Downtown Revitalization: Birmingham

In our quest to see how downtown Jacksonville's revitalization efforts compare nationally, Metro Jacksonville visits the core of Alabama's largest city: Birmingham

Published August 9, 2013 in Cities -

Tale of the Tape:

Birmingham City Population 2012: 212,038 (City); 1,136,650 (Metro 2012) - (incorporated in 1871)

Jacksonville City Population 2012: 836,507 (City); 1,377,850 (Metro 2012) - (incorporated in 1832)

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

City Land Area

Birmingham: 151.9 square miles
Jacksonville: 757.7 square miles

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2010-2012)

Birmingham: 0.76%
Jacksonville: +2.40%

Urban Area Population (2010 census)

Birmingham: 749,495 (ranked 55 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 1,065,219 (ranked 40 nationwide)

Urban Area Population Density (2010 census)

Birmingham: 1,414.4 people per square mile
Jacksonville: 2,008.5 people per square mile

City Population Growth from 2010 to 2012

Birmingham: -199
Jacksonville: +14,723

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Birmingham: Birmingham-Jefferson County Convention Center (1976) - 220,000 square feet
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1985) - 78,500 square feet

Connected to or across the street from Convention Center:

Birmingham: Sheraton Birmingham Hotel - 838 rooms
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

Birmingham: Wells Fargo Tower - 454 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet

Fortune 500 companies 2013 (City limits only):

Birmingham: Regions Financial (401)
Jacksonville: CSX (231), Fidelity National Financial (353), Fidelity National Information Services (434)

Urban infill obstacles:

Birmingham: Slow growing economy
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.

Downtown Nightlife:

Birmingham: Five Points South, Lakeview
Jacksonville: East Bay Street

Common Downtown Albatross:

Proliferation of surface parking lots.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Birmingham: 90 out of 100, according to
Jacksonville: 88 out of 100, according to

About Birmingham

Named after Birmingham, United Kingdom, Birmingham was established in 1871 as an industrial center with an emphasis on mining, the iron and steel industry, and railroad. It was positioned as a city where cheap, non-unionized, and African-American labor could be utilized to create a competitive advantage over Midwest and Northeast cities. Between 1900 and 1910, the city's population increased by 245% as it became nationally recognized as the Pittsburgh of the South.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Birmingham's image took a negative hit internationally as the city's leaders fought to preserve the Jim Crow system during the fight for civil rights of African-Americans. Ultimately defeated and forced to embrace change, in the 1970s, efforts were made to focus on major medical and research opportunities around the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Now, with nearly 19,000 employees, UAB is the area's largest employer and the city is nationally known as a center of medical research. Today, Birmingham is experiencing a rebirth of its urban core, with a multitude of efforts underway to restructure the downtown area into a 24-hour district.

Downtown Birmingham

Downtown Birmingham is a major southern banking center. It's anchored by the headquarters of Regions Finanical Corporation and BBVA Compass. Despite its decline as a retailing epicenter, downtown's streetscape is still lined with hundreds of buildings that once housed a mix of businesses.  Blessed with an abundance of historic building stock still remaining, in recent years, several adaptive reuse projects are helping bring the downtown core back to life.


Home to the campus of UAB, the area beween downtown Birmingham and the slopes of Red Mountain is known as the Southside. Developed as one of the city's first streetcar suburbs, today the Southside is now Birmingham's most vibrant urban district. In recent years, several infill mixed-use projects and major public initiatives, such as Railroad Park and a ballpark for the Birmingham Barons AA Minor League Baseball team, are effectively making the Southside and downtown one major interconnected active urban district.

Five Points South

Situated in the Southside, near the slopes of Red Mountain, Five Points South is arguably the urban core's most popular entertainment district. This historic district combines tradition with modern diversity and is home to a number of restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues.

Sloss Furnances National Historic Landmark

A major industrial district lies just east of downtown Birmingham and the Southside.  For many years, this area was anchored by Sloss Furnances.  Constructed in 1882, it operated as a pig iron-producing blast furnance until 1971 when the U.S. Clean Air Act encouraged the closure of older and out-of-date smelting works. After its closure, the site was donated to the Alabama State Fair Authority with the intention of it becoming a museum of industry. In 1977, Birmingham voters approved a $3.3 million bond issue to preserve the site, create a visitor's center and establish a metal arts program. The only blast furnance in the country to be preserved for public use, this National Historic Landmark and a major cultural asset for the City of Birmingham.

Lakeview Entertainment District

Lakeview is located just south of Sloss Furnances. Once anchored by the Dr. Pepper Syrup Plant and Martin Biscuit Company in the mid-20th century, this warehouse district is becoming a vibrant mixed use district itself. Still home to a number of light manufacturing and warehousing operations, Lakeview also features galleries, retail, entertainment and dining venues, as well as infill mixed-use housing developments.

Learning From Birmingham

For those who marvel at what downtown Jacksonville used to look like, Birmingham provides us with a visual depiction of what such an environment would have looked like if all the buildings were not torn down.  While the downtowns of both cities have declined over the last half century, Birmingham is blessed with enough building stock to allow the natural revitalization process, of filling cheap empty spaces with urban pioneers, to take place.

Today, with every infill project that comes online, Birmingham's Southside and Downtown are quickly morphing into one massive urban district. If Jacksonville can apply anything from the Birmingham experience, it would be to attempt to preserve as much of its remaining downtown building stock as possible. If there is any city in America that would do well without seeing another surface parking lot anytime soon, it's Jacksonville.

Tour by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at

This article can be found at:

Metro Jacksonville