The vision for this empty space, announced in January 2011, near the BJCC is now here. Today you can see progress at Uptown, as it's called.
BJCC Executive Director, Tad Snider said, "We have one space remaining and it is under, it is being negotiated now."
But seven months ago, Jon Paepcke found there appeared to be a chink in the chain.
From March, 2013:
Alabama 13's Jon Paepcke said, "They had a lease almost signed with a major retailer, but that after a Birmingham business naysayer's criticism of the project that retailer has now backed off its commitment. How true is that? Tad Snider answers, "Well, it's true. And again it's critically important that Birmingham supports Birmingham. This is an important project for the entire downtown area and for the bjcc, of course."
Snider told us then, Uptown would open this summer. While summer has come and gone, there are changes with more on the way.
The Westin Hotel opened in February. And Octane, an upscale coffee, cocktail and brewery shop hopes to open in the next couple of weeks. Based in Atlanta, this will be its second shop in the Birmingham area.
CEO, Founder Octane Coffee, tony Riffel said, "We're excited about the exposure here, just being close to the convention center, being connected with the hotel and being part of this Uptown entertainment district. Our other location is in Homewood, so this made sense to be close but not too close to the other store."
Snider admits, due to the economy, it has taken longer than expected to fill this space with diverse tenants which don't compete but compliment one another, putting the full leasing of the project behind schedule.
Snider said, "The convention market overall, nationwide, was down around the country around the 2008-2009 period. It's really easy to forget, 2, 2-1/2 years ago, this was an empty field. So a lot's come together in a very short amount of time."
The project for the district and the Westin cost $65 million in bonds. Fifty million covered the hotel's construction. Fifteen million for the entertainment district. Birmingham's lodging tax will pay off those bonds.
Octane, the Westin and its Todd English Pub will be lonely for several more months. Indoor construction is underway for both Texas de Brazil and The Southern Bar and Grill. The Southern is expected to open by the end of the year. Staggered openings are expected after that for Brazil, and two other restaurants, Cantina Laredo and Mugshots.
Snider said, "We know once we get into spring and everybody really sees everything operating, it's gonna, everybody's going to be really pleased with what they see." Linda question, "So the investment here has paid off, so to speak." Snider said, "I believe it already has and will continue to pay off."
The BJCC will have a better idea what those dollars will be once the entire district is open for business.
Snider told me the goal is to have a grand opening for Uptown sometime in March 2014.
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