By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
Plans are underway or in the works to revitalize downtown Birmingham’s historic Fourth Avenue Business District and Civil Rights District. Here are some, according to officials with Urban Impact Inc., a community- and economic-development agency helping to revive the area.
Revitalization. A $54,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham will help with an economic-development strategy to transform vacant and blighted property in the district into more attractive spaces; it will include street markets, music in the park, and structural makeovers.
First on Fourth. This program modeled after a similar effort in San Francisco, Calif., integrates digital technology, information technology, and digital marketing to help increase the capacity and market share of older businesses.
Future Fourth. “We convened what we call a ‘Young People’s Committee’ … to do some cool stuff, so when you walk on Fourth Avenue … you’re like, ‘What’s going on?’ We’ve been working diligently with property owners to see how we can repurpose their vacant space in a makeover-style program. That’s exciting and is on the horizon,” said Elijah Davis, Urban Impact Strategic Growth Manager.
#40on4th. This initiative kicked off this year. “We’re announcing boldly that we would love to bring 40 businesses onto Fourth Avenue in the next four years,” said Darryl Washington, Urban Impact Chief Operations Officer and Director of Programs and Special Projects. “When you look around, you’re probably like, ‘Where are these businesses going to go?’ The key to that will be the Masonic Temple. As it was in the past, the Masonic Temple will be a landmark for economic vitality for this district. It will have
retail spaces and commercial spaces, as well as an entertainment space.” The historic Masonic Temple is a seven-story structure on the corner of 17th Street North and Fourth Avenue that once housed the offices of several black doctors, dentists, lawyers, and other professionals, as well as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); it will soon undergo a reconstruction project to preserve the building’s rich history.
History Committee. Co-chairs of this group are Paulette Roby of the Childhood Foot Soldiers, Majella Hamilton of the Ballard House Project, and Levita Battle of St. Paul United Methodist Church. “Other [members] include stakeholders from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and Carver Theatre, [as well as area] merchants to look at how we continue to attract further scholarship in the district,” said Davis. “This is truly a window into early black life, not just in Birmingham but in the South. With the preservation efforts that have already taken place, there’s so much that has yet to be discovered and cemented.”
Other Efforts. Several spaces in the area will be opening for entertainment or special events, such as L.R. Hall, a 500-seat auditorium located in the A.G. Gaston Building at 424 16th St. N., an office building constructed in 1960 by business magnate Dr. A.G. Gaston in the historic Fourth Avenue Business District, Washington said. Renovations to the landmark Carver Theatre will be completed in 2020. The historic venue, owned by the city of Birmingham since 1990, is a nonprofit multiuse community-based theater that houses the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame museum. It is being restored to its 1940s style, which will include returning the seating capacity to 1,300 and updating movie screens, sound, and lighting, as well as constructing a new stage, adding a new paint scheme, and redesigning the Hall of Fame.