Revitilizing Camden

Small towns across Alabama are reinventing themselves and it’s happening with zeal in Camden, located in the Black Belt region and seat of Wilcox County. It indeed takes a village to revitalize a town – grants, municipalities and initiatives that organizations such as DesignAlabama offer. Yet it’s the private citizens and investors who ultimately restore a fading town.

“The rich cultural and artistic heritage of the community has made a resurgence, thanks in part to the success and recognition of the Black Belt Treasures Cultural Arts Center and the Gee’s Bend Quilt Collective,” says Sulynn Creswell, founder and executive director of Black Belt Treasures, which supports regional arts.

Since DesignAlabama held a Visioning Workshop in Camden, several improvements have occurred. The 1889 Wilcox County Jail building is slated for renovation and was purchased by private citizens, who also bought the Williams Pecan Company building on Broad Street. The completed main floor renovation includes retail space and a restaurant. The second floor is being converted into a wine bar.

Improvements are being made to other downtown properties. A local florist partnered with Wilcox Artworks, the local arts council, to provide downtown exhibition and event space. Camden’s water tower was recently painted by mural artist Eric Henn and depicts the area’s abundant fishing and hunting opportunities.

Several projects in the planning stage include installing of eight Black Belt Quilt Trail mural signs created by local students under the supervision of Black Belt Treasures Art Programs Director Kristin Law. This is Alabama’s first quilt trail, which will expand to 19 counties through a Creative Placemaking grant from South Arts.

Black Belt Treasures has also received a grant to place 10 concrete benches downtown with mosaic designs created by local residents. Alabama Department of Transportation is being consulted about a mural location along the right-of-way into downtown Camden, an area identified during the Visioning Workshop. The Downtown Revitalization Team is also exploring ways to improve landscaping.

Of all Camden’s assets, Creswell notes, “The people are the greatest reason Camden is special. While the community has its challenges, its people are resilient, creative, accepting, untiring and motivated to bring new life and energy to downtown.”

Image 1-  Formerly the home of Williams Pecan, this two-story 1920 building was purchased by Ryan Dunagan and Chris Bailey, who transformed it into a gourmet food market and restaurant.

Image 2-  The first floor of The Pecan on Broad is renovated for use as a restaurant and retail space. Plans are under way to convert the second floor into a wine bar.

Image 3 – Mural artist Eric Henn specializes in creating murals on tall structures, such as Camden’s water tower. The tower depicts bass, deer and a turkey which represents the area’s rich nature resources for hunting and fishing.

Image 4- The Black Belt Quilt Mural Trail consists of eight mural signs, including one that depicts the Old Shoe Shop Museum in Camden, operated by Betty Anderson whose father ran the shoe repair shop. Anderson’s mother and grandmother made many Gee’s Bend quilts that date from 1920 to 2011.

*Article By Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of Kristen Law of Black Belt Treasures and Wilcox Area Chamber of Commerce

Gulf State Park Eagle Cottages Included in National Geographic’s “Unique Lodges of the World”

Your vacation bucket list likely includes exotic far-off destinations. Add one more to your list, one that’s right here in Alabama and now recognized as one of the world’s most exceptional destinations.

Eagle Cottages at Gulf State Park recently received National Geographic’s “Unique Lodges of the World” designation. National Geographic selects lodgings that offer guests “intimate encounters with parts of the world not many get to know.”

Eagle Cottages is among only 66 properties worldwide that have presently been chosen, notes Director of Sustainability Robert Stoney of Valor Hospitality, the Atlanta-based company that manages the property. Like the Eagle Cottages, each lodge in the National Geographic “Unique Lodges of the World” collection is rooted in its community and dedicated to protecting surrounding habitats and local culture.

Situated on the shore of Lake Shelby, the 11 newly renovated Eagle Cottages are part of the Gulf State Park Enhancement project and provide an extraordinary ecotourism experience.

The wood-frame cottages date back to the 1970s and were renovated to reflect the Gulf Coast fish camp vernacular, but with modern-day comforts. New furniture in the three-bedroom, three-bathroom cottages is made from recycled and repurposed materials. The cottages retain their original pine floors.

Cottages also include energy-efficient LED lighting and eco-friendly cleaning products. Bathrooms are stocked with natural toiletries by BeeKind, a company that donates a portion of its profits to bee pollination research.

Among the many environmentally friendly practices on the property is the elimination of all single-use plastic water bottles and plastic straws. Guided nature tours are provided along with complimentary guest bicycles and a bike share program to reduce carbon emissions.

The Eagle Cottages are part of Gulf State Park’s mission to be an international benchmark for environmental and economic sustainability, while demonstrating best practices for outdoor recreation, education and hospitable accommodations. Eminent naturalist and Alabama native, E. O. Wilson, called this biodiverse region “America’s Amazon,” and as such the park is committed to the principles and practices of sustainable tourism.

Image 1- While the furniture in the cottages is new, the pine floors date back to when the cottages were built in the 1970s. Sustainable features are found throughout such as energy-efficient LED lighting and environmentally friendly cleaning products.

Image 2- The new furniture in the Eagle Cottages is made from recycled and repurposed materials, which is in keeping with the property’s serious commitment to sustainable practices.

Image 3 -Abundant indoor and outdoor living space is provided in the cottage design, including a screened porch that offers relaxing lakeside views. The design of the newly renovated cottages reflects the historic family fishing camps along the Gulf Coast.

Image 4- Eagle Cottages at Gulf State Park recently received National Geographic’s “Unique Lodges of the World” designation. On the shore of Lake Shelby, the 11 newly renovated Eagle Cottages are an integral part of the Gulf State Park Enhancement project.


*Article By Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of Gulf State Park

HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology (Paul Propst Center for Precision Medicine)

Precision medicine is an emerging approach to disease treatment and prevention that focuses on individual variability in genes, environment and lifestyle for each person. Unlike a one-size-fits-all approach, doctors and researchers can better predict which strategies for a particular disease will work in which groups of people.

A recent addition to Huntsville’s HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology – a leader in genomic science – is the Paul Propst Center for Precision Medicine. Designed by Fuqua & Partners Architects, the new 100,000-square-foot center in HudsonAlpha’s Cummings Research Park houses the institute’s growing education and research programs and biotech companies.

Designed to harmonize with HudsonAlpha’s flagship building, the new center includes laboratories, offices, and educational and collaborative spaces. A spacious and open lobby, glass-walled offices, a large staircase and “clean rooms” for handling biological samples are part of the new building devoted to precision medicine.

“Our primary design challenge was to pay homage to the existing vocabulary on campus while providing this facility with its own identity,” notes Senior Project Architect Tim Packard.

“The education space is the real gem of the building. It was conceived as a series of events along a path used to tell a story and inspire society to embrace the use of genomics in healthcare and agriculture. The combination of hands-on classroom modules, digital learning spaces and collaboration areas will help train our future scientists.”

In April 2019, Fuqua & Partners submitted the project for consideration at the 2019 IIDA Alabama IDIE Awards and the project won the Best of Corporate Large award. IIDA-AL is the state’s association for the commercial interior design industry. This year’s awards included 91 submissions from 30 firms and furniture dealers.

Huntsville philanthropist and businessman William Propst Sr. has made significant donations to HudsonAlpha’s work in precision medicine. The new center is named in memory of his father, Paul Propst, who was a minister in North Alabama. Funding for the center was also provided by a state grant. Brasfield & Gorrie served as the general contractor on the project.



Image 1: New to Huntsville’s HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology – a leader in genomic science – is the Paul Propst Center for Precision Medicine.

Image 2: Designed by Fuqua & Partners Architects, the new 100,000-square-foot Paul Propst Center for Precision Medicine in HudsonAlpha’s Cummings Research Park houses the institute’s growing education and research programs and biotech companies.

Image 3: The main design challenge, says Senior Project Architect Tim Packard, was to pay homage to the existing vocabulary on HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology campus while providing the new facility with its own identity.

Image 4: Alabama pine was among the materials used in the construction of the new Paul Propst Center for Precision Medicine. The building was designed to complement the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology’s primary building.

*Article Written By Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of Fuqua & Partners

Building Readapted for Upscale Homewood Sporting Goods Store

Brick-and-mortar shopping shouldn’t just be about the purchase itself, but also the ambiance the store provides. That’s the premise behind Caliber, a high-end firearms and sporting goods store in the Homewood section of Birmingham designed by Christopher Architecture and Interiors (CAI).

Caliber owners wanted to renovate the former Central Avenue trolley control building into a refined 4,200-square-foot retail space. The result is a contemporary interpretation of a hunting lodge that combines history and modern functionality.

An upscale hunting lodge feel with modern aesthetics was achieved through contrasting rustic stained western cedar, standing seam metal roofing, custom steel windows and fireplaces, blue stone paving and poured-in-place concrete walls executed through simple detailing, notes Senior Architect Jared Fulton.

Because the existing building was fronted by a loading dock and a footprint unsuitable for retail, about 80 percent of the original building was renovated with a 1,500-square-foot addition to the front, which increased the building’s street presence while aligning with neighboring storefronts.

The 24-foot, poured-in-place concrete gabled end is flanked by an entry-approach porch for “trunk shows” and parties. The porch roof is held off from the building to allow light to wash the concrete wall and provide natural light under the canopy. Being in a flood prone area, FEMA required the building to be flood resistant.

The interior is divided into fishing, apparel, firearms and utility space. Reclaimed oak wrapped “portals” help define transitions between areas. Concrete board-form wall is exposed on the interior to accent the fishing rod displays.

Reclaimed oak floors and ceiling bring warmth to the interior, which includes leather chairs, coffee tables, an 8-foot live-edge table and custom fixture displays designed not to distract from the products. A custom stone fireplace and coffee bar enhance the retail experience.
MDM Design Studio in Birmingham custom built the gun cases, clothing racks, displays, fishing rod racks, tables, cabinets and shoe displays.

The project expanded beyond the property. CAI worked with Alabama Power, the city of Homewood and adjacent property owners to create shared parking; adding bicycle lanes, re-working street parking and designing landscape buffers to control traffic and increase parking.
“These improvements have been vital in expanding the development of Homewood’s Central Avenue Business District,” Fulton says.

Image 1: A former Central Avenue trolley control building in the Homewood section of Birmingham has been converted into a sophisticated 4,200-square-foot space for Caliber, an elite firearms and sporting goods store.

Image 2: The existing building was fronted by a loading dock and a footprint unsuitable for retail, so roughly 80 percent of the original building was renovated with a 1,500-square-foot addition to the front. This increased the building’s street presence while aligning with neighboring storefronts.

Image 3: The interior is divided into fishing, apparel, firearms and utility space. Reclaimed oak wrapped “portals” help define transitions between each of the four separate areas.

Image 4: Reclaimed oak floors and ceiling add warmth to the interior, which includes leather chairs, coffee tables, an 8-foot live-edge table and custom fixture displays designed not to distract from the products but add to the hunting lodge mood.

*Article By Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of Christopher Architecture and Interiors

Renovation of Shipt Headquarters in John Hand Building Completed

When the John Hand Building opened in 1912, the ornate 20-story building was the tallest in downtown Birmingham until the 27-story City Federal Building came along a year later. CCR Architecture & Interiors recently renovated three floors of the John Hand Building occupied by Shipt, a fast-growing grocery delivery service founded in Birmingham.

Shipt will also occupy 60,000 square feet in Birmingham’s tallest building, the 34-story Wells Fargo Tower soon to be known as Shipt Tower. Both buildings will serve as company headquarters and are within easy walking distance. Along with the completed renovation work in the John Hand Building, CCR Architecture & Interiors is constructing new floors for Shipt in the Wells Fargo Tower, says the firm’s president Tammy Cohen.

The lobby and common areas, along with the first, third and fourth floors of the John Hand Building were renovated for Shipt offices. The John Hand Building long served as financial institutions and important interior elements from its banking days were kept intact, though recladding in 2000 significantly altered its neoclassical façade. Much of the interior’s original Alabama white marble and terrazzo remain.

“White marble was mostly on the walls and the original teller line which we kept,” Cohen explains. “A few pieces were patched with some marble that had been stored in the basement. The carpet was removed from the terrazzo and the floors were cleaned and polished. We had to use carpet tiles in a few areas where the terrazzo was missing.”

The large safe deposit vault in the basement was turned into a conference room with the vault door and deposit boxes restored. The teller line remains as “a nod to the past banking hall,” adds Cohen.

A counter with stools provides alternate work space for Shipt employees who want to work away from their desks. New features also include all-glass partitions to allow light from the exterior windows to filter into the workstation areas.

In the former Wells Fargo Tower, Shipt will occupy four floors and the 10th floor is currently under renovation. Cohen notes that this additional 60,000 square feet will allow the company to meet their projected growth over the next few years.


Image 1: Much of the historic John Hand Building’s interior was recently renovated for Shipt, a flourishing grocery delivery company. Shipt will occupy two downtown Birmingham buildings as its headquarters – the John Hand Building and nearby Wells Fargo Tower, soon to be renamed Shipt Tower.

Image 2: The renovated interior spaces retain some original details including Alabama white marble and terrazzo that reflects the John Hand Building’s long history as a bank. White marble was used mainly on the walls and the original teller line, which was kept.

Image 3: A long counter with brightly colored stools provide a pleasing alternate work space for Shipt employees who desire some time away from their desks.

Image 4: All-glass partitions allow light from the exterior windows to filter into the workstation areas. The John Hand Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

*Article By Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of CCR Architecture and Interiors

Nequette Architecture & Design: Creating a New Space to Create New Design

When Harold’s Furniture store recently closed after 50 years, many prospective buyers looked at the early masonry building on Second Avenue North in downtown Birmingham.

Yet not one of them could see its potential. No one except Louise Nequette, who purchased the 30,000-square-foot building – actually two interconnected buildings – which he is renovating for the new offices of Nequette Architecture & Design.

“It was filled with junk and was too big for some businesses and too small for others,” explains Nequette. “But it has room to grow if we need it, and creating a mixed-used building was perfect for us.”

Construction is about halfway completed and Nequette’s firm is targeted to move into the building in December.

The ground floor will be leased for retail space and nine boutique loft apartments will be available for rent on the second and third floors.

A fourth floor is being added to the building, which will provide 5,000 square feet for his firm’s new offices and additional space set aside for possible expansion.

“I’m putting a modern box on an existing building,” he says of the addition. Though adding the top floor made the building ineligible for historic tax credits, the addition retains the original character of the building.

The fourth floor addition was inspired by building’s panoramic views. After purchasing the building, he discovered the roof hatch and climbed to the roof.

“We went up and found the most magnificent 360 degree view of the city,” he recalls.

From the roof – and soon from the windows and terrace of his new offices – one can see the Sloss Furnaces, the Vulcan statue, Red Mountain and the downtown Birmingham skyline.

The new location of Nequette Architecture & Design reflects the firm’s commitment to community-focused architecture, as well as contributing beyond the parameters of the buildings they design. It also reflects Nequette’s roots in new urbanism.

Image 1: A former used furniture store that was a fixture on Second Avenue North in downtown Birmingham will soon be the new offices of Nequette Architecture & Design

Image 2: Construction is about halfway completed and Nequette Architecture & Design plans to move into the building in December

Image 3: The three-story 30,000-square-foot building is actually two interconnected buildings and a fourth floor will be added as part of the renovation plan, offering panoramic views of the city and beyond


*Article By Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of Nequette Architecture & Design

New Park and Community Center Set to Open in Pratt City Early Summer 2018

Pratt City, part of the greater Birmingham area, was among the many communities devastated by the April 2011 “super outbreak” of tornados that swept through much of central Alabama.

One Pratt Park and Community Center are part of a long-term plan for the restoration and renewal of this historic town, notes Landscape Architect Lea Ann Macknally of Macknally Land Design in Birmingham, who is on the design team.

Leading the team is TLS Landscape Architects, in Berkley California. The architecture firm involved with the project is Design Initiative in Birmingham.

The eight-acre park is scheduled to open early summer 2018. Extensive walking paths, amphitheater, overlook tower, and a large and imaginative play area are part of the park plan. The community center will be used for meetings and events.

Energy-efficient LED lighting will be used to accent the overlook tower and other plaza structures, as well as providing security. A tapestry of native plantings will frame gathering spaces, such as the reading garden adjacent to the Pratt City Public Library.

Reclaimed brick and granite in a dry streambed will be used to promote filtration and infiltration of storm water from the site and adjacent roadways, Macknally explains. Reclaimed wood from the site will be used in the seating.

Macknally says the plaza and other elements of the park will incorporate the history of Pratt and its role in the growth of Birmingham.

Support for the project comes primarily from Federal Disaster Recovery funds allocated for communities hard hit by the tornados. The city has announced plans for new housing developments near the park.

Community engagement in the project has been strong. Since the disaster occurred, the city has made sure that the community had a voice in how the disaster recovery funds would be used. A park and community center was what the citizens desired. The design team started work on the project’s programming and conceptual development in April 2016, and in April of this year broke ground on the site.

“The community has been absolutely amazing to work with,” Macknally says. “This is a truly a passionate group that is dedicated to seeing their community revitalized.”

John Colon, the city’s director of community planning says Pratt City is at the tipping point of stabilization with the introduction of the One Pratt concept.

“After much exploration regarding catalytic development across the City over the past few years, we have determined that public spaces such as this provide a sustainable catalyst for revitalization.”

Says Birmingham Mayor William Bell: “With tragedy also comes opportunity. Pratt City had not seen investment for some time, so this project provided the ability for us, in conjunction with the neighborhood residents, to be innovative but also strategic in how we thought about neighborhood revitalization. This park will serve as a communal space but also, more importantly, will re-instill a sense of place for the residents that lost so much in April 2011. Not unlike how our now famous Railroad Park has spurred investment and growth for our downtown city center, so will One Pratt for the Pratt City community.”

Image 1: The park’s spacious central lawn can be used for many functions, including a farmer’s market.

Image 2: An outdoor amphitheater with inviting seating and landscaping provides the ideal spot to enjoy live music and other events.


*Article By Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of TLS Landscape Architecture / Macknally Land Design / Design Initiative

Brewing Design In Mobile

Across America, vacant buildings are being converted into craft breweries and Alabama is no exception. Two such projects are under way in downtown Mobile – one in a 1960s building that was a Goodyear Auto Service Center and the other a 1926 warehouse that operated as the Crystal Ice plant.

Serda Brewing Co. is scheduled in July to move into the 11,000-square-foot building that was home to Goodyear.  Haint Blue Brewing will occupy the 7,700-square-foot former ice plant next February.

Steve Stone, founder of dakinstreet architects, a full-service architectural and interior design firm in Mobile, is at work on transforming the buildings into the ideal space for two breweries.

Goodyear’s form showroom will be transformed into Serda’s 50-person taproom with a 20-seat bar, Stone explains. Five service bays will be renovated into the beer-brewing operations. The warehouse area will house rows of tanks for fermentation and storage, as well as a large drive-in cooler and bottling/keg filling area.

Large stainless tanks will be a focal point and patrons can talk to the brew-master about the process. The overhead doors will create flow between the brewery and adjacent outdoor seating areas. The bar will be topped with concrete and the tables are being custom made by a local furniture maker.

Outside, patrons can enjoy their drinks in a 100-seat front court overlooking the live oaks along Government Street. A side alley will have on-site food trucks stalls and live music performed on a back porch.

“We have retained the 10 overhead doors and many of the grittier elements to try and maintain that vibe,” says Stone. “

Stone says Haint Blue will feature a more intimate taproom, incorporating many of the existing elements such as rusting, corrugated roofing, exposed brick and raw concrete. The building will also feature an indoor courtyard created by removing the roofing and wall cladding in the center of the building. The remainder of the building will be used for storage.

“As was common with warehouses, there are many outdoor terraces and former loading platforms that will be used for outdoor seating and a great vantage point for the Mardi Gras parades which will roll right past,” Stone notes.

Because Haint Blue will be a rawer environment than Serda Brewing, peeling paint will be left intact and the space will feature exposed brick and untreated concrete. Softer elements will also be used such as terraced landscaping at the entrance and at the indoor courtyard area.

“Serda Brewing and Haint Blue are only a quarter mile apart as the crow 8ies, but have very different feels,” explains Stone. “Serda is right on a busy street and much more visible, while Haint Blue feels more like a secret destination that you stumble upon and don’t want to tell
anyone else about.”


Image 1 : A 1926 warehouse that was once home to the Ice Crystal plant is being renovated for Haint Blue Brewing Co.

Image 2: The old warehouse on Monroe Street in downtown Mobile will retain much of the gritty character of the building when it becomes a brewery.

Image 3: A rendering of Serda Brewing Co. shows how the former Goodyear Auto Service Center on Government Street in the heart of downtown Mobile will be completed transformed.


*Article By Jessica Armstrong and Images Provided By dakinstreet architects

Planning Creates Place

Planning is vital to making a community more cohesive. Community planning, particularly long- range comprehensive planning, establishes consensus in the community as a means to guide its future, explains Brandon Bias, community and regional planner in Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood’s Mobile office.

Developing a comprehensive plan includes many steps – from research and analysis to defining an implementation strategy, he notes. Central to the process is determining the consensus regarding the community’s vision and principles, which is used to steer future planning decisions.

A great example, Bias says, is Map for Mobile, the city’s first comprehensive planning process in over 50 years. He also points to ACE and Your Town, programs that effectively provide tools to help strengthen Alabama communities.

“In Alabama these two programs, in conjunction with the Mayor’s Summit of DesignAlabama and Main Street Alabama, each serve a role in assisting communities,” Bias observes.

Another way effective community planning is happening throughout Alabama is by putting underutilized properties and buildings back into productive use.

For example, in Brewton the site of a demolished building was turned into greenspace for a farmer’s market. Bias calls this project “an aggressive effort” to bring back the downtown.

In Bay Minette, a former grocery store is now a recreation complex with skating, bowling and other activities. And in Birmingham, thoughtful planning turned an abandoned railroad cut into the Rotary Trail, which is transforming the surrounding neighborhood.




Article By Jessica Armstrong and Images Provided By Goodwyn Mills & Cawood and are examples of planning projects in Selma, Demopolis and Birmingham.

Historic Morris Avenue Building Renovated for a Bridal Fashion House

It’s no easy feat to restore an old building to use in a radically new way, while at the same time retaining its original character. That’s what Heidi Elnora did with one of the oldest buildings on one of the oldest streets in Birmingham.

The circa 1890 building on Morris Avenue is now heidi elnora Atelier. The 8,000-square-foot two-story masonry building – with its stately windows, tall ceilings and other grand features– had what it took to be transformed into her elegant flagship bridal fashion house.

Although Morris Avenue is the center of her operations, her designs are in bridal shops worldwide including several Nordstrom locations. The “Project Runway” contestant and 2002 Savannah College of Art and Design graduate started heidi elnora Atelier in 2006 and purchased the Morris Avenue building in 2015.

“I love every nook and cranny of the building, and during the restoration I was here every single day in a hard hat with the contractors,” recalls the Alabama native. “I could envision what it could be. I didn’t want to break land and create something new. I wanted old bones.”

Elnora says the building was a disaster with popcorn ceilings, a rickety staircase and old carpeting that hid hardwood floors. Across three centuries it has been home to a grocery store, candy store, the Dixie Coffee Company and even a nightclub that her parents remember in the 1970s.

Downstairs is retail space, a sewing room and offices. In addition, there is a 1,000-square-foot event space that is rented for rehearsal dinners, proms and other special occasions.

The upstairs was designed to be an open space. It consists of an employee meeting room, a full kitchen, restrooms and a large TV for movie watching. The rickety staircase was widened to create a “Gone with the Wind” feel,” says Elnora. Easy access to the roof allows for skyline viewing.

Meticulous planning resulted in Elnora finishing the restoration under budget. She advises anyone contemplating such a project to have a good plan and get the building thoroughly inspected.

“The original brick structure was sound which gave me peace of mind,” she says. “While you must have a good plan, stay flexible and let the old building do what it wants.”


Article By Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of  heidi elnora Atelier 


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