By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Willie Wooten has lived in East Birmingham for 10 years. The president of the South East Lake Neighborhood association, was outside of L. Frazier Banks High School on Monday as city officials demolished the aging structure which sits on 25 acres.
This demolition is hopefully just the beginning, said Wooten.
“You’ve got to get rid of the old in order to bring in the new,” he said. “This could be the start of bringing something new to this neighborhood, something great, something to revitalize.”
The school property opened in 1957. In 1990, the school was converted into a middle school before closing in 2007. Since then, it has sat dormant. City Councilor Hunter Williams said this demolition project should have happened years ago.
“What the site behind me really represents is decades of neglect from City Hall to the eastern side of Birmingham,” Williams said, “and what today shows is that City Hall does care about the eastern side of Birmingham, City Hall does care about this neighborhood and this community, and we will partner with this neighborhood and community to make sure that they get the attention they need from downtown.”
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin pointed out that Banks at one time “was a signature component of this community…but today, it has become a symbol of blight to the residents that call this community their home.”
Revitalization efforts have ramped up across the city. The demolition of Banks was set in motion in March when the City Council approved plans to demolish the building. In January, the Century Plaza in Eastwood was demolished; in April Ensley’s 10-story Ramsay-McCormack building was knocked down.
And in March the city released plans to convert the old Ensley High School property into new $54.6 million residential area that will provide 244 units, as well as a park and commercial space in the old gymnasium.
Woodfin said the demolition of so many old buildings provides residents with new spaces and new opportunities.
“Our strategy has been to eliminate the community eyesores as we usher in new development throughout the entire city,” the mayor said. “Banks has served its community well, and it’s time we serve Roebuck Springs and South East Lake and the other surrounding areas just as well by providing new opportunity and new life for its residents.”
As for the future of the Banks property, Wooten said he wants something that will make living in the neighborhood more convenient for residents.
“I would love to see some kind of entertainment, maybe a shopping mall or a grocery store, something that we don’t have in the community,” he said. “We have to go way across town and other places to shop at these big stores. With this community growing, I think it would be a good thing if we could get a name brand, something that will bring more dollars into the community.”