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Birmingham’s massive Bates Street development project hinges on public approval

he Birmingham City Commission approved on Monday night a development agreement with Woodward Bates Partners for one of the largest projects ever proposed in the city, but with conditions.

The project, which involves public and private components including demolition and reconstruction of a North Woodward parking structure, extension of Bates Street, a public plaza, and multiple commercial buildings, has an estimated price tag of $133 million.

The property development has been in the city’s master plan for more than two decades, but still faces hurdles to come to fruition, including a public vote on a bond proposal.

“If the bond goes down, the whole project dies,” Joe Fazio, attorney for Miller Canfield, said. “If phase one does not move forward, phase two will not move forward at all.”

“Phase one” is now defined as the public portion of the project, the first piece of which is the demolition of the existing 66-year-old parking structure on North Old Woodward, and subsequent construction of a new 7-story parking structure, with three levels below ground. This structure is seen as a major benefit to the public, with an increase of more than 400 parking spaces expected over what is currently available.

The first three levels of the parking structure would need to be completed before subsequent components of phase one could begin, including construction of a 5-story mixed use building that would adjoin the above-ground parking deck; a retail storefront that will obscure pedestrian views of the parking structure; and extension of Bates Street between North Old Woodward and Willits.

Under the agreement, once construction has begun on the Bates Street extension and the mixed use building in phase one, the developer could file a request with the city to proceed with phase two, which includes two mixed use buildings that have been scaled down to four stories from the originally proposed five.

One is a mixed use building at the corner of Bates and Willits (building 5), while the other (building 4) is a combination of four and three-stories, retail and residential housing, the majority of which lies between the Bates extension and Booth Park. Also in this phase is a plaza and connection to Booth Park.

Not everyone is in support of the project.

Resident Clinton Baller expressed his disapproval of the development as a whole and the revisions made, including scaling down of the mixed use buildings.

“The fact you are not planning and there is no cohesion to the site is appalling to me,” he said. “This needs to be planned as a whole, it is sad to watch you racing toward a brick wall that will come in August or November when voters get their say and say ‘no’ resoundingly.”

Paul Reagan said while the development has now been divided into two phases, it remains unchanged and is still retail, which he referred to as “dead,” killed by the internet.

“This is a large piece of property, one of the gems in its location in Birmingham,” he said, adding that he would vote no in August. “I don’t understand why there is all this unwanted, unneeded stuff.”

The issue is expected to be placed on the August ballot, but a timeline of events leading up to that includes a May 8 meeting at which a final cost is expected, as well as a vote by the city commission on approval of ballot language for the bond as a funding mechanism. Valentine said taxpayers would not see an increase as no public tax dollars would be used.

Richard Astrein, owner of Astrein’s Jewelers in Birmingham, said the development is a critical project that needs to go forward for the downtown’s viability and scoffed at the idea that retail was dead.

“Ninety percent of our customers are excited about the additional parking and this project,” he said. “There is a resurgence of people coming to town. I would hate to see this stopped; there is a narrow window to go forward. It’s a phenomenal project and has my blessing and the store’s blessing.”

City commissioners then had further discussion on the agreement, with Carroll DeWeese and Rackeline Hoff expressing their concerns and opposition.

While DeWeese said the project was useful and needed, he did not support the time schedule and said an August vote would ensure the proposal failed with no time to garner public enthusiasm.

“The whole development agreement is too soon, too fast, too quick and not open enough,” he said. “There is a lot of discomfort here. How do we sell people on the need? There is a lot of good here, but the way we are going about it, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Hoff believes the development, a public and private partnership, is weighted in favor of the developer, who has leasing rights to one of the most valuable properties in the city.

She also worried about the amount of disruption caused downtown where multiple other five-story developments are simultaneously planned, as well as additional bonding needs in the city for parks and the senior center.

“It’s a beautiful project and the biggest thing we’ve done in Birmingham that I can recall, but I don’t want it done in a vacuum,” she said. “We are not achieving balance between the public and private partnership in this project.”

Commissioner Mark Nickita said the seed of the project was planted long ago — dating back to about 1994 when the downtown plan was put in place, and it adhered to the 2016 plan, which envisioned a 4- to 6-story downtown. He said he had received almost all positive comments regarding the development, which would revitalize “a dead piece of property in the middle of our city.”

“In so many ways, we set the stage and are in a position of implementing, in accordance with the 2016 plan,” he said. “Carrying forward is appropriate. I am confident we have enough time to do this by August.”


Posted By: Hometown Life on April 23, 2019.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

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