Rice also praised aspects of the Ensley High School project, which will redevelop a large piece of property between Avenue J and Avenue L, and 2nnd and 24th Streets--but with caveats.
"They're bringing in Zimerman Properties to redevelop that sire to put 244 subsidized housing units in that location," Rice said. "they're beautiful, the renderings are beautiful. So I'll be honest about that. The renderings look great.
"For some of them, I'm going to call them cottage houses, where they may have a garage on the first level or your apartment or units are right above. Then some of them are your traditional multi-family housing. So it's beautiful."
But he raised concerns about building the new complex adjacent to the recently redeveloped Hope Six project called Tuxedo Court. He worries that the development will create zones of concentrated prverty, he said.
"So you have the Hope Six development which is only a few blocks away from Ensley High School, which was originally a housing complex, government housing. So they redeveloped that, but the majority of the tenants that are there now are still associated with...subsidized units. Now you're putting these adjeacent to that, a new 100% subsidized complex," he said. "There's nothing wrong with the development. I just feel like that was too close to the Hope Six redevelopment."
Similar concerns were voiced by the lone Birmingham City council member to vote against the EHS project when the city overwhelmingly approved it on April 27.
"We just spent an enormous amount of money developing Tuxedo Terrace and one of the reasons why we did that when I worked for the Housing Authority was to deconcentrate poverty because there was such crime that was happening in that community and that development," said Councilor Steven Hoyt. "Every other day somebody was getting killed or getting shot or just getting something. And it was because we just has too many people in one area," he said.
"This proposal is to put the same amount of folks or units that we took out of that project back into an area that is contiguous to this development, which means that we're going to concentrate poverty in an area that's already experienced that," Hoyt said. "It's my opinion that we need more single-family homes there. And what the developer is proposing to do it do stack housing...that's really not the best highest use for that site.
"Multifamily (housing), generally the persons who live there are transient. They move in and out. When you've got somebody who's got a hoome, you've got an investment. They have some ownership, and it's a little more stable than just multifamily. Just given the hisptry of that community, the crime rate is still high in that community. We really want to promote home ownership."
Hoyt said he was "vehemently opposed" to the plan for the EHS site. But the majority of the council disagreed, with Councilor John Hilliard expressing enthusiasm for it.
"I've had a chance to view it several times with the neighborhood president there in that area, George McCall and several others our in that area," Hilliard said. "I't comes to economic development. We've looked at it, I think it is a beautiful project. I would like to see it happen."
during the same meeting where the council approved the project, the city also amended its capital fund budget to provide a $1.5 million grant for the EHS redevelopment to Zimmerman Properties, which will own and develop the site--purchased from the city for $50,000. The redevelopment will include apartments, the grocery, an afterschool center, a clubhouse and a parking structure in the 10-acre space.
Zimmerman has brought together a diverse group of corporate partners to develop the site, with a significant effort to involve community members in discussions beforehand, said Tab Bullard, who is in charge of the project.
After working with city officials and partners, including David Baker Architects (DBA), the Zimmerman team made sure to connect with stakeholders in Ensley.
"From then on it was really about engaging the community, hearing back from them, seeing what they liked and allowing DBA the freedom to come up with the plan that we presented to the city, that we presented to the community," Bullard said.
"All along we've made a committment to the community we would be sensitive to the hisotry and the legacy of the Ensley High School, its alumni base and what that school has meant to the commmunity over the years. That was one reason we were adamant about our construction company overseeign the GC [general contractor] aspect of it, so that we could make sure that we're following through on the promises we've made as developers."
Ben Parker, a Birmingham native, who is consulting with Zimmerman on the EHS development, took particular note of aspects of the project designed to support local students.
"We're building an early learning center that we build and fund while we do the development so kids there from K-5 have a place when they get off the bus. The come straignt to the after school learning center. They've got a safe place to go. But we also are in coordination with the Board of Education and their elementary schools. There's a partnership with Star-C ourrof Atlanta," Parker said.
Star-C is a nonprofit 501(c)(3), which has mostly worked in Metro Atlanta to reduce transiency by collaborating with landlords to keep rents within reach of those who live in "affordable and workforce houing communities," according to the group's website. Star-C provides "wraparound" services--additional educational, wellness and gardening programs, the website notes.
"They'll be running that program [in Ensley], it has a focus on reducing transiency," Parker said. "So, this isn't just a set of apartments and buildings. There's some community component to it that we're very committed to. And there's another nonprofit in Birmingham, ELI--it's going to be heavily involved with Star-C in the wraparound services that we bring to the community and we hope that by reducing transiency in the local elementary school and providing stability for single moms that it can be a stabilizing influence in the community that is a step above. This will be Star-C's first venture into the state of Alabama and we're really proud that they're part of the network."
Community support has been substantial, Parker said, and it will be important going forward with the project. "We hope we've done a good job involving the Ensley neighborhood, to date," he said. "We will be back with them when we get to the architectural phase of the design to engage the commnunity in presenting our deeper design architecture schematics. So, they have input and feedback from the community along the way, We want an ongoing partnership with the community."
Despite concerns about concentrating poverty in the complex, Parker predicted that the EHS project--from the removal of the old building to the creation of the new development--will be an economic win for the neighborhood.
"We talked to the residents across the street," Parker said. "I think from a macro standpoint, you can't gauge the deadening effect of a 10-acre, dilapidated buidling in the middle of, in the heart of your community. You know, it prevents other people from buying smaller parcels of land. We think that when we get this going that it will reactivate, revitalize these parcels of land for single-family standalone housing that might be in the landbank currently or might be in arrears on taxes. If you can take away this giant negative from the neighborhood and it's just going to lift a tide for all boats, we hope."
"I know that it's going to present opportunites for other smaller investors to come in and improve other parcels that might otherwise have to be looking at this old building. Right now, it just adds to the negative drag of the neighborhood. I think just changing that one dynamic and if you come back, 5 years, 10 years down the road and you say what was the impact of that project--it's going to extend for blocks. It's not just what we do for the parcel. It has a much larger community impact, and I think that the people that stare at that building every day get that."
With such a prominent spor geographically, and historically in the community, the EHS site has potential to impact Ensley for years to come, Bullard said.
"We're hoping that it becomes a hub to the Ensley community...and it'll create some activity and interest in investing in the Ensley community that for years has been dienfranchised and not has its fair share of investment," Bullard said. "We hope that we're able to deliver on that and it'll be hope for the residents in there for a brighter Enlsey future."