The national trend of migrating inward to urban areas is spreading like wildfire. Millennials are leading the charge with their attraction to culturally diverse, pedestrian-friendly regions over wide-open spaces. Lofts, apartments above retail, and converted homes are increasingly abundant in city centers- no surprise as the market has always obsessed over has always focused on “location, location, location.”
Urban communities are focused on supporting local businesses, which spawns residential growth by entrepreneurs, investors, and consumers. Community activities such as farmers’ markets and arts festivals and the cultivation of local businesses like coffee shops and craft breweries create that coveted neighborhood feeling. Urban neighborhoods are more physically active and environmentally conscious, with higher recycling rates and convenient access to parks, resulting in fewer auto emissions and greener living. Birmingham is definitely experiencing it’s own urban boom, and all of us at Shannon Waltchack are embracing the movement.
Downtown…where all the lights are bright
Downtown dwelling in Birmingham is picking up speed. Every corner seems to be dripping with condos, apartments, or lofts. As businesses continually move closer to the city center, we wanted to take a look at what garnered all of the hype. Just 20 years ago recent graduates and seasoned professionals wouldn’t dream of creating a home in the metro area- but now the city of Birmingham is on the brink of culture, creativity, and economic improvement- and it’s all happening downtown.
The conversion of the City Federal Building into condos in 2005 was a stepping-stone for the 2nd Avenue North transformation as the major entertainment hub, also pushing the loft district forward and attracting additional retailers to the surrounding areas. The recent announcement that Publix is building a downtown grocery store on 3rd Avenue South has convinced many critics that the Magic City is turning a corner. The new Publix has been called a “milestone” and a “tipping point” in the revitalization plans for the city. According to the Birmingham Business Journal, downtown residency is up 36% since 2000, and multifamily developments are expected to flourish.
SW employees dig downtown Bham
Shannon Waltchack moved its offices to 120 18th Street South in 2011 in an effort to join the movement in improving the area and returning it to its former glory. Principal Derek Waltchack converted the old Nabisco factory into Railroad Square— one of the city’s most unique workspaces. “We wanted to be a part of the momentum that Railroad Park created,” Waltchack said.
Many Shannon Waltchack employees live in and around downtown, drastically reducing their weekday commutes. SW downtown dwellers love the convenience of having the city at their fingertips. Without moving their cars they have access to shops and restaurants, decreasing air pollution and making commuter travel safer with fewer cars on the road.
“I decided to move downtown so I could live in close proximity to my office and the Birmingham nightlife/social scene,” said Broker David Spencer. Similarly, Broker Ali Wilburn recommends downtown living because of the many different options to enjoy her free time. “Downtown is the host of the best restaurants, bars, and venues in town. Living downtown also means close proximity to great parks, sidewalks to walk literally anywhere, and opportunities to meet a wide variety of people,“ Wilburn said. The demographics in the metro area are much richer in diversity than any other area, which allows for a vibrant social environment.
Downtown living can also cushion your bank account. Broker and downtown loft resident Robert Crook often walks to work, eliminating fuel expenses. “I have lower power bills due to less space and well-insulated concrete/brick walls. He also saves money because his budget does not call for any yard maintenance. Crook also mentioned that he enjoys the unique characteristics of his loft, and let’s not forget the view. “I have had a house with a yard before and everybody has that. My view is the city skyline not someone else’s house. I like the aesthetics of a loft – concrete floors, concrete columns, high ceilings, etc.,” Crook said.
The options are endless
Birmingham natives often live in multiple communities before finding their home base. After living in many different areas in Birmingham— Cahaba Heights, Brook Highland, etc.– Broker Scott Hinkle landed downtown in 1998 and fell in love with the energy. “I first moved down here to live in a condo while my house was being built, and I loved the [Redmont] neighborhood because of the diversity and ‘Old Birmingham’ feel,” Hinkle said. “I’ve lived here ever since, and I love it.”
Onward and upward
Residents are fighting to refocus the city’s reputation away from its dark history. A city once much larger than Nashville and Charlotte, Birmingham is struggling to recreate its image as a culturally rich industry town full of life and pride. This might explain why young professionals don’t hesitate moving into a loft on 1st Avenue North versus a 30 year resident who has seen the good, the bad and the ugly. David Sher, founder of The Comeback Town, understands why the movement has typically centered around the below-40 crowd. “If you go back 20 years, nobody was living downtown; it was a much different environment. There were a few pioneers who gave it a try, and after a while the idea gained some momentum.” Recently, the success of Railroad Park, the upcoming Rotary Trail, the arrival of Publix, etc., has moved the residential market forward at full force. “The bottom line is that young people want to live in urban, walkable areas. My generation would have never considered that,” Sher said.
The future of the Magic City is bright and full of possibility.