 65 on the west to Elton B. Stephens Expressway (U.S. Highway 31, or "Red Mountain Expressway") on the east near Green Springs Highway. It is considered to be the Midtown area of the city due its relationship to Downtown.

Southside contains many of the prominent points of interest of the Greater Birmingham area such as the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and the adjacent medical center district. It also hosts Birmingham's liveliest entertainment district at Five Points South and a large number of notable homes and churches from the early twentieth century. Highland Avenue connects Southside to the Lakeview area, another center for nightlife.

It also is the most culturally diverse of all of the neighborhoods while the dense residential districts surrounding UAB and the medical center house a very diverse community of all classes, the Red Mountain neighborhoods are dominated by elegant mansions for affluent residents. Culturally, both groups enjoy the amenities of this urban community.

Five Points South in Southside is also the home to several historically and architecturally important churches and synagogues: St. Mary's on the Highlands, South Highland Presbyterian Church, Southside Baptist Church, Temple Beth-El, Temple Emanu-El, and Highlands United Methodist Church.

For the purposes of Birmingham's citizen participation program, the Southside community comprises three neighborhood associations: Five Points South, Glen Iris, and Southside. Most residents would also include the Highland Park and Redmont Park neighborhoods in the broader definition of Southside.

Cycles of urban reorganization and gentrification have challenged the architecture of much of Five Points and the rest of Southside and Highland Park. Generally, the diverse, bohemian nature of the area is meshing with the young upper middle class creating an area of diversity.

Notable points of interest in the area include the Frank Fleming Storyteller Fountain anchoring the central business district. The thriving main area contains restaurants, shops, stores and sidewalks for the residents to enjoy. There are many venues for music, art and personal expression provided for residents.,_Birmingham,_Alabama

University of Alabama at Birmingham

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (also known as UAB) is a doctoral, public research university covering 83 blocks in the heart of Alabama's largest city Birmingham, Alabama, USA. The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education classifies UAB as an institution of RU/VH or "Very High Research Activity," the only university in the state of Alabama to meet that definition. UAB is one of only 96 universities in the nation with the designation. UAB is a vital economic engine of the state of Alabama with an estimated $3 Billion annual impact. UAB is currently the states largest employer with more than 18,000 faculty and staff and over 53,000 jobs at the university and in the health system. Almost 10% of the jobs in the Birmingham-Hoover Metropolitan Area are related to UAB.

In the Fall of 2009, the University of Alabama at Birmingham enrolled a record 18,047 students from over 110 countries including 1,517 freshmen.  The medical center which is located on the east and north sides of campus closest to downtown contains buildings mostly dedicated to healthcare, research, and support of those enterprises. Also located in the medical center district are non-UAB hospitals, such as the VA Medical Center Birmingham, Children's Hospital of Alabama, and Cooper Green Mercy Hospital. The west campus area near Interstate 65 and the Glen Iris and Southside communities is mostly dedicated to the non-health related schools, student housing, and athletic facilities.

Since 1969, UAB has undergone extensive growth and is sometimes jokingly referred to as "The University that Ate Birmingham."

Southside Infill

Anchored by Five Points, UAB and the medical centers, the Southside is a place where a number of urban infill projects have been recently completed or are underway.

Five Points

This Southside district is anchored by the intersection of 11th Avenue South, 20th Street South and Magnolia Avenue.  Like Jacksonville's Five Points, it is an urban cultural center known for its dining and nightlife offerings.

*-Unforunately during Metro Jacksonville's short trip to Birmingham, the weather conditions did not allow for a more elaborate photo tour.


The suburb of Homewood is a short distance from downtown Birmingham and the Southside.  It has one of the highest population densities in Alabama with over 25,000 residents living within 8.3 square miles of land area.

Article by Ennis Davis



November 02, 2009, 08:44:58 AM
Were these pictures taken on a Sun a.m.? I can see it was cloudy, then rained, so that might partially explain lack of people? Other than in the park photos, Birmingham appears to have less people-vibrancy in their downtown than we do.


November 02, 2009, 09:03:35 AM
They were taken on a Sunday morning with a major rain storm heading Birmingham's way.  However, from previous trips to Birmingham, their DT struggles with many of the same issues Jacksonville faces.  Neither are vibrant 24/7 centers.


November 02, 2009, 09:21:14 AM
Birmingham just a few years ago was one of America's biggest banking centers. AmSouth, Regions, and Southtrust were all headquartered in downtown. Of course, Wachovia bought Southtrust, and AmSouth merged with Regions, and this has somewhat hurt the city.

When driving along I-65 in Birmingham, for the past 15 or more years, I have yet to see a year that does not have at least 2 tower cranes working on something over there. That campus is just huge, and I wish FSCJ Downtown would start to go vertical as UAB has.


November 02, 2009, 09:57:36 AM
Having visited Birmingham in the last year, I was struck by its many resemblances and commonalities with Jacksonville.  It's downtown area, for whatever reason, still has more vibrant historic infrastructure than we do.  But, being there on a Sunday, as well, it was deader than dead in the high rise district.  I think there is downtown housing, but like ours, it's not enough yet to make an impact.

What Birmingham has that we sorely miss is UAB.  The impact of this university and its medical school on the City can not be underestimated.  UAB will assure that the future of Birmingham will be moving forward in the future.  Jax needs to get a branch or HQ's of a full four year university with research in proximity to downtown if they want to put downtown on fast forward with steroids.  Nothing else will compare.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (also known as UAB) is a doctoral, public research university covering 83 blocks in the heart of Alabama's largest city Birmingham, Alabama, USA. The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education classifies UAB as an institution of RU/VH or "Very High Research Activity," the only university in the state of Alabama to meet that definition. UAB is one of only 96 universities in the nation with the designation. UAB is a vital economic engine of the state of Alabama with an estimated $3 Billion annual impact. UAB is currently the states largest employer with more than 18,000 faculty and staff and over 53,000 jobs at the university and in the health system. Almost 10% of the jobs in the Birmingham-Hoover Metropolitan Area are related to UAB.

In the Fall of 2009, the University of Alabama at Birmingham enrolled a record 18,047 students from over 110 countries including 1,517 freshmen.  The medical center which is located on the east and north sides of campus closest to downtown contains buildings mostly dedicated to healthcare, research, and support of those enterprises. Also located in the medical center district are non-UAB hospitals, such as the VA Medical Center Birmingham, Children's Hospital of Alabama, and Cooper Green Mercy Hospital. The west campus area near Interstate 65 and the Glen Iris and Southside communities is mostly dedicated to the non-health related schools, student housing, and athletic facilities.

Since 1969, UAB has undergone extensive growth and is sometimes jokingly referred to as "The University that Ate Birmingham."


November 02, 2009, 10:41:05 AM

Finally, we find a city with more transportation "stupid" then Jacksonville. This WAS the Birmingham Terminal Station, the tracks were elevated on a long viaduct. Been there on the train. With outstanding forsight they completely wrecked the station, the Amshack in your photo is in one of the former "closets" under the original viaduct.

This is the former Seaboard Air Line Yard office and a flag station on edge of Birmingham, I post it here because of the recent discovery of the location of Seaboards Springfield Yard office, and flag station in Jacksonville. Most of these buildings were built from a book of standard plans, those who have seen the Yulee station will see this photo as familiar. I suspect the Springfield Station was a near duplicate.



November 02, 2009, 10:49:07 AM
I know I read a while back that downtown Birmingham is trying to get a streetcar line underway within the next 5 years or so. Let's see who gets it off the ground quicker.


November 02, 2009, 10:54:01 AM
Ock - Indeed very sad to see they lacked vision, especially for such a great monument to the people of Birmingham.

STJR - There is no reason that UNF cannot duplicate the same success in its area. SJTC, shopping, housing, and UNF with its beginnings will/should become a more powerful resource for education and for commerce in Jax. No reason to think that FSCJ could not do the same downtown. What they need are incentives by the CITY to offer them more growth downtown. Give away the city buildings to them with leases of 1 dollar a year for 99 years, get the college to start using the buildings that are just sitting.

Lake - What growth items are driving Birmingham? Is it only the university? Do they have any new manufacturing on the horizon? MFG feeds smaller firms as well, its a great minnow-big fish analogy. We need more of them here in Jax, and especially from overseas, if the dollar is getting killed by valuations of other currencies.


November 02, 2009, 11:06:27 AM
The biggest players in the Birmingham-Hoover MSA are healthcare & research (UAB and Healthsouth major players), manufacturing, and banking.


November 02, 2009, 11:13:40 AM
Manufacturing - Who, and what type?


November 02, 2009, 11:18:43 AM
Manufacturing - Who, and what type?

You know that one, we sent the plans for the steel mills along with the equipment, FedEx to China.
What REALLY pisses me off, somehow, we sent them the mines too!



November 02, 2009, 11:19:19 AM
Manufacturing in goods such as paper, lumber, steel and other metals. Automotive is also nearby with Mercedes Benz' factory near West Blocton in Tuscaloosa County, and it is also a large logistics center.

Energy also maintains a healthy presence in the area.


November 02, 2009, 11:25:19 AM
Healthcare is about to EXPLODE in Abalama,  :o

Alabama ripe to become health insurance hub

Alabama could become a hub for health insurance providers if the ban on selling insurance policies across state lines is lifted, industry experts said.

If national health care reform leads to an end to the ban on interstate insurance sales, insurers are likely to flock to Alabama – which has the lowest insurance regulatory costs in the nation, according to a study by University of Minnesota finance professor Steve Parente.

“It would be a dynamic game changer if that were to happen,” Parente said. “In terms of regulatory pricing, Alabama is getting one of the biggest deals in the country.”

A final reform bill has not been crafted and there are many options and variables on the table in Washington, D.C. But the outcome of the political tug of war could determine Alabama’s chances of becoming an insurance hub.

Alabama’s low regulatory costs and limited legal hoops could set the state up to become to health insurance providers what Delaware is to business incorporation, Parente said.

In 2008, Parente conducted a study looking at the impact on each state if the interstate ban is lifted and found Alabama’s regulatory climate gives it a unique platform. Parente said Alabama has few health care service mandates and the state’s existing regulations are in line with proposed national changes.

National health care reform debates include many measures already available in Alabama. For example, Alabama insurers can issue policies, regardless of the consumer’s health history and offer uniform premium rates to all customers.

Alabama places the least restrictions on health insurers in the country, according Parente’s study. It only mandates 15 services be covered, the third lowest nationally. The national average for state mandates was 27 in 2008.

Alabama’s chances to become an insurance center with a significant economic impact hinge on its ability to attract jobs and local investment, said former Maryland Health Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer. Redmer said Alabama won’t benefit much if companies only have to register with the state to set up operations, such as the case with Delaware’s incorporation rules.

Securing a license to sell insurance in Alabama is not a tedious process. State requirements include delivering a copy of the firm’s articles of incorporation, description of marketing plan, biographical data for each officer and director, statutory deposit of $100,000 and $1,005 in admission fees. Insurers must also have $500,000 in minimum capital assets and $750,000 in surplus capital.

Redmer said Alabama won’t reap the rewards of its low regulatory costs if companies don’t invest in infrastructure.

“There could be increased regulatory costs to the state of Alabama without getting the corresponding revenue,” Redmer said. “The challenge for the public policy people in Alabama is would they require a minimum number of jobs to domicile in Alabama? The devil is in the details.”

An influx of insurers would set up shop in Alabama to deliver policies to consumers across the country seeking lower premiums, Parente said. Although BlueCross BlueShield of Alabama owns more than 90 percent of the state’s health insurance market, other carriers operate in Alabama. Those with existing infrastructure could quickly start selling out-of-state policies, Parente said.

Redmer said if firms are licensed in Alabama, the state would be wise to require some minimum level of marketing, policy offer and job creation.

Ragan Ingram, government relations manager for the Alabama Department of Insurance, said all new businesses add to the state’s coffers by paying the state income tax rate.

The state would collect taxes on written policies and any new jobs, Ingram said. He said the state welcomes any job creation generated from companies outside Alabama.


November 02, 2009, 11:51:15 AM
Office Space in Birmingham: (similar to Jax)

The current office market is sluggish”

That’s how Kevin Jaquess, of Daniel Corp., describes the local office climate – which is suffering from rising vacancies and an abundance of sublease space as companies try to cut costs.

For this special section, we asked local commercial real estate brokers about the trends they’ve noticed, the concerns they have and their outlook for the coming year.

“Tenants are in the driver’s seat”

If the local office market is a bus, John Hennessy says it’s pretty clear that tenants are the ones driving. But it’s a short trip.

Hennessy, of Sandner Commercial Real Estate, said tenants are hesitant to make long-term decisions in the uncertain economy – despite landlords offering creative leases, moving allowances and, sometimes, free rent.

“Weathering the storm better than most”

Local commercial real estate brokers seem to agree that Birmingham’s office market has performed well compared to some of our Southeastern neighbors in the recession.

The numbers back it up.

The vacancy rate in Birmingham’s Central Business District is lower than the rates of Atlanta, Memphis and Nashville and rental rates have held up relatively well – even with a high amount of sublease space hitting the market.

Leigh Ferguson, of Bayer Properties, said Birmingham is weathering the storm well because of its diverse economy and the limited amount of new developments on the market in recent years.

Joe Sandner III, of Sandner Commercial Real Estate, said Birmingham doesn’t have the volatility of other markets.

“It’s fair to say the good times aren’t as good, but the bad times are not as bad, either,” Sandner said.

“A wait and see mentality”

Daniel Corp.’s Jerry Grant expects that many of the same trends from 2009 will spill over into 2010 – especially in the first part of the year.

He expects that the growing amount of sublease space in the market will become true vacancies and that shadow space will mount as major players tread cautiously in the first half of the year. But, after that, he expects things to pick up.

“A few larger deals will have a positive impact on absorption and Birmingham should see activity pick up in the fourth quarter and continue at a slow place into 2011,” he said.

“Vacancy rates to increase”

Even with the economy showing signs of improvement, local brokers say you shouldn’t expect Birmingham office occupancy rates to rise with the S&P 500.

That’s because office occupancy rates are closely tied to unemployment rates, which have traditionally been a lagging indicator, said Joe Sandner IV, of Sandner Commercial Real Estate

heights unknown

November 02, 2009, 01:50:06 PM
Great looking and dense downtown, but where are the people?  There are none, zero, zilch, in almost all of these photos save an occasional car.

Oh, "the south will rise again!"

Or, "the south has risen?"

Heights Unknown


November 02, 2009, 10:29:29 PM
Does every city have a bigger convention center than Jacksonville? It's really sad to see many smaller metro areas having bigger convention centers.

Also, did anyone else chuckle when they saw Ruby Tuesday's as part of the happening dining district?


November 02, 2009, 10:46:01 PM
At least the Ruby Tuesday didn't have a parking lot between it and the street.  Yes, just about every peer city near our size has a larger convention center and one with a hotel.  We've simply dropped the ball on that issue.

One thing I like about Birmingham is that outside of the train station (which is a travesty), they did not go demo happy to the extent that Jax did.  The downtown core still maintains a dense collection of historic building fabric.  However, for some reason its just not vibrant.  Haven't spent too much time in the city so I really can't put my finger on why. 

Nevertheless, the Southside was much more interesting to me.  Its got a ton of Riverside like neighborhoods, urban commercial districts and UAB.  I also love what they did with the old Sloss Furnaces steel mill.  Instead of demolishing the closed mill, they turned it into a museum about the steel industry.

By comparison, it would be like converting the old Ford plant into a transportation museum or the shipyards (unfortunately we tore the buildings down) into a maritime center.


November 02, 2009, 10:47:35 PM
There's a pretty cool bar across the street from that Ruby Tuesday though.... If memory serves me correctly, it's called Dave's...


November 02, 2009, 10:52:38 PM
The thing that is still hurting Birmingham is it's image as a dangerous city of crime. That said, it is partly true because there are some downright dangerous neighborhoods just north of downtown, hell, all around the city, and some of it has spilled into the CBD.

Another thing is that overall, the City of Birmingham is still an industrial city, and most of the office development is occuring in The Summit area in the far SE side of the city. The other area of growing office space is Hoover, especially aroung the Riverchase Galleria.


November 03, 2009, 12:13:08 AM

A classic 1886 station, a city block in length, with a concourse nearly as big, was torn down for a "new" station in 1960.

Some might have questioned my statement about finally a city dumber then Jacksonville. Sad to say, here are two more "proof photos", from Birmingham.

Though simple, this 1960's modern station went up to serve the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, in Birmingham. There is no consensus on when it was torn down but probably sometime after Amtrak's takeover in 1971. This station served the Pan American, L&N's flagship train from Louisville - Nashville - Birmingham - Mobile - New Orleans... It also served "The South Wind," Pennsylvania railroads midwest-Florida, flagship train, from Chicago - Louisville - Nashville - Birmingham - Montgomery - Jacksonville - Tampa/Miami... Another flagship was that of the Illinois Centrals "City of Miami", sister to the famous "City of New Orleans", on a trek from Chicago/St. Louis - Carbondale - Corinth - Birmingham - Columbus - Albany - Waycross - Jacksonville - Tampa/Miami. Amtrak only operated the single "South Wind" train between Chicago and Florida, until budget cuts under president Carter cost us 2 of our 4 remaining flagship trains, as well as ALL SERVICE between Florida and points west. "Thanks Jimmy!"

So Birmingham didn't tear down their station after all, they tore down all 3!  Jacksonville, has only lost it's way stations, IE: Yukon, Springfield, South Jax...etc.



November 03, 2009, 11:15:53 AM
I visited Birmingham once.  The downtown made Jacksonville look good.  The suburbs have no sidewalks.  The public transit system makes JTA look like NYC.  What a dump.
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