The city of Birmingham’s Design Review Committee gave approval Wednesday to plans by Alabama Power to transform an old parking lot into a new urban park and plaza that will surround the company’s Powell Avenue Steam Plant redevelopment.
The approval clears the way for the company to seek a construction permit for the park and plaza.
“We’re excited to have the committee’s blessing,” said Matt Gurley, who is coordinating construction for Alabama Power on the park and the steam plant projects. “We view both the park and plaza, and the revitalization of the steam plant, as economic development projects that we hope will spur even more economic growth in the city.”
The park and plaza will take up the entire city block along First Avenue South between 18th and 19th Streets, just across from Railroad Park. Among the design elements are fountains and tree-shaded groves, a pavilion with restrooms, and open areas for large gatherings. A section of the park provides a place for food trucks, while elevated areas offer quiet spots for sitting or for small performances.
The park and plaza will be a key link in the downtown greenway that is developing between Railroad Park and Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark, 14 blocks to the east. Just two blocks from the Alabama Power project, construction is underway on the long-anticipated Rotary Trail, a walking path on an old rail line. And just east of the Rotary Trail, the city recently completed a portion of the Jones Valley Trail, which connects to Sloss Furnaces. The Jones Valley Trail will eventually extend west from Railroad Park to the Birmingham Crossplex.
The park and plaza was designed by the landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz (NBW), with offices in Charlottesville, Va., and New York City. The firm is involved in several high-profile projects around the country, including Hudson Yards, Memorial Park in Houston and Centennial Park in Nashville. NBW has assembled a design team that includes local and regional firms, among them: Birchfield Penuel & Associates, Macknally Land Design and LBYD Civil and Structural Engineers, all based in Birmingham.
Thomas Woltz of NBW said the firm incorporated elements of Birmingham’s history, geology and ecology into the design of the Powell Avenue park and plaza. For example, one of the entrances draws visitors past high stone walls reminiscent of the “cut” through Red Mountain in the 1960s to build the Red Mountain Expressway. The fountains suggest the many streams and creeks that crisscross the Birmingham region.
Construction of the park and plaza, and the redevelopment of the steam plant itself, are designed to be catalysts for further economic growth in the city and the region.