The $33 million revitalization of one of Birmingham’s biggest empty eyesores is set to begin in July, and the project is getting help from a team of students from Tuskegee University.
The transformation of the five-story, 140,000-square-foot former American Red Cross building into 192 apartments, to be known as Market Lofts on Third, will begin with internal demolition work starting in mid-July. The building at 2225 Third Ave. N. has been vacant since 1999.
“We’re talking about the same style units that we have at American Life, the workforce housing units,” developer Ed Ticheli said. “They will be anywhere from 350 square feet to 650 square feet.”
Ticheli has assembled the same team that worked with him on the $24 million renovation of the 12-story, 84,000-square-foot American Life building into 140 workforce housing apartments. It is located a block away on the corner of 18th Street and Third Avenue North. The team includes Hendon & Huckestein Architects, Wyatt Builds and LMS Real Estate Investment Management.
New to the team this summer are seven interns from Tuskegee University’s Taylor School of Architecture and Construction Science (TSACS). The students were selected from the TSACS mentorship program by Charner Rodgers, associate professor and the school’s senior program coordinator of Industry Relations and Recruitment. They will live in the Lofts at American Life and learn about the entire historic renovation process with hands-on learning in architecture, construction, commercial real estate and development.
Additionally, Opportunity Alabama, REV Birmingham and the mayor’s office have provided support for the Market Lofts on Third project, which, like Lofts at American Life, benefits from Opportunity Zone financing and state and federal historic tax credits.
For the Tuskegee students, working on a project of such significance is a huge opportunity.
Jocelyn Johnson is a Tuskegee student from Indianapolis. She said the internship gives her exposure to a wide range of her pursuits.
“I was selected, I think it was mostly because of my interests,” she said. “I have an interest in property development and I’m an architecture student at Tuskegee. Historic preservation, property development, commercial real estate – I love all of that and I wanted to be a part of this.”
She said she is excited to learn about the process up close.
“In architecture school we see theoretically how it’s done, but not practically,” Johnson said. “I think the process is what I’m really interested in.”
Other students said there are elements of the Market Lofts on Third that fit into their own emphasis of study.
“I’m really interested in residential construction. It’s good for experience and my resume,” said Monet Terrell. “I’m a really hands-on person, so this for me is great.”
Stephanie Mills is from Cincinnati and likes the affordable housing element of the project.
“I’m interested in affordable housing and I was doing my thesis on it, so this is a very good way to learn about affordable housing – what can and cannot be done with it,” Mills said. “I hope to learn more about the construction process and how architecture ties into it.”
She said it’s meaningful to be playing a small part in adding affordable housing to the market.
“It makes me feel great because they were telling me that Birmingham needs about 900 units of more affordable housing and we’re helping provide that,” she said.
Fernandez Hunter is from Birmingham and was already familiar with the building and loves seeing all of the activity downtown.
“I hope to understand the life of a building and understand from demolition to the ending of it,” Hunter said. “I really want to understand all of the logistics of getting a project restored.
“It’s really going to be important to come home – even if I leave this place – and say, ‘Hey, I was able to see that building when it was abandoned and see it come back to life,’” Hunter said. “It’s really a beautiful thing to see for the city.”
Tyra Murry of Bessemer shares Hunter’s hope of being able to tell others someday about her work on the project, even if she will be putting in some sweat equity along the way.
“I help my dad around the house anyway, so this construction part is actually fun,” she said.
Abraham Jones, from Columbus, Georgia, appreciates the value of the internship.
“What made me want to be a part of this program was to get more knowledge, more experience,” he said. “I’m very hands-on and I like to learn so I can continue my profession.”
The scope of the project appeals to Lawrence Thompson.
“It’s really beautiful to see how this project has gone from ground zero so far to the intro to construction and everything like that,” Thompson said. “I’m looking forward to the process.”
Nick Miele, president of Wyatt Builds, said construction is scheduled to take 16 months.
“Anytime we can be part of anything that helps restore old parts of Birmingham, we want to be a part of it if we can,” Miele said. “We literally just finished one about a block away, 140 apartments, a huge success. We were blessed to be a part of that one and when this opportunity arose we did everything we could to be a part of it.”
Erik Hendon, principal with Hendon & Huckestein, said the building is actually an amalgamation of multiple buildings.
“The challenge here is, it’s an historic building originally built as a one-story marketplace with a second story added,” he said. “In the ‘50s, the Social Security Administration came and added two more stories on top, so the challenge here, while maybe not architecturally visual, is to integrate all of the structural systems, figure out how we’re going to get the 190 units in there.”
Miele said the challenge is part of the fun.
“It’s definitely an exciting, unique project,” he said. “A lot of people have been through this over the years and couldn’t figure out how. The team we’re working with figured out how.”
Hendon said one architectural feature will be a well cut into the middle of the building to bring in natural light. He said the synergy between the Market Lofts on Third and the Lofts at American Life, combined with the restaurants and bars on Second Avenue North, will make the project successful.
“It’s a perfectly placed building,” Hendon said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing it come back to life.”
Brad Aldridge of LMS also believes the apartments will be in high demand, after seeing most of the 140 units in the Lofts at American Life leased in just a few months. Only 23 remain available.
“It has gone unbelievable,” Aldridge said. “We started back on October 18, 2020, and since then we’ve gotten to 80% leased. Everybody who comes in seems to like it. We’ve had great success with the residents enjoying the time that they spend there.”
Projects like Lofts at American Life and the Market Lofts on Third are proving there is a desire to work close to where you live, Aldridge said.
“It’s a better way, for people to be downtown and be able to walk to work,” he said. “It’s closer to work for them where they don’t have to drive in from the suburbs.”
(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)