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New Publix, Apartment Projects in Downtown Birmingham Spur on Retail Growth

The real estate market in downtown Birmingham has followed the “chicken and egg” trend. Over the last few years, over a dozen multifamily projects have been announced, but the major hurdle is proving the demand as people moving downtown have wanted a downtown grocer. While some multifamily developers decided to proceed with construction, others waited on the sidelines hoping a grocer would announce a new downtown location. On the other hand, major grocers put off locating in downtown Birmingham due to the lack of people living in the general area.

Problem solved when construction started last year on a new 30,000-square-foot Publix with a full-service pharmacy in downtown Birmingham. Developers Scott Bryant and Dick Schmalz announced that the Publix will anchor a new multi-story, mixed-used development. Publix considered a store in downtown Birmingham in 2007 and again in 2009 before finally deciding to bring a store downtown now. The development of the Parkside District with Railroad Park and Regions Field, along with existing and planned apartment projects in the area, contributed to the timing.

Rodney Barstein, Retail Specialists LLC

Rodney Barstein, Retail Specialists LLC

With the addition of Publix, several other multifamily projects are well underway or completed, such as the 228-unit LIV Parkside, 332 total units next to Regions Field and over 500 units in the Lakeview/Highland Golf Course area. Recently Retail Specialists LLC announced that construction will start in late April on the new Central City development at the corner of 7th Avenue and 21st Street South, adjacent to University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). While most of the projects recently opened or under construction are primarily multifamily, this project will have the greatest amount of stores on the ground floor, in addition to 45 apartment units that cater to UAB professional students, interns and residents.

Just across the north side and south side dividing line of downtown, Bayer Properties is renovating the former Pizitz department store. Over 140 units are planed with a food hall and other retail on the ground floor. Complementing this project is the renovation of the Thomas Jefferson Towers nearby with close to 100 units.

As people are moving downtown, so are the venues for entertainment and socializing. Numerous restaurants and music halls are within walking distance, allowing for residents to basically stay in a two- to three-mile radius for all of their living, dining and entertainment needs. The renovation of the Lyric Theatre, across the street from the historic Alabama Theatre, has helped promote that part of downtown Birmingham as a true entertainment district.

Hip new restaurants are also popping up in many unusual places. The Lakeview area is seeing many different types of restaurants opening, making this a destination for people who don’t know what they want but know that once they get there, so many options are available. Smaller restaurants like El Barrio are so popular that nearby restaurants such as Bamboo on 2nd are seeing a spillover effect. Where old smaller building used to go unused, small independent restaurants are springing up like Feast and Forest and Breadworks.

All of this activity will be the catalyst to bring a major employer to downtown Birmingham. When this happens, the cycle will be complete and a new cycle will begin again where more people, more shopping and more entertainment will look to downtown Birmingham as the area continues to grow.

— By Rodney Barstein, Executive Vice President, Retail Specialists LLC. This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Southeast Real Estate Business.

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