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A Five Points South folly in progress

06.22.2010 by André Natta · → 7 Comments

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The Story Teller - Five Point South. stanroth/FlickrAccording to Glenny Brock’s tweet shortly after the Housing Board of Appeals voted unanimously to uphold the Design Review Committee’s decision to deny Chick-Fil-A’s proposal for a new local at the corner of Highland Avenue and 20th Street South, much cheering took place.

The battle’s been won (for now). The issue that we’ve got to worry about now is winning the war.

The war in this case is what will happen on the site where the Chick-Fil-A was proposed (that is assuming that a lawsuit doesn’t materialize). It’s been reported recently that a long awaited renovation of the 103-year old Terrace Court apartment building across 20th Street South from the site is set to begin, with as much as $4 million planned to be spent on the project. That should somehow influence what is considered for the site.

The points (courtesy of Elizabeth Barbaree-Tasker’s comments at the meeting) highlighted by Jeremy Erdreich in this blog post recapping the meeting provide another set of criteria for what could potentially be considered on that site.

There are some saying that Panera Bread would be a proper alternative for the proposed Chick-Fil-A location. Any solution that looks at a chain placing a suburban solution on that site is missing what the major point of the battle should have been.

It’s been an issue of preserving the character of the surrounding neighborhood.

While I’m a huge fan of Panera Bread, I look at their suggested arrival in Five Points South on that site as simply providing a nicer visual but not necessarily dealing with the issue at hand.

You will still have a one-story suburban structure with surface parking taking up one quarter of a major intersection in the city’s greater downtown area. The drive-through will not be there, but the traffic from people picking up their take-out lunches will be.

I’ve long held the opinion that we live in a region that could serve as an example of what a New South metropolitan area could do in the first part of the 21st century. This intersection and the surrounding community provides a golden opportunity to demonstrate just what that could look like and how it would function.

Perhaps it would help if the property owner wanted a solution that was more befitting an intersection that sees an average of 38,000 vehicles a day. Despite the community’s desires, a lot will be determined by what he wants to deal with on that site. This currently means that it will most likely be something that’s one story, at least for now.

Joey Kennedy’s hosting a live chat at 1 p.m. on al.com to discuss the issue further, though I’m thinking that people will be willing to accept a wolf in sheep’s clothing rather than actually affect a change in mindset about what Alabama’s largest city truly lives like at its core.

Let me know what you think in the comments section.

André Natta is the stationmaster for bhamterminal.com.

Photo: The Story Teller – Five Point South. stanroth/Flickr

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Filed under: Commentary · development

7 comments
Wade Kwon
Wade Kwon

I don't believe many people are going to go out of their way for a Panera. You could drive over to Vestavia Hills for the same experience (and maybe easier parking). I do know people who will drive to eat at Stitt's restaurants, or Camp Taco, or Taj India. Panera would not be the end of civilization, but we can do better. That location is prime real estate. I would bet a dozen businesses would fight to be there.

Chris H
Chris H

I've only been in town a year or so, but I haven't really seen anything I would consider an improvement in Five Points South since I've been here. The vacant restaurant formerly occupied by Ruby Tuesday is not advantageous to the area, and although I'm sure I could dream up a thousand things I might like to see there more, a Panera Bread might at least bring more visitors to the neighborhood. To preserve the current character of Five Points South is to preserve vacant storefronts.

Andre Natta
Andre Natta

That may be true to some people, but to preserve the long term character of the historic character of the district it matters what businesses choose to settle in and how the community responds to their arrival. A Panera Bread would definitely bring in some foot traffic though...

LKW
LKW

Good points, Andre and Jill. As a newcomer to this city, I see GREAT potential in the Five Points South neighborhood. I see it as a cultural destination. I see it as a unique neighborhood in a unique city. I see it as a jumping board for other revitilization efforts throughout Birmingham. "What are our priorities?" Exactly. This is a question that must come from both the community AND city leadership. Seeing an area like Pickwick Plaza (that sits empty) and hearing that they Mayor is pushing forward with a $70 million dollar (new construction) hotel and entertainment district is mind-boggling. "What are our priorities?" How can we preserve when we are still building out (Woodlawn versus Highway 280 sprawl, for example)? Furthermore, hearing that this (newly organized and very vocal) community would settle for a Panera (rather than a Chick-Fil-A with drive thru) disappoints me a little. Both establishments are good neighbors, no doubt, but they don't evoke "unique", even "urban" to me. They both serve good food and they get it out quick. Shouldn't the community possess the desire to have something a little more interesting, more user-friendly, more apropos to the area's vibe? I hope the collective dialogue continues. I hope that technology continues to bring our community together...I mean, I cringe to think about what MIGHT have happened to 100.5 FM if that unified voice united just a little earlier... Redevelopment authority, zoning, urban renewal strategies, organized community efforts, informed citizens...there's a pretty complex dynamic happening here and it's been challenging Birmingham for a long time.

Andre Natta
Andre Natta

Technically, so long as you're not from a city in the Southeast, you're never really from there so I'm still a relative newcomer myself :) This is one of the issues I'll be delving into a little more in the coming days, but I'll point out that Pickwick Plaza has only been at its current occupancy level (or lack thereof) for about a year - mostly during the time that the building has been undergoing its renovations. Overall the issue of true engagement from the community has been the missing factor as people have long waited to hear what would happen to an area instead of being aggressive about what they wanted to see. They've let their opinions when shared sit in completed plans on a shelves waiting for someone else to begin to implement. There are others, but they're for other posts in the next 58 days :)

Jill Marlar
Jill Marlar

Well, of course I agree that Panera Bread or any other "chain" is not the most perfect solution and surely most of us can envision something that would be more suited for the area. The reality is to ask, who is going to come forward and propose "that plan" with the means to build it and work with the land owner as well. I don't know much about the land owner, but it seems he may not be interested in finding a more creative solution to the corner. That corner is getting so much attention now, but there are many chains in 5points, even if they are not the big fast food ones. On another note, I think it's best to also consider the positive change that is being made in 5points. Just over the past two to three years many of the nightclub issues have been virtually eliminated and the area is safer and more visually appealing. I found it very interesting when some in the community became outraged with the chic-fil-a, but when the crime was higher, not so much was being voiced. It's the big picture! Neighbors and merchants need not get too bogged down on the single issues, but step back and look at the whole area. What are the priorities? What is my individual role in helping to better an area that obviously many of us share a great affection for within our city?

Andre Natta
Andre Natta

Great points! I hope the community will take a step back and figure out what that big picture is and what it sees as priorities for its future. Maybe it will also encourage all of us as residents and stakeholders to realize that individually there are several ways to express our wants and desires throughout metro Birmingham.