Crews Transform Birmingham Mall Into Vestavia Center

Wed April 23, 2003 - Southeast Edition
Cindy Riley

Developers with AIG Baker have recently transformed an outdated Birmingham, AL, mall into an open-air shopping center that includes a new theater, a Publix supermarket and space for numerous retail shops and restaurants. Construction on Vestavia Hills City Center began in 2001 and was recently completed on schedule.

Described as having an updated “main street” feel, the new mall features plenty of glass, fountains, meticulous landscaping and a light color palette. The design also is unique.

“There are three stories, but they are all at ground level,” said Project Developer John Whitson. “I realize that it sounds a little confusing, but it’s really quite simple. One level of shops follows the downward slope of the road that runs parallel to the current structure. The street on the other side is somewhat elevated, plus you have your center stores that face the main highway. And there is pull-up parking at every level. It’s a great layout. Along with the architectural firm of Williams & Blackstock, we’ve really been able to benefit and work with the topography. It’s been a very interesting project.”

According to Richards and Sons Engineer Michael Barnett, preparing the site was no small task.

“It’s been a challenge on a number of fronts. For one thing, it’s more difficult to work when you’re dealing with an existing site,” said Barnett. “AIG Baker crews came in and gutted the building while we were trying to get started.

“Also, weather delays from the winter rain complicated things, plus we’ve been working to meet pretty tight deadlines. At times you feel like everybody’s on top of each other trying to get things done. But I think the end result will be worth all the effort,” added Barnett.

Approximately 60,000 yds. (54,864 m) of dirt was moved as men worked to clear the site of trees and other debris, while also stripping the topsoil. Several thousand yards of dirt was hauled out during the grading process.

From there, crews faced the chore of laying the sanitary sewer.

“It was about 20 feet deep,” explained Barnett. “And you’re dealing with solid rock, plus cold, wet weather. We had men working days, nights and weekends to meet that deadline. It also was difficult because the sewer ran under the proposed new building, so we had to move it out because if anything ever happened, you’d have a major problem on your hands.”

Once that was complete, Richards and Sons’ teams could focus on building the pad on grade and start installing the storm sewer system. The latter called for 1,050 ft. (320 m) of 60-in. (152 cm) corrugated metal pipe in an underground detention system.

“We’ve really got a lot going on with this project, to say the least. In addition to handling erosion control, laying the water lines and putting in the electrical conduits, we were ultimately responsible for the paving and the rerouting of traffic, as needed. And it’s tough because when you’re going into an existing site, you have to get stuff out of the way before you can start. It’s a lot easier to approach an open field that has nothing on it, for sure.”

Gary C. Wyatt Inc. was selected to construct the mall’s new parking deck and Rave 10 Cinema. Project Manager Rob Stone explained, “The deck is two-story, counting the ground level and accommodates about 370 vehicles. We did the upper level. We were responsible for the drill piers, columns and so on. As far as the theater, the bottom level is about 42,000 square feet. We used about 300 cubic yards of concrete on the footings and about 575 cubic yards for the slab on grade. There were about 1,200 cubic yards for the mezzanine.”

According to MSE Building Company President Steve Jones, “We did all the footings for the new parking deck at the Vestavia City Center. We formed and poured the concrete supports. You’re talking about a 40,000 square foot garage, where we poured footings and put up supports. The whole thing took about four months and, at peak, involved about 15 men. It was extremely important that we met the deadline, as there was a penalty clause in the contract.

“With the upper slab we had to ship in about 20,000 square feet of shoring,” added Jones. “That’s like about nine or 10 tractor trailers a load. Normally you’d have less material and more pouring, but to speed things up we needed more materials, which include scaffolding and aluminum joists. And we had to use a crane for some of the work, although most of it was general hand labor.”

The drywall contractor for the theater construction was G & E Construction Inc. President Eric Morris said the work progressed according to schedule.

“We framed the stadium seating out of metal studs. There are about 2,100 seats and each level has a vertical metal stud. We framed 6-inch, 16-gauge studs. It’s very repetitive — we could frame an entire room in about two days. After we did our initial work, the electricians and plumbers could come in and do their installations, so we could come back and hang the sheet rock. And luckily, there weren’t any problems. We had to do a good bit of drilling into the concrete with expansion bolts and expansion anchors. We cut the studs with chop saw abrasive blades. We cut the studs to length to fit it all together and used screw guns to join it all together.”

Equipment used on the project for fine grading included a Caterpillar D5 dozer and Caterpillar 12G motorgrader. Crews also used a Komatsu PC400 trackhoe, a Caterpillar D8 dozer, a Caterpillar 621 pan for mass grading, and a Caterpillar 416 backhoe for placing stone. Storm and sanitary pipe was laid with a Komatsu PC300 trackhoe.

“I think it’s a very impressive project,” said Whitson. “The many shoppers in Vestavia Hills and the surrounding communities will be very pleased with what’s been done here. It’s taken a lot of hard work and planning, but I think, in the end, it’s worth the time and trouble.”