By David Fleming
CEO & President, REV Birmingham
Birmingham has award-winning green spaces, renowned restaurants, a multi-million dollar tech company whose logo will soon grace the top of downtown’s tallest building. Right now, we have more momentum, investment and growth than Birmingham has seen since the early days when we earned the name “Magic City.”
But amidst all these triumphs, I believe that Birmingham is still missing something important—something that inspires people to experience downtown on foot, that can tell the story of our city and its cultures.
It’s retail—one of the most vital ingredients for vibrancy in a city—and we need more of it.
Vibrant business districts embody the soul of a place. They make you tout your hometown, or broadcast where you travel, and reminisce when you return home. They draw you in and call you to explore, to lay roots, to share what you discover with family and friends.
It’s about even more than how our city makes us feel, though. Lively retail districts have tangible effects on a city.
- Retail encourages walkability. People don’t like walking past vacant storefronts. A filled-in fabric communicates that a district is established, safe and treasured.
- Retailers of all sizes connect major anchors. That means destinations like the McWane Center and Birmingham Civil Rights Institute draw people in, but retail keeps them here to spend money longer. We need urban fabric to feel connected; and we need revenue to build a stronger city.
- An active retail market allows us to incubate locally grown businesses—which shape our city’s personality and celebrate its character.
- Unique, convenient retail options add to the quality of life for the growing residential population in the district. It’s as beneficial for those who live here as it is for those who work and visit downtown.
In Birmingham, 2nd and 3rd Avenues west of 20th Street were once the city’s primary retail destination. This district’s history can also be a painful reminder of our city’s role as a battleground for civil rights, because, in its heyday, not all were welcome here.
Now, in a place full of historic buildings ripe for adaptive reuse, it’s time to renew this retail district for everyone.
That’s why REV Birmingham is launching Upswing on 2nd—a 3-month-long demonstration project designed to prove and improve downtown’s market for retail.
From September 29 through December 14, REV will transform a surface parking lot at the corner of 2nd Avenue North and 19th Street (across the street from The Pizitz and McWane) into a mini retail district with Birmingham businesses operating out of converted shipping containers. Brightly colored hammock swings will flank the shipping container shops, and bistro sets and rockers will line the sidewalks, inviting people to stop and enjoy whatever bit of fall weather Alabama gets. A (soon-to-be-announced) calendar of events will occupy the space many nights and weekends, giving people reasons to enjoy downtown throughout the week.
We believe our city is ready for more authentic, vibrant retail – and we’re looking forward to proving it through the Upswing experience this fall.
On Saturday, November 23, five Big Pitch finalists will vie for a share of $50,000 in cash and professional services prize packages, as they pitch their business models to a panel of judges, potential investors, and a live audience.
Join Young Pioneers in support of REV Birmingham for a panel discussion featuring Dread River Distilling Co. and Williams Blackstock Architects.
You should totally register for Epic City Rush—part scavenger hunt, part competition, part community clean-up day. But first, a rant.