A grant award from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will delay the beginning of a redevelopment project affecting three Mobile Housing Board communities.

The $457,500 award of a Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grant for Thomas James Place has pushed back the master planning of the proposed $750-million project more than a year, MHB Executive Director Dwayne Vaughn said.

The three developers — Hollyhand Development, Columbia Residential and Pennrose Properties Global Development Group — are all still on board with the 330-acre, mixed-use, mixed-income project that would transform Thomas James Place, R.V. Taylor Plaza and Boykin Tower, Vaughn said.

“It’s a little more expanded now, with the HUD choice grants,” he said. “There are additional items required.”

The transformation plans for the three south side neighborhoods, which border the Brookley Aeroplex, includes a mix of retail and residential space. The residential space will be split among public and market-rate housing. Each of the three developers currently on board have experience with similar projects in New Orleans, Tuscaloosa and New Brunswick, N.J.   

The award of the grant for this particular project means planning is a two-year process, Vaughn said.

“I wouldn’t characterize it as a setback,” Vaughn said. “We’re taking the plan to a higher level.”

The grant means more community involvement for residents, in the form of seven-to-eight meetings, Vaughn said. A meeting for residents in Thomas James Place has already taken place and another will be scheduled shortly, Vaughn said.

At the first meeting, Adam Rosa with Camiros, Ltd. — MHB’s planning coordinator for the project — met with residents of the community in and around Thomas James Place, also known as Birdville, to see what they wanted from the redevelopment project.

While it’s still early in the process, Vaughn said, MHB was excited to see the community come out to a warm Mae Eanes Elementary School gymnasium last month.

“The thing we’ve learned is there’s excitement for change,” Vaughn said. “It was hot there, but hardly anybody left.”

At the meeting, Rosa and other facilitators spoke with community members to seek input for the master planning process. Camiros will have “primary responsibility for developing the master plan … in conjunction with the community,” Vaughn said.

The Boulevard Group’s President James Brooks, who was originally identified as the program director, will have a “coordinating role” in the master planning process, Vaughn said.

Rosa told the crowd that Birdville, built in the 1940s for “military folks,” provided several opportunities for redevelopment of housing stock and retail space. For instance, he mentioned a car wash near the community.
“It’s a repurposing opportunity for commercial development,” he said at the meeting.

Rosa said the area offered “wide open green spaces,” including Arlington Park.

Camiros planned a similar mixed-use, mixed-income facility in Rockford, Illinois, Rosa said. In addition to updating the housing there, the community received a grocery store.

“We put in a grocery store based on community suggestions,” Rosa said.
Rosa told the crowd a second large community meeting would be set for late April, while smaller meetings would also be planned.

Dauphin Island Parkway resident Jimmy Lee Burney, an attendee of the March meeting, said he thought allowing community members to get together for the meeting was “pretty cool.”

As far as community improvement, Burney said, he’d like to see fewer illegal drugs problems.

“The neighborhood is going downhill,” he said.

Burney said he’s a disabled veteran and would like to see a farmers’ market in the area. He said more parks in the neighborhood would be a good idea.

“It would give kids something to do,” he said. “It would keep them out of trouble.”

Marissa Jenkins, a 17-year-old resident of Birdville, also attended the March meeting with Rosa and Camiros. She said she’d like to see more jobs for teenagers in the area and an end to the violence.

“I think everybody should come together as a whole to be able to sit down and help people,” she said. “Keep them from doing wrong things.”

A similar grant was awarded for the Roger Williams Homes and the Three Mile Trace community. HUD awarded Mobile a second Choice Neighborhood Grant for the area on the north side of town. Vaughn said the same city getting similar HUD grants for two different communities was unprecedented.

The $375,000 grant will help the MHB transform the community with a mixed-use, mixed-income project, similar — although smaller in scale — to the one on the south side corridor, Vaughn said.

“It needs to be taken down and something needs to go up,” Vaughn said of Roger Williams Homes.

MHB has not yet hired a developer, Vaughn said, but the project’s scope includes redevelopment of not only the public housing neighborhood, but the surrounding community — including some retail locations — along St. Stephens Road. MHB hopes to have a developer in place for Roger Williams within the next month or two, Vaughn said.

Roger Williams is a 453-unit housing community, which was built in 1954 and is severely distressed, according to a HUD statement. Several units in the community are in a flood zone.