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Smithfield Library to Relocate as City Awaits Word on $50 Million Grant

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Birmingham City Council rezoned eight sites, including the Smithfield Library, across three neighborhoods to enable the creation of about 900 units of housing as part of larger mixed-use development.
By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times

A plan to rezone property in Smithfield that includes relocating the community’s library drew opposition from some residents at Tuesday’s Birmingham City Council meeting.

The City Council rezoned eight sites across the Graymont, Smithfield and College Hills neighborhoods to enable the creation of about 900 units of housing as part of larger mixed-use development.

The rezoning encompasses sites such as surplus property on the site of A.H. Parker High School and the former Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity headquarters.

However, moving the Smithfield Library from its current location on Center Street on the south side of Eighth Avenue West to a nearby location on the opposite side of Eighth and Center streets where it would be on the ground floor of a three-story, mixed-use housing complex on the street corner raised concerns for some residents.

“Don’t cheat your neighbor by moving the ancient boundary markers set up by previous generations,” read Willine Body, president of the Graymont Neighborhood Association.

The library has been a historic property, identified with the Black community in Birmingham, and to relocate it to the new mixed-use property would rob it of that identity, Body said.

Body said that she doesn’t have objections to the rest of the project but that she would like to see the consider leaving the library in the same spot and perhaps growing the library where it is, pointing to recent city acquisition of nearby properties.

Betty Miles, former secretary for the Graymont Neighborhood Association, said it would be a “grave injustice” to lose the library.

“We all love it. I love it. At least it’s someplace I can go at my age… We don’t have anything. The only thing we have is that library in our area, and I would appreciate it if you not vote for this,” Miles said.

Cory Stallworth, senior deputy director of Community Development for the city, said the Smithfield Library is meant to be the “crown jewel” of the city’s transformation plan.

The plan includes housing the library inside a “social innovation center,” which will also include a workforce development center, Stallworth said. Additionally, the library will have its floorspace approximately doubled, up to 2,000 square feet.

And, the new space will be “high-tech” and include exhibits featuring artifacts from Smithfield’s history. The new location for the library will also be adjacent to a proposed community space, Stallworth said.

The rezoning is intended to support the city’s bid for a Choice Neighborhood Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The city has been announced as a finalist for the $50 million grant, which would be used to redevelop much of the area surrounding Legion Field.

The city’s plan for the grant is to construct up to 1,000 new housing units alongside new commercial and community spaces. The former JCCEO headquarters, for example, would be converted into approximately 100 senior housing units, while the former Hill Elementary School site would be redeveloped into approximately 75 multi-family residential units.

The Smithfield Court Housing Community, meanwhile, would be redeveloped into 400 multi-family residential units, with ground-floor commercial spaces as well as open areas and recreational amenities.

HUD is expected to announce Choice Neighborhood grant recipients within the next two months.