Downtown Birmingham’s Latest Condo Surge

A new wave of condominium development sweeps into booming downtown Birmingham.

Kathy Okrongley at the site of Ideal Lofts, downtown. Photo by Art Meripol

Downtown Birmingham, experiencing a growing wave of revitalization in the years since Regions Field opened, has become home to numerous new condominiums, many of which are a part of mixed-use developments.

A handful of additional new condo projects — with prime locations including the Parkside District, the Theater District and Morris Avenue — currently are in the works, either under construction or soon to be. They include Macaroni Lofts, New Ideal Lofts, Mercantile on Morris, Printer’s Corner and Avenue A Townhouses.

Unit presale prices for those projects range from about $100,000 to $1 million, targeting a mix of young professionals and empty nesters.

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The project developers — including Kathy Okrongley, a rising star on the mixed-use residential scene, and Orchestra Partners, creators of the well-received Pioneer Station — say they are interested in starting other projects downtown as demand grows with Birmingham’s emergence as a restaurant and entertainment center, as well as an economic engine.

The city’s new football stadium is under construction and upgrades are planned for the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. “Downtown has amazing potential and tremendous momentum,” Okrongley says. “There are so many beautiful old buildings currently underused that could be transformed as part of the revitalization.”

While some downtown developments feature all-new construction, many — including most of the current projects — have been created from historic warehouses, department stores and other business buildings. Those reuse projects are all mixed-use, featuring restaurants, bars and/or retail. The repurposed, restored structures have been converted to stylish lofts and, more recently, to functional micro-units.

The micro-unit, ranging from about 200 to 400 square feet, is a reinvention of the old studio apartment concept. It’s a more affordable option for first-time buyers, suburbanites who want an urban weekend retreat, and investors looking to lease. “We have been really surprised by the popularity of our presale micro-units,” says John Boone, a principal at Orchestra Partners with partner Hunter Renfroe.

Avenue A Townhouses, located adjacent to the Rotary Trail, is aimed at upscale buyers looking for more space.

The presale products now on the market are highly desirable, especially because downtown condo resale inventory is low, says Lynlee Hughes, a top-selling agent with H2 Real Estate. That agency is the listing firm for presales of the five projects, including Avenue A Townhouses, which it is developing with The Dobbins Group. “We are super busy selling units in all the developments,” Hughes says.

The newest entry to the presale market is Macaroni Lofts, being developed by Kathy Okrongley of Southpace Properties. The historic, three-story structure, formerly a macaroni factory, is located within three blocks of Regions Field, Railroad Park, Children’s of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham campus. “We’ll be opening up the original large, arched windows, which will really enhance the building,” Okrongley says.

Presales of the lofts debuted in May and construction is planned to start as early as late summer. Because of the trending popularity of the micro-unit concept, Okrongley plans to allot a significant number of the small units to the project. “The micro-unit is so attractive to the young, first-time home buyer,” Okrongley says.

The 40 units at Macaroni Lofts will include 340-square-foot micro-units, 680-square-foot one bedrooms, and two bedrooms at more than 1,000 square feet. Presale prices start at $120,000.

Kathy Okrongley visits the site of Ideal Lofts at 19th and Second Avenue North, where construction is in progress. Photo by Art Meripol

Okrongley’s other current mixed-use condo project, New Ideal Lofts, is with co-developer Michael Randman, also with Southpace Properties. The lofts are adjacent to the Pizitz Food Hall in the Theater District and are expected to be finished within the next year.

Previously housing the historic New Ideal department store, the new condos will include covered, secured parking with a private, elevated courtyard on top of the deck.

“When I first saw that building, I knew it had tremendous potential,” Okrongley says.

In addition to being near the McWane Science Center and Alabama and Lyric theaters, the lofts will benefit from two new movie theaters next door at The Pizitz. Presale prices of 45 micro-, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units at New Ideal range from $144,900 to $525,000. Creature, which has and is working on a number of downtown projects, is the general contractor and architect.

Okrongley, whose background includes architecture and law degrees, previously developed a number of Walgreens locations in the Southeast. She worked closely with the Birmingham Design Review Committee to create the architecturally striking Walgreens complex on Clairmont Avenue in the Lakeside District. That Walgreens project included the restoration of the adjacent historic, Mediterranean-style Old Fire Station No. 22, which now houses Bogue Restaurant.

Printer’s Corner, in the Parkside District, includes five units more than 2,000 square feet priced at $550,000 to $999,000 — plus a coffeehouse, bar and fast-casual restaurant.

Orchestra Partners, developers of Pioneer Station, straddling Morris Avenue and First Avenue North, has two new entries in the presale market as well: Mercantile on Morris and Printer’s Corner. The first, expected to be complete by Creature in fall 2020, also will be located between Morris and First. “Many people want to be on Morris, the epicenter of downtown,” Boone says.

Presale prices began from $99,000 for 285-square-foot micro-units with Murphy beds, which have already been scooped up by investors wanting to put them on Airbnb, which is allowed in the condo association rules. Prices for one-bedroom units range from $194,900 to $289,000, and four two-bedroom units, at less than 1,000 square feet, are available at $309,000.

Orchestra Partners is going after retailers to enhance the 51-condo-unit Mercantile on Morris, providing more downtown shopping in addition to the popular restaurants and bars. Retail space will be placed along a connector from Morris to First, a more intimate version of the popular walking plaza at Founder’s Station. “Mercantile on Morris in many ways is a Founder’s Station 2.0,” Boone says.

The partners’ other new development, Printer’s Corner in the Parkside District, features a small number of larger units and covered, secure parking. The five units, two of which are sold, are larger than 2,000 square feet and range in price from $550,000 to $999,000. Printer’s Corner also is slated to house a coffeehouse, bar and fast-casual restaurant.

Avenue A Townhouses

H2 Real Estate and The Dobbins Group are creating Avenue A Townhouses in answer to some upscale buyers’ desire for more space than is offered in many downtown lofts, Hughes says. The townhouses, located adjacent to the Rotary Trail, will have covered, secure parking and large balconies. “We didn’t want to compete with the other properties, but there seemed to be an unanswered demand for townhouses we thought we could help meet,” Hughes says.

Prices for the 28 units, designed by Nequette Architecture, will range from $450,000 to $900,000. The first townhouse building is expected to be complete by spring 2020 and the development fully completed by the end of 2020.

“These are exciting times for would-be downtown buyers,” Hughes says.

Kathy Hagood and Art Meripol are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. She is based in Homewood and he in Birmingham.

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