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Residents reflect on former Ramsay McCormack building in Ensley; look ahead

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Aldrich Callins, with grandson Cohen Palmer, grew up in Ensley among nine children in his household. They lived four blocks from what was then Western Olin High School and now Jackson-Olin High. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr., For The Birmingham Times)

Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

For The Birmingham Times

George McCall remembers when the Ramsay McCormack Building in downtown Ensley was teaming with activity and on Saturday was among those reminiscing and reflecting as the community also looked forward during Ensley Rising Day.

Ensley District Developers, LLC hosted the event as part townhall meeting and part festival with food trucks, face painting and a costumed Black Panther character.

The street affair was at the corner of Avenue E and 19th Street Ensley near the fenced-in rubble that remains from the former Ramsay McCormack Building.

Not long ago, the event would have been in the shadow of the building which was torn down in April 2021 to make way for a five-story, 30,000 square-foot structure developers hope will usher in an era of prosperity in Ensley.

Saturday’s event gave residents an opportunity to recall the impact of the place often affectionately known as the “10-story building.”

“They had mostly doctors and lawyers and dentists in this building right here, all the way up to the 10th floor,” said McCall, the 78-year-old president of the Ensley Neighborhood Association and Ensley Community.

Speaking to dozens who came out on a hot and humid Saturday, McCall noted the “Hope” sign on a building just south of the demolition site, a sign that reflected the sentiments of many as they consider what was and what they hope will be.

“We don’t know what the next building is going to be named but . . . It’s going to be a spark that’s going to bring everybody to this area. That’s what we need and we’ve been searching for it for years.”

Irvin Henderson, the lead developer with Ensley District Developers, LLC., said the aim of the development is to bring people back to the once thriving neighborhood and its central business district. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr., For The Birmingham Times)

Irvin Henderson, the lead developer with Ensley District Developers, LLC., said the aim of the development is to bring people back to the once thriving neighborhood and its central business district.

“Will it ever be 45,000 people? Hard to say,” Henderson said. “But if we had 20,000, 25,000 people making Ensley a home, that would be a slam dunk.”

Henderson said he sought input from area residents for the redevelopment plan for the area that “can not only be close to what it was like, but it can be better,” he said. “You’re talking 10, 15 years of redevelopment. Not overnight but over time, we can have more businesses, more thriving locations, more different kinds of housing and more recreation green spaces and public art than there was before.”

The new structure will also be the tallest building in Ensley, like the original.

The Ensley District Developers will guide the reconstruction of the building with a focus on creating a multipurpose use building including entertainment and office space.

Two tenants have already publicly committed to leasing space in the completed project. Innovation Depot will bring its extensive and impressive track record of accelerating the growth and development of tech firms and Birmingham Promise, Inc. will open its headquarters in the building.

Aldrich Callins remembered growing up in Ensley among nine children in his household. They lived four blocks from what was then Western Olin High School and now Jackson-Olin High.

The real estate business he’s owned the past 40-plus years is a block away from the centerpiece of the planned Ensley redevelopment.

“When we were coming up, it was not necessary to leave Ensley for anything,” he said. “Any kind of project that you wanted, it was here . . . I remember when the steel mills shut down and I can remember the blight that was out here.

“It’s a positive change to see something constructive getting ready to happen,” he continued. “I think once you start seeing positive change, that becomes a catalyst for a lot of other positive things that certainly can and will happen.”

Updated at 12:28 p.m. on 6/15/2021 to correct the number of stories in the building.