Plans call for around 13,200 square feet to be devoted to one or two restaurant spaces on the First Avenue South side of the building. The northern half of the building is slated to become 15,700 square feet of office or studio space, including home to Corporate Realty's new headquarters.
A metal building to the rear of the bakery will be renovated into a covered parking area with added access and improved appearance, such as adding plant-covered "green walls" on the 13th Street side of the building. A surface parking area once used to load trucks will also be part of the project.
Brian Wolfe, director of development at Corporate Realty, said they approached the project looking to transform the existing building, not demolish it and build something new.
"Adaptive re-use is really the way we wanted to go," he said. "This building can add to the character of the Railroad Park area."
Some new industrial windows, some paint, streetscaping and landscaping are planned to help tie the property to the Parkside District, Wolfe said. KPS Group is architect. Murray Building Co. is the general contractor.
LIV Development partnered with Corporate Realty because LIV's specialty is in multifamily projects, Matt Benak, director of operations and asset management at LIV, said.
"When we got this building, we were thinking of it as a multifamily site, but the building had such great bones that we thought some sort of adaptive re-use made more sense," Benak said. "We had a relationship with Corporate Realty and their bread-and-butter is office and retail, so we brought them in."
Robert Simon, president of Corporate Realty, pushed for the feasibility study that helped convince the city building a $64 million baseball park in the area could spur development of what is the Parkside District.
"When we did the feasibility study and the economic impact analysis of building the baseball park the numbers were there to support the project," Simon said. "We are in year two of playing baseball at the park but we are in year seven of what we expected the economic impact would be with the new development, if you look at that report."
Regions Field and Railroad Park are the Parkside District's centerpiece amenities, but two major residential developments – LIV Development's 228-unit LIV Parkside across from the Railroad Park and Inland American Communities' 236-unit Venue at the Ballpark next to Regions Field – are now underway with others planned. The Negro Southern League Museum has broken ground next to the future Venue at the Ballpark.
Last week, Alabama Power Co. announced plans for a transformative redevelopment of the old Powell Avenue Steam Plant to the east of Railroad Park.
"It's never been a density issue," Simon said of the numerous redevelopment projects slated in the Parkside District. "Adaptive re-use like this project has its place in the district, too."
Although there has been strong interest from regional restaurant operators, Wolfe and Simon said the developers are being somewhat selective as to the type of eatery they sign to the project.
The hope, Simon said, is to have a restaurant and bar that is capable of not only satisfying baseball park visitors for the few home dozen games of the year, but can also cater to Railroad Park visitors, UAB professionals and students and others.
"That might include offering breakfast during the week or brunch on weekends," Simons said. "We want this to be something that contributes to the life of the district."
The Merita Bakery closed in November 2012 and 90 workers lost their jobs in the wake of the bankruptcy of parent company Hostess Brands Inc. Hostess has since been purchased and re-launched by a new owner who did not buy and renew operations at the Birmingham bakery.
LIV Development and Corporate Realty are seeking zoning approval for the mixed-use project and would still have to get Design Review Committee approval for any building design changes, signage, landscaping and awnings.
Wolfe said he hopes to start work on the project in October and have space ready to move in by early 2015.
While they can't promise the great smell of baking bread will once again waft from the building, Simon and Wolfe said the building will at least find a new life and purpose.
By showing what can be done through adaptive re-use much more cheaply than a multimillion-dollar new construction project, Simon said the hope is other would-be developers will find Parkside District more approachable.
"We hope this energizes other entrepreneurial people to come to the area and cast their line," he said.
The growth of Parkside will not be at the expense of other vibrant districts like Five Points South or Lakeview and it won't impede the emergence of new districts like Avondale or Second Avenue North, Simon predicted.
"We believe Parkside is going to be the destination where people congregate," Simon said. "But what's great is people have choices now."
- By AL.com