By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Birmingham attorney and real estate developer Eric Guster has purchased two downtown properties to create a mixed-use development named Third Avenue Food Court.
The recently purchased parcels include two commercial buildings, one whose long-term tenant is ABC Select Spirits (commonly called ABC Store or state store) and the other which housed Credit Finance Corp. ABC Select Spirits, will remain as a long-term tenant and is now officially part of Third Ave. Food Court, Guster said.
“Opportunities to acquire great buildings in a prime location, along with parking and strong tenants like ABC Select Spirits rarely occur,” he said. “I’m forever thankful to Mr. Jim Burke, Jr. (owner of Jim Burke Automotive, located on 1300 5th Avenue North) for being so gracious in allowing my family to purchase these parcels.”
Guster added, “This is the most significant real estate transaction of my career. Everything else dwarfs in comparison regarding the scope, visibility and importance of this project.”
The purchase could allow Guster to change the face of a major Birmingham thoroughfare, he said. “We have two buildings on three parcels totaling over 1.3 acres in downtown Birmingham, with over 80 on-property parking spaces. When vehicles travel 3rd Ave N. from I-65 North heading downtown, everything on the immediate left between 11th Street and 12th Street is now owned by the Guster family.”
Guster Development is looking forward to making significant changes and upgrades at the location with plans to develop and build one or two drive-thru only restaurants, including one that serves coffee and breakfast, for the estimated 19,000 commuters who pass the site daily and 10,000 vehicles per day that take the 3rd Ave North exit, he said.
“It’s hard to fathom the densest commercial district in Jefferson County does not have decent food choices or a drive-thru coffee and/or donut shop. It’s time to change that.”
He stressed that the Third Avenue Food Court “is not a food truck park. This development will be a mix of restaurants, retail, and food truck dining choices,” he said. “This format will allow typically nomadic food vendors the opportunity to capitalize off the stability of a permanent location, mixed with other permanent businesses with high traffic and visitor counts. The goal is to create an environment for all companies and entrepreneurs to thrive long-term. There will be a maximum two or three food truck vendors.”
Last month it was announced that Guster opened a food court at 1104 Third Ave. N. and was already hosting Taquería La Catrina taco truck as well as Frozen Rooster’s food truck.
The idea behind the food court is to provide a level of stability for the food trucks so customers know where to find them on a consistent basis. Both Frozen Rooster and the taco truck are currently open for business at the Third Avenue North food court.
Guster said business owners rent the space monthly and can come and go as they please. Food trucks can leave the space to go to events and then come back to their space afterwards. The location will operate this way for the next six months to a year before development begins on a brick-and-mortar location.
“What I’m doing is really testing concepts before I build a building there, or elsewhere,” Guster said. “It gives me a chance to work with the entrepreneurs, see how they handle their business, like their proven concept, see their sales, see their consistency. And for those who want to get into a brick and mortar … I already know them and know how they work, and it’s a lot easier to risk money on someone you have a relationship with and have witnessed their work over time, and that’s one of the main goals of this.”
Another appeal at the Food Court, he said, “is on-site parking, because parking is extremely scarce downtown. I am looking forward to working with [Birmingham Mayor Randall] Woodfin and his team, the Design Review Committee, and other City officials for a smooth development process,” he said.
The project also helps revitalize the area, he added.
As it stands, the particular spot “has been largely ignored,” according to Guster. There are no drive-thru coffee options and limited food pickup options in that area, said the developer.
“I want it to be something so amazing, that everyone takes note of 3rd Ave. North, and I want to create a destination for food because there’s no food over there except the chicken place,” Guster said.
Like his $4.25 million sale of the American Red Cross building in January (farther east down 3rd Ave. North, Guster said he hopes this project will bring more energy and investment into the area.
“I hope to create some energy in the middle, like the [nearby] Fourth Avenue business district and some other places, where if everything around them is being improved, that it goes that way as well,” Guster said.
With his own investment, Guster said he seeks to bring “hope” to people in that side of downtown.
“It’s easy to focus on the central part of downtown and all the growth, but when you take on a part that is not being really redeveloped, it’s not only a challenge, but it is a calling to do right by the city,” Guster said.
His plans are so thorough that Guster no one will recognize the block in six to 12 months. “Be patient as we build the new restaurants and make other changes and improvements,” he said.