Bayer Properties has a contract to purchase the Hardwick Co. building, a 110-year-old steel plant on the eastern end of the Rotary Trail at 23rd Street and First Avenue South.
The building, which has a 30,000-square-foot footprint, is expandable to 50,000 square feet by adding floors. The hope is to be underway with development in 2021.
In an economy paralyzed by COVID-19, Bayer Co-President and Chief Financial Officer Jami Wadkins said the development looks to the future.
“As a real estate developer, even though things are uncertain right now in the country with this unprecedented time we’re dealing with, as a real estate company we’ve always got to be looking for opportunities, so we tried to continue our business pipeline through the COVID-19 event,” she said.
Wadkins said the company will apply the same expertise it brought to the successful redevelopment of The Pizitz, which turned a 1920s-era department store into a popular mix of apartments, food hall, co-working, entertainment and retail space.
The Hardwick will have its own character. Wadkins said the company is looking at the potential to incorporate elements that speak to the building’s history, like the massive overhead cranes and machinery that still exist and give the space “some energy and ambiance.”
“We are really excited about the Hardwick project. It is a sort of unique building,” Wadkins said. “The location is terrific, right on the Rotary Trail and with some developments going on on that end of town.”
Wadkins said the plan is set on developing the building into office space, but the rest of the mixed-use elements are still being worked out.
“We do believe that that area is ripe for adding some entertainment or food and beverage,” she said.
Playing off the connectivity that now exists between Railroad Park, Rotary Trail, Sloss Furnaces, Pepper Place and part of the larger Red Rock Trail System, Wadkins said that part of downtown should continue to enjoy growth.
Bayer Co-president Libby Lassiter agreed.
“The redevelopment of the Hardwick building will bring a pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use project to the area, complementing the fabric of the surrounding neighborhood,” she said.
It also gives Bayer a focus in the city where it is headquartered.
“We did want to do more business in our own city – in Birmingham and the surrounding area,” she said.
The building is under contract and in pre-development now. It qualifies for historic tax credits and opportunity zone incentives, which Wadkins said they plan to pursue. Bayer has selected Birmingham-based Williams Blackstock Architects and Schoel Engineering as part of the initial design team.
Wadkins said talks were already taking place with potential tenants when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and brought business to a halt.
Wadkins said they are seeing businesses suffer in every state where they have properties. She said it’s not just retailers or landlords of shopping centers feeling the pain, but the entire supply chain and even in industries you may not suspect. For instance, movie theaters are struggling now because of social distancing and crowd size restrictions, but that is also affecting the production of new movies, which could affect having movies to premiere when theaters do open back up.
Moreover, retailers that had just purchased spring and summer merchandise when COVID-19 hit are now not only worried about that but how they’re going to be able to order for the following seasons.
Still, as businesses have been allowed to reopen even with COVID-19 restrictions, there is a sense that things are showing a small but incremental improvement.
“At The Summit this past weekend, I would say it was positive — not a normal weekend at The Summit, but it felt better than it has in the last two months or even the last two weeks,” Wadkins said.
Which is why projects like The Hardwick take on more significance – it gives people something to look forward to.
“We can’t just completely stop,” Wadkins said. “We’ve always got to be looking for opportunities to continue to do business, and that’s what we’ve done. We have the Hardwick project, and we actually have one other that we’re working on in the metro area — not quite as far along — but we’ve just got to continue working.”