By Erica Wright
The Birmingham City Council on Tuesday approved an agreement between the city and Ensley District Developers, LLC to redevelop the historic Ramsay-McCormack building in downtown Ensley.
The council voted 8-1 with Councilor Steven Hoyt being the no vote after raising some concerns about the project.
The council approved spending $1.5 million towards the pre-development work and $2.5 million for construction.
The vote came during a meeting where the body unanimously elected Councilor William Parker as the Birmingham City Council President and Councilor Wardine Alexander as President Pro Tempore. Parker replaces Valerie Abbott who had served as president since 2017.
The redevelopment of the Ramsay-McCormack building has long been talked about and city officials were elated what the project could mean for the Ensley community and the city.
Mayor Randall Woodfin called the project “a big deal.”
“We’ve seen a lot of business districts grow over time like in Avondale and Woodlawn and what we’re saying is the same type of new created foot traffic in all of these other districts, we want the same vitality in downtown Ensley,” he said. “We want people to be able to come there not just from 9-5 and go at night, but at 5:01 we want people to have a reason to stay there.”
With the funding in place, the next step is for the developer to submit a work plan to the city by December 6 that will outline how the building will be used.
Once the work plan is approved, the city will provide $1.3 million for pre-development work that includes hiring a local project manager as well as Birmingham area engineers and architects and holding meetings with community stakeholders. The developer will also secure tenants before construction.
“We want a live, work, play environment that is a 21st century win and we want it to have as many of the amenities and many of the great qualities that other areas here have that the people in Ensley deserve,” said Irvin Henderson, Managing Partner for Ensley District Developers. “We’re really looking to have a great collaboration with the existing property owners, existing residents, and then we want to attract new businesses, new residents and we want to make sure there is an economic development happening in Ensley that allows the feasibility of the entire redevelopment.”
The Ramsay-McCormack building- a 10-story, 144-foot-tall office tower completed in 1929 and located on the corner of Avenue E and 19th Street Ensley-is named after investment partners Erskine Ramsay and Carr McCormack of the Ramsay-McCormack Development Co.
The building housed the Bank of Ensley on the ground floor, as well as the developer’s offices and local offices for U.S. Steel for several years. Despite a renovation in 1970, the closure of U.S. Steel’s Ensley Works left much of the tower vacant and the building’s doors were closed in 1979.
The city has owned the building since 1983 when U.S. Steel sold the building to the city for $1 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, but has been empty since 1986.
“To residents of the entire Ensley community who have been in need of some [tender loving care] from the city of Birmingham, we’re glad to provide this [redevelopment],” said Woodfin. “To Councilor [John] Hilliard, who has been an advocate and represents this district and this area and the people of this district and to the majority of the council who approved this, we’re excited about it. We’re excited about our developer at the table. It’s a big deal.”
Hilliard, who represents the area, said this is about much more than just the Ramsay-McCormack building.
“This is truly a great start…but it’s not just about that building, it’s about the development of the Ensley area,” he said. “We need green space, we need blocks to be renovated. We want investors to come. We would like for Ensley to reflect the rest of Birmingham. It’s not just about the building in Ensley . . . people want viable businesses… I thank the department of economic development and the mayor for all that you have done. This is a promise kept.”
Hoyt, who also represents parts of the Ensley area, said though he was in support of the redevelopment, he still had some questions and concerns.
“We’ve already done this mitigation. We’ve spent about $2 or $3 million to mitigate the lead and the asbestos and all of that so we shouldn’t be paying for a test that’s already been done… that’s why it’s hard for me to support this on the surface because that’s a waste of money,” said Hoyt.
In other council news, Parker was unanimously elected as the Birmingham City Council President and Alexander President Pro Tempore on a 5-4 vote. Councilors Abbott, Alexander, Parker, O’Quinn and Williams voted for Alexander while Councilors Woods, Hilliard, Smitherman and Hoyt voted for Hilliard.
Parker said he’s ready to get to work as president and plans to meet with his colleagues. “We are a team and we’re going to work as a team and we’re going to roll up our sleeves to make sure we work together collectively as one group,” he said during Tuesday’s meeting. “I’ll be talking to everyone individually but we want to make sure that we are a body, we’re going to work with the mayor and make sure it’s all 10 of us so we’re going to work.”
Alexander was appointed to the council last year to fill the unexpired term of Jay Roberson. She is in a November runoff with Ray Brooks for the District 7 seat.
For more about the Ramsay-McCormack redevelopment, visit www.birminghamal.gov/ensleyredevelopment.
This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.