By Ameera Steward
The Birmingham Times
City and state officials gathered Tuesday in the Historic 4th Avenue Business District in downtown Birmingham to kickoff neighborhood revitalization efforts with Main Street Alabama.
“This is a culmination of about 18 to 24 months of work, work in terms of organizing around a common goal, a common vision but more importantly the love for this district and the love for not only what this district was but what it can be,” said Darryl Washington, Director of Programs for Urban Impact Birmingham.
Urban Impact, Inc., which manages the district, is an economic development agency that advances economic opportunity and revitalization of the Historic 4th Avenue Business District and the Civil Rights District.
Main Street Alabama, a nonprofit organization, will provide goal setting, work planning, economic development strategies and other services, related to downtown development.
The kickoff announcement, attended by area business owners and merchants as well as city and state officials, was held at The Famous Theatre Building on Fourth Avenue North in downtown.
There are a number of benefits working with Main Street, Washington said.
“One of the main advantages is we’ll be able to have a national network of experts to come and help” give property owners the tools they need to reinvest in their properties, said Washington.
Leah Tucker, executive director of Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, said she pleased to be a part of the growth in the district.
“At the Carver Theater, Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame we’re looking forward to our reopening to our new facility in December of 2020…. it’s nice that we can meet like this, but when we meet we need to meet for some economic power,” she said.
Support of the district means “we can have more programming and bring more people to the area,” she said.
Washington said, “we’re unapologetically focused on the black community” and revitalizing 4th Avenue helps to improve other areas of the city.
“If we get it right here, we can take this same type of strategy to Titusville, Smithfield, and other traditional African-American neighborhoods… we’re trying to make this district a happening place for young African-Americans…we want to give you a platform to make a future,” he said.
Denise Gilmore, senior director of the office of social justice and racial equity and the office of Mayor Randall Woodfin said, the Main Street designation allows business owners to help determine how they want to shape their future.
“It’s an opportunity to also promote the Fourth Avenue District to help with the design, with economic vitality which is something that really adds to the greater Civil Rights District in the national monument,” she said.
Anchored by the Colored Masonic Temple, the Carver Theater, the Pythian Temple (Alabama Penny Saving Bank), and the Civil Rights Institute, the district was designated a national monument by President Barrack Obama in 2017
Percy Hornbuckle, a member of the Urban Impact Board, said the partnership with Main Street means celebrating the future “but also recognizing the past, the foundation” upon which the businesses were built.
“Those men and women that were here during the turbulent times, that stuck it out, that made it possible for us to be here today,” he said. “So, we’re excited about the future…today we build on their foundation, they made it all possible.”
In its announcement that Urban Impact had been selected, Main Street wrote, “During the Jim Crow era, an African-America centered commercial district arose here and was the first district in Birmingham added to the National Register of Historic Places in the early 80s. . . . standing today as testament to the power of change, this area is poised to position itself as a unique destination grounded in legacy and women and minority owned businesses.”
Mary Helmer, coordinator for Main Street Alabama, the community will weigh in on what they want.
“What I love about Birmingham is you have 99 districts that can all be your separate little individual fun places for people to go to discover what Birmingham truly is,” she said. “You’re all very different and you all need to celebrate that difference.”
“Main Street works 100 percent of the time if you as a district work it. I have no doubt that you guys are in board as one our designated areas,” said Helmer.
Washington said he is extremely excited about the turnout and believes it exemplifies why Fourth Avenue Business District was selected. And the next step is implementing the four principles of Main Street which are organization, promotion, design and economic vitality, he said.
“Doing even more organizing in terms of district stakeholders, promotions, creating work plans under each of the four steps, doing a lot of work around design standards. Which is going to be key to a new look for the district,” he said.
“This was where African-Americans could feel at home, this was where when you couldn’t go in the front door of businesses, you can always come through the front door here and receive world-class service…it’s a renaissance, it’s a rebirth,” Washington said.