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Birmingham City Councilman really wants to support renovation of historic building, but . . .

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Birmingham City Councilman Marcus Lundy whose district includes Ensley stands along Avenue F Thursday January 12, 2017 . (Frank Couch, special to The Times)

By Je’Don Holloway Talley

For The Birmingham Times

Birmingham City Councilman Marcus Lundy whose district includes Ensley stands along Avenue F Thursday January 12, 2017 . (Frank Couch, special to The Times)
Birmingham City Councilman Marcus Lundy whose district includes Ensley stands along Avenue F. (Frank Couch, special to The Times)

Birmingham City Councilman Marcus Lundy said he wants to find ways to support Mayor William Bell’s plan to transform the historic Ramsay McCormack building in downtown Ensley into a $40 million public-safety complex.

“I look for ways to say ‘yes,’” said Lundy, who represents the area where the building is located. “I don’t wake up with ‘no’ on my mind. I’m not an impediment, a burden, or a hurdle to progress. When my tenure is up, I want people to say, ‘Lundy made a difference.’”

The Ramsay McCormack building, also known as the Bank of Ensley building, is a 10-story, 144-foot-tall, Art Deco–style office tower completed in 1929 on the corner of Avenue E and 19th Street in downtown Ensley.

In November 2017, Bell announced that the building would be renovated as part of a $40 million project to create a public-safety complex that combines the Birmingham Municipal Court; administrative offices for the Birmingham Police Headquarters and Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service; green spaces; and new retail and residential projects to be developed by the Bethel-Ensley Action Task (BEAT) nonprofit group.

The plan caught many on the city council by surprise—including Lundy.

“I think a goal without a plan is just a wish,” Lundy said. “The mayor gave us a 40,000-foot view of what that wish might look like, but we’ve yet to see a plan. It’s hard to comment on this exciting wish, until you’ve seen a plan in its totality.”

Lundy said he’s looking for a “comprehensive plan” that contains funding sources, operating budgets, and maintenance budgets.

“You know, egress and ingress, what types of roads are going to be planned?” he said. “How are you going to landscape avenues E, F, and G—the real business center of Ensley—and restore avenues I all the way up to B and C? There are businesses there, too.”

Lundy represents District 9, which includes neighborhoods in the Pratt City community, as well as parts of Ensley, Smithfield, and North Birmingham. He wants the renovation to be “catalytic, meaning you want it to do for Ensley what Railroad Park did for the Parkside area,” he said.

“That area was an abandoned warehouse district until that park was put there,” Lundy said. “Now you’ve got more than $3 billion worth of private investments. So, if we’re talking about doing something in Ensley, tell me how do we make it catalytic? The mayor has yet to do that.”

Just two days after Bell’s announcement, Judge Mike Graffeo issued an order requiring the city to demolish the Ramsay McCormack building. Most recently, however, Graffeo issued a new order ruling that the city must have announced a request for bids on the project by Feb. 10, 2017.

“We are excited to continue moving this project forward,” said April Odom, spokeswoman for the mayor’s office in response to the judge’s order.

Attorney Antonio Spurling, an Ensley-based entrepreneur and real estate developer who filed a lawsuit against the city for failing to adequately maintain the property, said he was “encouraged by the emerging plans for the nucleus redevelopment of the entire district, which includes the Ramsay McCormack building.”

The project is far from a done deal. The mayor still must win over some members of the council, which must vote to approve the plans.

Lundy said he supports “economic development and jobs.”

“When you increase jobs, you increase opportunities for people. When opportunities for people increase, their negative feelings decrease,” he said. “I just want to see more jobs and more industry in Ensley. So, will I vote on it? I’ll vote on anything that’s about job creation and economic development.”