Downtown Birmingham linear park the focus of upcoming public meetings

Downtown Birmingham linear park the focus of upcoming public meetings
Officials are hoping the space beneath the interstates through downtown Birmingham will no longer inhibit connectivity after the ongoing rebuild. (Alabama Department of Transportation)

A proposal to create a mile-long linear park underneath the rebuilt Interstate 59/20 elevated highway through downtown Birmingham is generating excitement among city and community leaders.

The proposal is in the conceptual stage, and is expected to be unveiled for community discussion before two meetings next month. Officials emphasize that nothing is firm and that community residents will be encouraged to provide ideas about what should go in the public space.

The improvements to Interstate 59/20 will include the space underneath the roadways. (Michael Sznajderman / Alabama NewsCenter)

The linear park would run for 10 blocks underneath the widened highway from 15th Street to 25th Street North – starting near the Civil Rights District and ending just beyond the Uptown entertainment district, east of the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC). In comparison, Birmingham’s popular Railroad Park, while significantly wider, is only four blocks long.

State transportation officials and others participating in the process say the new public space is possible because of the way the elevated highway will be rebuilt. For example, the rebuilt interstate will have no vehicle exit or entrance ramps along the 10-block stretch, making the space below the highway more inviting for pedestrians and public activities. Enhanced lighting that can change color, similar to the 14th and 18th Street tunnels near Railroad Park, also promises to make the proposed linear park more pleasant.

The new highway design removes hundreds of support columns that disrupt the space beneath the existing elevated highway. Instead of the existing spans that have columns every 65 feet, the new design will have columns 165 feet apart. The seamless design of the new highway is expected to eliminate much of the highway noise, including the “thump-thump” heard now as trucks rumble over seams between spans.

The ongoing improvements to Interstate 59/20 includes 10 blocks through downtown where officials want to build a linear park and public space. (Alabama Department of Transportation)

Officials said no plans are locked down for what could occupy the linear spaces underneath the new highway. Among ideas being floated are everything from a carousel, to athletic fields, to fountains and performance and event spaces. Art installations could be part of the mix.

Birmingham-based Barge Design Solutions is working on the concepts. Barge has been involved in park, greenway and large landscape-design projects, including a 3-mile extension of the Tennessee Riverpark in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the renovation of Rhodes Jordan Park in Gwinnett County, Georgia. Consulting with Barge is New York-based Biederman Redevelopment Ventures, which was part of the team responsible for important public projects around the country, including renovated Bryant Park in New York City and Klyde Warren Park in Dallas.

One element already exciting to local officials and community leaders is how a linear park could provide pedestrian connections downtown – potentially linking attractions and institutions, including the BJCC, Uptown and the Sheraton and Westin hotels; the Birmingham Museum of Art, Boutwell Auditorium and Linn Park; the Alabama School of Fine Arts and its theater; and the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument and its multiple historic sites. A linear park has the potential to be an attraction itself, providing a walkable connector between downtown and the institutions and neighborhoods just north of Interstate 59/20, which has been a physical barrier for decades.

Also being discussed are potential names for the linear park. Working with Barge on branding concepts is Birmingham-based public relations firm O2 Ideas. The firm is expected to unveil a potential name for the park before the public involvement meetings, scheduled for July 17 at Boutwell Municipal Auditorium and July 24 at the Birmingham CrossPlex. There will be three sessions on both days, from 10 a.m. to noon, noon until 2 p.m., and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.  A website is being developed where details will be provided.

More information is expected to be posted soon at www.dot.state.al.us. Click on “I-59 Public Space.”

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