5 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)

13 hours ago

Bradley Byrne campaign announces launch of ‘Farmers for Bradley’ coalition

Bradley Byrne’s campaign for United States Senate announced Friday that key leaders from Alabama’s agriculture community have launched a “Farmers for Bradley” coalition to support Byrne.

Agriculture remains the top industry in Alabama, and we need a Senator who will not only vote right, but who will actually fight tooth and nail to support our farmers, landowners, and agribusinesses,” Byrne said in a statement. “To have such a strong group of agriculture leaders backing our campaign is a real honor and a testament to the hard work we have done over the years to support our Alabama farmers.”

Both State Senator Andrew Jones (R-Centre) and Mark Kaiser from Baldwin County, who lead the coalition, believe Byrne will fight for farmers in the Senate.

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“When I first met Bradley, it was clear he is a fighter,” Jones said. “Agriculture is a very difficult industry with a wide range of challenges, so it is so important we have a U.S. Senator who will work with our farmers and leaders at the state level to make life a little easier.”

Kaiser echoed Jones’ comments and said, “Bradley just gets it when it comes to agriculture. He has taken the time to learn about the various issues impacting Alabama’s agriculture community, and he has used that knowledge to fight for us in Washington. Bradley doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk.”

“Bradley has an impressive record as a champion for Alabama’s farmers,” a press release stated. “From supporting the Farm Bill to cutting bureaucratic red tape, Bradley has always fought to ensure the farm economy remains stable and fair. Bradley plans to continue the fight for farmers by seeking a seat on the Senate Agriculture Committee.”

Kyle Morris also contributes daily to Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @RealKyleMorris.

14 hours ago

Did a police officer go for his gun or not? This is not an appropriate resolution to the Alabama A&M/UNA issue

Last weekend, the Alabama A&M Bulldogs upset the University of North Alabama Lions in a football game that most of you didn’t know even took place by a 31-24 score.

After the game, a series of allegations were made that were pretty serious and require further investigation.

Here are the problems Bulldogs’ head coach Connell Maynor pointed out:

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  • “It ain’t 1959, we don’t have to put up with that type stuff.”
  • Alabama A&M received no free tickets or tickets to sell to the public
  • Alabama A&M player weren’t allowed access to the field prior to two hours before the game
  • Alabama A&M coaches were told to have their credentials hanging around their neck, UNA coaches had theirs around their waist
  • His assistant coaches were not able to use the elevator right away because of fans being given priority
  • “There was too much stuff that went on off the field, behind the scenes that was not professional on their part at all.”
  • “And we were very very disappointed in the way they treated us, in every aspect off the field.”
  • The teams will not play again

And most importantly, according to the Florence Times Daily:

Maynor also alleged an incident occurred in which a police officer put “his hand on his gun” and saying “Did you hear what he said?” during an argument between a coach and security.

Whoa… what?

A police officer put his hand on his weapon during an argument with staff?

Wait.

A police officer put his hand on his weapon during an argument with the staff of a Historically Black College and University at a football game?

Why don’t we know what agency this officer was with?

His name?

The name of the coach involved?

This is a serious allegation and is, no doubt, a racially tinged accusation.

There must be an investigation of this entire situation.

Only, there will not be an investigation. Alabama A&M has made it clear neither the coach nor the school will be commenting further, which is insane.

Alabama A&M’s head coach is alleging some pretty serious stuff, including a police officer going for his gun over a coach’s access to part of a football stadium.

Instead, we got a statement from the two schools that says the following:

“Alabama A&M University and the University of North Alabama are vital educational institutions that serve the North Alabama region and beyond. Both institutions are committed to working collaboratively to advance our respective missions. We are separated by 76 miles; however, we remain united in ensuring the viability of our institutions and the success of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends, and programs, both academically and athletically. As part of that collaborative commitment, both universities have been in communication since Monday about the recent UNA-AAMU football game at Braly Stadium to decide what, if any, next steps are necessary. Both institutions are committed to providing a safe, accommodating, friendly, and inclusive environment. We remain dedicated to furthering our relationship and enjoying a bright future, both on and off the field.”

The highlight is this (bold text added for emphasis):

As part of that collaborative commitment, both universities have been in communication since Monday about the recent UNA-AAMU football game at Braly Stadium to decide what, if any, next steps are necessary.

To put it bluntly, that statement is complete garbage.

Was there racism or not?

Was this just normal rivalry stuff?

Was there an effort by the University of North Alabama to behave in a way that Alabama A&M’s coach, staff, and players led to these words by a state employee about another state institution?

Is Coach Maynor lying?

If he is, why is he still employed?

If he is not, why don’t we know what actually happened?

Why is this police officer still on the job?

Shame on everyone involved in this situation, especially the leadership of these universities who have no interest in getting to the bottom of what actually happened.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN

15 hours ago

OIG report: ‘Serious issues,’ possible misuse of taxpayer dollars at Alabama Women’s Business Center locations

The U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) has released a report identifying “serious” material deficiencies with Women’s Business Center, Inc., an Alabama-based recipient of the SBA’s Women’s Business Center (WBC) grant program.

Women’s Business Center, Inc. is responsible for operating two WBCs, located in Mobile and Brewton.

In the course of the OIG’s audit of SBA’s oversight of the nationwide WBC program, Women’s Business Center, Inc. denied OIG auditors access to both coastal Alabama center’s offices and records.

After issuing an administrative subpoena, the SBA OIG uncovered that both WBCs had actually been permanently closed since the fall of 2018 yet were still collecting federal government funds.

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Further violations uncovered by the OIG included inadequately staffing centers, late and unpaid payroll, a major potential conflict of interest and failure to maintain an adequate financial management system and audited financial statements.

The OIG’s report concluded:

We determined that the Recipient has materially violated federal statutes, regulations, and the terms and conditions of its cooperative agreements. Its lack of required financial systems, records, and policies, and inability to pay its obligations, maintain open and available facilities and service hours, and staff its WBCs with full-time program directors indicates serious issues in the Recipient’s ability to operate and fulfill the WBC program requirements. We have deemed the documentation the Recipient has provided to us to be insufficient and incomplete. The Recipient denied access to OIG, an independent, authorized oversight entity, and disregarded governing federal regulations and terms and conditions of its cooperative agreements.

These findings impel SBA to take prompt corrective action to protect taxpayers’ dollars and help to ensure the integrity of the WBC program. SBA should pursue actions including, but not limited to, suspension, termination, and nonrenewal of the Recipient’s cooperative agreements, as well as suspension and debarment of the Recipient and its personnel.

In a statement reacting to the OIG report, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, said, “The gross lack of oversight uncovered in the SBA OIG’s most recent management advisory is incredibly troubling.”

“SBA must take action to remedy the numerous deficiencies identified and enact the Office of Inspector General’s recommendations immediately,” he added. “I appreciate the Office of the Inspector General’s diligence in this matter and look forward to its swift resolution.”

Read the OIG report here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

16 hours ago

Ivey back in Montgomery after outpatient procedure ‘went well and as planned’

Governor Kay Ivey on Friday underwent an initial outpatient procedure at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) for early-stage lung cancer.

This followed her Thursday announcement that disclosed the next day’s procedure and radiation treatments to follow.

In a statement, Ivey’s press secretary, Gina Maiola, said, “The governor’s outpatient procedure today at UAB went well and as planned.”

“She is back in Montgomery and looks forward to returning to her regular schedule next week,” Maiola concluded.

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RELATED: Support pours in after Ivey announces cancer diagnosis — ‘No step too high for a high-stepper’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

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