Her family helped create Birmingham in the late 1800s. Now, Catherine Sloss Jones has built a legacy of her own by working to rebuild the Magic City.
Jones serves as president and CEO of Sloss Real Estate, which was founded in 1920 by her grandfather, Arthur Page Sloss.
The successful business has been a family affair since then, led next by her father — Arthur Page Sloss, Jr. — before Jones took the helm.
In a way, the family business started two generations further down the line.
James Withers Sloss, Jones’ great-great-grandfather, was a leading industrialist who founded the Sloss Furnaces and is credited with bringing the railroads to Birmingham, which opened the door for the city’s boom in the iron and steel industries.
As the city’s industrial center created wealth in Birmingham throughout the early to mid-1900s, Arthur Page Sloss was at the forefront of suburban development in the metropolitan area. This included the creation of the 24-acre Five Points West shopping center.
Along with his son, Sloss also developed several residential areas outside of Birmingham proper, including neighborhoods in Homewood and Mountain Brook.
This was a trend not just with Sloss Real Estate; the better part of the 20th century saw massive suburban sprawl occur in the Birmingham area, as people — and wealth — left downtown and other urban areas.
However, since Jones joined her father at the business in 1975 (becoming president in 1986), Sloss Real Estate has actually bucked that trend of which they were once at the center.
Jones’ prolific career has featured monumental efforts to rebuild historic areas in the City of Birmingham, revitalizing locales that had been abandoned and become blighted by the gradual deindustrialization that has occurred over the years.
Core examples include turning the old Dr. Pepper plant and Martin Biscuit Building into what is now known as Pepper Place.
Pepper Place, located in Lakeview, has blossomed into a hub of modern residential and commercial development. One of its trademarks is the Saturday farmers’ market, which is widely viewed as the state’s best.
Other signature success stories of Jones’ include the Hope VI housing at Park Place, as well as One Federal Place.
These endeavors — and many others — show that for Jones, “city-building” is really about “community-building.” What started as a passion for refurbishing and retooling infrastructure has blossomed into a people-driven mission.
“We are all about city-building. We are interested in urban revitalization and rebuilding neighborhoods, protecting historic buildings, and creating healthy, equitable neighborhoods,” she has explained. “We are intentional about community-building. Our team thinks critically about how is this going to impact the neighborhood and the city, and how is it going to unite people. So it’s more about fairness and equity and health, as opposed to getting people to come and live downtown, which we did for a long time.”
Jones’ incredible work in Birmingham has been nationally acclaimed, including when she was named a Loeb Fellow in 2007. That fellowship would see her study graduate courses at Harvard for a year, and she then returned for a second year as a visiting scholar.
In addition to her distinguished business career, Jones has been an active leader in her community for decades. Many of the boards she sits on and organizations she works with directly tie into building up local communities. She has sat on the board of directors for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and counts Odessa Woolfolk and Fred Shuttlesworth as mentors.
“There’s no city like Birmingham,” she has outlined. “When my friends come to Birmingham, they say, ‘You have an embarrassment of riches.’ We have all of the ingredients to be a great, great city. The challenge for us is that we tend to fragment. We all operate in our own silos more than we should. So when you can connect the dots in Birmingham, that’s very powerful.”
Jones has been recognized for her dedication and success through several major accolades, including being inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor and previously named the Birmingham Businesswoman of the Year.
“We’ve worked very hard for a long time to try to convince people to come back, and now we’re seeing this resurgence. It feels wonderful to see all this positive momentum,” Jones has noted, speaking to what is perhaps the best indicator of her success.
The real estate developer recently sat down for an interview with Yellowhammer News, explaining that “commonality” is a cornerstone of the community-building at the heart of her business. And, just as finding common ground is key for development efforts, Jones believes that building consensus is integral for leadership in general. Fostering a true sense of togetherness — whether in a neighborhood or within a business — breeds success.
The industry she works in has changed in a big way, she also advised.
Since starting at the family business right out of college, Jones has noticed marked progress for women in real estate over the subsequent four-plus decades. She called the differences “night and day.”
“It’s really exciting to see it,” Jones remarked. “It was a world of men (when she started). … There were few women, and we all knew and supported each other. But it was a very male-dominated community. … Now, today, it’s completely different.”
Over the course of her career, Jones has traversed other areas of the country, to cities of varying sizes, in an effort to learn and share best practices. During those travels, her love of and appreciation for her own home state has only been reinforced.
“First, seeing other places makes you realize how fortunate we all are to be from Alabama,” Jones said. “It’s just the most extraordinary state in terms of our natural resources, our cities, and I’m just always struck by the beauty and wonder of Alabama.”
“And the people in Alabama are awesome. You know, that’s the other part of our state,” she added. “We will work together to solve problems, and it’s important that we do so.”
Yellowhammer News is proud to name Catherine “Cathy” Sloss Jones a 2020 Woman of Impact.
Watch the full interview here.
Editor’s note: Yellowhammer Multimedia recently announced the third annual Women of Impact Awards. Honorees are being featured on Yellowhammer News each weekday through September 30. We will tell their stories one-by-one, utilizing written and video formats. Check back daily for more of Alabama’s best and brightest.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn