Source: Birmingham News

A railroad company has decided to sell a 7-acre tract of property that was once part of the Birmingham Terminal Station site, and commercial real estate professionals and downtown advocates think the land has considerable redevelopment potential.
The 7.32 acres are east of the Elton B. Stephens Expressway and the railroad tracks off Second Avenue North. The property represents one of downtown’s largest undeveloped sites.

Commercial real estate firm Graham & Co. received approval from Norfolk Southern last week to list the property for sale with an asking price of $2.7 million.

“This site has many things going for it,” said Graham & Co. broker Sonny Culp, the exclusive agent marketing the property. “There are companies that can benefit from the road and rail access. There are companies that will be drawn to this site for the visibility.”

Fran Godchaux, interim president of Operation New Birmingham, said it is rare to have a single site of this size come available downtown.

“It presents one of the best opportunities for development in the city center that we have seen in a long time,” she said, noting that uses ranging from office to industrial to residential are possible for the site.

An official with Norfolk, Va.-based Norfolk Southern said the company has received inquiries about the property a number of times.

“Over the years we have periodically had discussions with prospective buyers of the property for rail-served ventures,” said Rudy Husband, a company spokesman. “More recently we have been approached by some organizations that do not use rail. As with any parcel that we own, on behalf of our shareholders we have an obligation to listen to any legitimate proposal.”

For historic preservationists, the property is a remnant of what is almost hallowed ground.

Birmingham’s Terminal Station, completed in 1909, stood for 60 years, most of that time the center of activity for a train-traveling public. Half a dozen train companies had lines running to the facility at one point, and streetcars were able to take people from there to other parts of the city.

A sign welcoming visitors to the Magic City that stood at the Terminal Station was such a familiar sight that Mayor William Bell recently led an unsuccessful search for the original sign. Bell now wants to recreate the terminal sign at a number of Birmingham landmarks.

The Byzantine-inspired architecture of the Terminal Station building was heralded by designers for its prominent exterior and its detailed interior beauty.

As train travel declined, activity at Terminal Station slowed by the late 1960s, and officials saw redevelopment of the site as a greater priority. One plan called for a smaller terminal building joined with a government building complex.

Terminal Station met the wrecking ball in 1969, but the redevelopment project never happened. Its destruction provides a rallying cry for preservations to this day.

With the station gone, the bulk of the vacant site ended up being used as right-of-way for what is now the Elton B. Stephens Expressway that links U.S. 31 and U.S. 280 with Interstate 20/59.

The only physical reminders of the old Terminal Station are the Fifth Avenue North tunnel, which streetcars used to travel to the station, and the tract of land owned by Norfolk Southern that’s now for sale.

Philip Morris, an architectural activist and historic preservationist, believes the site has potential for new development, though he believes nothing new can compare to what once existed there. He said future uses of the property could be tied to the industrial buildings to its east or the office properties to its west.

“It would be better as a tax-producing property,” Morris said. “I don’t think we need to try to grasp for some public use, which many times can be the fall-back position.”

ONB’s Godchaux, who agency has championed downtown redevelopment for decades, said the sheer size of the Norfolk Southern site should make it attractive for a developer. Downtown sites are thought to be generating more interest in the wake of the opening of Railroad Park and other developments.

“It’s a perfect site for a mixed use development,” Godchaux said. “The fact Norfolk Southern has packaged it as a single parcel really opens the door for a wide range of possibilities.”

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