The Center for Regional Planning and Design
The three partners in the new Center for Regional Planning and Design envision the Center as a resource and convening place for people who want to build better communities.
The Auburn University Center for Architecture and Urban Studies, Region 2020 and the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham have formed a partnership to create the Center, which is housed in a newly renovated historic building in downtown Birmingham located at 1731 First Ave. N., the former Young & Vann Supply Co. building.
The Center is designed to make it easier for people to participate in all aspects of regional planning and development, community design and collaboration. Region 2020 offices are on the first floor, RPC occupies the second floor, and the Auburn program is on the third floor.
The partnership makes the resources of the three organizations more accessible to Central Alabama communities and neighborhoods that are the focus of their efforts. “The vision is to create a working environment that is collaborative, and can add to the quality of the work and make it more cost effective,” said Larry Watts, executive director of RPC.
Auburn, RPC and Region 2020 signed a “Memorandum of Agreement” forming the partnership on August 7, 2003. Signing the MOA were: Daniel Bennett, dean, Auburn University College of Architecture, Design, and Construction; Guin Robinson, mayor of Pell City and chairman of the RPC Executive Committee; and Elise Penfield, executive director of Leadership Birmingham and a Region 2020 Executive Committee member.
The Center is also a site to do planning and design work necessary to support Region 2020’s goals for building better places to live, said Ann Florie, Region 2020 executive director. “It is an excellent example of the cooperation and leveraging of resources that Region 2020 advocates.”
The space will bring together government entities, civic groups, neighborhood organizations, businesses and citizens to develop and coordinate plans and programs to enhance neighborhoods, towns and cities. Although housed in Birmingham, the center is being formed and designed in such a way as to reflect its owners, which include communities, counties and citizens throughout the Central Alabama region.
“The Center is a neutral space that belongs to governments and citizens in the region, Ms. Florie said. “It provides a meeting space for people to come together to work on regional issues.”
The Center opening accomplishes one of the Region 2020 goals set by the more than 5,000 citizens who participated in creating a vision for the region, comprised of 12 counties in Central Alabama.
The three partners joining forces makes sense. RPC, Region 2020 and the Auburn Center for Architecture and Urban Studies have worked closely for years on regional projects.
“We really do have common goals of improving the quality of life through good planning and design, and creating good choices for people doing development or redevelopment,” said Cheryl Morgan, director of the Auburn Center. “We know from our work that there is a real interest in the region in knowing what alternative development options are.’’
Joining the partners in the space initially are: the Housing Enterprise of Central Alabama (HECA); Initiative 7, a non-profit Black Belt community economic development initiative that is the brainchild of U.S. Rep. Artur Davis; CAWACO Resource Conservation & Development Council; CommuteSmart Rideshare and Traffic Safety; and Scenic Alabama.
The Franklin Setzer Gallery, located on the first floor, provides the Center, communities, organizations and students a location to showcase their work. It is intended as a place for communities to display design drawings, models and show videos about their projects, and a place for everyone to gather and find out what’s going on in the region. Another area will be devoted to work of the partners. The Gallery is named after the late Franklin Setzer, founder and the first Director of the Auburn University Center for Architecture and Urban Studies.
The Center partners are soliciting funds to expand and support the center. Plans call for a state-of-the-art regional community conference center. This would allow people in outlying areas to participate in meetings via videoconferencing. There would be a town hall space, small meeting space and interactive workspace. A regional library and resource center also is in the plans and is dependent on obtaining additional funds.
The Center is located in the downtown Entrepreneurial District and is across the street from the Intermodal Center.
As advocates of revitalizing downtowns, all three organizations considered it important to locate the center in a reclaimed historic building. “It’s walking the talk,” Watts said. The building was built in the late 1890s as the Alabama distribution center for Anheuser-Busch Brewing Co. Young & Vann Supply Co. occupied the building beginning in about 1910. The building is listed as a contributing structure in the historic downtown retail and theater district.
“It has a great history,” said Chris Engel, the Birmingham architect who handled renovations. “It’s great that it hasn’t been through 20 owners. Young & Vann took good care of the building. It still has a lot of amazing features that we were able to preserve.”
One of the many unique features is a large steel skylight, which was designed not for aesthetics, but to bring much needed light into the warehouse. There is also a floor scale, once used to weigh freight, which will become part of one of the tenant spaces.
Sloss Real Estate Group Inc., well known for renovating historic city structures, was responsible for the development of the building, which contains about 30,000 square feet. Stone Building served as the contractor.
Cathy Crenshaw, President of Sloss, said Birmingham has a history of strong city planning and excellent historic buildings. “This building encompasses both, and is a great addition to our region,” she said.