BY SHARMAN EGAN/contributing writer
Ah, the sweet sound of road-building equipment on a sultry summer morning. The smell of asphalt wafting through the air. I never thought I’d see it in my lifetime but Ann Street in midtown was recently re-paved. And not just a small section but the whole darn thing from Arlington Street to Spring Hill Avenue.
The mayor and city council reps for the districts affected finally caved in to the incessant whining. For much of the road, it’s just a temporary fix. Some might say it’s a waste of $170,000 since the new asphalt will still need to be dug up at some point and the utilities underneath rebuilt. But I live just off Ann Street. I’m looking forward to a road that won’t knock my wheels out of balance.
More good news: Crescent Theater downtown has been saved from extinction again. It was facing a rent increase it couldn’t afford. Supporters raised enough money to cover the increase, and a new two-year lease was signed in June. They celebrated with a toast in front of the theater July 6.
The Downtown Mobile Alliance offered a Hard Hat Tour in June, an inside view of five buildings under renovation. It was fun to see the work in progress but the real news here is the continuing transformation of downtown. When these five projects are completed sometime next year, they will total almost 100,000 square feet of commercial and residential redevelopment of buildings that have been vacant for years. They will add retail space, offices, apartments and a brewery, bringing new residents, shoppers, workers and nightlife downtown.
These buildings represent just a portion of the projects underway. The federal courthouse and Hargrove Engineering building (the former WALA-TV building at 210 Government St.) will add another 178,000 square feet. Well over $100 million is currently being invested in downtown.
With umbrellas in tow, 70 people took the tour, starting at 653 St. Louis St. The circa 1924 building was once the home of the Nash/Ford automotive dealership, and it sits within the boundaries of the Automobile Alley National Register Historic District. When the renovation is complete, it will house Olde Mobile Antiques, currently located on the I-65 access road. In addition to a retail showroom, the company’s wildly popular monthly estate sales will be held there.
Although the building requires major work, the owners are using a light touch on the cosmetic renovations. The historic character of the building will be preserved with exposed brick walls, domed ceilings and the original Art Deco-styled curved entrance lined with windows.
Another building on Automobile Alley is being renovated to serve as the new headquarters for Precision Engineering. The old Kittrell/Milling Dodge building at 400 St. Louis St. dates from 1926. I’ll miss the wonderful murals on its façade but they have to go to restore the original showroom windows. The interior will be transformed into state-of-the-art offices.
Next up was the Staples Pake building at 100 N. Royal St. Built in 1850, it was the oldest building on the tour. Stepping into the former bank lobby, I was awed by the elaborate mosaic floors, which are still in excellent condition and will be preserved. The building is being converted to mixed use with 9,000 square feet of commercial space on the first floor and 20 apartments on the second and third floors.
They will be very modern with drywall on the walls and ceilings. The historic hardwood floors will be preserved but they will have a whitewash-type finish for a sleek look. Tut the location is ideal and the apartments will be upscale — garage parking will be available and it will no doubt be popular.
The Temple Lodge at 558 St. Francis St. is a similar project, offering 5,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor and 15 upscale apartments on the second and third floors. The apartments will combine modern finishes with exposed brick and timber. Covered parking will be available across the street. Like most of the other projects on the tour, the circa 1869 building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The developer said that they also plan to build new townhomes across the street on North Warren Street.
The tour ended with a reception at Serda Brewing Co. at 600 Government St. We were hoping for a first taste of a Serda brew but the hops weren’t cooperating so we’ll have to wait like everyone else. The company met its Kickstarter goal in late June and plans are moving ahead for an August opening.
The taproom was almost complete when we visited. It was open and inviting with plenty of room for mingling around a huge semicircular bar with a concrete countertop. It’s hard to imagine an old tire dealership improving the look of our main street but this one will.
The exterior will have a modern look to take advantage of the large showroom windows and garage doors. A beer garden in front and food trucks in back will bring much-needed activity to that section of Government Street. Cheers!
Mobility is a periodic column about retail and residential development in downtown and midtown Mobile. To read more visit lagniappemobile.com/series/mobility.