Yesterday, the Design Review Committee unanimously denied the request by the Birmingham News to demolish its 1917 headquarters and replace it with a parking lot. Click on the following link to read the story as reported in the Birmingham News:
Panel denies News’ demolition request, The Birmingham News, 9.14.2006
The decision now provides the building at least six more months. This came after the group’s first appearance before the committee last month, which we wrote about here. The building is located in a commercial revitalization district and not a historic district, leading to the shortened time period for cooling off. The six months in theory would allow for interested parties to come together and create alternative options, though according to the News’ ownership, many options have already been explored (and not acted upon). Randy Marks, an architect that spoke at the Design Review Committee meeting yesterday, suggested that city officials and others come forward with potential solutions. Well, here’s my stab at it, though I am but a lone voice, I hope that maybe I can get the conversation started.
There are many that believe saving the building is paramount; that it provides a glimpse into the past of an industry that has long provided their communities a primary source of information. Several newspapers throughout the country have moved out of their old buildings in favor of new structures that they feel are more in touch with modern reporting. These buildings are incredible in their own right, with Birmingham’s new one becoming a benchmark for those contemplating the move. We’ve talked before about new buildings when I first posted an image of the new Birmingham headquarters under construction. Many of them were also able to save the historic office building and only lose the old press building, renovating them for hotels, commercial developments and assisting in the general efforts of revitalization.
The idea of saving the News Building would be great, if the community is willing to pull together and do something that truly benefits all. One thought that came to mind involves placement of the long talked about Birmingham-Jefferson Historical Museum project. What better place to house the facility than the place that covered and reported on most of it. One of my regular readers e-mailed me last night and talked about it being used for the proposed Literacy Center County Commissioner Langford has talked about. The reader’s point is well taken; a newspaper would be interested in promoting literacy.
There are some options that understandably would not be viable if the request was to include tearing down the late 50s-era addition. The need for control of the “campus” that convinced the ownership of the News to stay downtown is important to consider in any discussion, so the idea of a residential redevelopment would be unlikely. The idea of commercial revitalization remains viable as well, providing eateries and other small business options for the growing loft community, downtown employees and visitors.
The paper has led several efforts to save historic structures in recent history. I think they expect people to hold them accountable for reusing a building that would have cost about the same to renovate as it did to build its replacement. The new building as I’ve mentioned before, is an incredible piece of architecture that brings the 21st century to downtown Birmingham. It does reflect the history of the old building in its design, as seen in this post. However, the additional costs that would have been incurred due to temporary relocations of offices would have been worth it for the long term benefit of the community to renovate the old building.
Our business community and young leadership are best suited to explore alternatives for a building that no doubt will one day be reminisced in the same way that Terminal Station and the original Tutwiler were. They were only being replaced with something that was modern and necessary. And it is not that they have not tried, maybe they simply need to change they’re approach. In Savannah, I’d ask you to ask them if they don’t miss the Hotel DeSoto every time they look at the DeSoto Hilton.
Let me know what you think,