By Ameera Steward
The Birmingham Times
Anything is better than a vacant 50-acre building sitting in proximity to where they live, say most residents who reside near the long-abandoned Carraway Hospital site. Birmingham-based Corporate Realty is working on plans to transform the property—located among several neighborhoods near the northern edge of downtown: Norwood, Druid Hills, Evergreen, and North Birmingham—into retail, hotel, and entertainment space.
“It’ll build up the city and the neighborhood and just bring some more living,” said Druid Hills Neighborhood Association President
Amie Evans. “You know, just use that space. It’s just sitting there now vacant. It’s an eyesore. It’s just blight. It has to be something to better the neighborhood. It’s got to bring something for the economy and for this area. It should build us up.”
The hospital officially closed on October 31, 2008 after 100 years in business.
‘Won The Lottery’
Hundreds of community residents attended two open houses this fall to offer their input to officials with Corporate Realty. Norwood resident James Clark said he feels like he “won the lottery” with the planned redevelopment of the site.
“At least something is happening to it, and it’s something positive,” he said. “I tell people I would rather have a drugstore than drug dealers. I’d rather have apartments than homeless [people] sleeping in there. It’s about time for something to happen [on the northern side of town]. Everything’s happened downtown or somewhere else. It’s time that something happens to Carraway.”
Norwood Neighborhood Association President Tom Creger said every neighborhood likes to see reinvestment, and up until about three years ago people in the area have seen their real estate property values drop.
“For most of us, what we own in real estate, in other words, the homes we live in, are the greatest proportion of our wealth,” he said. “As you get older, you want your house to be worth as much as possible because that may be what finances your stay in a nursing home, it may be what finances your stay in assisted living.”
Evergreen Neighborhood Association President Kerry Woodruff said, “I think this could be something good for this part of town. Instead of building a plant or some industrial stuff, this is going to be good for the neighborhood. It’s not something that’s going to bring the neighborhood down, like a liquor store or a night club, or things like that. It’s a development, so that’s good for this whole area, the whole city, really. … I think it’s just a win-win thing for the whole city.”
Input From Residents
To get input from residents, Corporate Realty—a local commercial real estate firm that handles everything from site development
and construction to marketing and management—had two open houses this fall, mailing out more than 1,600 postcards throughout the neighborhoods to build attendance.
“We had great attendance [and got] really great feedback. [There were] a lot of [concerns about] walkability, definitely a need for grocery stores and restaurants, just things that help neighborhoods thrive,” said Corporate Realty Chief Development Officer Brian Wolfe.
Although most feel the meetings have been helpful, some believe the meetings were just a formality.
Chalethia Williams of the North Birmingham community had hoped for more information from Corporate Realty, something concrete to look at, perhaps a link to a website about its plans.
“Maybe go door to door within a half-mile radius of every corner of Carraway, that area, and ask the neighborhood, ‘What do you want to happen? How do you feel about this?’ Then hand them something, put something in their hands,” said Williams, who had other concerns, as well.
“They’re going to make it look better. They’re going to do the landscaping, … everything to make it look pretty,” she said. “But, for the people in the community, do they get jobs from it? Do they get any benefits at all, other than that it’s in the community?”
‘A Good Thing’
Still, Williams said, “It’s a good thing for the neighborhood . . . anything is better than what it’s doing right now, which is nothing but being abandoned and being an eyesore as you ride up and down that major highway,” she said.
Other residents said meeting with Corporate Realty has been helpful.
“They know all of our concerns,” said Evans. “It shows that they are listening and taking it back. I believe it’s been very helpful. … Corporate Realty and everyone have been working with us. If we continue to be good neighbors to each other, it should be a blessing.”