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Pepper Place: A Downtown Birmingham Draw



 By Erin Moriarty | From Atlanta Business Chronicle 

Pepper Place is a true success story of adaptive reuse

Pepper Place began more than 20 years ago in an abandoned warehouse district in downtown Birmingham, Ala., and has transformed into a vibrant design and entertainment center.

Anchored by the former Dr. Pepper Syrup Plant and Bottling Co., which was turned into an art and design complex, Pepper Place is now home to Birmingham’s premier design center and a cluster of design, creative, engineering/construction and technology companies. It is also known for its thriving farmers market and theater, as well as restaurants, shops and galleries.

“We really promoted the idea of a design district for this area, and today there are about 300 design and construction-related businesses in the neighborhood,” said

Catherine Sloss Jones, president and CEO of Sloss Real Estate Co. Inc.

Pepper Place is a prime example of adaptive reuse and responsible use of land, said Chris Sweitzer, the commercial real estate lending manager for the northern Georgia region at BB&T Corp. (NYSE: BBT).

“They took an industrial property and reused it with a vision toward revitalization — instead of tearing it down or selling it and moving out to the suburbs and building something new on what used to be undeveloped land or someone’s farmhouse,” said Sweitzer, one of the judges for the Urban Land Institute Atlanta awards.

Jones has been committed to urban redevelopment since she came back to Birmingham after college and saw how her hometown was emptying out and farmland was disappearing into suburban sprawl.

She had a special connection to the area since Pepper Place is adjacent to Sloss Furnaces, which was founded by her great-great grandfather, Col. James Withers Sloss, in 1882. A National Historic Landmark, Sloss Furnaces is now a popular venue for arts and entertainment.

Sloss Real Estate was founded in 1920 by A. Page Sloss (Catherine’s grandfather), and later led by A. Page Sloss Jr. When her grandfather died, she came home to help her father with the business and to focus on revitalizing Birmingham’s urban core.

“Urban redevelopment is trickier than what developers have been doing in the suburbs for many years,” Jones said.

It wasn’t easy to sell their vision for Pepper Place, as Birmingham residents continued to move farther from the city. Birmingham ranks second in the nation in vehicle miles traveled per day, according to CommuteSmart.

“What we have been doing is trying to help reverse that trend,” Jones said.

Part of that strategy is the Pepper Place Saturday Market, which attracts local farmers, artisans, chefs and musicians every Saturday morning between April and December.

Jones started the market 14 years ago to help local farmers while also promoting the development of Pepper Place. It began with just seven tents and has grown to 100 tents, drawing up to 10,000 visitors.

Pepper Place is at the heart of the Lakeview neighborhood. Adjacent to the city’s south side, Lakeview is one of Birmingham’s Community Revitalization Districts known for dining and entertainment. The area has an interesting mix of new and old buildings that represent the city’s past and future, says architect Chris Engel, regional vice president at Goodwyn | Mills | Cawood Inc.

In his previous job with HKW Associates, Engel designed the renovation of the Martin Biscuit Building and he has also been involved in the master plan for Lakeview.

From new businesses and the farmers market to the emphasis on pedestrian-friendly environments and rainwater harvesting, Pepper Place is dedicated to sustainability.

“Cathy has transformed the area to a focus on sustainability and community, while maintaining the rich historic fabric,” Engel said.

The evolution has been a team effort as Sloss Real Estate has worked closely with the Lakeview Business Association, the city of Birmingham and REV Birmingham (formerly Operation New Birmingham) as well as the Auburn University Center for Architecture and Urban Studies.

Pepper Place has been “catalytic,” as the investment in the development has helped spur more investment and interest, Sweitzer said. “It is drawing the community together organically, and people want to go there and are proud of it. That’s not easy to do.”


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