Birmingham historic Federal Reserve property’s renovation nears completion

Birmingham historic Federal Reserve property’s renovation nears completion
"Spire" is the new kinetic sculpture by New Orleans artist Lin Emery that was installed outside the Birmingham Federal Reserve Building. (Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

One of downtown Birmingham’s most historic buildings is nearly complete with its $20 million renovation and now has a modern sculpture to mark its new life.

The Federal Reserve Building and its annex at 1801 Fifth Ave. North will be ready for its first tenant, Urban Cookhouse, in January with the first office space ready for the Arendall Hand law firm in February.

A sneak peek at Birmingham’s renovated Federal Reserve building and its new kinetic sculpture from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Owners and developers Capstone Real Estate Investments and Harbert Realty Services held a sneak peek of the five-story, 85,000-square-foot property today as it unveiled a new kinetic outdoor sculpture from New Orleans artist Lin Emery.

“Spire” is the name of the sculpture Emery completed for the Federal Reserve. The red and silver artwork has parts that move with the slightest breeze, giving the piece an ever-changing look.

“I’d always been interested in moving,” Emery said. “Everything we see around us is in motion. So, when I became a sculptor I tried different ways of showing how movement could be expressed and then, by luck, I found a way to make things actually move so I stayed with it.”

Bringing motion to the space is appropriate given the activity taking place with downtown renovation. Within a couple of blocks from the Federal Reserve are renovation projects at the Pizitz Building, the Lyric Theatre, the Booker T. Washington Insurance building and the Thomas Jefferson Tower. All are either complete or nearing completion.

“It’s great for Birmingham,” said Norman Tynes, executive vice president with Harbert Realty. “This building is in the center of the legal and financial district in Birmingham and it was time for this building to be re-used. The market has completely embraced it.”

Tynes said the committed tenants are taking 45 percent of the property with proposals out to potential tenants for the remainder of the space.

While other downtown buildings have been vacant for longer periods of time, few are as prominently located as the Federal Reserve.

“This building sat vacant for more than 15 years,” Tynes said, citing when the Federal Reserve left downtown for a new building in Liberty Park. “We assembled a development team to bring this building back to its original condition with updated specs, technology and materials.”

In addition to exposed brick, marble tile and high ceilings, the building boasts several vaults used by the Federal Reserve.

“We have five vaults in the building,” Tynes said. “(The lobby vault) is the primary vault and then one on each floor. You can’t replicate this anywhere today.”

Some of the vaults will be used as conference rooms for the office tenants. Two of them have been converted into men’s and women’s restrooms.

A state historic tax credit program helped make the renovation possible. The state has not continued that program despite several projects in Birmingham and other cities that have benefited from the tax credits.

“Without them, this deal would have never happened,” Tynes said, noting that the state tax credits along with federal historic tax credits were used. “It costs so much more money to refurbish a building like this than ground-up construction. Without those preservation credits it would be cost-prohibitive to bring this back.”

Hoar Construction is the general contractor and Williams Blackstock is the architect. Urban Cookhouse has committed to 3,800 square feet on the ground floor and Hand Arendall will take 21,000 square feet on the top two floors.

Mike Mouron, chairman of Capstone Real Estate Investments, said the tax credits were key to him buying and refurbishing the property.

“The state and (federal) historic tax credit, which this building was eligible for, was a principle driving factor in my investing in it,” he said. “I’m obviously very glad I did and I hope the city of Birmingham is also. We took a building that had been vacant for 15 years and delivered this, which I think has to be one of the prettiest lobbies in the city.”

Mouron said new buildings can be built but elements of the old buildings can’t be duplicated.

“I’ve always had an affinity towards historic rehab,” he said. “I think what you end up with when you’re through, you cannot replace with new construction.”

The new construction projects along with the renovations in downtown Birmingham are combining to create new life.

“I’m a native of Birmingham and I’ve never seen so much energy and momentum and excitement downtown,” Mouron said. “I’m glad that this is a small part of it.”

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