Midtown development continues to heat up

By Brent Godwin

The blocks between the railroad tracks and University Boulevard on Birmingham’s Southside, now commonly called Midtown, are undergoing a serious transformation.

Several large new construction and redevelopment projects are ongoing or about to ramp up in the area.

Renderings of the third building for 20 Midtown.

A group of developers, including LAH Real Estate and 20 Midtown developers Dick Schmalz and Scott Bryant, recently said they are planning a mixed-use building on the corner of 20th Street South and Fifth Avenue South.

It will involve demolishing an existing 1920s-era building to make way for the structure that will contain at least 60 apartments and a yet-to-be-named national retailer on the ground floor.

LAH principal Maurice Humphries said he’s been working on this deal in some form or another for the past two years. He knows the owners who have had the building in their family for generations.

“The location is literally across the street from Kirklin Clinic at UAB,” Humphries said. “We envision UAB students or professionals living at the building and being able to walk to everything they need.”

Humphries said the units will be smaller than others that have hit the downtown scene recently, as Schmalz and Bryant have seen a high demand for those types of apartments in their buildings.

Humphries said they’re still in the early stages of the project, which does not yet have a name. He said all existing tenants in the current building – Pizza Hut, The Syndicate Lounge, Quality Shoe Repair and Classic 13 Tattoo – will be relocated.

This week, another group of developers, including Ward Neely of SRS Real Estate and Schmalz and Bryant, said that Pizza Hut will be a tenant in the Merienda Lounge redevelopment since its existing location will be demolished.

Along with Pizza Hut, California-based Chronic Tacos will open its second Birmingham area location in the marquee corner spot at the Merienda project. A nail salon is also slated for the building, and negotiations are ongoing for another space in the building.

The former Merienda building, which has about 9,000 square feet and was an old automotive showroom, will be repositioned so that it faces Fifth Avenue South.

While portions of the High Note Lounge are expected to be demolished to make way for parking, Neely said developers aim to preserve its original brick storefront.

A couple of blocks up Richard Arrington Jr. Boulevard, work is underway on another redevelopment – a warehouse that formerly held a transmission business.

A group of brokers from Colliers International are helping bring Carvana to the building. Carvana is a technology-driven automotive shopping concept that allows customers to purchase used cars directly and not have to go to a dealership. The project received Design Review Committee approval and appears to be under construction now.

But perhaps the largest project happening in the area – and in some ways the catalyst for many of the others – is the third building of 20 Midtown.

The DRC in June approved the building, which will be located on an entire block between 20th Street and Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd., and between Second and Third Avenues South.

Schmalz said the five-story building will include 246 apartment units, as well as retail space. Thirty of the apartments in the building will be two-story loft units. There are three two-story units in building two, which are leasing well, prompting the inclusion of two-story units in building three.

Schmalz said as far as building three, they have several letters of intent for possible tenants that cannot be named yet. He said they will wait until the building starts to come out of the ground before setting the tenant line-up in stone. There also has been interest from possible ground-floor office tenants.

A new ownership group is looking into the possibility of redeveloping the massive Liberty National complex that sits in the center of the area.

Altogether, the Midtown area should continue to draw interest from real estate brokers, investors and developers, as it becomes more of a live-work-play district.

Brent Godwin is the commercial real estate reporter for the Birmingham Business Journal. 

Article originally published by Birmingham Business Journal