Twice a month, the city of Birmingham’s Design Review Committee convenes to discuss plans to make alterations to structures that fall within one of the city’s many historic and commercial revitalization districts. This column summarizes recent DRC activity, with projects grouped by type and location. This edition of Design Review recaps the DRC meeting from Sept. 10, 2014.
21st Street North
Lewis Communications plans to restore the glass building (2030 First Avenue North) near John’s City Diner. The façade will be restored. However, the existing curtain wall has been deemed unsafe and the architect would like to replace it – the National Park Service disagrees – and the project will be done for tax credits. Pavers and a deck will be added to the rooftop. The owner wants to use the existing storefront for a gallery space and to install a company gym under the existing parking deck ramp. The landscaping, signage, rooftop deck and storefront plans need construction details and will have to return to the committee.
The patio build-out for Edgar’s Bakery at the BBVA Compass Financial Center building (501 20th Street North) returned to the committee. This proposal included details for the retaining wall, octagonal umbrellas and new doors to replace the fixed glass on the façade. There will be no lighting, no heaters and no additional landscaping, nor was any signage presented at this point.
Alabama Power Company is preparing for the second phase of the conversion of the historic Powell Avenue Steam Plant (1800 Powell Avenue South). The company is planning for structural stabilization and demolition of non-historic items. The building, originally built for Consolidated Electric Light Company by Robert Jemison in 1895, includes additions dating to 1900 and 1905. In the 1980s the masonry was re-mortared.
Plans for removal of infill and installation windows consistent with the originals will take place for over 85 percent of window openings. Alabama Power is working with the Alabama Historic Commission and the National Park Service to get the building on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to the restoration of the masonry and removing the window infill, a water sealant will be applied, the metal addition replaced with a curtain wall, the brick and concrete stacks will be stabilized and restored, and a window mockup will be tested. The company plans to have a design proposal complete some time in the first quarter of 2015.
The HUD housing for the elderly, Birmingham Towers (2712 31st Avenue North), is undergoing an update to make the building Energy Star Efficient. The windows will be changed on all floors, with horizontal sliding windows on floors four through nine and casement windows on the bottom three floors. All replacements will be styled after the existing windows.
Retail & Theatre District
The Carr Building (214 18th Street North) is in the process of being renovated. The plans as presented include new garage doors and window replacement along the alley. The committee expressed concerns about obtaining approval from traffic engineering for the garages as well as the color of the garage door trim. The windows will be replaced with double-hung windows with screens, and two additional windows will be added in the rear of the building. The existing arches in the window openings will be maintained. The committee requested the trim color match the doors.
The Kings Inn (1313 Third Avenue North) signage replacement project returned to the committee to review the digital sign request. The existing ordinance is silent on this type of sign and the committee rarely approves digital signage. The plan would have to detail exactly what would be presented on the board and product displays would not be allowed.
Status: Carried over, an executive session discussion was planned and advice from the city attorney requested before this precedent-setting decision can be made.
Telegraph Branding is moving into Carrigan’s building on Morris Avenue (30 25th Street North). Plans include painting the name on the bricks and a wall mounted projecting sign. However, Telegraph will be the third tenant and the building does not have a master signage plan.
Status: Tabled, return with a master signage plan.
Retail & Theatre District
Revelator Coffee (1806 Third Avenue North), one of two tenants in the new Whitmire Lofts building, is preparing to open and requested signage. However, there are two tenants and the building does not have a master signage plan.
Status: Tabled, return with a master signage plan; one recusal.
REV Birmingham presented a request for signage at the REV Urban Food Project in Woodlawn (5530 First Avenue South). The windows are currently boarded up and, once approved, vinyl graphics will be adhered to the glass with the Urban Food Project logo and slogan.
The owners of a Highland Park residence (1022 32nd Street South) are planning a landscaping project. The local neighborhood association has approved the addition of a small dry stone retaining wall, wrought iron rails at the steps and new plantings. The committee members expressed concerns with the lack of details on the railings, which as presented were out of character with the home.
Status: Approved, construction of the wall only and return with more detail on the railing.
Open container ordinance signage
The final presentation at the Sept. 10, 2014 Design Review Committee meeting was made by the BJCC. They are currently working through the designs for the open container district. These signs will designate the boundaries of the Uptown and BJCC, as well as set a precedent for signage in the remaining districts.
In this and the previous presentation a few weeks ago, the committee expressed concerns on the best way to get the point across to visitors when they are entering and leaving the open container district. The BJCC staff have researched districts in other cities to determine how similar designated areas are handled.
Each point of sale site will have signs in the establishment regarding the rules for the district. In addition, they are also considering a branded plastic cup for visitors who opt to take a drink outside the premises.
The committee’s comments included to keep the designs simple but recognizable, use the more pedestrian-friendly five-foot poles and consider adding trash cans at the boundaries with signage.
This presentation was an informal review. Once the designs are finalized, representatives from the BJCC will formally present plans for the district.