Sherlock, Smith & Adams is Rebranded and Renamed SS&A Design Collective

Montgomery-based Sherlock, Smith & Adams was established in 1946 and has flourished for nearly a century as an architecture and engineering firm offering a range of services, and working on national and international projects in diverse industries.

When ready for a change that would bolster its long-term success, the company sought the services of Copperwing, a creative consultancy with concentration in design, data and digital communications that’s also based in Montgomery. Copperwing stepped in to rebrand the well-established company, and in the process changing the name to SS&A Design Collective.

SS&A participated in Copperwing’s Brandstorming process to build a foundation for its brand beginning with brand story and language, says Copperwing Managing Partner and Creative Director Angela Stiff. The company’s target audiences were researched and carefully considered. As with most rebranding projects, the goal was to create more clarity, relevance and impact within the client’s market.

“The Power of AND” was a concept born out of the Brandstorming process and is expressed on the firm’s newly designed website:  

As the word “and” implies, SS&A puts something more into every project—something more authentic, comprehensive, and consultative. More deliberate. More adaptive. Clients around the world have relied on our progressive, independent vision to create the structures that reflect their passion for excellence. And as we continue to grow, our expertise and knowledge keep transforming the landscape around us in fresh, exciting, and responsible ways.

“We defined core attributes that led to a logo identity in bold even-stroke lettering with ampersand stands above the letters in gold, symbolizing the great importance placed on the power of “and,” Stiff explains.

“The striking ampersand represents the collaborative relationships shared among the SS&A team, their clients, partners, and the communities they help to shape. The ampersand is a symbol of adding value. We used it to express different niche specialties and capabilities of the firm in some applications of the mark by filling the ampersand with texture and pattern.”

Coming up with a new company name was also an integral part of the rebranding process. Stiff says SS&A had already selected the abbreviated version of their name and through Copperwing’s consultation process decided on “Design Collective” as their descriptor. This name, she points out, was a better representation of how the employees work together to find creative solutions for their clients.

It was clear to Copperwing during the Brandstorming process that relationships are important to this organization, which no doubt is key to its longevity.

“Whether through internal teams, strategic partnerships or working together with clients, SS&A values their alliances and credit them with their success,” Stiff continues. “The fact that an ampersand unifies their very name, it was a natural conclusion to find power in bringing resources together — therefore, power of AND. It was truly an authentic expression of how they naturally work. Being able to recognize and give voice to clients doing great things is what makes our job fulfilling.”

A brochure is another integral part of the branding process. SS&A’s new brochure puts the company literally in the hands of its current and potential clients.

SS&A’s new website is an integral part of its overall rebranding. It’s well designed and functional, easy to use with dynamic content, readily accessible contact and location, and optimized for mobile, search and social web.

Ampersands are used to create a dramatic visual effect for this screenshot – an image of the data displayed on the screen of a computer or mobile device.

The new SS& A logo identifies the company in a bold, clear and graphically pleasing manner. It makes a strong first impression while representing the essence of the company.


Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of Copperwing

KMS New Headquarters in Repurposed Warehouse

Another Birmingham industrial building is transformed into a functional space that’s part of the history of the city, offering an exciting juxtaposition of old and new.  Williams Blackstock Architects turned a warehouse in Birmingham’s Lakeview District into the new offices for KMS (Kemp Management Solutions), a program management and consulting firm.  

“The design for this family-owned business created a professional home away,” explains Principal Stephen Allen of Williams Blackstock Architects. “The setting combines professionalism and seriousness with that of a relaxed, comfortable family atmosphere for employees to gather, meet with clients and provide focused work zones in several environments away from their desk.”

The vision for this 12,000-square-foot corporate headquarters, Allen says, was to maintain the spirit and bones of this old masonry warehouse through a series of modern adaptations to some original features, including the mezzanine and the building’s numerous skylights. The existing mezzanine was removed in certain areas to frame a large work zone on one side and the “corporate family room” on the other that serves as one of the building’s most versatile spaces.

Visibility is achieved throughout this space with full glass private offices located on the interior of the building beneath the mezzanine. This allows full advantage of natural light coming in through new enlarged perimeter windows and skylights, Allen notes.

A “restrained finish palette with punches of contrast” was used, he continues, to exude professionalism and draw attention to the large volume of space by highlighting the exposed structure, building systems and wood elements found in the vertical circulation.

The mezzanine proved to be a challenge when repurposing the warehouse for its new use. The mezzanine spanned most of the building footprint and was supported from above. Allen says this presented a challenge due to the decreased head height, but at the same time creates an opportunity to use portions of the mezzanine level for future office space, as well as using it as a way to visually separate the open office from the living room area.

Portions of the existing mezzanine were removed, which allowed the space to be opened to the roof structure and bring in the natural light from the skylights above for the open office and living room, while tucking the enclosed offices and support space underneath the mezzanine.

Despite their origins from a bygone era, warehouses such as this one adapt surprisingly well to today’s new economy.   

“The existing materials and character of these buildings provide a great environment for a variety of uses, including office space with this project,” Allen observes. “Clients are drawn to the texture and solidity of the steel windows, exposed structure and masonry, all of which provides a great opportunity to contrast with newer, modern insertions in the space necessary to accommodate new functions. The openness of these existing spaces typically lend themselves to more of an open office approach with fewer enclosed offices, which also promotes flexibility with the layout over time.”

This industrial building in Birmingham’s Lakeview District was transformed by Williams Blackstock Architects into functional and pleasing new offices for KMS (Kemp Management Solutions), a program management and consulting firm. 

A pleasing feature of the KMS Building is the number of skylights. One illuminates this inviting sitting area that is ideal for a variety of uses – from brainstorming to socializing.  Just one of several areas for employees to gather or meet with clients away from their desks.

The design for this family-owned business created a professional home away, notes Principal Stephen Allen of Williams Blackstock Architects. This relaxed, comfortable atmosphere is evident in the break area.

In addition to skylights, the building’s large windows flood areas with abundant light as seen in this conference room. The vision for this 12,000-square-foot corporate headquarters was to maintain the spirit and bones of this old masonry warehouse while adapting it for today’s business needs.

Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of Chris Luker

Athens Gets New Recreation Center

The city of Athens had three objectives for a recreation center: have a distinct civic identity, promote a sense of community and operate as a tax revenue-generating regional destination. The new $14 million Athens Recreation Center was designed by Goodwyn Mills Cawood (GMC) with those goals in mind.

The final outcome? A building that any municipality would be proud to have.

A wide range of amenities are offered in the 71,800-square-foot, two-story building. These include a state-of-the-art competition gym for hosting regional basketball tournaments to promote tourism and generate revenue. Local residents can participate in volleyball, racquetball, basketball, pickleball and other sports. On the second floor is an indoor track that links the atrium to the competition gym.

The running track provides plenty of visual interest. It starts at the front of the atrium, runs over the two basketball courts in the competition gym, around the back of the atrium, by interior windows looking down into the racquetball courts, passes by one of the group fitness rooms, and provides an axial view to the main fitness room as it arrives back at the starting point.

Several fitness rooms contain the latest exercise equipment and there is a concession stand for purchasing drinks and snacks. In addition, a large community room, meeting spaces, classrooms and staff offices. Multi-purpose recreational fields for soccer, flag football and other activities surround the center. The eight-acre property also includes a playground, tennis courts, beach volleyball courts and an outdoor trail system.

The new recreation center is located in the existing sports complex that includes baseball/softball fields, soccer fields, swimming pool, playground and disc golf course. In addition to the new building, the project includes tennis courts, a multi-purpose artificial turf field and a sand volleyball court.

The context for the project is a small, friendly town experiencing rapid growth with industries moving to the area to support the high-tech sector of the Huntsville region, notes project architect Richard Simonton. He and his team designed the facility to be a hub that fosters existing community relationships, attracts new residents and provides an exciting destination for visiting sports teams.

“The main design challenge was to organize the recreational spaces within the building so that the experience of community among groups using the building was enhanced rather than just providing a place for people to participate in an exercise class or play basketball,” Simonton explains. “This was accomplished by creating strong visual and physical connections between spaces and providing social areas within the building’s circulation space.”

The building is organized around the interaction of the indoor track on level two with the double-story Grand Hall that bisects the building from north to south. Walking or running on the track provides multiple spatial experiences as well as views to most of the recreational complex. The design allows for multiple opportunities for encountering friends and neighbors – an aspect that reinforces the sense of a close-knit community.

Athens Parks and Recreation Director Bert Bradford reports that the center is proving to be an even greater success than expected. People line up to get in when the center opens at 5 a.m. and are playing volleyball on the sand courts late into the night. And the community room has been used for everything from a voting site to wedding receptions and dulcimer lessons.

The covered entry is a contemporary interpretation of a neoclassical portico. Materials include exposed steel, composite metal panels, curtainwall, brick and EIFS.

View from level one under the track looking south. Glass walls looking into racquetball court can be seen on left.  Contrary to its name, the Grand Hall is designed to be an informal space.

View from the primary southwest approach. The backlit polycarbonate volume with large scale signage provides visibility and identity.  The entrance portico takes visitors into the Grand Hall, and the orange accent wall provides a visual termination from entry approach and organizes the interior spaces.

The competition gym is designed to accommodate basketball tournaments that bring additional hotel and restaurant tax revenue to the city.

Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of Edward Badham

Birmingham’s Red Cross Building to Become Loft Apartments

Old buildings are like people, they adapt to change and weather the bad times with the good. Among downtown Birmingham’s large inventory of older buildings is one that’s been repurposed several times over its 100-year history and sat vacant for two decades before its latest transformation.

Located on Third Avenue North, the original one-story building was constructed in 1923 as the city’s Municipal Market and additional floors were added over the years. The now five-story building has housed the American Red Cross and the Social Security Administration, and was re-clad with limestone panels to create a more modern, sleeker appearance.

In 2004, Operation New Birmingham put the 125,000 square-foot building on their 12 Most Wanted list of downtown buildings in need of renovation. Birmingham-based Hendon + Huckestein Architects is creating a plan to convert long neglected building into a 192-unit apartment complex called Market Lofts on Third.

The building today is identified as being in the International architectural style. Two floors were added to the building in 1957 for the Social Security Administration in this style that was typical at that time with regular pattern of windows and little building ornamentation, observes Erik Hendon, principal of Hendon + Huckestein Architects. 

“We will maintain the exterior image but will add new windows on the west façade for units as well as cutting a five-story light-well in the middle of the building for natural lighting,” he explains.

The building lends itself well to loft conversion. The floor-to-floor heights are more generous than a “typical” multi-family development allowing taller ceilings, Hendon notes.  He says the historic tax credits will not allow exposed structure, but the floor plate volume allows narrower “shotgun” lofts with multiple studio configuration available to tenants.

The $30 million project is expected to take 14 months, two months for demolition and abatement and another 12 months for the rehabilitation. The apartments are “workforce” and “naturally occurring affordable housing,” meaning rents affordable to those making 60 percent of the mean average. A few larger two-bedroom units will have market-rate rents. Workforce housing is a term that is increasingly used by planners, government and organizations concerned with housing policy or advocacy.

David Schneider of Schneider Historic Preservation in Anniston is a consultant on the project, who notes that the building will be rehabilitated in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation for a compatible use as apartments.

“Having been extensively remodeled in 1975 and having sat vacant since 1998, the building has suffered a loss of considerable historic fabric and moisture-related deterioration,” Schneider says. “The project will return the building to productive use and will stop further deterioration. The building’s essential character-defining historic fabric and features will typically be retained and repaired as needed to match existing adjacent and/or documented historic conditions in design, materials and workmanship.”

The original building as looked in the 1920s when it was built as the city’s Municipal Market and additional floors were added over the years.

The exterior of the building as it looks today after it was renovated in the mid-20th century in what was then the popular International style. The building, originally a one-story city-owned market with vendor stalls, has undergone major renovation over the decades.
The first-floor plan for the five-story building. The floor-to-floor heights are more generous than a “typical” multi-family development allowing taller ceiling.

Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of Image Courtesy of Hendon + Huckestein Architects and Birmingham Public Library Archives online

Construction Begins on Parkside at Dolly Ridge

Having essential services grouped together is a hallmark of a livable community. An area in Cahaba Heights will soon have nearly everything a neighborhood needs at one’s fingertips – a school, medical care, restaurant, retail/office space and recreation.

Parkside at Dolly Ridge is a 14,935-square-foot project located on Dolly Ridge Road adjacent to Cahaba Heights Elementary and the newly constructed Cahaba Heights Athletic Fields, located a few blocks east of Hwy 280. Grandview Medical Group Primary Care is the primary tenant that will be the first to occupy space in the new mixed-used building.

Construction begins this month and the primary care center is set to open May 1, 2022. Parkside at Dolly Ridge is also connected to new Vestavia Hills ballparks, dog parks, community center and play areas, currently under construction.

The two-level building is designed to be in keeping with the surrounding commercial architecture, says Derek Needham and Bill Segrest, the Williams Blackstock Architects on the project. Needham and Segrest point out that the end of the building responds to the surrounding Cahaba Heights rejuvenation by slightly turning to orient to Dolly Ridge Road. The wide stairs and patio provide a pedestrian connection at the planned café.

Thom Hickman, owner of Dolly Ridge Development, purchased the site in 2019. Hickman is vice president of Harbert Realty Services and has been working in partnership with Harbert Realty on the development and leasing of Parkside at Dolly Ridge, which he describes as a “a well-designed project that complements the city’s investments.”

Hickman says his company is in discussion with community-oriented prospects for several businesses that would occupy the lower level. These include a coffee shop/café, along with fitness, spa and wellness. Office tenants will occupy the remaining space on the upper level.  Available office space ranges from 1,228 to 6,668 square feet.

Construction begins on Parkside at Dolly Ridge, a two-level mixed-used building adjacent to Cahaba Heights Elementary. A primary care medical center is the lead tenant.

Parkside at Dolly Ridge is designed to harmonize with other commercial architecture in the area. Construction begins in July and the primary care center is set to open May 1, 2022.
A number of potential businesses could occupy the first floor of Parkside at Dolly Ridge. These include a coffee shop/café, along with fitness, spa and wellness.

Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of Williams Blackstock Architects and Harbert Realty Services

New Development in Orange Beach Touts Public-Private Partnership for Design and Community Space

Orange Beach is set to become an even nicer spot to relax and soak up the sun. Thanks to a project that provides public access to additional beachfront and several new amenities to enjoy.

In a public-private partnership, the city of Orange Beach purchased four acres of beachfront property along with Orange Beach Land Company (OBLC) owned by John McInnis and Cameron Price who also own the popular Flora-Bama Lounge on the Orange Beach and Perdido Key, Florida line.

The entire 8.7-acre site with 800 feet of beachfront is across from Publix Shoppes at Palm Pointe. As part of the agreement, OBLC purchased an adjacent 400 feet of beachfront property for its CoastAL restaurant development. The project consists of three single-level buildings: a 20,000-square-foot restaurant, a 5,000-square-foot retail building and a 3,000-square-foot outdoor bar. All surround a 15,000-square-foot Gulf-facing promenade.

These three distinct buildings frame and create synergy around an intimate central greenspace, explains William Brantley, a partner at SMP Architecture, who, along with fellow SMP architect Brian Spencer created the design for Island Entertainment, a hospitality management company owned by McInnis and Price that will manage the restaurant. 

“With its broad overhangs, wrap-around covered porch, and iconic tower, the restaurant building design is rooted in coastal Alabama vernacular architecture,” Brantley explains. “Dining areas spill out onto the promenade and greenspace at the ground level.  The tower and a second level on the north façade establish a strong street presence along Perdido Beach Boulevard.”

Brantley says the retail building draws inspiration from historic southern market structures.  Merchandise counters on the north and south facades allow the space to open-up and engage the greenspace, as well as attract interest from Perdido Beach Boulevard.

The outdoor bar structure delineates the west side of the central greenspace.  The gable roof form, exposed wood trusses, and wood corner brackets are consistent with a traditional southern pavilion.  Brantley notes that west of the pavilion, palm trees lining the public walkway from the parking lot compose a pleasing “post card image” looking toward the beach.

McInnis says the goal is for every seat and space on the property to have a view of the beach and Gulf of Mexico.

In addition to the three main buildings, the project includes a landmark tower on axis with Alabama’s Coastal Connection (Highway 161) and a public restroom facility for beachgoers.   Construction begins fall 2021. City parking and outdoor venues will open spring 2022.  The restaurant is scheduled to open spring 2023.

“With its vernacular architecture and well defined, vibrant public spaces, we are confident CoastAL will deliver a memorable and authentic Orange Beach experience,” says Brantley. “Operable glass garage doors allow all the buildings to open-up, capture the cross breeze and provide a beach bar feel with breathtaking views of the Gulf of Mexico.”

The project, he adds, provides much-needed beach access, parking and restrooms for public use, and the CoastAL development will act as a catalyst for further growth and development. 

As part of the Orange Beach City Council’s aim to reduce density, the project replaces an earlier plan to construct two high-rise condominium towers on the site.

“This property was the largest piece of high-density condo land left on the Alabama Coast,” notes McInnis. “While not in the best interest of the developers financially, it was in the best interest of the community and the public.”

The city of Orange Beach and a private company have come together to develop Orange Beach’s first municipal beach. The project consists of three single-level buildings that include a restaurant, a retail building and an outdoor bar.

A 3,000-square-foot outdoor bar is part of the complex, which is designed with a southern coastal feel. The project is the result of a public-private partnership.

The CoastAL buildings will surround a 15,000-square-foot Gulf-facing public promenade and green space, along with a free parking lot. This is the first time Orange Beach residents have free parking on the Gulf.

A birds-eye look at the complex, which is flanked by two high-rise buildings.  The low-rise buildings will replace an earlier plan to construct two high-rise condominium towers on the site.

Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of SMP Architects

DesignAlabama Kicks Off Its new DesignDash program in Double Springs

DesignAlabama is continually looking for ways to improve communities statewide and enhance quality of life. DesignDash – its latest program with those objectives in mind – recently launched in the town of Double Springs, the county seat of Winston County located inside William B. Bankhead National Forest.

Though DesignDash is a one-day community design blitz, much is accomplished in that single day. A facilitator leads discussions among community members, and design professionals focus on one design and planning issue. During the second half of the day, the design professionals work alone to create ideas, renderings and other images based on their findings.

DesignDash Double Springs took place on April 15 with one objective in mind: to study a way to transform a parcel of land along AL-195 into a pocket park that could also serve as a welcome center.  

The pocket park would function as a focal point near the downtown and provide an inviting multipurpose green space that conveys the history and identity of the town. It was noted that the park could be used for a variety of community events.

A saw mill and cotton gin were originally located on the site, which is close to the location of the double springs that existed before the road was constructed. Double Springs is named for what is considered a rare phenomenon, two natural springs located side by side.

Brandon Bias, Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood community planner, led the design team composed of three Birmingham-based professionals. Bias notes that the park will serve as a reminder of the historical context of the community and provide “a point of pride for them” in downtown Double Springs.

“During the workshop, the design team also learned about the number of tourists who travel through Double Springs on their way to the Sipsey Wilderness and the Bankhead National Forest,” Bias says. “The location of the park can serve as a guidepost for them as they enter the community in hopes of drawing those tourists in to stop and visit the town, as well before entering the forest.”

Yet no amenity, no matter how appealing, is of much use if people can’t easily access it. Proposed ways to strengthen connectivity include more clearly defined walkways, barriers to separate the walkways from traffic, the use of planters and benches, along with stair access from Main Street.

The plan calls for using locally sourced materials in the development of the park such as local quarried stone for walls and buildings, field stone pavers and picnic tables made a local wood. But the first step would involve site clean-up, moving a power line and stabilizing the bluff.  

Yet as Bias points out, the town will first need to explore various funding sources in order to make the park a reality. Therefore, the first phase needs to focus on raising funds to implement the ideas that came out of DesignDash Double Springs. The proposed plan created during DesignDash can be used in the community’s fundraising efforts.

“There are other steps such as developing more refined plans and construction documents,” adds Bias, “but raising funding to implement these ideas is the first phase the town should undertake.”

Mayor Elmo Robinson, a lifelong resident of Double Springs, is pleased with the guidance DesignDash offered. “They provided us with the leadership we needed to formulate a plan and helped us organize our thoughts to achieve the goal we are all very happy with.”

Dash in and dash out, and leave communities with a workable strategy moving forward. That’s what DesignDash is all about.

Brandon Bias, Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood community planner, led the design team composed of three Birmingham-based professionals. Bias notes that the park will serve as a reminder of the historical context of the community and a source of pride in downtown Double Springs.

Though DesignDash is a one-day community design blitz, the event was created to get plenty accomplished in a single day. A facilitator leads discussions between community members and design professionals who focus on a single site-specific design and planning issue.

DesignDash Double Springs took place on April 15 with community members and design professionals looking into ways to transform a parcel of land along AL-195 into a pocket park that can also be used as a welcome center. 

Double Springs is the county seat of Winston County located inside William B. Bankhead National Forest. The town was named for what is considered a rare phenomenon, two adjacent natural springs.

Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of DesignAlabama

Urban Space Under Way in the Popular Parkside Neighborhood

A few years ago, CNN declared: “Warehouse conversions are sweeping the globe.”

This adaptive reuse strategy began in Birmingham long before that CNN report, with derelict older buildings being turned into exciting livable spaces that meet the ever-changing needs and aesthetics of the evolving city.  

One of the latest projects in Birmingham’s warehouse renaissance is the aptly named Urban Supply, a redevelopment of historic buildings in the heart of Birmingham’s popular Parkside district. Urban Supply consists of about 100,000-square-feet of commercial space adjacent to Good People Brewing Company and is being developed by Birmingham-based Orchestra Partners.

“The overall project is part of a larger vision for Urban Supply, a two-block reimagined district that takes on a personality similar to its historical use – a supply district,” explains Senior Project Manager Matt Phillips of Dix.Hite + Partners, Inc.

Dix.Hite led a team of consultants through a visioning process to help Orchestra Partners realize the design opportunities as the district shifts to a vibrant commercial district, Phillips adds. Poole & Company Architects did the original space planning for the interior spaces and collaborated with the Dix.Hite team and Kimley-Horn to develop a masterplan for the district.

Phase 1 is called The Aisle, which was originally a service alley that is being developed into the heart of the district, Phillip says.  It is a linear, pedestrian-focused spine that connects Twelfth Avenue to Regions Park designed to be a dynamic spot for food trucks and outdoor events. The Urban Supply project also includes a market center to bustle with restaurants, bars and food emporiums – all in keeping with the original function of the buildings as grocery warehouses.

In addition, Urban Supply will become the launching-off point for fitness, fitness-focused businesses and provide a gathering place for people with active lifestyles. Historic warehouses will be readapted for use as a fitness center to include retail and studio space designed around a locker room to be used by all tenants. Space designed for bicycle or running shops, a yoga studio and a traditional fitness facility. And room for a pop-up juice bar, snack areas or other health and fitness uses.

While there is no residential component to the Urban Supply project, there is a significant amount of residential construction taking place all around it, Phillip observes. “Urban Supply will become the place where people living and moving to the area will shop, dine and socialize.” 

And, as he points out, the absence of residential space is actually true to the area’s historical use as a supply district for Birmingham.

The plan is designed to encourage social distancing with broad openings to the buildings so people can spread out.  Phillips says the overarching concept encourages social distancing with much of the design focused around outdoor activities and connections.

Also involved with the Urban Supply project are Matt Shelby of Shelby Company as general contractor, traffic engineer Clark Bailey and civil engineer Clay Smith of Kimley-Horn and branding by Derick Belden of FRED Communication by Design.

Plenty of opportunities for fitness and recreation are part of the Urban Supply plan. Warehouses will be re-imagined for use as a fitness center and will include retail and studio space designed around a shared locker room. Creating the ideal spot for bicycle or running shops, yoga studio and gym.

Urban Supply is transforming historic warehouses into modern environments to accommodate a lively, inner-city lifestyle. Food and beverage alongside fitness, fashion and outdoor retailers will serve nearby residents, UAB students and downtown professionals.

Urban Supply consists of about 100,000-square-feet of commercial space in the heart of Birmingham’s popular Parkside district. The project is being developed by Birmingham-based Orchestra Partners and involves the redevelopment of historic warehouse buildings.

The Urban Supply project also includes a market center bustling with restaurants, bars and food emporiums – all in keeping with the original function of the buildings as grocery warehouses.

Article Written By Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of DIX•HITE + Partners

DesignAlabama’s DesignPlace Comes to Monroeville

Few towns can claim such strong community identity as Monroeville, where celebrated writers Truman Capote and Harper Lee grew up as friends. Set in Monroeville, Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird has brought worldwide attention to the town since its 1960 publication. In 1997, Monroeville and Monroe County were designated the “Literary Capital of Alabama.”

Unwilling to sit on its literary laurels, Monroeville recently participated in DesignPlace, a DesignAlabama initiative that provides communities assistance with design, planning and community identity. Design experts demonstrate how to enhance quality of life and community development through the design arts, and design professionals meet with citizens and city leaders who provide input.

Participants in Monroeville’s DesignPlace desire a gateway entrance at Clausell Road to clearly identify the arrival point into Clausell, the historically African-American community located west of the downtown, explains Roman Gary, vice president of CCR Architecture & Interiors who served as team facilitator.

Participants want the Union High School site used as a cultural center and to serve the entire city. Connecting Clausell Park to the potential Union High Cultural Center by clearing landscape overgrowth was suggested as a way to combine the two sites into a larger venue. Attendees also expressed interest in implementing an organized community-engagement process, Gray notes, that would involve diverse community stakeholders to address the town’s most pressing needs.

Identified as most in need of attention was commercial and residential development on both sides of West Claiborne Street and Highway 47, to establish a strong western connection of activity between downtown Monroeville and the entrance into Clausell.

Streetscape improvements, including a pedestrian and bicycle trail, were proposed along West Claiborne Street with enhanced LED lighting and signage to stimulate the western connection between downtown and Clausell. First be carried out are new signage, logo and branding graphics at the entrance of Clausell.  Commissioning Monroeville artists to provide logo murals in Clausell was suggested. 

“The first phase would be establishing the Clausell Gateway,” Gary explains. “Developing West Claiborne Street to strengthen the connection to downtown would be the next priority. Once there’s increased activity along West Claiborne, infill development of parcels with tourist housing and small businesses would be desirable. And finally, combining the Union High and Clausell Park sites into a larger cultural center.”

With its literary legacy and 40-acre historic district, there’s plenty to capitalize on in Monroeville such as increased opportunities for sculpture, painting, mixed media and the performing arts. An artist-in-residence program was proposed for the Union High Cultural Center to attract regional and national artists.

Former Monroeville Mayor Sandra Smith Alabama, who participated in DesignAlabama’s Mayor’s Summit and DesignPlace, says “tremendous progress” made to downtown Monroeville during the past few years, including renovating buildings for small business use.

“In attending the Design Place Mayor’s Summit in February of 2020, one thing that came up is the need to continually improve the downtown for livability in order to attract residents to this historic area, and to retain and attract young professionals.   We really focused on this concept during DesignPlace.”

One area that suffers from stormwater runoff could be developed into a “stormwater park” similar to Birmingham’s Railroad Park but smaller in scale. Other proposals include better defining other gateways such as South Alabama Avenue leading into the downtown and planting trees to improve this area. Developing the Vanity Fair Dye House will also enhance Monroeville’s gateways, while providing an economic boost, she adds. 

“This property, although not in the city’s Main Street district, is very accessible to the downtown and offers great options for development of an upscale motel property, rental properties and retail.  The city has entertained several options for this almost 11-acre site.”

Connectivity was also discussed during DesignPlace, connecting neighborhoods with the downtown and neighborhoods to the parks. Monroeville has added sidewalks citywide and continues to do so, Smith notes, with the goal being to connect all of these areas and make them safe for walking, running and biking.  

The annual “To Kill A Mockingbird” play was cancelled in 2020 and returns for limited performances beginning in May. In addition, a new play called “Hiram Becoming Hank” about music that influenced the young Hank Williams, is set for an April 2021 performance.

Monroeville needs more theatrical offerings for its young people and its residents, such as a community theater company, Smith says. A quilt museum and space for rotating exhibits and classes in the downtown was also discussed. 

Lee and Capote continue to be a strong draw, she adds.  The Old Monroe County Courthouse, home to the Monroe County Heritage Museum, was named a National Historic Landmark on January 13, 2021, because it’s the place most associated with Lee. Smith says there has also been discussion about a museum to dedicated to Lee and her writing. Capote and his legacy also offer “additional territory for expansion of local offerings.”   

With its literary legacy and 40-acre historic district, there’s plenty to capitalize on in Monroeville such as this proposed revisions to the historic Union High School, which would include such amenities as a community center, performance space, playground and a covered outdoor area.

Participants in Monroeville’s DesignPlace expressed their desire a gateway entrance at Clausell Road to clearly identify the arrival point into Clausell, a historically African-American community located west of the downtown. One way of doing so is with well-designed, eye-catching banners.

Proposed multi-family housing is envisioned in this inviting sketch. This is one of many ways design experts demonstrated how to enhance quality of life and community development in Monroeville.

Two participants are clearly engaged in the suggestions and concepts generated at Monroeville DesignPlace. Monroeville recently participated in this DesignAlabama initiative that provides communities assistance with design, planning and community identity.

Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of DesignAlabama

Plan Under Way for Safer Downtown Mobile Streets

If in doubt about the need for safer streets, consider this: Traffic is a far greater threat to people walking on city sidewalks than crime. This is the case in many urban areas including Mobile, where efforts are being made to improve these conditions. 

An extensive study was conducted in Mobile to combat these problems. The result is the Street Optimization Plan, created by renowned city planner and urban designer Jeff Speck and Alyson Fletcher, a principal at Boston, Massachusetts-based Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates Inc. Using Google street view, their team studied every block in Mobile’s downtown street grid in order to make the city’s commercial core safer, more livable and economically vibrant.

Among the many proposed solutions are safer pedestrian crossings and improved signals, reduced speed limits, reducing the number of lanes, proper width of lanes, avoiding one-way streets and continuous on-street parking.

“Downtown Mobile has an over-supply of lanes on its streets, too many one-way streets, and streets that are wider than necessary even when the number of lanes is appropriate,” observes Carol Hunter of the Downtown Mobile Alliance, the nonprofit organization that assisted the Street Optimization team in their study. Even before the study began, Speck had visited the city several times because his brother Scott Speck is conductor of the Mobile Symphony Orchestra.

Discouraging speeding and calming streets so they become part of a walkable environment are also part of the plan, along with converting extra lanes into on-street parking or bike lanes, or both. Also, converting one-way streets to two-way where possible. Replacing traffic lights with four-way stops except on streets with more than 10,000 vehicles a day. And providing crosswalks and signals for pedestrian safety.

“The city converted one block of our widest one-way street a couple of years ago, and the process to convert the remaining blocks is fairly far along,” explains Hunter. “The other streets mentioned in the plan are being studied and we expect the conversion to begin in the fall.” Replacing unnecessary traffic lights with four-way stops is planned along the same timeline, she adds.

The team’s recent Mobile presentations were unveiled on Zoom. Fletcher said that the kickoff and the final presentations were two of the highest attended public events in the hundreds of meetings Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates has conducted nationwide this past year.

Clearly, Mobile residents are keen on safer streets.

A key project in progress is a joint effort by the city and ALDOT to transform the “ring road” that defines the downtown area. The six-lane highway has been reduced to four lanes and bicycle lanes are being added.

Undergoing significant change is Broad Street, the city’s western edge and the highway that separates downtown from surrounding neighborhoods. This Reconnect Mobile project is rebuilding the roadway, installing sidewalks and bike lanes, adding on-street parking and changing the traffic flow through certain intersections.

Hunter says, “The goal is to create a pedestrian-friendly environment that will encourage high-quality development along what has been a generally moribund stretch of road for many years.”

Cyclists are also working on safer streets in Mobile, including local bike advocate John Blanton who says after years of high incidents of cycling injuries the city is striving to improve its cycling infrastructure and taking other measures to improve cycling and pedestrian safety.

The city has passed the USDOT’s Complete Streets, a guideline for streets designed and operated to enable safe use and support mobility for all users. Additional 3-foot passing signs are being installed, and additional cycling lanes added downtown.

“Off road cycling paths are in the works and more are planned such as the 3 Mile Creek Project and the Crepe Myrtle Trail down by the Bay,” says Blanton. “One of the most noticeable challenges that affect cycling and pedestrian safety are car speeds and distracted driving. Adding more protected bikes lanes where feasible is another need.”

A view of Congress Street, looking east between Warren and Dearborn.

An important cycling corridor, Congress Street’s redesign responds to its changing width. In its wider western stretch, two of its five driving lanes, not needed for traffic, are restriped as buffered bike lanes. Each side of the median has a 10-foot driving lane and a 6-foot bike lane separated by a 5-foot buffer.

Improved directional changes are among the many proposed solutions for safer streets in downtown Mobile.  In addition, safer pedestrian crossings, reduced speed limits, reducing the number of lanes, proper width of lanes, avoiding one-way streets and continuous on-street parking.

Improved signals are part of the plan to make downtown Mobile’s streets safer. The plan also includes ways to discourage speeding and calm streets so that they become part of a walkable environment.

Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of the Downtown Mobile Alliance


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