1 month ago

$24 million American Life building renovation kicks off Birmingham’s opportunity zone initiatives

One of the most prominent vacant buildings in downtown Birmingham is about to get a $24 million transformation into 140 workforce housing apartments thanks to opportunity zone funding and a new initiative by the city of Birmingham.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin used the redevelopment announcement of the Stonewall/American Life building at 2308 Fourth Ave. N. to unveil the Birmingham Inclusive Growth (BIG) Partnership, a two-pronged effort to identify potential opportunity zone projects in one of the city’s two dozen designated opportunity zones, and to work with a separate investment board to find opportunity zone dollars to fund those projects.

“We believe that this innovative vehicle can help drive investment in Birmingham’s 24 opportunity zones – guided by community voice, bolstered by city resources and elevated by respected leaders in the investment community who believe in Birmingham’s potential,” Woodfin said.

Although the opportunity zone projects announced in Birmingham thus far have been mostly downtown, Woodfin noted that potential exists in almost every part of the city.

“They touch 77 out of 99 neighborhoods,” Woodfin said of the 24 opportunity zones in Birmingham. “That is a major, major opportunity – pun intended – to invest in the entire city, not just the central city.”

Woodfin said the city is working with Opportunity Alabama on an educational program that will see 500 residents trained by June 2020 in identifying and presenting opportunity zone projects.

Alex Flachsbart, founder of Opportunity Alabama, said Birmingham is prepared to be a leader in how opportunity zones are designed to help elevate communities.

“We have been excited for months now about releasing to the public the city of Birmingham’s incredible vision for opportunity zones, which Opportunity Alabama has been an integral part in creating and now bringing to life,” Flachsbart said.

“Where we see the greatest potential is in Birmingham’s 77 neighborhoods that are all in opportunity zones and that all have the ability to surface projects just like this one,” he said. “That’s why over the course of the next two months we’re putting together a first-of-its-kind-nationally educational curriculum designed to help communities understand how this program can benefit them and raise projects up in all the neighborhoods so that we can see opportunity zone capital flowing out to the entire city and not just downtown.”

Woodfin said the American Life building is symbolic.

“If you drive along on any highway that surrounds downtown, you can’t help but notice the 12-story, blighted building that we’re standing in front of right now,” Woodfin said. “At the top of this building, above cracked windows and shuttered doors, are painted words ‘American Life.’ For the last four decades, these words suspended on an eyesore in our city center have hung over Birmingham as a constant reminder that even though we enjoy pockets of prosperity, hardships still persist in Birmingham and all of our Americans’ life. But today we are announcing that the American Life building is once again going to be filled with life.”

Ed Ticheli is the owner and developer of the American Life building.

“We’ve owned the building since 2004 and we’re about to put her into service with 140 units of workforce housing,” Ticheli said.

Ticheli said the apartments will not be low-income housing that requires a separate approval process. Rather, rents are designed to provide affordable apartments for the working class who desire to live closer to their jobs.

Ticheli said rents will run from $700 per month to $1,200 per month and will average 750 square feet. He said the units will be small as 350 square feet and as large as 800 to 1,200 square feet duplexes on the first floor.

Five of the units will be reserved for placements by the Dannon Project, which helps people reintegrate into the workforce after prison or other obstacles.

Demolition and abatement work will begin in the next 45 days and the project will take about 14 months to complete. PNC Bank is financing.

Ticheli said it was the opportunity zone designation that helped make the project a reality.

“It’s been a godsend, not just for our team, but for the city of Birmingham because now the people who commute and hour and a half each way will have affordable housing here,” he said.

Ticheli said although the building has most recently been known as the Stonewall Building, he is leaning toward using the American Life name.

“I really do like ‘American Life’ because it symbolizes what we’re doing here,” he said.

Ticheli is eyeing an additional project next to the American Life building.

“Hopefully we will get the other 400 units up next door in time to come, with retail and a 600-space parking deck,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a game-changer. You’re right by the highway. If we put a nice little grocery story in here, I think it’s going to be fantastic.”

Woodfin was joined by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Columbia, S.C., Mayor Steve Benjamin, both of whom serve on the advisory council of Accelerator for America, which has spearheaded the opportunity zones initiative across the country.

“Our signature work that brings us here to Birmingham is opportunity zones – this moment to say to any community that your ZIP code is not a debit, it is an asset,” Garcetti said. “That it will attract investment, but we will make sure that that investment brings the community with it – listens to, comes from and hand-in-hand, that’s what we see here. That is exactly what is happening in Birmingham.”

Benjamin, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said “Birmingham is very much on the leading edge” when it comes to adopted opportunity zone policies.

“We’re here because opportunity is here in Birmingham,” he said. “We’re here in Birmingham right now because we are learning from Birmingham. The reality is that Birmingham is a leader in this movement.”

That’s music to the ears of Flachsbart, who has been singing the tune of opportunity zones in the state for the past year.

“When you go back to the policy goal of opportunity zones, it wasn’t just to do the big buildings downtown, it was to do the little things in neighborhoods,” he said. “And, more importantly it was to facilitate investment into businesses, into startups that are located in communities across the U.S. Here in Birmingham, we have a comprehensive strategy for building a pipeline, both on the real estate side and on the active business side, to service those opportunities, bring local capital to those opportunities, and help to see a whole new wave of additional growth. While we’re all standing here today talking about this and while we’re all incredibly excited about it, I think the real story is going to come over the next two or three months as this effort starts to roll out on a citywide basis.”

While real estate projects have been the biggest beneficiary of opportunity zone investment so far, Flachsbart said there is some clarification of the opportunity zone regulations underway now that should see more investment flow into startup companies and active businesses.

“We’re very hopeful, based on initial guidance that we’ve gotten publicly from Treasury, that that is going to throw the doors wide open for investment into the exact kinds of startups and operating companies in neighborhoods that this program was supposed to promote in the first place,” he said.

David Fleming, CEO of REV Birmingham, said Birmingham saw it important to be an early adopter of opportunity zones so the city could capitalize once investors were ready.

“Having an intentional strategy is really important and then having projects like this one announced today in Birmingham as a potential recipient of that shows that it does have an impact,” Fleming said.

The American Life project could be the first of many examples.

“This is a great project,” Fleming said. “We’ve been hopeful for years that the right thing would happen here. Really, the planets lined up between getting the state historic tax credit a few years ago to twin with the federal, and then now the opportunity zones is going to help make this project happen. Hopefully this will be a model that a lot of people will replicate around Birmingham.”

Josh Carpenter, director of Birmingham’s office of Innovation and Economic Opportunity, said opportunity zones are a great tool the city can use for growth.

“The BIG Partnership is another way that Birmingham is telling the nation that we are open for business.,” he said. “The BIG Partnership could become a model public-private endeavor that harnesses the investment expertise of our investment committee, the convening power and resources of the city and neighborhood-level expertise to drive inclusive growth in our community.”

Garcetti said Birmingham will be held up as an example to others.

“Folks, take it from Accelerator for America. We’re working with 30 cities right now across America in opportunity zones and to all of them and to every city in America we say, ‘Look here at Birmingham,’” he said. “We have been blown away by the partnership, by the success of state and local folks across party lines coming together and do what’s right. Revitalizing an iconic part of this city – this metaphor for an American life and what America’s life can be like in the future – and making sure there is a return for investors while there is a return for community. It can be a win-win and Birmingham is showing us that way.”

The website for the BIG Partnership is  www.birminghamoz.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

25 mins ago

‘The American Taliban’ released early from federal prison over objections of Alabama officials, Spann family

John Walker Lindh, a.k.a. “The American Taliban,” on Thursday was released years early from federal prison, despite the objections of Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), President Donald Trump, the entirety of the Alabama legislature and the family of Johnny Micheal “Mike” Spann, who was an Alabamian and the first American known to be killed in “The War on Terror” in Afghanistan after 9/11.

After being captured in Afghanistan in 2001, Lindh pled guilty to serving as a soldier of the Taliban. He was sentenced to 20 years in a federal penitentiary in 2002 for his role in the death of Spann, a Winfield native and Auburn University alumnus then serving as a CIA officer.

Lindh was released prematurely from federal custody in Indiana on Thursday. As of a 2017 Foreign Policy article, Lindh still intended to spread terrorist ideology upon his release from prison.

CNN has reported that Lindh will live in Virginia under set restrictions.

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Alison Spann, the late Alabamian’s daughter, recently wrote a letter to the president calling Lindh’s early release “a slap in the face — not only to my father and my family but, but for every person killed on Sept. 11th, their families, the U.S. military, U.S. [intelligence] services, families who have lost loved ones to this war and the millions of Muslims worldwide who don’t support radical extremists.”

In an interview with Fox News, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned Lindh’s early release as “unexplainable and unconscionable” and followed Shelby in calling for a review of prison system policies.

Restrictions placed on Lindh, according to the Associated Press, include that “Lindh’s internet devices must have monitoring software; his online communications must be conducted in English; he must undergo mental health counseling; he is forbidden to possess or view extremist material; and he cannot hold a passport or leave the U.S.”

His release came only a day after NBC reported that Lindh, in a letter to a producer from Los Angeles-based affiliate KNBC, wrote in 2015 that the Islamic State group is “doing a spectacular job” and “is clearly very sincere and serious about fulfilling the long-neglected religious obligation to establish a caliphate through armed struggle.”

Yellowhammer News on Wednesday learned that Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) imminently will file legislation to ensure convicted terrorists like Lindh are never released early from federal custody in the future.

On Lindh, Byrne has tweeted, “This man was held responsible for the horrific death of an Alabama CIA officer, and now he is getting out of jail early for good behavior. This is just so wrong!”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 hour ago

Huntsville Hospital lets children drive toy cars into surgery, goes beyond medical care

Huntsville Hospital is helping kids with much more than their medical needs.

WHNT on Wednesday reported, “Hospitals can be a scary place for anyone, but especially for kids. Huntsville Hospital has child life specialists whose sole job is to help the children there beyond their medical needs. Making a trip to the hospital, not only bearable but even fun.”

One of the favorite features for young patients at Huntsville Hospital is that children are allowed to drive toy cars right into surgery.

Additionally, the hospital waiting room has become more like a game room, with interactive games projected onto the floor for kids to play with while waiting.

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“So this is kind of one of those things that keeps their mind off everything before they have to go back,” Haley Franks, a pediatric ER registered nurse, told WHNT. “Especially if they have any kind of procedures or anything they are able to kind of play out here in the lobby and have some fun while they’re waiting.”

This incredible child life department has been in Huntsville Hospital for over two decades.

“There are some kids that are excited to be here. There are some kids that are really really scared and don’t even want to come in the door, stand on the scale, put on a bracelet,” Michelle Barksdale, a child life specialist, said. “We have all developmental ages and ranges of emotions.”

Specialists like Barksdale are trained in child psychology and development to know how to meet the needs of every individual child.

She said the needs of kids are very different than adults. She said a lot of kids are concrete thinkers they need to see what the surgery room will look like, not just be told.

Barksdale explained that the famous toy car rides even come complete with a unique driver’s license for each child.

“That car is a transition piece from parents who they know, where they’re safe, to people who they don’t know in scrubs,” she added.

For the pediatric staff at Huntsville Hospital, this is a labor of love for those kids. Not only are they working to heal them, the staff truly cares about making kids feel better, too.

“It makes it easier on that transition for the parent as well as the child. Because they know the child is not scared, they’re not crying, they’re not leaving them in a fearful state,” Amanda Rochowiak, a pre-op coordinator, said.

Watch below or here:

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Watch: Mobile’s WKRG anchor Mel Showers signs off for the last time after 50-year run

On Wednesday, long-time Mobile television personality Mel Showers anchored his newscast after a 50-year tenure at WKRG, the market’s CBS affiliate.

Back in March, Showers marked his 50th anniversary with WKRG.

Showers was joined by his family as he signed off Wednesday’s 10 p.m. newscast.

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“Well, I would like to take just a few moments of your time tonight to say thank you,” Showers said. “I want to thank you for allowing me into your homes for the past five decades — first as a booth announcer, where you heard my voice more than you saw my face, then as a reporter and now as a news anchor. I was honored earlier today by the management and staff of Nexstar in a luncheon. Later today, my son and grandsons flew in from Dallas, Texas. It was a big surprise, and tonight, I want you all to see my family gathered here. I have sisters. I have nephews. I have nieces. I have granddaughters. I have their friends. And I have my WKRG family as well, as you can see them.”

“So, there’s a lot of love here involved in this studio,” he added. “And I want to thank you for tolerating me all these many years. Along with thanking you, I want to thank my family and my friends and my WKRG family, of course, many of whom are here tonight as you see. I will miss you. I love you and may God continue to bless all of you, every one of you. Look at that beautiful family.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

Episode 7: Surviving and thriving with photos and Frosties

Marshall and I share about a plane crash we survived; the characteristics that did or did not draw us to each other; our crazy engagement story; how important it is to communicate – always; how phases are not forever, but marriage is; and how sitting down to stare at your early relationship photos can save your marriage.

>Challenge today: Why did you fall in love in the first place? Have some fun together reminiscing about the great moments in your relationship and never stop learning about the wonderful parts of your partner!

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3 hours ago

State Sen. Chris Elliott: ALDOT Mobile I-10 Bridge $6 toll proposal ‘politically unfeasible,’ Project scope could be reduced

Wednesday during an appearance on Mobile radio’s FM Talk 106.5’s “Mobile Mornings,” State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Daphne) said there could be changes ahead to the Alabama Department of Transportation’s proposal for a new I-10 Mobile Bayway Bridge, which as of now has toll that could be as high as $6 each way for vehicles.

Elliott said unless money came from other sources, be it the state or federal government, considerations to narrow the scope of the project could be underway.

He called the current ALDOT “politically unfeasible” and said the target for the toll is in the $2 range.

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“I think they are hearing the rancor from the proposal from the State Department of Transportation garnered and understand that the current proposal – that six-plus-dollar toll each way is just completely politically unfeasible. And they get that. And through my conversations with them, I think they have taken a step back. They are getting actively involved in what heretofore was a process being almost exclusively led by ALDOT, and saying, ‘OK, look guys – this isn’t going to work. We’re going to have to come up with another solution, and that’s where we are right now.”

Elliott offered a couple of options, one of which was increasing the public subsidy for the toll “significantly,” which would be in the amount of “hundreds of millions,” which he said would be gas tax revenue that would be bonded out into the future.

“The other, and I think perfectly valid way to look at it is, look at project scope – what parts can we simply afford and what parts can we just do without?” Elliott said. “Do we need to look at not doing the Bayway portion? Do we need to look at augmenting the Causeway and just doing the bridge? What parts do we need to do and what parts do we not need to do?”

“Then the other is continuing to work with our federal partners to see what, if any, help is there,” he added. “Mayor [Sandy] Stimpson and I have been in conversation about that recently. You know, we got this infrastructure grant that’s pending right now. There’s talk of an infrastructure bill in Washington.”

The Baldwin County Republican explained how the federal portion was only 7%, assuming the feds came through with the entire requested grant, which is not guaranteed he said. He said two of the distinct options were not building anything at all or accepting the entire proposed, neither which he said were options.

“I’m for trying to get something done that is palatable and reasonable,” Elliott said. “And I think the governor’s office, from what I’m hearing in our discussions with them, they’re up for that as well. It’s time to take a step back and say, ‘Look ALDOT, the proposal you have on the table is completely unreasonable. And we need to rein it in and figure out what can we do and what can we afford.”

Elliott said he expected the “tolerable number” for a toll would be in the “$2 range.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.