Elements of Urbanism: Montgomery, AL

July 24, 2013 5 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville takes a look at the downtown of Alabama's capitol city to see if there's something we can learn from their experience that could be applicable to our own efforts to revitalize downtown Jacksonville.

Riverwalk Stadium

Montgomery Riverwalk Stadium is the home of the Montgomery Biscuits (AA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays) of the Southern League.  Completed in 2004, the $26 million stadium is a converted 19th century train shed.

With a seating capacity of 7,500, the stadium includes a street level retail space (The Biscuit Basket) and has hosted several events, such as the NCAA Division II baseball championship tournament.

Commerce Street

Still an active train station, which dates back to 1896, Union Station has been redeveloped to include offices and the Montgomery Visitor Center.  The Station anchors the riverfront, which includes a 5,000-seat open air theater featuring concerts, movies and other live performances.

In 2007, the civic center was underwent a $85 million expansion and was joined by a 12-story, 346 room Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa.  The construction of the 1,800-seat Montgomery Performing Arts Centre was included in the expansion project. Furthermore, a massive parking garage was built. However, at street level, retail and dining spaces were built to front adjacent streets.

The Alley is a mixed-use entertainment district built to complement other venues in the vicinity such as the convention center, hotels, and the minor league ball park.

It was originally used as an alley to transport goods from nearby railyards to a row of grocery warehouses. Local architect Mike Watson, anchored the strip with the design of his own establishment, AlleyBAR, which opened in 2009 on the ground floor of his building. Since then, the number of dining and nightlife venues has proliferated in the vicinity. Today, popular venues include Dreamland Bar-B-Que and Saza Serious Italian Food.

Total construction costs of The Alley was $1.6 million utilizing city and county funds.  The initial public funding of $1.6 million has led to more than $35 million in private capital investment, 400 new downtown jobs, and annual sales tax revenues of over $1.5 million.  Property values have increased 10 times on some of the surrounding buildings.

Commerce Street

Montgomery Street

The Rosa Parks Library and Museum & Children's Wing is located on the block where Rosa Parks was arrest on Decemeber 1, 1955, sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott and giving impetus to the Civil Rights Movement.

Troy University's Davis Theatre for the Performing Arts has been restored to its original 1930s look.

An Applicable Lesson for Jacksonville

Many believe much of downtown Montgomery's recent revitalization efforts were jumpstarted by the opening of the Montgomery Biscuits ballpark in 2004.  However, upon a closer look, Montgomery is benefitting from the locating of several complementing uses within a compact pedestrian scale setting.

For example, the opening of the ball park was followed by the completion of the convention center expansion and Renaissance Hotel two blocks west.  Instead of demolition, the largely vacant block of historic buildings and warehouses between the two, were renovated into The Alley, a mixed use development featuring dining, retail, nightlife and residential uses.  These complementing uses have combined to quickly establish and area within downtown Montgomery that arguably generates more foot traffic on a regular basis than any similar sized area in downtown Jacksonville.  

For those who believe the Northbank core should be a major priority of initial downtown Jacksonville revitalization efforts, what has been accomplished in Montgomery over the last decade, provides credibility to that argument.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com

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