Birmingham Revitalization: Developers Spur Growth in Avondale, Downtown

Posted by .

 ======= Old =========1471803050 
1464073900

Behind every new coffee shop and oyster house and once-vacant building is a real estate developer. The same goes for parks, condos and baseball fields. To understand how developers choose where to invest, start in Avondale.

Before the neighborhood had Avondale Brewery, or Melt, a grilled cheese sandwich restaurant, or Saturn, the city’s newest music venue, it had a car wash. Or at least it seemed like a car wash. Bob Vines, a commercial real estate broker and developer with Arc Realty, is known around here as “Mr. Avondale”.

“When I came down here, a bank hired me to sell a wand carwash. Not a drive-thru carwash. Where you drive in a spray your car down,” Vines says. “And what I realized, it was really a crack cocaine distribution place.

The Avondale Brewing Company helped ignite growth on 41st St South in Avondale.
The Avondale Brewing Company helped ignite growth on 41st St South in Avondale.
Courtesy of Avondale Brewing Company

“So shutting down this operation where crack deals went down out of the back of a car became priority number one. Then Vines convinced Coby Lake to buy that property and tear down the car wash, which is about a block from where Lake later opened Avondale Brewing Company. Then a flood of development followed: restaurants, bars, music venues.

“I brokered real estate deals on all of them: Fancy’s, Melt, Rowe’s, Wasabi Juan, Wooden Goat, Satellite,” Vines says, “and it just all fell into place.”

“It” happened very quickly over the last couple of years. Vines says the economic recovery after the 2008 recession spurred a lot of that. Banks started lending to investors again. People were finally spending money.

Urban Standard coffee shop opened in November, 2007.
Urban Standard coffee shop opened in November, 2007.
Gina Yu,WBHM

“The restaurants all over Birmingham are full. I’m mean they’re full,” Vines says.

It wasn’t always this way. Birmingham was quiet, until about nine years ago when Urban Standard opened downtown on 2nd Avenue North, says David Fleming, president and CEO of REV Birmingham.

“We may not remember a day when no Urban Standard or a Rogue Tavern or El Barrio and Charm and all those great little Birmingham based things on 2nd Ave North,” Fleming says. “It was a very quiet street.”

That is, until those Fleming calls “forward-thinking pioneers” took a risk. Fleming says for the most part, those local developers have been the ones behind some of the early growth.

David Fleming, CEO of REV Birmingham.
David Fleming, CEO of REV Birmingham.
Gigi Douban,WBHM

“Bigger developers that maybe come from somewhere else tend to need much more safety and security for that investment,” he says. “So once they’ve seen those pioneers do their pioneering thing, then the other investors come in and we have definitely seen that in Birmingham.”

Another thing that’s given real estate developers courage in recent years, local or not, is the other kind of development — the cultural stuff: Sidewalk Film Festival, Railroad Park, the 18th Street viaduct. Those things attract people, Fleming says, and more people bring more retail.

The new Peanut Depot location behind Regions Field.
The new Peanut Depot location behind Regions Field.
Peanut Depot

Across the street from the three-year-old Regions Field, there’s been lots of construction. There are condos and breweries and shops. Chip Watts of Watts Realty has owned and developed land in this area for decades.

He shows one of his properties, a building that in its previous life was where you’d go to buy prosthetics. Then it was a loft leasing office. Next tenant? The Peanut Depot. Warehouse in the back, retail peanut sales and beer growlers in the front. Watts says with Regions Field across the street, it makes perfect sense.

Watts says a few blocks away there will soon be a new grocery and a pizza place. But as all this is happening, the prices of these buildings and the land they sit on have gone up.

“You’ve seen about a 30 to 40 percent increase per square foot in sales, specifically on raw land in the area. In leasing, probably seen a 5 or 6 percent increase on lease rates,” he says.

The bigger jump in land prices, Watts says, is because there are lots of developers out there looking for land. Still, he says there’s plenty of room for growth. It’s just a matter of having a little courage, a little vision, and enough money to finance that vision.

Chip Watts of Watts Realty has owned and developed land in Birmingham for decades.
Chip Watts of Watts Realty has owned and developed land in Birmingham for decades.
Gigi Douban,WBHM
Gigi Douban

Gigi Douban

News Director



Restoration Work Begins on Historic A.G. Gaston Motel
03-27-2019

Work has begun to restore the motel that was a headquarters for Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement.

Woodfin’s First Year: Priority Remains on Neighborhoods
11-29-2018

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin began his second year in office Thursday. When he was elected, he pledged to improve the quality of life in the city, and make it a safer, more economically vibrant place.

Development Planned for Blighted Sites North of Downtown
09-12-2018

Change may be on the way for two sites in north Birmingham. Corporate Realty is preparing to redevelop the former Carraway Hospital site. Another group is planning lofts at the old Kirby School and a former armory site in Norwood.

Birmingham Council Approves $90 Million For Stadium, BJCC Expansion
03-28-2018

The City of Birmingham will contribute $90 million over the next 30 years toward a new downtown and an expansion of the BJCC. The council voted 6 to 3 on Monday for the plan following a four-hour and at times contentious debate.

WBHM’s “On The Line” Talk Show Tackles Uneven Birmingham Revival
05-27-2016

Walk around downtown Birmingham and there’s an energy you wouldn’t have felt a few years ago. Residents are moving to new lofts and apartments. Restaurants and retailers are opening. People do yoga at Railroad Park or take in a ballgame at Region’s Field. They’re visible signs of a Birmingham revival. But that revival is uneven. Talk to some in neighborhoods away from Downtown and they’ll say “revival” doesn’t mean much to them. No fancy lofts, just abandoned homes and potholed roads that never seem to be fixed. And all this takes place against the backdrop of Birmingham’s racial history, with investment, by-and-large, coming from whites in a city that’s been majority black for a generation.