By Ameera Steward
The Birmingham Times
Ronald Bayles may not live in the Titusville community, but it is where he has attended church for the past 30 years and where he spends most of his time as executive director of the Titusville Development Corp. (TDC).
“It’s very personal for me [to be] in a place that was once cited as one of the most blighted neighborhoods in the state and see the changes,” Bayles said. “We’re at the place where change is literally happening.”
“We’re here to fix the blight and pass the knowledge so the blight does not happen the same way it has in other neighborhoods,” he said. “We want to make sure that what we do in this community is something that is both viewed and received by the residents as a … collective effort.”
The TDC has been in existence for 35 years, maintaining, revitalizing, and developing the area. One of the top priorities, Bayles said, is to replace, preserve, and rehabilitate the housing stock in North Titusville.
“We’re going to do that through … rehabbing homes that are currently existing and offering critical repairs for current homeowners … [through] a partnership with the city and other equity partners like [Navigate Affordable Housing Partners Inc.],” said Bayles. “We’re looking to offer funds to people who qualify to actually work on their particular homes.”
Bayles, who attends Living Church Ministries on Omega Street in Titusville, said he’s in the community at least six days out of the week and has worked with the TDC for the past 11 years. His team is looking at a “holistic revitalization.”
“It’s not just building with sticks and bricks,” he said. “It’s making sure we are actually dealing with people.”
For example, the TDC plans to be more specific with its Greek Street Initiative, which has been in the planning process for the last two years. Titusville’s Greek Streets are a series of streets named with letters of the Greek alphabet — Kappa, Iota, Theta, and Omega — by the community’s founder.
The Greek Streets Initiative is a 50-house development of workforce housing priced between $140,000 and $200,000 on each Greek street and is part of the Titusville Community Framework Plan, an effort supported by funding from the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham (RPCGB) and the Birmingham Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Building Communities Program that involves mixed-income housing, said TDC Director of Housing Development Archibald Hill.
The Framework Plan was presented first as an existing condition report and then developed and adopted by the community to be conducted in three phases: community assessment, public involvement, and plan development and action; the final draft was presented to the Birmingham Planning Commission in 2015.
“This is not something the TDC is just jumping into and doing,” Hill said. “This is something we are assisting with.”
The TDC isn’t the only entity investing in the Titusville renaissance. Other nonprofits and businesses plan to participate, as well. Here are some of their proposed plans.
Navigate Affordable Housing Partners
Navigate Affordable Housing Partners Inc. is a Birmingham-based nonprofit that has taken an interest in Titusville for several reasons. The location, for starters, said Navigate CEO Lisa McCarroll.
“Sixth Avenue is a significant portion of the … [Birmingham Bus Rapid Transit Project (BRT Project)] they are starting to build. It’s also historic, … [it has] proximity to downtown Birmingham, and … it’s got defined boundaries,” she said. “Many of the other communities in Birmingham sprawl. … We wanted something we could get our hands around, … [something through which] whatever efforts we took could be seen by the community. … We wanted something that was meaningful.”
Navigate—a nonprofit group that focuses on ensuring safe, quality, affordable housing by focusing on the unique needs of specific neighborhood—plans to start small, working with the Center Court apartments on Fifth Avenue Southwest, behind the Titusville Library. The group said, “We’re going to involve the community here, [asking them], ‘What type of housing?’” said McCarroll.
“Some folks may say senior housing, but what does that … look like? They may say single-family, but that could be duplexes, that could be town houses. We’re trying to figure out what [all of that] means [to and for the residents],” she said.
Navigate Planning and Development Coordinator Matthew Churnock added that the first step is to demolish existing units and then leave the site as an open canvas for the community or leave one of the buildings on the property for a community mural project.
“We’re probably at least a month out from breaking ground on a new project, so we don’t want to leave it as a vacant site for the next year,” said Churnock. “The intent is to work with the community to reprogram that site into an amenity while we wait on redevelopment plans.”
He added that Navigate is planning an event to kick off the mural campaign on August 15, if it can get permits in time. The group is working with the community to figure out the highest quality and best use for properties, “whether it’s family or senior housing, town houses, or single-family,” he said.
Navigate also recently closed on the Marc Steel Company Building on Sixth Street next to DC BLOX, where the group would like to redevelop a few single-family homes.
“The other part of redeveloping homes and helping revitalize a community [involves good schools]. People move where there are good schools,” said McCarroll. “We’ve been partnering … with Washington [k-8] School [on improvements]; that has included everything from helping paint during the summer to participating in some of their programs to reading to the children.”
McCarroll said Navigate wants to do its part for Titusville, which she calls a “jewel.”
“When you place on top of that the folks that live in this community, the people who care about it and want to see it stabilize and do better [things will move forward],” she said. “With all the efforts that are happening, … as long as we’re all pulling together—and from my standpoint, we are—as long as we’re moving in the same direction, it’s a win-win not only for this community but for South Titusville and Birmingham in general.”
Davenport and Harris Funeral Home
All three Davenport and Harris Funeral Home buildings across from Elmwood Cemetery on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive are being renovated.
“This will help transform the Titusville community from what is considered a low-income community to a historic designation,” said Titusville resident and Davenport and Harris President Marion Sterling. “It’s going to also change the landscape of how we look as a community. The visual landscape will change.”
Sterling, 64, was born and raised in South Titusville, where he still lives. He recalls when Avenue F became Sixth Avenue.
“That is what I remember as being a spark of change,” he said. “There’s been a lot of change in the community. When I was growing up, the yards were pristine, the homes were very well kept, there was not much blight. … Now, I think the revitalization is not only with businesses but also within the community. I think there’s a different level of respect in movement now. … I think it’s returning to what it was like when I was a child.”
Looking at the funeral home from Elmwood Cemetery, Davenport and Harris will have three buildings. The first will support funeral and/or cremation services. The second will be utilized as a community life center for events, such as repasts, the gathering of family and friends after a funeral, and community meetings; it also will have a nonprofit to support seminars and events for youth and seniors. The third building will be used as a second chapel.
In addition to helping with the renewal in Titusville, Sterling said the changes will offer options for families.
“Today, most families are restricted to communicating with churches for locations, but some family members are not members of a church, so they often have to look for a repast location,” he said.
“Outside of churches, there are few community life centers where families can hold events. … There also are very few facilities in the city of Titusville or across Birmingham where groups can host seminars for our youth; they usually have to contract with large facilities like the Boutwell [Auditorium]. … Now, [our facility] will be available,” Sterling said.
“We’re hoping our renovation will spark other businesses to come into the area.”
To read more stories about the redevelopment in Titusville, click one of the links below