Whether you call it the American Life building or the Stonewall building, for the first time in 36 years you can now call work on its redevelopment “underway.”
The $24 million project will transform the long-vacant, 12-story building into 140 apartments categorized as “workforce housing” to make them more affordable than many of the other new apartment projects in downtown Birmingham.
The building at the northeast corner of Fourth Avenue North and 23rd Street has sat vacant for three dozen years with plans for redevelopment that never materialized.
Developer Ed Ticheli has pursued the project for years and is using the new opportunity zone program to make it happen.
“Fifteen years it’s been a dream for me and it’s finally coming to fruition,” Ticheli said. “We are doing it now. I’m so excited.”
The opportunity zone program gives investors in designated areas special tax breaks on capital gains realized from their investments. The announcement that the redevelopment would be an opportunity zone was treated with great fanfare in April and marked the launch of the Birmingham Inclusive Growth (BIG) Partnership.
Since then, Ticheli has closed on financing for the project through PNC Bank and interior demolition and abatement work began last week. Ticheli estimates that work will take seven months, along with improvements to the façade of the building.
The first units should be available for rent by fall 2020, he said.
“It’s just a community effort to bring affordable apartments to the downtown Birmingham area,” Ticheli said.
A portion of the units will be designated for the Dannon Project, which helps people reintegrate into the workforce after prison or other obstacles.
Ticheli said rents will run from $700 per month to $1,200 per month and apartments will average 750 square feet. He said the units will be as small as 350 square feet and as large as 800- to 1,200-square-foot duplexes on the first floor. Units will include industrial finishes such as exposed brick walls and ductwork, concrete floors, and high ceilings.
Opportunity zone projects are measured not only by the return they have for investors, but in the social impact they make on low- to moderate-income neighborhoods.
Ticheli said that being one of the country’s first major opportunity zone projects to start work comes with a lot of interest.
“I’ve been told we’re the model for the United States for the opportunity zone project and we’ve got all of the eyes of Washington (D.C.) upon us,” he said. “I’m super excited they’re going to watch us do our thing and build a great project for them.”