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Two-Building Complex in Downtown Birmingham Being Renovated into Culinary Incubator

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – One downtown building is completing its renovation and developers are planning to rehab the adjacent one with plans to put as many as six different startup food businesses there.

The Tillman Levenson Annex at 1201 Second Ave. North is ready to become a commissary and rental kitchen for food truck businesses along with another food-related business. The developer’s wife operates Fresh off the Bun food truck and will be a regular user of the space. The adjacent building at 1215 Second Ave. North is also set to be purchased and renovated to become home to other young food businesses.

Brad Wardlaw, principal with SAS Architects and co-owner and developer of both projects, said the buildings and the courtyard will become a food-centric incubator.

“As business grow and get their legs under them, this will be a place for them to operate,” Wardlaw said.

The design calls for a shared courtyard space that Wardlaw said can be used as a small urban farm and a shared outdoor dining area. It also has a green wall with plants as part of the design. Urban farmers can create compost out of the waste from the food business in the buildings, Wardlaw said.

The courtyard can also be rented out for food, wine and beer tastings, parties and other events.

The 14,000 square feet of space could be subdivided for up to six different businesses, Wardlaw said. The total investment will be determined by the extent of those build-to-suit spaces.

Initial talks include coffee roasters, other food trucks looking to try new concepts and even a company looking to distill its own vodka.

REV Birmingham and the Birmingham Mayor’s Office of Economic Development worked with the project to secure a $504,000 short-term, low-interest loan from the city’s float loan program. The Birmingham City Council and Mayor William Bell approved the loan.

Wardlaw said the loan will be used to close on the purchase of the 1215 building, which he hopes will happen by the end of May. Redevelopment of that building will depend on leases with new tenants.

Fran Godchaux, director of special projects at REV, worked with Wardlaw on the float loan. She said the project will renovate and make two blighted buildings productive. The buildings are located where the Parkside and Entrepreneurial districts meet, making them an important lynchpin, Godchaux said.

“We really see this as bringing life to that part of downtown,” she said. “This will put two buildings back into service and create new jobs.”

Alagasco is building its new Metro Operations Center nearby and Wardlaw said he expects the food businesses there will benefit from the more than 200 workers expected to work there.

The new design of the Tillman Levenson Annex was approved by the Birmingham Design Review Committee last July and construction is now complete. The designs for the 1215 building must still win committee approval.

April 18, 2014

Michael Tomberlin | By Michael Tomberlin |

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