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Redevelopment underway at historic Ramsay-McCormack Building in Ensley

By Barnett Wright
The Birmingham Times 

The redevelopment of the historic Ramsay-McCormack Building in the Ensley Business District began Thursday with demolition underway of the original 10-story edifice.

Standing at the foot of the building with the sun shining brightly, city officials and business leaders announced that the demolished structure will be replaced with a new office tower that will mirror the historic one, originally completed in 1929 and vacant since 1986.

“For decades, the Ramsay-McCormack Building symbolized Ensley’s thriving business district. Sadly, in more recent years, it has only signified blight,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin. “That’s why I’m so excited about this project – the Ramsay-McCormack Building site will very soon symbolize revitalization in this cherished neighborhood. We will focus investment not in a building alone, but through a comprehensive plan in the community.”

As construction workers dismantled historic elements of the building, leaders said during a morning press conference that materials from the building will be taken over the next 75 days for use in a new five-story, 30,000 square foot structure that will reflect the Ramsay-McCormack’s historic architecture style. Like the original, the new construction will be the tallest building in Ensley.

Two tenants – Innovation Depot and Birmingham Promise Inc. — have already publicly committed to leasing space in the completed project.  Even though the new building will be five stories tall, each floor will be much larger, making it only 18 feet shorter than the old building. The parapet at the rooftop will incorporate four stars, one at each corner, imitating the original, said Irvin Henderson, a principal of Ensley District Developers (EDD).

“The redevelopment of the Ramsay-McCormack site will be a beacon for the Ensley neighborhood, much like its predecessor building. This project coupled with the Woodfin administration’s additional revitalization strategy will support new and exciting opportunities,” Henderson said. “These actions will support new and existing businesses. The enthusiasm and consumer interest will bring customers to the businesses and increase the traffic of the area, which will support a healthy climate for entrepreneurism and encourage positive investment.  This is the formula for revitalization.”

City Councilor John Hilliard, who represents the Ensley district, said the building is an icon and “for years it has sat dormant, looming over the community as a relic of days gone by . . . I am so excited to see this major economic development happening in the Ensley community. This project will serve as an anchor for the continued growth and resurgence of one of Birmingham’s most historic communities, one that helped make Birmingham a major industrial hub.”

“We made the Ensley business community a priority,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin. “That’s because of thirty-plus years of disinvestment.”

The building, located on the corner of Avenue E and 19th Street Ensley, is named after investment partners Erskine Ramsay and Carr McCormack of the Ramsay-McCormack Development Co.

The building housed the Bank of Ensley on the ground floor, as well as the developer’s offices and local offices for U.S. Steel for several years. Despite a renovation in 1970, the closure of U.S. Steel’s Ensley Works left much of the tower vacant and the building’s doors were closed in 1979.

The city has owned the building since 1983 when U.S. Steel sold the building to the city for $1 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, but has been empty since 1986.

In February 2019, the city called for proposals for the redevelopment of the building and properties owned by the city in Ensley’s historic business district  

“There are a lot of people who didn’t believe we could make this happen,” said Hilliard. “It’s important to bring back hope.”

On Thursday, the city also announced a city-run façade improvement pilot program that targets nine “priority redevelopment areas” in the city, including the Ensley Commercial Business District.

The others are: 

  • Fourth Avenue Business District
  • North Birmingham Commercial District
  • Eighth Avenue Business District
  • Lomb-Tuscaloosa Avenue Commercial District
  • Downtown West Commercial District
  • Portions of the Downtown Northwest Commercial District
  • Portions of Woodlawn Commercial District
  • Portions of East Lake Commercial District

The program will give property owners financial incentives — $20 per square foot based on total project cost, with a maximum of $50,000 per building — to improve their building’s façades.