Vacant Building In Birmingham Offer Rare Opportunities

By Suzanne Echols, Shannon Waltchack

In general, the word “vacant” often evokes a negative connotation- an empty, discarded space of days gone by. The commercial real estate world insists that a building’s surrounding neighborhood is crucial to it’s future. Vacancies are a sign of deterioration or corrosion. But that’s not always the case, here in Birmingham.

Downtown Birmingham is full of vacant buildings: industrial, retail, office, and residential. These buildings, once full of life and activity took a hit when people scattered “over the Mountain” as things in the not-so “Magic City” got tough. These buildings have stood unoccupied for years, and today we are unlocking their potential and improving Birmingham while we’re at it.

There is unmitigated opportunity in buildings that were once used as factories or storage facilities. The clean slate allows for endless creativity, an architects’ dream canvas. Good bones yield good vibes. The rich textures, distinctive characteristics and historical pride tend to attract tenants in creative and innovative fields, industries that we are trying to draw to Birmingham.

Converted spaces are more memorable than regular-ole ground up developments. Returning architecture to its former glory, whether relevant to the new tenant or not, seems to draw people in. There are endless TV shows, websites and blogs documenting the rebirth of old structures with names like Fixer Upper and Old Brand New. Americans are nostalgic creatures, and we appreciate how a little creativity and elbow grease can transform a space. There are local businesses that encourage repurposing old things like reclaimed wood at Evolutia or vintage design items at Shive Design. Revitalization is a concept that is having a major moment throughout our city.

We practice what we preach. SW offices, past and present, have been built out in former industrial buildings; Railroad Square was once a Nabisco factory and our new home, The Stockyard, was once Dairy Products of Alabama. SW wants to be a part of the rejuvenation of downtown. The energy is pulsating a resurgence that will ignite something new and something positive for Birmingham.

Richard Carnaggio, of Cohen Carnaggio Reynolds, was the lead architect on both SW projects. “Architecture is a small but important part of this moment [in Birmingham], and it is humbling to be part of this assemblage of a city,” Carnaggio said.

“The multiple creative talents that Birmingham possesses are feeding from each other and systematically transforming this into a magic city, and yes, that was an intentionally borrowed phrase. Working with so many beautifully talented people with so many great ideas continues to fuel the value and worth of what it means to create.” – Richard Carnaggio, Cohen Carnaggio Reynolds

Our neighbor (or backyard as we like to call it) Railroad Park was an old rail yard in a less-than-bustling neighborhood bordering the tracks. The shell of an eyesore has butterflied into an urban oasis. The concept of rebirth is burgeoning in so many different ways in our city, and it’s electric. Let’s keep it moving, Birmingham- the time is now!

Article originally published by Shannon Waltchack.