Redevelopment underway at historic Ramsay-McCormack Building in Ensley

Redevelopment underway at historic Ramsay-McCormack Building in Ensley
A rendering shows the redeveloped Ramsay-McCormack Building to be constructed on the site of the original 1929 landmark in Ensley. Demolition of the original 10-story structure began this week. The new building's design will mirror the original. Although it will have only half as many floors -- five instead of 10 -- it will be only 18 feet shorter than the original because of larger floors. (City of Birmingham)

The redevelopment of the historic Ramsay-McCormack Building in Birmingham’s Ensley Business District began Oct. 1 with demolition underway of the original 10-story edifice.

Standing at the foot of the building with the sun shining brightly, city officials and business leaders announced that the demolished structure will be replaced with an office tower that will mirror the historic one, originally completed in 1929 and vacant since 1986.

“For decades, the Ramsay-McCormack Building symbolized Ensley’s thriving business district. Sadly, in more recent years, it has only signified blight,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin. “That’s why I’m so excited about this project – the Ramsay-McCormack Building site will very soon symbolize revitalization in this cherished neighborhood. We will focus investment not in a building alone, but through a comprehensive plan in the community.”

As construction workers dismantled historic elements of the building, leaders said during a morning press conference that materials from the building will be taken over the next 75 days for use in a new five-story, 30,000-square-foot structure that will reflect the Ramsay-McCormack’s historic architecture style. Like the original, the new structure will be the tallest building in Ensley.

Two tenants – Innovation Depot and Birmingham Promise Inc. – have publicly committed to leasing space in the completed project. Even though the new building will be five stories, each floor will be much taller, making it only 18 feet shorter than the old building. The parapet at the rooftop will incorporate four stars, one at each corner, imitating the original, said Irvin Henderson, of Ensley District Developers.

The Ramsay-McCormack Building, the tallest building in Ensley, has stood vacant since 1986. Demolition on the 91-year-old structure has begun. It will be replaced by a similar-looking but slightly shorter building. (contributed)

“The redevelopment of the Ramsay-McCormack site will be a beacon for the Ensley neighborhood, much like its predecessor building. This project coupled with the Woodfin administration’s additional revitalization strategy will support new and exciting opportunities,” Henderson said. “These actions will support new and existing businesses. The enthusiasm and consumer interest will bring customers to the businesses and increase the traffic of the area, which will support a healthy climate for entrepreneurism and encourage positive investment. This is the formula for revitalization.”

Birmingham City Councilor John Hilliard, who represents the Ensley district, said the building is an icon and “for years it has sat dormant, looming over the community as a relic of days gone by. … I am so excited to see this major economic development happening in the Ensley community. This project will serve as an anchor for the continued growth and resurgence of one of Birmingham’s most historic communities, one that helped make Birmingham a major industrial hub.”

“We made the Ensley business community a priority,” Woodfin said. “That’s because of 30-plus years of disinvestment.”

The building at Avenue E and 19th Street was named after investment partners Erskine Ramsay and Carr McCormack of the Ramsay-McCormack Development Co.

The building housed the Bank of Ensley on the ground floor, as well as the developer’s offices and local offices for U.S. Steel for several years. Despite a renovation in 1970, the closure of U.S. Steel’s Ensley Works left much of the tower vacant and the building’s doors were closed in 1979.

The city has owned the building since 1983, when U.S. Steel sold it for $1. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 but has been empty since 1986.

In February 2019, Birmingham city officials called for proposals for redevelopment of the building and properties in Ensley’s historic business district.

“There are a lot of people who didn’t believe we could make this happen,” Hilliard said. “It’s important to bring back hope.”

On Thursday, the city also announced a façade improvement pilot program that targets nine “priority redevelopment areas,” including the Ensley Commercial Business District.

The others are:

  • Fourth Avenue Business District.
  • North Birmingham Commercial District.
  • Eighth Avenue Business District.
  • Lomb-Tuscaloosa Avenue Commercial District.
  • Downtown West Commercial District.
  • Portions of the Downtown Northwest Commercial District.
  • Portions of Woodlawn Commercial District.
  • Portions of East Lake Commercial District.

The program will give property owners financial incentives – $20 per square foot based on total project cost, with a maximum of $50,000 per building – to improve building façades.

This story originally appeared on The Birmingham Times’ website.

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