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Development to Revitalize Inner City Birmingham

The Park at Wood Station is being touted as one of the most innovative community development initiatives in Alabama’s history.

Fri March 06, 2015 - Southeast Edition
Cindy Riley

Created to bring new life to a seemingly forgotten area, The Park at Wood Station is being touted as one of the most innovative community development initiatives in Alabama’s history. The new, affordable housing development is part of a major revitalization effort in the inner city Birmingham neighborhood of Woodlawn.

“The Woodlawn Foundation is investing millions to lay the groundwork for comprehensive revitalization, and is working with community residents to build a new Woodlawn,” said Winton Yerby, president, Hollyhand Development LLC, which serves as the developer. “I’m not sure any other revitalization effort in the state has benefited from that kind of commitment. The key player is the Foundation, funded by the Goodrich Foundation, but it’s truly a joint effort along with the city, local financial institutions, community groups and the Hollyhand team.”

Doug Hollyhand Realty Inc. serves as general contractor, and Hollyhand Companies Inc. will manage the development. The project is placed within approximately 7.3 acres, and includes primarily two-story townhouse units in 15 buildings on a parcel spread across several streets between Georgia Road and 1st Avenue North and between 60th Street and 61st Street. The mix of two and three bedroom units will have roughly 1,700 sq. ft. (157.9 sq m) each. Amenities include a playground and a 3,200 sq. ft. (297.3 sq m) community building centrally located within the development.

“We get remarks all the time from people across the city about how important and exciting the Park at Wood Station is,” Yerby said. “Woodlawn is a well-known historic neighborhood that dates from the 19th-century. Former Florida State Head football coach Bobby Bowden, along with many other famous people, grew up here. Woodlawn was once considered a very desirable area. It has historic old homes and a commercial center. Over time, like much of inner-city Birmingham, it has declined, but needs to come back so that other areas in the city can prosper, as well.”

Originally settled by a group of farming families who entered the area in 1815, the city of Woodlawn was annexed into Birmingham in 1910. Woodlawn community neighborhoods include East Avondale, Oak Ridge Park, south Woodlawn and Woodlawn itself.

“Blight impacts families, neighborhoods and whole cities and regions, so this effort can have ripple effects throughout the city,” Yerby said. “This project targets working families, and there’s a tremendous need in the city for good housing these families can afford. We’ve had over 400 inquiries for the 64 units. The Park at Wood Station is simply the first step in the Foundation’s housing strategy as future market rate phases are being planned.”

Construction began in mid-2014, and work should be completed later this summer. Doug Hollyhand Realty is finishing final framing, with the first units expected to be turned soon.

Site work, utilities and paving are nearing completion, all slabs are almost complete, seven buildings have been framed and are ready for sheet rock and three more buildings are being framed. The community building also is being sheet-rocked. Once the buildings are framed, interior work proceeds with plumbing and electrical accessories, sheet rock, paint, trim, installation of appliances and bath accessories, floor covering and a final cleaning.

Project leaders say site logistics have been challenging, since the site is spread out more than typical projects. Staying on the project timeline with inspections also is a concern when dealing with different city inspection rules and regulations.

The property is the former site of many demolished single-family homes, and required removing debris prior to site work. Minimal grading was done at the start of the project. Approximately 1,700 cu. yds. (1,299.7 cu m) of dirt have been removed for undercutting, due to soil issues.

“The main challenge was phasing of the site due to its footprint, but once it got started it really went fine, said Brandon Streety, president of Southeastern Sealcoating Inc. “The site was basically a borrow project. We hauled in approximately 19,000 cubic yards of material to achieve the design grades.”

Clearing included all trees, brush, grass, debris and topsoil. Erosion control involved installing the silt fence, construction entrances and storm protections.

“The project had an existing 42 by 96 inch box culvert that had to be removed; however, before the removal could be performed, we had to install new storm sewer to pick the water up,” Streety said. “We installed some 1,300 linear feet of storm pipe.

“The project is basically spread out over seven blocks that once had either homes or apartment complexes on the lots. We had to remove all the old alleyways, driveways, slabs, basements, walls, etc. Some we knew about and some we found along the way that had been covered over the years.”

A variety of equipment has been used on site, including Komatsu 220 and 200 track hoes, Cat 316 and 160 track hoes, a John Deere 450 and Cat D5 and D3 dozers, Cat 420 rubber tire back hoes, Cat 459b skid steers, a Weiler paver, Cat cb34 and cb24 asphalt rollers and Dynapac rollers.

“Track hoes were used mainly for cut, borrow pit and installation of utilities and pipe, as well as demolition,” said Streety. “Dozers were used for installing fill material and rough grading, while the rollers were required for compaction.

“We are currently still working on dressing around the new structures. We completed most of the borrow and grading at the end of January, and storm work in November. Working around the new buildings is the most tedious part, just because most of the sites are tight.”

Weather also has been a factor. Crews have dealt with a lot of rain, which delayed the pouring of concrete pads, but the setback hasn’t been significant.

The building exterior includes brick, cementitious siding and wood framing. Each structure has a complete sprinkler system, dedicated sensory impaired and handicapped units with emergency call options, energy-efficient appliances, vinyl and carpet flooring, ceiling fans and washer/dryer hookups. The community building will include a laundry room, offices, kitchen, computer café, exercise room and mail room.

The Park at Wood Station project is being funded primarily with a low-income housing tax credit allocation through the Alabama Housing Finance Authority. The credits were sold to the investor, Regions Financial, to provide equity for the project. Other funding sources include city of Birmingham HOME funds and a small loan.

“The Park at Wood Station is the first phase of a mixed-income housing initiative that’s only one part of a comprehensive community change effort underway in Woodlawn,” said Sally Mackin, Woodlawn Foundation executive director. “Woodlawn Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization, serves as the lead organization of this effort, Woodlawn United. Woodlawn United began when several organizations came together around a shared vision of Woodlawn being a safe and healthy community where children and families thrive.

“Each organization was delivering services and programs through the lens of their individual missions. The original members include the YWCA, REV Birmingham, Cornerstone School, South Woodlawn Neighborhood Association, Christ Health Center and Church of the Highlands Dream Center. Mike and Gillian Goodrich brought the group together and introduced them to Purpose Built Communities.”

Mackin said this project is set to fill a need in the area.

“There’s a need across our city for high quality affordable housing. The Park at Wood Station will serve individuals and families that have income levels at or below 60 percent of area median income.”

One thing that sets Woodlawn United apart from other efforts to revitalize urban areas is the formation of a sustainable lead organization. By working with the residents and local stakeholders in the community, Woodlawn Foundation identifies needs and gaps in services within the neighborhoods and identifies resources to meet the needs. In some cases, these partners are already serving residents in the area, and other times regional or national organizations who’ve had success in other cities and states work with local organizations.

“The current residents of the Woodlawn neighborhoods have been involved in the planning of this for several years,” said Mackin. “Surrounding homeowners are eager to see the finished development. There’s a real sense of community among many of the residents. People look out for each other. Some have lived here their whole lives and are the second and third generations of their families that have lived in the community. There is a lot of history in Woodlawn and, fortunately, many of the buildings both commercial and residential still have that historical character.

“The struggles that Woodlawn faces are not so different than any other urban community in Birmingham or other city in the U.S. Many have resulted because of infrastructure that has physically divided neighborhoods and others from lack of private investment and job opportunities.

“I can’t tell you how exciting it has been to begin to see physical transformation in the community. The behind the scenes planning was hard work, but it has certainly paid off and that foundation will continue to provide a solid base on which future projects can be built. My hope is that Woodlawn will be a healthy, vibrant and thriving neighborhood that’s everything and more that its residents want it to be.”

According to Mackin, the foundation’s next project will include an Early Child Development Center.

“Beyond that, we have plans for more progress in the Woodlawn Innovation Network, as well as more commercial development and market rate housing construction.”

“The vision for The Park at Wood Station was directed primarily by the work and goals of the Woodlawn Foundation,” said Dondi Williamson, project architect, McKean & Associates Architects. “One of the main objectives was to design an affordable housing development that integrates with and reflects the character of the existing neighborhood. We were able to walk the neighborhood to get a sense of both scale and detail, which we used to guide much of the design process.

“One of the biggest challenges for this development was addressing the aging utility infrastructure. Most of these systems had to be replaced to meet current standards, which created a significant strain on the budget. Another challenge was to design the housing so that it meets accessibility requirements, while incorporating an elevated finished floor that creates a streetscape that fits with the context of the existing housing.”

“Placing most of the off-street parking to the rear of the structures, along with careful coordination of grading and dwelling entry locations, helped accomplish this. Challenges related to the goal of blending the new structures into the existing community were resolved in the judicious selection of exterior materials that met the needs of durability, cost and context.”

There were no specific sustainable or green energy certifications related to this development. The project was designed, however, to meet or exceed the Alabama Energy and Residential Code and includes specifications for the use of Energy Star-rated windows, appliances and ceiling fans in each residence.

“Anytime you can be part of a project that is related to revitalizing a community with the heritage of one like Woodlawn, it’s rewarding,” Williamson said. “The interesting part will be to see what kind of impact this development has going forward to re-energize new development in this area.”

“Revitalizing our underserved communities cannot come soon enough, said Mackin. “There is a great sense of urgency to improve the quality of life for all residents, and to make sure the zip code you are born in does not determine your future.”

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