South Montgomery Community Plan

Now underway is the South Montgomery Community Plan whose purpose is to document South Montgomery’s vision for its future and identify ways to implement that vision.

A community meeting resulted in formulating goals that focus on economic development, youth programs, housing, public safety, land use and zoning, as well as creating a more positive appearance to encourage private investment.

The plan addresses the desire of South Montgomery residents to strengthen the area’s sense of community, conserve its natural areas, preserve its neighborhoods and promote reinvestment in its commercial areas. It also serves to guide the City of Montgomery when considering land use and zoning issues, along with investments in city services and capital improvement projects.

Because the plan is long-term and could take years to complete, it will require involvement by both public and private partners. KPS Group, Inc. is serving as planning consultant.

Says KPS Group Planning Studio Leader Jason Fondren: “The plan covers a lot of ground, and a big part of the first phase is getting the implementation plan together and putting together a communication team.”

Residents of South Montgomery and city officials view the plan not only as a means to making improvements, but also as a preventative measure to stave off any further decline.

The first phase is to make zoning changes to ensure that future decisions will not create an arbitrary development pattern.

Another goal is to provide adequate and diverse supply of housing for all income levels. Existing programs will be integrated into in the plan such as BONDS (Building Our Neighborhoods for Development and Success) to maintain stability in neighborhoods by attracting quality, affordable housing.

Additional principles of the plan are to minimize negative impacts between incompatible land uses and provide interconnectivity between developments. Objectives also include protecting and promoting historic and culturally significant areas, along with recognizing suitable areas for public uses to minimize the impact on residential areas.

Image 1- An aerial photo of the area encompassing the South Montgomery Community Plan, which will make improvements to this part of the city over the course of several years. The first phase will be zoning improvements.

Image 2-A vicinity map of the area to be improved under the South Montgomery Community Plan. Along with making necessary improvements, the plan will also initiate ways to help prevent any further decline to sections of South Montgomery.

Image 3- Depicted here is an overlay of the development/reinvestment concept and the future land-use map for the South Montgomery Community Plan. KPS Group, Inc. is working with the City of Montgomery in the development of this comprehensive and long-term plan.

* Article Written By Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of KPS Group, Inc.


Montgomery’s Kress Building Renovation Nearing Completion

Across America during the first half of the 20th century, S.H. Kress & Co. opened department stores that were grand and ornate. Downtown Montgomery’s Kress building is no exception. Built in the late 1920s, it’s the focal point of a dynamic new complex that combines office, retail and residential space.

Design of the $20 million project began in 2014 by Seay Seay & Litchfield in Montgomery. The residential addition on the fourth and fifth floors was completed in September and units are now renting. November is the expected completion date of the commercial portion of the job from the basement through the third floor, says Seay Seay & Litchfield architect Davis Campbell.

The existing portion of the Kress building is about 45,000 square feet, including the residential addition, and the mezzanine level addition and two adjacent buildings make the project a total of 115,000 square feet.

“The two adjacent buildings were necessary to incorporate into the Kress project to meet current life-safety code for egress purposes,” Campbell explains. “This enabled us to locate the stairwells and elevators in the adjacent buildings so as not to disturb the existing decorative main space and existing structure of Kress with those elements. This also allowed the circulation paths inside Kress to become sort of an interior street with commercial space on both sides.”

A primary goal was to retain as many defining elements as possible. These include two neo-classical columns and interior Art Deco decorative plaster pilasters, which Campbell says contain beautiful detail that continues up to the plaster ceiling and beam treatment, which was also restored. The original terrazzo floor on the first level was also preserved.

Brass elevator doors with exceptional Art Deco detail were restored, along with salvaged wooden floors on the original stock room floor, which is now the third floor. The second floor mezzanine level features heart pinewood flooring milled from salvaged wood from the nearby historic Webber building.

Curved glass windows on both the Dexter and Monroe entrances are new, but replicate the original curved windows. A large new canopy installed at the Dexter Avenue entry replicates the original awning that was removed from the building over 50 years ago.

“Any time you work with an existing building there are unforeseen challenges that arise, but this project was particularly difficult due to its size, scope and various occupancy types the owner desired – retail, restaurants, office and residential,” notes Campbell.
Asbestos had to be removed and other harmful aspects such as moisture that come with a building that sat dormant for 30 years. Other problems that needed solving: bringing aspects of the building up to current building code, ensuring required egress for life-safety, adding a ramp for proper ADA access from Monroe Street, which is 5 feet lower than the main entrance off Dexter Avenue.

Structural challenges include adding two floors above the existing structure, creating large openings in west brick façade to enhance the building’s natural light, as well as connect to the City’s Pocket Park project, and finding skilled craftsmen capable of replicating existing plaster details.

Adds Campbell: “One thing that remained a challenge throughout construction was that there probably wasn’t a single straight wall in the original building. When the Kress building was erected in 1929, they built up to the other buildings that surrounded it, so the exterior walls on the east and west sides sort of bow in and out as you go from the south end of the building to the north end. This meant the alignment of structural columns also bowed in and out and created many improvisational moments of design.”

Image 1: Sleek additions such as curving windows are in harmony with the original design of the early 20th century building. The existing Kress building had not a single straight wall, which made the renovation particularly challenging. 

Image 2: Kress buildings were known for ornate detailing and embellishments both inside and out. The building’s bronze doors with Art Deco detailing were left intact.

Image 3: This rendering shows what the outside of the Kress Building will do when it is complete.

Article Written By Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of Seay Seay Litchfield

DesignAlabama Partners with Opelika for its first DesignPlace

DesignAlabama has started a new program and the City of Opelika is its first participating city. Experts associated with DesignAlabama visit selected communities where they provide assistance with design, planning and community identity.

Design experts demonstrate how to enhance quality of life and community development when the design arts are applied. The program involves intensive meetings where design professionals meet with citizens and city leaders who share their ideas and concerns. Two meetings were held this summer in Opelika and a plan will be designed and implemented based on suggestions from the first meeting.

“We were very excited to work with DesignAlabama,” says Opelika City Planner Matt Mosley. “The City of Opelika was happy to see the early ideas and concepts from the charrette. I’m most interested to see the final concepts, especially in regard to the Pepperell Mill and Village and areas on the edges of downtown.”

On the National Register of Historic Places, the Pepperell Mill and Village is a site containing over 200 properties that were constructed between 1925 and 1940 by the Pepperell Manufacturing Company to provide housing for its Opelika textile mill workers. Downtown Opelika is also on the National Register.

The plan provided by DesignPlace will build on revitalization already in place in Opelika. Through the efforts of Opelika Main Street and other groups, much progress has been made to revitalize the city.

“The value of the DesignPlace program is immeasurable,” says Pam Powers-Smith, president of the Opelika Chamber of Commerce, an agency that is partnering with DesignAlabama on the new program.

“It’s almost like a dream to have that many experts visit and work with you on solutions to problems,” she adds. “In no other setting would you have access to those people all at one time. I thoroughly enjoyed their visit and how we worked together to get through the particular projects that we felt were best to tackle. And I can’t wait to see our end product, because then we have a working product in our hand that can be used when ready.”

Alabama communities that participated in the DesignAlabama Mayors Design Summit are eligible to apply. A committee of design professionals who direct the program make the final selections.

Image 1: One of the most important aspects of DesignPlace is community input, here the design team is participating in one of two community gatherings during their time in Opelika.

Images 2 and 3: Design professionals from many design fields spend time working together with each other and community leaders to create the best ideas for the community.

Image 4: A rendering produced during DesignPlace of the possible re-use of the Coors Building in downtown Opelika

Image 5: A rendering produced during DesignPlace of the possible re-use of the historic Pepperell Mill site. 

Article Written By Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of DesignAlabama and Robert Smith (FlipFlopFoto)

UAB Students Participate in 2017 Solar Decathlon

In order to survive and offer comfort sustainably, an Alabama house must be designed and built to withstand severe storms and offer relief in the hot, sticky climate in ways that conserve energy.

That’s exactly the type of house that students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have entered in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2017 competition, held this year in Denver.

The creative drive behind Team Alabama’s surviv (AL), as the house is called, is the tornado super outbreak that devastated Birmingham and the surrounding area in 2011. The region’s vernacular architecture and cutting-edge sustainable technology combine to create a house that can survive a storm’s wrath while providing comfort in humid a climate.

Students wrapped the house in an energy-efficient envelope to manage heat and reduce energy needed to cool the indoor air. Also featured are a dehumidification system and a robotic cooler. The orientation and porches also guard against the heat.

A key feature is the composite and steel “strong room” constructed to withstand 250-mile winds. In addition, the design’s “quick permanence” enables the house to be rebuilt fast in the aftermath of a storm.

Other features that address both sustainability and storm protection include thick, double-stud, well-insulated walls, a solar collector to dehumidify indoor air and a heat-reflecting roof. And a wet wall in the middle of the house allows the shower to be used in either of the two bathrooms.

“Many students with different majors were involved in the design, but mostly civil engineering and mechanical engineering students,” explains team faculty advisor Hessam Taherian, an assistant professor in UAB’s School of Engineering. “For architectural design we relied on Williams and Blackstock Architects.”

During the construction phase, most work was done by UAB’s mechanical engineering students with help from UAB Facilities and UAB Sustainability. Students learned a lot by getting involved in the design, including structural calculations, mechanical equipment selection, PV system selection and installation, Taherian adds.

“It was a great practice in team work, and they also learned skills like carpentry, installing insulation, building decks and walls, so many other tasks. After the competition, the house will serve as a model house for energy efficiency in residential buildings and I will continue research on the topic.”

When the surviv (AL) house returns to campus, it will be rebuilt on UAB’s Sustainable Microgrid Demonstration Site.


Image 1: UAB is one of 12 collegiate teams chosen worldwide to participate in the 2017 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon held in Denver this year. The competition challenges student teams to design and build full-size, solar-powered houses. This rendering shows the house designed by the team as it will look at completion. 

Image 2: Named surviv (AL), the house is designed for extreme weather conditions and provides a comfortable environment in the South’s warm climate. Among the many technologies built into the house is a safe room with panels made to withstand 250-mph winds. An open ceiling and clerestory windows increase daylight. 

Image 3: The target market for UAB’s Solar Decathlon prototype house is any mid-size family or group of people, or a young professional couple earning a combined income of $75,000 a year. Additionally, the house can be adapted for low-cost housing for the elderly and homeless.



Article By Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of UAB Solar Decathlon Team


New BJCTA Intermodal Station


Birmingham’s public transportation has been upgraded with the opening of the new Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority intermodal station.

Amtrak, Max, Greyhound and Megabus terminals are together in the facility that takes up three blocks along Morris Avenue in downtown Birmingham.  BJCTA administrative offices will operate out of the new complex, and there is space for a food service component and a police substation.

The new transit hub replaces the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority Central Station and Amtrak building

Riders at the old station complained about not being able to see buses from the waiting room. So, the new station has a long glass waiting room with the buses circulating around it and seats oriented outward. Riders can sit and watch the bus slip for their ride while sheltered by a huge overhanging roof, notes project architect Jamie Aycock of Giattina Aycock Architecture Studio in Bessemer.

“The intermodal complex is contemporary modern,” Aycock explains. “That’s not a style; it is a statement of being designed and built in the era in which we live and it strongly speaks to the function of housing the services and people who use it, while filling the need for a strong civic structure in the area.”

There is no ornamentation. Instead, everything in the complex speaks to the utilitarian aspect of the building. Materials are simple and in a neutral palate.

When viewed for the first time, what is most striking is a huge sheltering roof over the two-story intermodal station that soars out and overhangs the street in all directions, providing shelter from the elements as people load and unload, observes Aycock. It softens any glare on the glass, making a strong visual connection between interior and exterior, and allowing those outside to see the activity inside.


Article Written By Jessica Armstrong and Images of the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority intermodal station courtesy of Giattina Aycock Architecture Studio.

Cordova Plans for a New City Park

The city of Cordova was hard hit by the series of tornadoes that tore through parts of Alabama in 2011. Among the latest efforts to revitalize the old mill town is the creation of a park on the 18-acre site of the former Indian Head Cotton Mills.

Kelly Landscape Architects in Birmingham has partnered with the city to create the Mill Site Park Master Plan. The plan calls for developing green space with pavilions and a bandstand created from the mill’s loading docks.

The proposed park will also provide a variety of recreational opportunities – fishing, walking trails with fitness stations, a ball field and a multi-use court. A special park for dogs is also planned, along with an amphitheater and an interactive fountain designed for play and splashing. A senior center is also part of the master plan.

“The town wanted to create a park that offers something for everybody,” notes Chuck Kelly, owner of Kelly Landscape Architects in Birmingham.

Because of its proximity to the central business district, the park will connect with the downtown through a tunnel under the historic spur rail line that runs adjacent to the park.

“This year the plan is to stabilize the site and grass it for regular mowing,” Kelly explains. “It’s a great historic site where the old mill sat. So why not create a park and celebrate what the mill meant to the town?”


-Article By Jessica Armstrong

-Image Courtesy of Kelly Landscape Architects and is an overview of the park master plan.







Prattville’s Historic “gin shop” to Become Apartment Complex

Plans are under way to turn the historic Continental Eagle Corporation’s five cotton gin buildings in downtown Prattville into a 150-unit apartment complex called The Mill, designed by Chambliss King Architects of Montgomery. The collection of masonry buildings date from 1848 to 1899. In addition to apartments, the $20 million development will also include parking, public meeting space and a venue for special events. The project is under review for an historic tax credit by the National Park Service.

-Photos Courtesy of Chambliss King Architects

Rotary Trail Contributes to the Revitalization of the Downtown Area of Birmingham

Efforts to revitalize downtown Birmingham have sparked a boom in residential and commercial construction and renovations. The latest transformation is an abandoned rail bed that created an eyesore in the city center. The once blighted area is now Rotary Trail that runs along First Avenue South between 20th Street (the Birmingham Green) and 24th Street. Downtown Rotary of Birmingham took on the project and raised $3.5 million to complete the Trail – a half -mile linear park designed by Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood.

The Trail’s focal point is the Magic City sign, which pays homage to an iconic sign that once stood at Birmingham’s Terminal Station, notes Cheryl Morgan, co-chair of the project for the Rotary Club. The station and the sign were demolished in 1969, but nostalgia for the sign remained strong. At 60 feet, it serves as a gateway element in this urban context.

Morgan calls the sign “a great gesture to Birmingham history and a new icon in our downtown.” The sign was a gift from BL Harbert International. O’Neal Steel donated the materials and Fravert Services created the letters. The structure was fabricated by Daniel Iron, which can trace its origins to a company that built the original sign.

Krebs Engineering Wins Award

Birmingham-based Krebs Engineering was recently recognized for helping the city of Albertville develop a cost-effective, long-term solution to control solids hauling and disposal costs by using renewable biogas produced at its wastewater treatment facility. Biogas is called “the ultimate win-win energy source,” allowing farmers to produce their own electricity and reduce water contamination, odor pollution and global warming emissions caused by animal waste. Krebs Engineering received the American Council of Engineering Companies 2016 Grand Design Award for the design of its “Biosolids Improvement for Energy Recovery” project in Albertville. This is the only facility in Alabama to use renewable biogas to convert costly waste into a useful Class A biosolids product.

DesignAlabama Executive Director Talks about ConnectLivity as Part of the Alabama Arts Radio Series

In this program DesignAlabama Executive Director Gina Clifford talks to Cathy Gerachis DesignAlabama board member, Cheryl Morgan retired professor of architecture at Auburn University, and Jay Lamar Director of the Alabama Bicentennial Commission, about ConnectLivity.

ConnectLivity is a series of six regional design charrettes to take place across Alabama in 2016 in association with Southern Makers’ events.  Southern Makers is a curated group of artisans working in various fields such as fiber arts, food, wood crafts, fashion and other focus areas.

This special radio series will air every Tuesday at 9:00 to 9:30 P.M., on the Troy University Public Radio Network at:

  • 89.9 (Montgomery and Troy)
  • WRWA 88.7 (Dothan)
  • WTJB 91.7 (Columbus and Phenix   City)

This radio series may not be broadcast in your area, but it can be accessed via the Internet at:

If you have been listening to, and enjoying this radio series, please send your comments to:


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