Get Ready for Upcoming Your Town Alabama 2024

Your Town Alabama is a 2 ½-day workshop that provides civic leaders and elected officials of small and rural towns with the tools to strengthen their economy and make community improvements. And while doing so, retain the characteristics that give their town its singular identity.

The Your Town Alabama workshop introduces business and civic leaders to the role of design in community planning. Armed with a new set of tools based on asset-based planning and design, participants are better able to solve problems and develop projects that build on the positive aspects of their community.

Brandon Bias, a Your Town Alabama board member and certified Community and Regional Planner for Goodwyn Mills & Cawood, says Your Town Alabama is probably the best introductory program for the importance of community design in the state. An organization with “such a great program that helps participants understand how to value design in decisions to impact the outcomes for better communities.”

“Also, the way in which the program is delivered makes it accessible to anyone – participants don’t need to be architects, engineers, council people, etc.,” he adds. “Some of the best participants I’ve encountered over the years are small store owners, hair stylists, and journalists.”

But they all share a common trait, as he points out: “They love where they are from, and want their community better.” Brewton is one of Your Town Alabama’s many success stories. With $20,000 in local funding, the city of Brewton created Market Park, a popular green space whose mural has become a popular spot for photographs. In addition, a tech startup located to the community and is projected to bring Brewton over 300 new jobs and over $1 million in city sales tax.

The University of Alabama’s Center for Economic Development, which is a Your Town Alabama partner, observes that communities of rural America are facing a range of critical problems. In some cases, these problems are heavy out-migration and a loss of jobs. In others, it is rapid growth from suburban sprawl, the location of a new facility, or an influx of retirement population. Problems that affect the vitality of the community, its design and sense of place.

Along with UA’s Center for Economic Development, Your Town Alabama partners include: DesignAlabama, Alabama Communities of Excellence, Alabama Historical Commission, Auburn University’s Urban Studio, MainStreet Alabama, Alabama Association of Resource Conservation and Development Councils, and Cawaco RC&D Council.

Since the program’s inception in 1998, 834 Alabama civic and elected leaders from all regions of the state have graduated from the annual Your Town Alabama workshop. The 2024 workshop will be held April 3-5 at Camp McDowell adjacent to the Bankhead National Forest in Winston County. For more information on participating in Your Town Alabama 2024, visit https://www.yourtownalabama.org/workshop/

 

*Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of Your Town Alabama

King’s Canvas Supports Marginalized Artists and Boosts West Montgomery Economy

If you find yourself on the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in West Montgomery, be sure visit King’s Canvas, a nonprofit arts organization at 1413 Oak St. on the west side of Montgomery in Washington Park. Described as a neighborhood with “a rich history of Black entrepreneurship and excellence that has experienced decades of disinvestment and widespread vacancy.”

Artist and community activist Kevin King founded King’s Canvas to address the lack of resources for minority and marginalized artists in Montgomery. He wanted a place where minority artists could network, have access to supplies, and space to create and display their artwork. Creative placemaking is used to engage a diverse population in designing and planning projects that reflect, celebrate and inspire local culture, heritage and values, and promote economic development and social change. Today, the King’s Canvas site is action-packed with a variety of events, from concerts and block parties to voter registration drives and markets for Black-owned businesses. King’s Canvas also partners with local public schools to bring more art into the classroom.

In 2018, King, who lives in Washington Park with his wife and daughter, converted a vacant commercial property on Oak Street into an art studio. King and other local artists painted a colorful mural on the building to attract visitors. Plans call for creating a new studio and adding an art gallery and retail space. The studio is expected to be completed in March and the rest of the plan will be phased in as funding becomes available.

Raising the necessary funding to keep King’s Canvas going and to complete expansion plans is a struggle, admits King, who says “as a Black nonprofit, we get overlooked.” But King’s Canvas isn’t getting overlooked by sightseers and other visitors. “We’ve created a destination stop,” says King. “A lot of tourists stop and buy original art and prints. People just like to take a piece of Montgomery home with them.”

To generate much-needed capital, King started a fundraising venture called King Canvas’ Get Off the Bus Campaign. The idea is to bring outside dollars into the area by encouraging tourists to pull over, get off the bus, and engage in the arts and patronize local businesses. And, of course, the name also suggests the historic Montgomery Bus Boycott.

King is an artist himself who addresses social issues in his acrylic on canvas artwork. But he hasn’t had much time to paint in recent years while running the organization and applying for grant money. Funding is needed to hire an executive director to take over administrative duties, and construct the proposed gallery and store. Despite the struggles and demands of keeping King’s Canvas afloat, King says he does get satisfaction from his efforts. “Many Montgomery Black artists and others who are marginalized didn’t have opportunities six years ago. That has changed.”

 

 

*Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of King’s Canvas

Historic Birmingham Warehouse Now Home for Startups

CCR Architecture & Interiors has created an inviting space to nurture young companies. Space so inviting that the startups might not want to leave once they’re done incubating.

The Birmingham-based firm converted a turn-of-the-20th-century masonry warehouse on historic Morris Avenue in downtown Birmingham into the headquarters for Harmony Venture Labs, part of the city’s emerging startup scene. The warehouse was later used as a law office and at one time had a restaurant on the first floor.

Harmony Venture Labs has its eye on the future, while operating in a part of Birmingham that’s rooted in the past. The Morris Avenue District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

This vibrant office space supports a team of innovators, designers, marketers, and operators that launch, grow, and support startups. Harmony Venture Labs founder, Shegun Otulana, moved from Nigeria to the United States to study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and remained in Birmingham to raise his family and start several successful ventures.

“Everything was gutted from the previous law firm and the space adapted beautifully to open office concepts with conference rooms and support spaces,” says CCR President Tammy Cohen.

Completed in fall 2023, the project involved soda-blasting the wood structure and replacing bubble skylights with a singular north-facing skylight. Repointing the existing brick walls brought new life to this historic building. In the main lobby, the two-story atrium features sound-dampening light fixtures meant to symbolize the splitting and multiplication of ideas in the startup growth process.

The building’s structural and mechanical systems were left uncovered, giving the space a modern feeling. Part of the modernist ethos is truth to materials in which systems are exposed and incorporated into the design concept.

The office accommodates a range of work styles with plenty of space for collaboration and quiet, focused work. Blue tile, carpet, paint, and furniture pieces throughout the space reference the Harmony Venture Labs brand.

Amenities include a library, game room, cafeteria-style break room, and a covered rooftop lounge that encourage team members to socialize and connect. Comfortable seating is found throughout, including the spacious rooftop lounge that overlooks downtown Birmingham.

Upholstered booth seating and tables that would be at home in your favorite diner invite lingering in the break room. With its overstuffed chairs, sofas and a fireplace, one room resembles a cozy living room.

Innovate. Inspire. Empower. That’s what Harmony Venture Labs aims to do. Accomplished in a building constructed more than a century ago.

 

 

 

 

 

*Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of CCR Architecture & Interiors

Design Team Creates Comprehensive Plan for Centreville

Yogi Berra, the major league baseball catcher known for his witty and astute observations, once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.”

A community also needs to know where it’s going.

That’s the purpose of a comprehensive plan, put in place to set a town’s policies and priorities regarding its future development while seeking to preserve its environmental features and individual character. Centreville – aptly named because of its central Alabama location – is getting guidance from a design team helping to create its comprehensive plan. A plan supported by the ideas behind DesignAlabama’s DesignPlace program.

Says DesignAlabama Executive Director Gina Clifford: “Centreville was the first community to be a part of a partnership between Keys to the City, Place Associates, DesignAlabama and Kelly Landscape Architects that offered an integrated model of the DesignPlace program with a starter comprehensive plan.”

Montevallo-based Keys to the City provides services to communities in strategic planning and community development coaching. Hollie Cost is one of their coaches. “We’re looking at identifying people in the community and find out what their priorities are,” says Cost, who points to several of Centreville’s assets, one being its location on the biologically diverse Cahaba River.

Along with its riverfront, assets also include a flourishing medical center, its history and general layout, as well as its historic Uptown District that consists of late 19th century and early 20th century buildings including the 1902 Bibb County Courthouse. The design team is looking at different ways to enhance the Uptown District, such as increasing its amenities and greenspace, and attracting more businesses.

Ben Wieseman of Place Associates, a multi-disciplinary firm specializing in planning, landscape architecture and real estate development, serves as lead facilitator of the Centreville design team. In their report, the team has provided nine “immediate actions” to help Centreville implement its comprehensive plan. One that Wieseman sees as a priority is to identify the key sites and opportunities to help various projects succeed. And develop the tools necessary to engage the stakeholders, share ideas, develop visions and implement project goals.

Among the priorities identified in the plan: create a city park along the Cahaba River; develop the Uptown District with the help of the Main Street program; address housing needs; develop gateway, wayfinding and image corridors; and increase leadership and economic development. The plan also addresses the city’s green infrastructure, enlarging its park and recreation system, and adding a wetland boardwalk.

Centreville has experienced little revitalization activity over the years, which gives the town added opportunities, observes Herman Lehman, who also serves as a community coach with Keys to the City.  Linking its major assets – historic town square, first-rate medical facilities, and sited on the Cahaba River – are key to the comprehensive plan.

“It’s exciting,” Lehman says. “There’s a lot to look forward to in Centreville and there’s a lot of community support.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of DesignAlabama

A 1961 International-style Building Renovated for Office Space

Adaptive reuse projects have played a significant role in revitalizing downtown Birmingham.  Just about every type of building you can name has found a new purpose in the Magic City – from warehouses, mid-20th century modern high-rises and car dealerships to the city’s Federal Reserve Building and Greyhound Bus Terminal.

Many of Birmingham’s early buildings were spared the wrecking ball during urban renewal in the 1950s and 60s that changed the face of numerous cities nationwide. As a result, Birmingham has had a large inventory of older, often neglected, buildings in need of a new purpose.

Among the latest is the former Gulf Oil Company’s local headquarters on Highland Avenue, a thriving area of downtown Birmingham now known as the Highland Professional District. Williams Blackstock Architects worked with the new owners, Stone River Property Management, to repurpose the three-story, 83,000-square-foot building with 54,435 rentable feet of office space.

When the International-style building was renovated in 1990, it was given a red brick façade. Williams Blackstock’s renovation gives the building a more contemporary and impressive appearance, achieved by using precast stone and glass additions which adds to the building’s lighter and brighter look.

“This is the third time the building has been renovated,” notes Principal Architect Joel Blackstock of this current dramatic makeover. “It was originally a C- or B office building and we took it to a class A.”

Inside, the building has a new entry forecourt and the lobby was treated to new flooring, bronze paneling and an open stairway. To reinvigorate an understated doorway, a grand entry sequence and formal entry plaza was created. The main lobby was opened up with the use of large glass paneling to let in more light and create a fresher impression, which also reinforces the connection to the street. The lacquer panels, wood floors and soapstone counters help create a refined and polished interior in harmony with the overall renovation.

All interior finishes were restored with the use of large format tile and warm wood tones. These finishes were also used throughout the corridors and common spaces.  The floor-to-ceiling curtain wall in the conference room allows for abundant natural light.

One design challenge was the lack of connection between the raised parking lot in the dark area in back of the building, which was unwelcoming and unsafe. So, the rear entry was opened to match the front lobby and enhanced with a monumental stair to welcome employees and visitors. A landscaped crosswalk was added, along with an outdoor stair leading to the parking lot. The area now provides an improved sense of security with gated access and lighting.

 

 

 

 

*Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of Williams Blackstock Architects

Papa Dubi’s Restaurant Brings New Orleans to Albertville

In the mood for a taste of New Orleans? While there’s no other place like New Orleans in the world, it’s possible to experience the city’s unrivalled ambiance, culture and cuisine without leaving Alabama. Step inside Papa Dubi’s Cajun-style restaurant in Albertville where Chambless King Architects have helped to bring a bit of the Big Easy to town.

The family-owned restaurant, which specializes in Cajun recipes passed down through the generations, was so successful that it twice outgrew its original location in Guntersville. So Chambless King designed a new $2.4 million, 5,500-square-foot standalone building in Albertville to accommodate the growing business, which is said to be the first indoor/outdoor dining experience in Marshall County.

The U-shaped building, with its main box in black corrugated metal, includes a dining area and outdoor covered patio that surrounds a central courtyard. The main dining room is defined by low-dividing walls and features high windows to bring in natural light and views of the courtyard.

A full bar wraps from the covered patio to the interior with beer taps connected to the walk-in cooler. The kitchen and bathrooms buffer parking from the dining area and allow guests to interact through the drive-through window.

Diners undoubtedly delight in the dining area’s Mardi Gras-inspired color palette and portraits of Roman Catholic saints adorning the purple walls, the décor a homage to New Orlean’s rich heritage. Bright yellow chairs are used for both inside and outdoor seating.

“We did a purple, green and yellow vibe, but in a subtle and modern, color-block way,” notes Jared Fulton, the project’s lead architect, “and the Catholic saints. It’s an interesting culture.”

The building’s interior consists of exposed, stained glulam beams. Cedar is used to emphasis key features of the building such as the entry, drive-through window and outside courtyard. Vertical stainless-steel cross bracing on the open patio serves as a trellis for a wall of Ivy to grow. The gravel waiting area contains locally sourced rocks that customers can sit on.

The rear of the site was designed to allow for future expansion, such as a bar annex, amphitheater for live music, children’s play area and space for community crawfish boils. The outdoor covered area takes up a quarter of the total footprint, evidence of the commitment to make Papa Dubi’s an even more popular food and entertainment destination.

While much of the work done by Chambless King Architects is in urban areas, the firm is looking increase its presence in smaller towns, says Fulton, and Papa Dubi’s is an example of that.

 

 

 

 

 

*Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of Rob Culpepper

Midcentury Modern Motel Converted into Dothan Apartment Complex

Turning vacant hotels and motels into apartments is gaining momentum nationwide, with good reason. Neighborhoods are revived, local economies get a boost, and most importantly the inventory of much-needed affordable living space increases. It’s a match made in heaven, so to speak, as the two building types share a common footprint.

In downtown Dothan, the former Town Terrace Inn Motel is being converted into a 26-unit apartment complex, mostly one-bedrooms with a few two-bedrooms. The project is expected to be completed by December, says Stephen McNair whose consulting firm, Mobile-based McNair Historic Preservation, is helping to maximize the historic integrity and economic incentives of the property.

“The existing layout of the units, parking, and access makes this an ideal adaptive reuse project,” adds McNair about Town Terrace, which was the first motel constructed in Dothan.

“Most of the new apartment units will consist of two former motel rooms that have been combined into one single unit through a new interior opening. The site is also ideal and provides ample parking, room for the new pool, and walkability within the downtown. Located a block from Foster Street and other restaurants and amenities, residents of Town Terrace will be able to walk to bars, restaurants, and entertainment just a few blocks away and using sidewalks.”

Town Terrace Motel consists of two, two-story stand-alone structures flanking a central, surface-level parking lot, McNair explains. Both buildings were constructed of exposed brick and CMU blocks. The first phase of construction began in 1958 and the second phase in 1962, which added a two-story, flat-roof brick and CMU block building similar to the original building.

Exterior architectural features remain intact, McNair says. The property operated as a 52-unit motel until 2021.

“The project is being renovated under historical guidelines and will maintain many original and unique features: exterior balcony railings, open storefront glazing, and wood jalousie doors and windows,” says Andrew Gosselin of Gosselin Architecture in Dothan, the architect on the project.

A Dothan Eagle newspaper article from 1957 describes the design as “ultra-modern,” and that the motel was constructed at the cost of $200,000.

The project is part of the overall vision of adding new housing options within downtown Dothan. Other buildings are being renovated downtown to provide more residential options, including the former Malone Ford building on South Saint Andrews Street. But as McNair points out, “our project is larger and offers more housing options with off-street parking and more amenities, like the pool.”

Not only are hotels and motels being repurposed into apartments, but these underutilized buildings provide shelter for the unhoused.

This year, Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) introduced the Hotels to Housing Conversion Act. This legislation would authorize $750 million in funding for state governments and housing authorities to work with local governments and community organizations to convert hotels, motels, and unused residential properties into emergency shelters, and transitional and permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity.

 

*Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of McNair Historic Preservation

 

 

Downtown Prattville to Get a New Outdoor Entertainment and Recreation Venue

A few years back, the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program issued a report “Turning Around Downtown: Twelve Steps to Revitalization.” Step No. 7 is to create urban entertainment venues, which “gives all sorts of people a reason to come downtown…providing an excitement and spectacle that draws people to the area.”

Plenty of Alabama communities have followed that advice, and one of the latest is Prattville where $3.4 million has been earmarked by the city to create a new outdoor recreation and entertainment venue on Main Street. The location is an underutilized space between the former Hancock Whitney bank, recently acquired by the city, and the City Hall Annex.

As part of continuing efforts to revitalize downtown Prattville, the venue will contain a large multiuse pavilion, a covered stage for live performances, a canopy-covered seating area, a movie screen for shows and sporting events, multiuse space for recreational games, lighting, and a sound system.

The plan also calls for a pedestrian canopy-covered corridor along the bank building side and a one-way vehicle corridor next to the City Hall Annex, along with on-street parking and space for food trucks. The bank’s drive-through will be removed, along with a nearby vacant former grocery store building. A new entryway will be created leading into the area, as well as developing green space and a vegetative buffer for the stage. In addition, a new walking path with trees and seating.

Creating a rooftop venue in the former bank building is a concept being explored, however, at this point is an idea only, says Lisa Byrd, executive assistant to Prattville Mayor Bill Gillespie Jr. She added that “we have not verified the stability of the roof to accommodate a roof top experience.”

Though the project is a budgeted expense in the 2023-2024 City of Prattville Budget Capital Projects Fund, it will still require council action for construction. Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood created the project’s conceptional design.

“This project is about continuing the revitalization of downtown Prattville while providing a quality of place to offer diversified quality of life opportunities,” says Byrd. “Providing this type of family entertainment and recreational area, will encourage further urbanized living, business sustainability, easier walkability, and growth opportunities for all who choose to live, work, and play in historic downtown Prattville.”

*Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood

New Video Helps Tell DesignAlabama’s Story

The mission of DesignAlabama is to improve a community’s quality of life, but making that happen is easier said than done. It’s a complex process that requires extensive planning and citizen involvement, while bringing together policymakers, planners and design professionals to guide goals to fruition.

In other words, it’s a busy organization with a lot of irons in the fire. So, it makes sense to use multiple forms of communication to convey its many services. With that in mind, a new video is now available to fully share what DesignAlabama is all about.

Video vs text, which is more effective? While each has its place, video offers an added dimension by providing body language, verbal tone and other visual cues. More engaging and memorable than the use of text or images alone.

In the new DesignAlabama video, we see first-hand the dynamic interaction with those involved in its various programs. We meet them in downtown settings, in workshops and gathered around tables where design professionals bring ideas to life. In addition, we hear from several key players one-on-one who sit before the camera – officials whose communities have benefited and the design professionals who make their services available to those communities. We also get a look at the some of the architectural drawings they produce at these events.

The video was produced by Montgomery-based Copperwing, a creative team offering services in branding, marketing, and motion design. It’s a little over five minutes, which appears to be the sweet spot. Too short and the narrative wouldn’t be fully told. Too long and you risk losing the audience’s attention and weaken their retention.

Over the course of the last few years, DesignAlabama as an organization has evolved tremendously. This evolution has come about as a result of the organization recognizing a number of needs communities had across the state that were not being met regarding equitable and affordable planning and design, explains DesignAlabama Executive Director Gina Clifford.

“The Board of Directors, along with myself, started working with elected officials, community leaders and design professionals about ways in which these needs could be met,” she continues. The result was the creation of new programs such as DesignVision, DesignPlace and DesignDash and additional collaborations with other statewide groups to help meet these needs and create positive change in Alabama.

“While our website tells a lot about each of these programs, our Board of Directors really believed that the best way to tell the story of these programs and the impact they are making is by hearing from those who have benefited from them. Nothing we believed would convey this story more than a video telling firsthand accounts of those individuals and communities we had worked with through these programs.”

See the new DesignAlabama video here

*Article Written by Jessica Armstrong

More Flowers for Fairhope with a New Downtown Park on the Way

A New York Times article called Fairhope “a small southern town that’s been holding on to its charm for more than a century.”

Fairhope is about to get a bit more charming – if that’s at all possible – with the development of a plaza where the city’s clock is located at the corner of Section Street and Fairhope Avenue.

Fairhope-based Christian Preus Landscape Architecture developed the plan for the new plaza which is expected to be completed by the end of year. In the coming months, an official name will be designated for the property, which is approximately 77.5 feet by 26 feet, or 2,015 square feet.

Mayor Sherry Sullivan said the Council will approve an official name in the coming months and have talked of naming it for someone with historical significance to Fairhope. Sullivan said the work is scheduled to be completed by November, and she envisions the plaza becoming a popular gathering spot for locals and visitors.

The project will include a gathering space with raised seating, planters and shade trees throughout, said Paige Crawford, Fairhope’s Director of Community Affairs.

“If visitors are looking for a quick spot to stop and take a break from site seeing and shopping this will be a great area right in the center of town,” Crawford observes. “We will be incorporating a lot of the landscaping that you already see throughout town including seasonal flowers and shade trees. These selections will be made by our horticulture supervisor in the Public Works Department.”

Flower beds and carefully designed landscaping abounds in downtown Fairhope, and the new plaza will harmonize with its surroundings. Flowers beds and other plantings are a hallmark of Fairhope, so much so that the city was one of the first in the Southeast to hire a horticulturist.

The plaza’s focal point is the pole clock that has stood on this corner since 1989, the year the family of a Fairhope man donated it to the city in his memory. The clock will be set off with a brick base surrounded by a flower bed. The plaza’s cement pavers will create a circular pattern.

“The radial nature of the site design is reflective of the circular forms of the intersections throughout downtown Fairhope,” notes Crawford, “and pays homage to the Fairhope clock.”

A street clock, or post clock, was once used as the town clock, and was typically installed by jewelers who also used it as signage. These distinctive clocks were often a beloved landmark, as Fairhope’s has become.

 

 

 

 

 

*Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of the City of Fairhope

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