By Sharman Egan/Contributing writer
Wondering whether midtown Mobile is undergoing a transformation similar to downtown’s? Just look back a couple of years and you’ll see how far we’ve come.
Back in February 2015, midtown had no skateboard park, no dog park, no Marine Street Lofts, no Old Shell Growlers. A midtown Publix was just a twinkle in Fred Richardson’s eyes. And more is coming. Let’s take a spin through midtown, starting at Government and Broad streets, to review the changes.
As you drive up the concrete swath that is Broad Street today, try to picture it with $21 million in improvements. Last July the city received a $14.5 million grant from the feds. The city and the Alabama Department of Transportation will match that with a little over $3 million each. The money will be used to reconstruct the Beauregard/Broad corridor from the GM&O Building to Brookley.
Renderings show a dramatically enhanced streetscape. Traffic lanes will be reduced to allow room for bike paths, landscaped medians and 8-foot multi-use paths on both sides of the street.
Just past Conti Street, you’ll notice several lots filled with weeds and crumbling concrete. The Infant Mystics plan to build a high-end float barn here. I’ve seen the plans and “barn” is hardly the word I’d choose to describe it. With a brick façade and wrought-iron details, it will have a distinctly Mobile feel.
Turn left onto Dauphin Street and you’ll see the circa 1845 Protestant Children’s Home on your left at 911. After sitting vacant and deteriorating for several years, it’s undergoing a $3 million redo. Once complete, it will become party central for the Infant Mystics, along with the float barn around the corner.
Farther up Dauphin, the midtown breakfast desert now has a much-needed option at G’s Bakery & Café in the old Popcorn Building (1714). G’s also serves lunch.
A two-block jog over, on Old Shell Road, developer Pace Burt has transformed the Old Shell Road School (1706), vacant and boarded up since 2012, into the Old Shell Lofts. The 24 high-end apartments are currently pre-leasing. He’s also the brains (and bucks) behind some lofts we’ll see later on our tour. A short stroll up the street, Old Shell Growlers (1801) opened in August, featuring craft beers, root beer and wine on tap and a selection of unique small plates, such as smoked duck skewers and beer-braised mussels. Yum!
Don’t bother going up to Spring Hill Avenue looking for the new bike lanes. They’re still not there. I’m told they’re scheduled for later this month.
Turn down Florida Street and you’ll pass the biggest news in midtown: the construction site of the new Publix. In addition to the supermarket, the development will include four smaller retail buildings. Rumors suggest several new restaurants will locate there.
The site is a muddy mess now and the city recently ordered the developer to halt much of its work because it removed trees that should have been preserved. The developer must submit plans to restore the buffer before it can resume full construction. In spite of this delay, with any luck we’ll be rolling our buggies down its aisles by the end of the year.
Further down Florida, the new Catholic Social Services complex has replaced a dilapidated strip center. Turn left on Airport and on your right you’ll notice the acrobatics at the wildly popular skateboard park, which opened in 2015 at Public Safety Memorial Park. On the Government Street side of the park you’ll find more acrobatics: flying tennis balls and Frisbees as happy dogs (and their owners) play in the new dog park that opened in November. Adeline loves the separate section for small pups.
Back on Airport, take time to visit Chaleur Method Brew and Espresso (2100), the first “third-wave” coffee shop in Mobile. It offers artisanal coffee and a charming ambiance modeled after French cafes. I stopped in during its soft opening for a robust pour over coffee. The grand opening will be this month.
Heading downtown on Government, take a right on Ann Street. A few blocks down at Crawford-Murphy Park you’ll find another new dog park, which opened last summer. Crawford-Murphy underwent a major makeover in 2015, including newly resurfaced tennis/pickleball courts, walking trail, benches, lighting, baseball fencing and landscaping.
Back on Government, look for Jonelli’s at the corner of South Georgia Avenue. Opening soon, it will offer classic Chicago hot dogs, bratwurst, a “true” Reuben, quesadillas and more. You won’t believe the renovation to the old Saucy Que building!
Back on Broad Street, you’ll find Marine Street Lofts on your right (951). Boarded up and neglected for years, developer Pace Burt has transformed the eyesore into 48 midcentury-modern apartments, creating what just may be the most stylish digs in midtown. The rooftop terrace offers sweeping views of downtown and the waterfront and a place to hang out with your friends. The Container Yard opened on the ground floor in August, offering co-working space for small businesses.
Turn right on Broad to view the last stop on our tour, yet another Pace Burt project. The historic Russell School, vacant since 2007, is being redeveloped in much the same fashion as its Old Shell Road School cousin. Construction is well underway.
So there you have it. In just a 30-minute drive, we’ve seen how far midtown has come since 2015 — and where we’re headed over the next few years.
Mobility is a monthly column tracking development and improvements in downtown and midtown Mobile.