3 months 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.

RELATED: Alabama, Birmingham preparing for economic impact of Opportunity Zones

“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.

The Stonewall/American Life building has been vacant for 36 years. (Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)
“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)

1 min ago

SEC media days kicks off in Hoover

Southeastern Conference media days begins at the event’s longtime home.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey kicks the four-day event off Monday with his annual media address about the state of the league and college football.

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Media days returns to the Birmingham suburb of Hoover, Alabama after one year in Atlanta.

The spotlight will be on LSU coach Ed Orgeron on Day 1, with Florida’s Dan Mullen and Missouri’s Barry Odom also taking the podium.

Some things have not changed: Alabama and Georgia remain the division favorites.

The Crimson Tide’s Nick Saban speaks Wednesday, a day after Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart has his turn.

All 14 teams will make the rounds, including star quarterbacks like Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Georgia’s Jake Fromm.

Every SEC head coach returns this season for the first time since 2006.
(Associated Press, copyright 2019)

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31 mins ago

Defense expertise helping Huntsville’s Dynetics become space juggernaut

Since being founded in the Rocket City in 1974, Dynetics has spent the last 45 years becoming an unquestioned worldwide leader in the defense, intelligence and aerospace industries.

With the 50th anniversary of the famous Apollo 11 mission to the Moon being celebrated this week, it is especially fitting that Dynetics recently cemented its rise in the space sector, too.

This ascent has taken place quickly, really over the past decade. It all started in 2009, when Dynetics first expanded its state-of-the-art capabilities to include the space sector, shocking longtime industry leaders with the success of its Fast, Affordable, Scientific, SATellite (FASTSAT) small satellite.

From that initial milestone, Dynetics has built a reputation as an Alabama-based company that provides reliable, rapid and efficient space solutions.

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In a statement, Dynetics Vice President for Space Systems Kim Doering explained, “Dynetics has a rich heritage in defense and intelligence, and really what we needed to do in the last few years was translate what we’ve done for those government contractors into ‘NASA speak’ and demonstrate that the rigor that we place on weapons systems development and things we do for the warfighter, that those are mission critical systems, just like the systems that support astronauts.”

The company has done just that, continuing to build a reputation on such contracts as the NASA/Boeing Space Launch System (SLS) Core Stage Exhaust Gas Heat Exchanger, NASA/Radiance SLS Core Stage Pathfinder and NASA SLS Universal Stage Adapter.

Additionally, in the commercial sector, Dynetics has supported United Launch Alliance (ULA) to test the Vulcan.

Then, in November, Dynetics was also selected to develop small satellites for the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command (USASMDC/ARSTRAT) Technical Center program — Lonestar.

Now, Dynetics says their “next goal” is to “become the ‘go-to’ propulsion provider for partners in both government and industry.”

They are well on their way to doing just that, as three recent contract awards regarding lunar exploration architecture exemplify.

First, Dynetics was chosen to provide the propulsion system for Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar Lander, which is scheduled to land on the Moon in 2020.

The company is also a key player in NASA’s Artemis Program, which is the United States’ plan to return human beings to the Moon by 2024. Dynetics was one of eleven companies selected to study and build five descent stage prototypes for a new human lunar lander.

And, as reported by Yellowhammer News last week, Dynetics is now playing a key role in Maxar’s plan for NASA’s Lunar Gateway, a space station that will orbit the Moon and serve as a vital part of Artemis’ success, as well as future expeditions to Mars. Dynetics will provide support for the power and propulsion element of Gateway and aid establishment of a sustainable lunar presence.

So, as humankind fondly looks backwards upon one of history’s greatest accomplishments this week, Alabamians should be proud to know that the future of space exploration is in good hands, with Marshall Space Flight Center and companies like Dynetics helping turn dreams into reality.

“At Dynetics, we love challenges, and there is a spirit of tackling anything that comes in,” Doering concluded. “It’s an exciting time to be here.”

View a detailed timeline of Dynetics’ rise in the space sector over the last decade here.

RELATED: Alabama: The ‘backbone of national security space launch’

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

1 hour ago

7 Things: Immigration raids have started, Trump tweet gives Democrats a reprieve, Doug Jones advocates for Obamacare and more …

7. Support for impeachment craters 

  • The support for impeaching President Donald Trump has fallen to new lows with only 21% of the nation agreeing it should move forward, while 18% of independents, and, more surprisingly, only 39% of Democrats are on board.
  • The poll shows that the American people do not believe the president committed an impeachable offense, that the Russian investigation came up empty and a new report finds another much-ballyhooed investigation into the Trump Organization will lead to no charges.

6. Facebook is getting fined

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  • Facebook is getting fined $5 billion for privacy violations. The fine was approved by a 3-2 vote from the FTC.
  • This was the settlement to the long debate over the Cambridge Analytica debacle that started over a year ago. Facebook later admitted to giving Amazon and Yahoo access to users’ personal data, as well as collecting call and text data from phones on Google’s Android system in 2015.

5. More tolls for Alabama

  • State Senator Chris Elliot (R-Daphne) has said that tolls coming to help build the $2.1 billion Mobile Bay Bridge could open the opportunity for more tolls coming to additional roads in Alabama.
  • Elliot warned that this could be the first case it will be used, but it will not be the last, stating, “And that toll authority legislation, while it is probably going to be rolled out for the first time in coastal Alabama, could be used in other parts of the state as well, which is why I think it ultimately passed both houses and had the governor’s signature on it because the next time it gets used is going to be in Birmingham, or it’s going to be in Huntsville between Huntsville and Decatur, or some other area like that.”

4. Chaos and terrorism at detention centers across the country

  • Talk of mistreatment, child separation, “concentration camps” on the southern border and new immigration raids have led to an escalation in rhetoric, calls for immediate action and protests to end the practice of detaining people who enter the country illegally.
  • This weekend, the American flag was ripped down in Colorado so the protestors could fly a Mexican flag, and more seriously, a domestic terrorist attack a Tacoma, Washington detention facility with “incendiary devices” and firearms by Willem Van Spronsen who sent a manifesto laying out his reasoning for his attack.

3. Doug Jones wants to keep Obamacare

  • In New Orleans, the federal appeals court heard arguments over a lawsuit that says the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. Alabama is included in the lawsuit, but U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) wants you to know that the Affordable Care Act is essential to Alabama.
  • Jones said that for people with pre-existing conditions or those who rely on their health care coverage for mediations and treatment, getting rid of the Affordable Care Act “could literally be a life or death matter” and Alabama apparently “has the most to lose.” Jones also claimed that the lawsuit is just another “attempt to take healthcare away from folks.”

2. Trump tweets give the media and their Democrats a common enemy

  • As the Democrat civil war escalated, President Donald Trump decided to unify them by tweeting that U.S. Representatives Ayanna Presley (D-MA), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) should “go back to and help the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” amid the four congresswomen being critical of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
  • The tweet was roundly criticized with some calling it racist. Others pointed out that it was a foolish thing for the president to do while the Democratic Party was engaging in open infighting and their more vocal members were becoming wildly unpopular.

1. The raids have started

  • As promised, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has begun immigration raids across the country. Acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli has kept most of the details quiet, including not saying whether families will be separated in the raids, which happens every-single-day in America.
  • What Cuccinelli did say is that 1 million people have removal orders. He didn’t confirm that raids have started, but according to Fox News, a senior administration official said that they began on Saturday evening.

4 hours ago

Alabama high school students’ experiment set to launch to International Space Station

One local public education system in Alabama is helping give a new meaning to the phrase, “The sky’s the limit.”

Students from Winfield City High School are set to have their experiment launch on Sunday to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP).

SpaceX-18 is set to depart Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 7:32 p.m. EDT on July 21 with the payload designated “SSEP15 – Gemini.” This signifies SSEP’s 15th overall flight opportunity and is the 13th SSEP mission to the ISS. NanoRacks handles stowage of the payload on the spacecraft.

The launch will come the day after the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the Moon.

Student experiments were chosen from around the Western Hemisphere through a process that began in the fall of 2018.

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Entitled “Purification of Water in Microgravity,” Winfield’s experiment will join experiments from 39 other communities in being tested in a laboratory setting aboard the ISS over an approximately four-week period.

Winfield’s proposal summary as follows:

The recent discovery of water on Mars has opened a possibility of new ways that the life sustaining liquid can be obtained in space travel. This new method would rely on collecting water from space bodies that are not our own. The only problem with this method is determining if this water would be safe to drink. Our team is proposing to study if microgravity has any effect on the purification of water. We would collect water from a non-sterile source, like a pond and mix it with purification tablets. Next, we would test the water to see if anything harmful survived.

The Winfield 12th grade students designated as co-principal investigators on the experiment are Luke Clark, Tanner Edmond, Davis Holdbrooks, Luke Jungels and Savannah Williamson. Jennifer Birmingham is their teacher facilitator.

Winfield’s SSEP students precisely measuring the amount of iodine tablet for their Water Purification experiment. (Contributed)

Congressman Robert Aderholt (AL-04), whose district includes Winfield, told Yellowhammer News that he is proud of his young constituents.

“It’s great to see these students engaging in this type of science,” the congressman said. “I congratulate them and their teachers at Winfield for participating in this program.”

“It also shows how space applications have a direct impact on the quality of life back here on earth. I look forward to following their experiment and seeing its outcome,” Aderholt concluded.

SpaceX-18 is slated to berth at the ISS one to four days after launching.

Read more about “SSEP Mission 13 to ISS” here.

Winfield City Schools also was represented on “SSEP Mission 12 to ISS” last year, when Winfield Middle School students saw their experiment make the trip.

Watch:

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

Mobile Bay reefs project aims to help renew aquatic habitats, vanishing shoreline

The following is the latest installment of the Alabama Power Foundation’s annual report, highlighting the people and groups spreading good across Alabama with the foundation’s support.

 

If you were able to travel back a couple of hundred years and visit the edge of Mobile Bay near where Helen Wood Park is today, you’d see miles and miles of marshland, veined with tidal creeks and teeming with fish and other marine creatures that look to the safety of the marsh to spawn.

At low tide, there would be vast mounds of oysters around the edge of an estuary that was about 30 feet deep at its deepest point. The marshes and oyster beds of the past didn’t only serve as havens for creatures. They reduced the ability of storm tides to erode the mainland.

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But a lot can change in a pair of centuries. The oyster reefs that used to encircle the bay have dwindled, and there is more ship traffic. As a result, waves eroded the marshes and shore.

“We’ve changed the dynamics of the bay,” said Judy Haner, marine and freshwater programs director for The Nature Conservancy, which is leading the charge in rebuilding Mobile Bay. “What we’re doing now is trying to give that shoreline a fighting chance. We want to help boost those habitats, not only for fish and birds and wildlife, but also to protect the shoreline from erosion.”

In this effort, the Alabama Power Foundation provided resources to build reefs in the brackish waters off Helen Wood Park, in Lourdes on the west side of Mobile Bay, and the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) provided manpower.

In May 2018, some 60 APSO volunteers – aged 12 to 70-plus – rolled up their sleeves, put on their boots and clamdiggers and went about the business of reef building.

In the past, The Nature Conservancy had attempted to build replacement reefs using bags of spent oyster shells – the same ingredient nature uses for reefs. But the erosive power of waves proved too intense, scattering the bags of oyster shells. Now, the conservancy opts to use “oyster castles” to construct new reefs.

Oyster castles are a relatively new way of constructing artificial reefs, using interlocking 35-pound concrete blocks. APSO volunteers developed a system using plastic “barges” to move the blocks along a human chain that snaked out into the rich brown marsh waters adjacent to a bridge over the Dog River.

Over the course of eight hours, the team of Nature Conservancy and APSO volunteers built seven artificial reefs.

“This was a new project for us,” said Erin Delaporte, an Alabama Power Customer Service manager in Mobile who is the APSO chapter president and coordinated the project. “It was a very labor-intensive day, but it was a wonderful day. It was tough work. I heard someone say they had worked eight hours on the project, but it took 48 hours to recover.

“It was worth it,” Delaporte said. “It was one of the most unique projects we’ve ever done in Mobile.”

As for the reefs, the positive effect was instantaneous.

“We wanted to restore the vertical topography of that reef and restore the waves, and you see that pretty much right away,” Haner said.

While there will be future scientific measurement of the growth of the reefs, native fish and crabs found them soon after completion of the APSO project.

For more information on the Alabama Power Foundation and its annual report, visit here.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)