Jefferson County is preparing the way for new companies and existing national companies to move in or reinvest their dollars and create new jobs in the region.
Home improvement retailer Lowe’s announced plans in 2020 to build a $61 million bulk distribution center in Bessemer that will bring 150 jobs to the area. Mobis U.S. Alabama, in unincorporated Jefferson County, will build a $15.8 million automotive axle manufacturing plant, resulting in 135 new jobs. In addition, the e-commerce used car platform Carvana announced that it would build a distribution center in Bessemer. And the e-commerce retailer Amazon is building a new delivery station in Birmingham this year.
“All of this began a decade ago with the Dollar General distribution center, and it has worked out marvelously,” says Jefferson County Commission President James Stephens. “We’re working now, hurriedly, trying to keep up with our infrastructure demands to make sure that everyone is satisfied with the location that they’ve chosen for expansion.”
In May, the Jefferson County Commission green lighted federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program funding of $11.5 million for local residents in need of rental assistance and help paying utility bills due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The county is overseeing the assistance program in partnership with the Birmingham Urban League, Neighborhood Housing Services and Bridge Ministries.
The Jefferson County Schools recently announced an initiative to provide more mental health services for its students. The school district hired a mental health director to increase and better organize services offered. The district also created the Comprehensive Assistance Resources Education and Support (CARES) team, consisting of licensed clinical social workers who will counsel students experiencing ailments such as anxiety and depression.
In addition, Jefferson County Schools has partnered with JBS Mental Health Authority in a move that will give students and families access to mental health therapists.
The city of Birmingham is continuing to aid citizens who are living in food deserts, communities where access to healthy foods and grocery stores are severely limited. Mayor Randall Woodfin has established a healthy food initiative that includes a $500,000 fund designed to cover the costs of opening grocery stores in food deserts.
Woodfin also has spearheaded the Healthy Food Ordinance requiring dollar stores to be a certain distance apart from each other within the city limits. The ordinance is based on data showing that clusters of dollar stores in a community drive away grocery stores where residents have greater access to healthy foods.
“What we’ve done is to be creative enough to break out of the barriers,” says Woodfin, who won reelection in August. “If our citizens live in food deserts, and we can’t get a big box store to them, can we find other creative ways of getting healthy food to them?”
In response to the pandemic, and before any federal loans were dispersed across the nation, the city of Birmingham created its own local program called BhamStrong. The program, developed through public-private partnerships, provided low-interest loans to small businesses. The program also organized a service corps by recruiting displaced workers to become paid volunteers in the community.
Woodfin says the program helped employers keep their doors open and saved many employees’ jobs.
Today as the city, founded in 1871, continues celebrating its 150 anniversary Woodfin says he is excited that Birmingham will play host to the World Games in 2022. When cities like Atlanta host major events like the Olympics or the World Games, he says, it gives visitors a chance to see what those cities have to offer.
The World Games, he says, will give fans a chance to see Birmingham beyond the issue of race.
“I look forward to people viewing our city in a positive way during the World Games,” he says, “and I especially look forward to them viewing us a different way well after the Games end.”
The University of Alabama System Board has approved a plan by the University of Alabama at Birmingham to acquire land where its affiliate hospital in Bessemer sits. The plan is designed to help the healthcare facility obtain a federal loan to construct a 200-bed replacement building in McCalla.
The board approved the deal this spring, allowing UAB Health System to swap the 9.7 acres of land and $48.3 million for the $51.2 million Bessemer site. The deal will help Medical West apply for a $358 million USDA loan.
In other news, Brian Giattina, Blox CFO and founder of Bessemer Redevelopment Corp., has purchased the old Bessemer Train Depot through a not-for-profit organization he organized called the Bessemer Train Depot LLC. Plans are in the works to refurbish the depot, which was constructed in 1917. The goal is to create a place for people to congregate, to plant a community garden and to hold classes in art and music for area youngsters.
In Gardendale, plans are underway to upgrade William Noble Recreation Complex, built in the 1960s. The upgrades to the park, estimated at $27 million, will include synthetic turf for football, soccer and lacross fields, 11 pickleball courts, 10 tennis courts and nine fields for baseball. Once complete in 2023, the facility, located off of I-65, will be used as a tourism draw, hosting tournaments.
The hotel also offers a ballroom and other meeting facilities.
Birmingham developer Charles Kessler is moving forward with a new retail development on John Hawkins Parkway in Hoover. Kessler plans to construct two rental properties of 4,000 and 5,000 square feet that will contain eateries and shops.
Also, D&G Development has begun building a new 12,600-square-foot strip shopping center in the 5400 block of U.S. 280, adjacent to Tattersall Park. The center will include a bike, skate and surf shop, as well as a Dunkin’ doughnut shop, Five Guys Burgers & Fries and Jersey Mike’s Subs.
The city of Leeds cut the ribbon in August on a model home, celebrating the first phase of the city’s newest master-planned community at Grand River. USS Real Estate is the developer of the new 3,000-acre community that will include homes ranging from 1,500 to 2,900 square feet and starting at around $300,000. The first phase of the Grand River project, called Unali, will include 56 homes.
Mountain Brook, along with the cities of Hoover, Vestavia Hills, Pelham and Trussville, came together earlier this year to create the Cahaba Solid Waste Disposal Authority. The authority will help participating cities limit the costs associated with garbage contracts. In addition, the authority is not subject to the state’s bid law.
In June, the authority voted to add the city of Homewood, as well as Clanton, a city in Chilton County.
TurnerBatson spearheaded the new Trussville Entertainment District, located on the corner of Highway 11 and Chalkville Road. The 12-acre district includes a stage and covered pavilion and retail and restaurant facilities, as well as a pocket park. Ferus Artisan Ales was one of the first to commit to the project, but was quickly followed by Mexicali Blues Trussville and Pinchgut Pies.
The Vestavia Hills City Council recently voted to pay for a study on the municipality’s storm water infrastructure. The council voted to hire Schoel Engineering for $79,500 to study the infrastructure and drainage basins to spot any problem areas. The firm also will write a storm water master plan with recommendations on how to improve and enhance the system. Schoel will specifically examine two drainage basins located east of U.S. 31 and south of Shades Crest Road.