Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Out of the Shadows

Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Out of the Shadows

Article excerpt

Famous Properties

After years of vacancy, Birmingham's City Federal Building has been converted into a residential building, and is now revitalizing the city's downtown

For 13 years, the vacant 25-story City Federal Building loomed over the Birmingham, Ala., skyline like a broken promise. Recently, however, the building has come back to life, stimulating the city's downtown and fulfilling the hopes of its owners and community.

An architectural icon in Birmingham, the tower opened in 1913 as the Jefferson County Savings and Loan Building and later became the Comer Building. In 1963, it was renamed as the City Federal Building. The lower floors of the building were always occupied by financial and lending institutions, while the upper floors housed major law firms and other corporate offices. But when the building closed in 1994, the lights went out in this historic edifice, casting a shadow over downtown Birmingham.

During the building's 13 years of vacancy, developers repeatedly tried to sell and convert the tower without success. In 2005, Atlanta-based developer Synergy Realty Services created a plan to convert the historic terra-cotta-faced building into 84 residential condominiums, with three floors of commercial space. Synergy has since invested more than $20 million to redevelop the building into the City Federal Condominiums, the tallest residential building in Alabama.

Around the same time Synergy purchased the building, Birmingham civic leaders were searching for new ways to revitalize the downtown, and residents were looking for an urban lifestyle in which they could work, live and play. Sally Tuttle, a qualifying broker for Ingram and Associates LLC, Condominium Shoppe, which is marketing the building, said the timing was perfect because the city was ready for this movement in downtown.

"The city was ready to revitalize the downtown area, not only residentially, but commercially as well," she said. "As they say in real estate - timing, timing, timing and location, location, location. All of these components came together at the right moment."

BUILT TO LAST

In many ways, plans to redevelop City Federal were a catalyst for the rebirth of the city's downtown. When the lights on top of City Federal, which acted as a Birmingham landmark for many years, went back on after 13 years of darkness, it marked a new beginning, Tuttle said.

"There's been a huge movement to restore other historic buildings," Tuttle said. "City Federal is really what kicked the majority of all that off. The announcement came that City Federal had been sold and was going to be renovated, and everyone just burst into bloom with the idea that it was going to happen."

Along with the anticipation and buzz surrounding the rebirth of this iconic address, the condition of the building has made the project all the more exciting.

"The building was in such good shape," Tuttle said. "It is an older building, but God almighty, it was built like Fort Knox! It had been so well-preserved."

During the renovations, developers discovered much of the building's original interior pieces - like the frosted glass interior doors, brass hardware, solid brass doors and marble - were in good condition.

"The marble inside the building is the same marble that is in the White House," Tuttle said. "The building was just loaded with the most beautiful marble you have ever seen. So everywhere we could save the marble, such as the elevator lobby flooring, we saved it and restored it."

Maintaining the history and feel of the building was crucial to the project's success. …

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