3 prominent local developers hope to restore historic Powell School in Birmingham

Powell School in downtown Birmingham. Site of the city’s first schoolhouse (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

The Birmingham City Council’s Economic Development & Tourism Committee unanimously passed a measure today to terminate a redevelopment agreement between the City of Birmingham and the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation concerning Powell School, the site of Birmingham’s first “free school.” 

Built in 1888

(Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

Located at 24th Street and 6th Avenue North, the current building was built in 1888. Shuttered since 2001, the historic 16,944 square-foot schoolhouse caught fire in 2011, substantially damaging the building.

Presently, the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation owns the school property. The action by the committee terminates deed restrictions imposed by the City on the property in connection with the Redevelopment Agreement and revokes the City’s ability to enforce the terms of the Redevelopment Agreement and deed restrictions. 

If that happens, the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation will sell the property.

Preserve Historic Nature and Legacy

(Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

“Our primary objective is to preserve the historic nature and legacy of the building,”  said David Williams, President and CEO of Harbert Realty Services, one of three groups interested in restoring and developing the property. 

“It (the school) is obviously in very, very poor condition. The cost to repair the building or to restore it is significant. Our difficulty has been finding a tenant that’s willing to pay the rent to make that building economically feasible in the restoration process. We are pursuing both historic tax credits at the federal and the state level to help with that. But we’re getting to the point where the building continues to degrade. 

We do have a current prospect that is very excited about the opportunity and we are  working with them closely about being a tenant in the building.”

Three Prominent Groups 

(Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

According to Williams, there are three groups involved in redeveloping the site.

“We’ve got three prominent groups working on this: Stewart/Perry, Sloss Real Estate and Harbert Realty. All three of us have done historic preservation downtown.”

Williams also told Bham Now that the group is committed to working closely with local historic preservationists on this important project.

Next Steps

The full Birmingham City Council is expected to take up the Powell School measure passed by the Economic Development & Tourism Committee soon.  

“Powell School is one of the most important buildings still standing in Birmingham,” explained David Fleming, President and CEO of Rev Birmingham. ”I applaud the efforts of the developers to come up with a solution that will preserve this building, its significance and the story that goes with it for our community. 

It is of utmost civic importance therefore, that our entire community rally around this project and support it—from the city to the preservation community, to the private sector. Rev Birmingham is prepared to help.”

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Pat Byington
Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.

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