By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Birmingham leaders on Tuesday broke ground on a new multifamily development, the first part of a larger-mixed use project replacing the Southtown Court public housing complex in the city’s Southside neighborhood.
While the new development, “Edgehill at Southtown,” will include affordable housing, retail, hospitality, entertainment and office space, the focus on Friday was the return of the residents who were displaced during the rebuild.
“In a major development such as this, it’s easy to get caught up in the infrastructure, finances and construction, and so many other factors that come along, but throughout this process, I’ve seen that [the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District] has kept our residents in the forefront,” said Dontrelle Young-Foster, president and CEO of the HABD.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin recalled his dad’s side of the family who lived at Southtown Court and remembers walking to the corner store.
“As we consider our future, I think it’s important to know that I am not the only one in this audience that has childhood memories or family memories [here] and that part of Edgehill of Southtown is to honor those families who have lived here and who will return,” said the mayor.
In the first phase of construction, expected to be complete by December 2024, the new development will include 60 units in a mid-rise apartment building, along with a 4,000 square-foot clubhouse.
Later this year, construction of 143-unit, affordable housing building for seniors will commence.
On Friday, Young-Foster, Woodfin and officials with HABD, the city and Southside Development Company (SDC), which includes Corporate Realty, BREC Development, SPM Management and the Benoit Group, which is based in Sandy Spring, Georgia, attended the ribbon-cutting.
D.G. Pantazis Jr., chairman of the HABD board of commissioners, said he spent some of his early childhood learning at the former Early Arts education center near the public housing site.
“The brick-and-mortar buildings of Southtown were built in 1941, and over the last 80 years, have stood firm, overlooking our great city, intricately woven into its fabric, but it’s the people that lived here, that grew up here, that spent their lives here that made it a community,” Pantazis said.
“We look for this development to serve as a beacon of hope for what the future of Birmingham will be, a future that connects all of its 99 neighborhoods, that is inclusive and welcoming, and not limited by the stories of our past, but instead, emboldened by the promise of our collective tomorrow,” he said.
Pantazis also called on institutions like the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and Southern Research, both based in the city’s Southside community, to partner and help provide resources and opportunities “that our residents have often been denied.”
Carol Clarke, general manager of SDC, said Southtown Court represented a “huge improvement” in living conditions when it was first constructed, but area leaders believed that the site could be much more.
“[The HABD] recognized that this site presented a unique opportunity to allow its residents to be part of a vibrant, multi-dimensional neighborhood, one that can not only provide safe, quality housing but also nice, walkable places to eat, walkable places to work or pursue higher education and walkable places to shop, relax and play,” said Clarke, who is also Birmingham City Council representative for district 8.
Prior to the ground breaking Woodfin, recalled a recent visit he made to Avondale Elementary School, where many child residents of Southtown attended and he noticed the student body had been halved over the last two to three years. That change had been the result of re-locations of the demolition of Southtown which had occurred recently, he said.
“It is my desire, when we build back, that we make sure we bring those families back who lived here, so not only that school can get to the numbers it had, but [that we provide] better quality of life for the families that deserve to come back to this space,” Woodfin said.