In 1983, US Steel sold Ensley’s Ramsay-McCormick building to the City of Birmingham for $1. Now, 36 years later, this 1929 Art Deco building is about to get some major TLC. Keep reading for all the details.
1. A groundswell of support has been building for Ensley
Local activists and creatives have been building a groundswell of support for Ensley for a long time now in the buildup to this new development.
According to Bettina Byrd-Giles, who has worked in Ensley for many years, a number of groups have brought attention, interest and foot traffic to Ensley:
- Ensley Merchants Association
- Ensley Alive
- The Color Project Ensley
- We Are Rtists
- Oasis Gardens
- The Bethesda
While Oasis Gardens and Kuumba are no longer active, they worked together with the other groups for years, said Byrd-Giles. All these groups have been working to tell new stories and help people envision new possibilities for the area.
According to Brian Voice Porter Hawkins of Ensley Alive,
We are happy that there seems to be progress in the development of the building and the prospect for economic gains for the community—as long as the community is at the table continuously throughout the process.
2. Leaders want to create a “live, work, play environment that’s a 21st century win” in Ensley
Irvin Henderson, Managing Partner of Ensley District Developers, shared his vision:
- Amenities + qualities that other areas have that the people in Ensley deserve
- Great collaboration with existing property owners and residents
- Attract new businesses, new residents
- Economic development in Ensley
- Pocket parks for the area
- Solve parking issues in the area
- Small business opportunities in areas of logistics and distribution and entertainment
- Continue Tuxedo Junction’s ethos throughout all of Ensley
- An Ensley that fits the rising star of Birmingham
Here’s a fun fact I just learned from our resident Bham Now historian Nathan Watson: apparently the Ramsay in Ramsay-McCormick was Alabama indusrialist Erskine Ramsay. Born in Pennsylvania to a Scottish family, he became a major player in the development of Birmingham.
You’ll no doubt recognize his name from Birmingham’s Ramsay High School. And, it turns out that Erskine Hawkins, composer of Tuxedo Junction, was actually named after Erskine Ramsay. In a fun bit of quirky legacy-building, Ramsay actually opened up bank accounts for males named for him. Isn’t that a wild story?
3. The plan is to get the building ready by August 1, 2021
By December 6, 2019, the developer is supposed to turn a workplan in to the city. At that time, they will get more funding from the city to get started on predevelopment and construction.
4. The bigger story is about the development of Ensley as a whole
According to Mayor Woodfin, representatives from the City of Birmingham have been speaking with existing business owners who own anywhere from 3-20 buildings in the area. The city is aware of the sweat equity that those owners have put into the area.
The City of Birmingham owns two buildings and a parking lot. “What we want to be is a catalyst for making sure all the current business owners are successful,” said Mayor Woodfin.
Josh Carpenter, Director of Innovation and Economic Opportunity for the City of Birmingham sees this project as a huge catalyst. Taking this beacon of the community and transforming it into a vibrant space means attracting “commercial jobs, foot traffic, retail and commerce around it. Restaurants and small manufacturers can sell products to folks who are now getting jobs in the area.”
Councilor John Hilliard is ready to move forward with cleaning up the building and getting going on the project. And, he wants to make sure that everyone focuses on these aspects of development for the whole Ensley area:
- green space
- blocks renovated
- investors to come
- reflect the rest of Birmingham
- people who want viable businesses
5. Other parts of town have seen transformation of one area lead to new life in the surrounding areas
Mayor Woodfin talked about how they’ve seen business districts grow over time. He and other leaders in the city want the same vitality and foot traffic for Ensley, and believe this project will help catalyze that.
Avondale has seen all sorts of changes in the past few years, from Avondale Park to 41st Street and beyond.
Woodlawn is another area that has seen many changes in recent years.
2nd Avenue North is now home to many businesses.
There was a time when Railroad Park was just a big grassy lot with an old railroad car on it. My, how things have changed.
The Pizitz during renovation and now.
For years, my kids and I watched the Pizitz Building being renovated from the stairwell of the McWane Center. Now it’s one more vibrant hub of activity in our community.
It’s fun to imagine new vitality and energy in Ensley, building on the hard work of activists, creatives, and economic development people.