National Park Service approves plans for historic Powell Avenue Steam Plant renovation

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Powell Ave. will be closed to cars, and the street will provide a place for food trucks, impromptu performances, art shows, and other public gatherings. Renderings via Orchestra Partners 

Big news. The National Park Service has officially approved Orchestra Partners’ plans to renovate the historic Powell Avenue Steam Plant as part of the massive Parkside Master Plan. Here’s why it matters.

The Powell Avenue Steam Plant

The Powell Avenue Steam Plant as seen in 1908. Photo by Isidore Newman & Son, courtesy of Birmingham Public Library Department of Archives and Manuscripts

As the infant city of Birmingham rapidly grew in the late 19th century, it became readily apparent that the city needed some sort of centralized power source. In order to fill that need, the Consolidated Electric Light & Power Company (later absorbed by the Birmingham Railway, Light & Power Company) decided to build a massive steam plant in the heart of downtown in 1895.

The coal-burning steam plant, known now as the Powell Avenue Steam Plant, provided electricity to various neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city, as well as the various streetcar lines throughout the city.

The steam plant expanded several times throughout the years, eventually absorbed into Alabama Power. Surprisingly, the plant continued operating well into the first decade of the 21st century.

The Heart of the Parkside Master Plan

As Bham Now reported last year, the Powell Avenue Steam Plant will be a large part of the upcoming Parkside Master Plan. What is the Parkside Master Plan, you ask?

The project is essentially “phase 2” of Railroad Park. Just as Railroad Park breathed life into the Parkside District, the Parkside Master Plan aims to further enhance walkability and connect the Parkside District to surrounding neighborhoods. The project consists of two parts:

  • Parkside West: Two city blocks designed to create an urban commons. This exciting gathering place will offer 100,000 sq. ft. of retail, restaurant, and commercial space.
  • Parkside East: An entertainment hub as well as an urban trailhead that connects the park to areas of the city via the Jones Valley Trail.

Orchestra Partners is heading up the project, aided by the original architect of Railroad Park, Tom Leader. In addition, several community partners are taking key roles, including:

Approved by the National Park Service

The Market at Urban Supply, the upcoming mixed-use development at Parkside. Rendering via Orchestra Parters

Recently, the Powell Avenue Steam Plant project received the green light from the National Park Service. The green light grants conditional approval for historic tax credits on the Powell Avenue Steam Plant project—an important step.

These historic tax credits are often vital for large projects like the Powell Avenue Steam Plant. According to the National Park Service, the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives program “encourages private sector investment in the rehabilitation and re-use of historic buildings.

Excited to see the Parkside Master Plan take another step forward? Tag us @bhamnow to let us know your thoughts!

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Nathan Watson
Tennessee native who fell in love with Birmingham during college. Graduated from Birmingham-Southern College in 2019. Passionate about Birmingham and its continued growth.
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