This weekend, one thing you should not hear from a fellow resident is, “There’s nothing to do in Birmingham, AL.” There are several large events happening on both Friday and Saturday evenings in the city’s greater downtown area. The BJCC issued a press release to unveil their plans for traffic management as they prepare to host three Garth Brooks concerts featuring Trisha Yearwood (one June 12 and two on June 13) and multiple performances of Menopause: The Musical. This also happens to be the first time the adjacent Uptown entertainment district will operate as an open-carry zone — on Friday and Saturday — since getting approval from the City Council in March. They’ll get a chance to check out the new signage marking the boundaries for the district in addition to finally seeing the BJCC Legacy Arena’s new signage.
But first, they’ll navigate the modified traffic pattern:
The highlights? You won’t be able to drive through the complex using Richard Arrington, Jr., Boulevard; it’ll be closed between 9th Avenue North and 22nd Street, North. By the way, 9th Avenue North will be operating as a one-way street heading westbound while 19th Street will be operating as a one-way northbound between 9th and 11th Avenues North.
Concert attendees and theater-goers may get a chance to rub elbows with those attending the kickoff of the 2015 Art on the Rocks! after-hours series at the Birmingham Museum of Art, attendees of the Y’all Connect digital storytelling concert looking for a bite to eat, baseball fans heading to Regions Field to watch the Barons take on the Chattanooga Lookouts, or moviegoers heading to the Alabama Theatre to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
… and then there’s Saturday.
Barons fans will be milling about downtown and Parkside once again (first pitch is at 6:30 p.m.), as will those attending the Deontay Wilder WBC Heavyweight Title bout against Eric Molina at Bartow Arena. UAB has released the parking plan posted above in advance of Saturday’s event to help folks know where they can and cannot park.
The preliminary agenda for the January 20 Birmingham City Council meeting included an item that has the potential to impact the city’s Southside. A portion of the nine mile stretch of road officially known as State Route 149 was the central focus of Item 7, submitted for and approved as part of the consent agenda on Tuesday morning. Specifically, it involved the portion of the nine-mile stretch of road once known as Alt. U.S. 31 — one that made getting around Red Mountain a little easier before the completion of the Red Mountain Expressway. The item called for approving an “Agreement, Resolution and Quit Claim Deed with the State of Alabama, acting by and through the Alabama Department of Transportation for the Transfer of Finley Boulevard from US-78 to US-31 to the State of Alabama and the Transfer of SR-149 within the City limits of Birmingham to the City.” This is a big deal on both ends of the deal.
Finley Boulevard is a major thoroughfare for the city, especially with regards to its ability to serve as a hub for the transportation of goods. A portion of the road runs parallel to Finley Avenue, home to several popular destinations in the city including Niki’s West and the Birmingham Farmers Market. It will eventually serve as the terminus to a project preparing to get underway to its east, the Maxine Herring Parker Bridge — the pedestrian/vehicular bridge project the former council president was working on before she passed away in November 2013. If you’re wondering about the status of that project — one focused on making accessing Collegeville safer and easier — the request for proposals for construction are due into ALDOT by 10 a.m., January 30.
Returning the focus to State Route 149, it provides the opportunity for the city to make additional improvements and changes to the portion of the road called University Boulevard — the portion that runs through the middle of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s campus on the Southside. UAB has recently constructed monument signs along University Boulevard at Richard Arrington, Jr. Blvd. (one, eastbound side) and at 13th Street (two), essentially announcing the eastern and western boundaries for the urban campus.
The other major story from yesterday’s meeting involved the approval of a zoning variance for the Salvation Army, allowing it to proceed with plans to convert Lewis Elementary School and some of the surrounding area into apartments, a homeless prevention center, and a church (Item 1). This approval comes a little more than four years after a similar proposal to be placed along 12th Avenue North in Norwood was voted down by the neighborhood, 52-0. As Alabama’s 13 reported yesterday, Norwood Elementary is currently being renovated with plans to reopen, allowing students from Lewis to move there.
The Birmingham City Council’s recap is available via PDF on their website.
Motorists who frequent greater downtown Birmingham by driving into town along Richard Arrington, Jr. Boulevard have long known of a “secret” to get from it to 20th Street just before the area known as “The Cut” without having to cross the Rainbow Viaduct into the city center — meaning you didn’t have to battle with the traffic light sequence heading northbound on 20th from Red Mountain. The left turn onto 1st Avenue South is used less and less though nowadays and signs visible today at the intersection of Arrington and 1st Ave. S. are letting them know those days will soon come to an end.
As the sign contained in the image accompanying this post says, effective Monday, December 15, that one block, also known in recent years as Block 121 for development purposes, will be converted from being a two-way stretch to being eastbound only (read: no left turn). The move does make a great deal of sense as “The Cut” is set to see the completion of its conversion into the western end of the Rotary Trail, making the block safer for pedestrians and they enter and exit the outdoor space. It also makes sense considering recent comments from the new owners of Station 121, the apartment complex formerly called Cityville that sits on the southwest corner of that intersection.
Back when representatives from Wicker Park Capital Management (the company that purchased the property in April) presented the proposed exterior changes to the building to the city’s Design Review Committee earlier this year, they said they were close to securing leases for several of its commercial spaces. Those lease announcements are still pending, but the free parking available for those patronizing those storefronts are accessed via 1st Avenue South. The conversion should make it easier for cars to enter and exit the deck.
This photo was taken shortly after 6:30 p.m. Thursday evening as ALDOT crews took a closer look at the pothole that developed in the center lane of I-20/59 eastbound just after Carraway Blvd. (and shortly before the 31st St. N. exit). Yes, that’s concrete you see hanging from the roadway, though it doesn’t quite tell the whole story.
Alabama’s 13 reported seeing as many as 13 cars damaged along the side of the road due to the hole. Fox 6 WBRC-TV reported less cars while estimating the size of the hole as between 4-5 feet wide.
The hole developed in a section of the interstate slated to be replaced as part of proposed plans by ALDOT. The Birmingham City Council is already scheduled to meet with ALDOT officials next Wednesday beginning at 4 p.m. at the agency’s offices about those plans and will most likely bring up concerns raised by groups including Rethink 20/59 and area business leaders.
A meeting on Thursday evening of area residents gathered for an event entitled “Save Birmingham from ALDOT’s plan for I-20/59 downtown” has launched an online effort to raise awareness about the current proposals being considered.
The group, calling themselves Rethink 20/59, has created a fan page on Facebook. They have also posted a link to a petition via Change.org directed at Birmingham mayor William Bell, the Birmingham City Council, the Jefferson County Commission and Alabama governor Robert Bentley asking them to “rethink the plan for Interstate 20/59” through the city center. The city and county had asked ALDOT last July to reconsider its initial plan to simply re-deck the existing section, leading to the current proposal. The council already stated during their June 18 general business meeting that they intended to meet with ALDOT’s director when he is in town next week.
A second petition launched on June 19 on Causes.com and created by Stuart Oates entitled Save Downtown Birmingham. It currently has 22 virtual signatures.
This latest development among those speaking out against plans to replace the decking between 31st St. N. and Malfunction Junction and redirecting local traffic patterns is not without precedent in the country. While efforts are underway in Dallas, TX to influence the removal of Interstate 345, the campaign most closely resembling Birmingham’s in the southeastern United States is in Louisville, KY, where 8664 is using Facebook in its fight to remove the Interstate and reconnect a waterfront park to the city’s downtown area. There is also a continuing effort in Syracuse, NY to look at alternatives to widening a stretch of I-81 through the heart of downtown (and coming extremely close to existing buildings in the process).
Photo: 2009 Rendering from ONB Breakfast Briefing presentation.
There’s yet another opportunity for interested residents to learn about the proposed changes that ALDOT wants to make along I-20/59 through downtown Birmingham this week. A Facebook event has been created inviting folks to the Norwood Community Center on the city’s northside tomorrow (Thursday) evening, April 18, from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
The current preliminary plans for the I-20/59 bridge replacement project were unveiled during a public hearing held public involvement hearing on March 28 at Boutwell Auditorium. It is said to incorporate comments made during an earlier hearing held last summer. The proposed changes to the section of interstate running through Birmingham’s city center are also available for review via a PDF on ALDOT’s website.
NOTE: If you’re thinking of downloading the file, it’s just under 5 MB in size.
The plan includes removing all the entrance and exit ramps located between 17th and 25th Streets. That area is home to several city center destinations, including the BJCC, the Birmingham Museum of Art, Boutwell Auditorium, and the Jefferson County Jail. The existing roadway in this section would be replaced with one sitting higher off the ground and built using a method known as segmental concrete construction.
There are proposed modifications that make 11th Avenue North the main thoroughfare. Residents living in Norwood would lose access to the portion of 28th St. N. currently running underneath I-20/59 and they would no longer be able to exit eastbound off the interstate at 31st St. N.
The plan shows Fountain Heights would also see reduced access to the portions of the neighborhood closest to where 11th Ave. N. provides access onto I-20/59 and I-65. There would be no access from 15th or 16th Sts. N., forcing most traffic onto 17th St. N.
Motorists would see portions of 24th St. N. ( between 11th and 12th Ave. N.) and 25th St. N. (between Rev. Abraham Woods, Jr., Blvd. – formerly 8th Ave., N. – and 12th Ave., N.) be removed. They would also see vehicular access along 9th Ave. N. disappear.
The front page of the project’s website states the period for public comment has been extended “10 days from 4/10/2013.” Its contact information page provides an email address and a phone number for you to use if you’re so inclined.
Those interested can also review the slides used for the March 28 presentation (or just head out over to Norwood on Thursday).
If you were upset you missed the public meeting held last July about the proposed changes to the portion of I-20/59 running through downtown Birmingham, you’re in luck. ALDOT will be holding another public involvement meeting next Thursday, March 28, in Boutwell Auditorium‘s exhibition hall. The open house will take place from 4 – 7 p.m., with a public comment period occurring from 5 – 6 p.m.
Based on the flyer being distributed through neighborhoods immediately adjacent to the well-traveled stretch of asphalt, the purpose of the meeting is to go over plans for replacing the elevated section of I-20/59 between the 31st St. N. and I-65 interchanges. It also states they will also be talking about modifications to both of those interchanges in addition to an “11th Avenue Corridor Reconstruction from I-65 to I-59/20.”
Those who’ve driven over to take a look at the new Westin hotel and Uptown entertainment district in recent days have probably noticed an increased presence by crews conducting soil testings (as reported on al.com on March 17). There may also be discussion about the effects of an expanded scope of project and whether any property will need to be acquired in order to carry it out.