Cathy Sloss Jones' Plan for Building a Better Birmingham

02.21.14

Birmingham Business Journal


Cathy Sloss Jones is CEO of Sloss Real Estate and has pushed through many key projects in Birmingham, including One Federal Place, the Hope VI Park Place redevelopment downtown and the adjacent Jones Valley Teaching Farms, Phillips Academy and the YMCA Youth Development Center. But her real passion has been Pepper Place and the Pepper Place Farmers Market.

As the great-great granddaughter of Col. James Withers Sloss, who built Sloss Furnaces and is one of the first businessmen to help found the city of Birmingham more than a century ago, Cathy Sloss Jones has a vested interest in the growth of the Magic City today.

We talk to the head of Sloss Real Estate about Col. Sloss’ role in building Birmingham, how he might feel about the city today and her vision for the city’s future.



What is the biggest challenge for Birmingham today?
For me it’s about connections and transportation. We’re making progress with education and economic development, but we still don’t have a clear vision for how to best connect the city center and our neighborhoods. Birmingham can be a sustainable and walkable city, but we have to identify this as one of our goals. In Charlotte, they looked 20 years out at how to best connect their city, including light rail, bike lanes, ride share, walking paths and sidewalks as well as cars and buses, all the way down to wayfinding. If we can convince the 80,000 people who work and live in the city center to move around on our beautiful streets, we will have a much more vibrant city.

How about the metro area?
Again, we need more connectivity. We tend to silo and fragment, which has led to 30-plus municipalities, this being expensive and difficult to navigate. We need to cooperate where we can, looking for models that can consolidate resources across the region. I think a great example is Portland, Ore.’s metro form of government which does a great job of consolidating services, including transportation, for 25 independent municipalities.

How do you think your great-great grandfather Col. Sloss, who built Sloss Furnaces and was instrumental in bringing the railroad to Birmingham, would feel about the metro today?
I think he’d be proud of how far we’ve come. He was a visionary who saw the potential for Birmingham to be a great industrial city. I think he would marvel at the fact that we are now the largest city in Alabama with a world class university and medical center. Interestingly, he was also focused on transportation. I work with my father and my son and we often talk about this very thing.

What’s your opinion about where Birmingham is today?
I think Birmingham’s time is now. We are slow and steady and can benefit from not having grown as fast as other cities, having the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. We didn’t sprawl as badly and we didn’t tear everything down. Our city center is experiencing a rebirth and market demand favors walkable urbanism. This is good news for all of Birmingham especially if we can rebuild our schools and create mixed income neighborhoods. If I could wave a wand, I’d put our street car system back in place.

What’s next for Sloss Real Estate?
We’ve recently redeveloped Ridge Park for Baptist Health System and the historic Young and Vann Building for AL.com. But now we are interested in connecting Railroad Park to Pepper Place and Sloss Furnaces. Every great city has a feature that sparks interest and defines livability. Railroad Park from Regions Field to Sloss Furnaces is a new spine for the city. We’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years developing a master plan for Pepper Place, and we have many exciting new tenants joining us. In addition, the market at Pepper Place continues to grow and thrive. Our goal is to knit Pepper Place into the Railroad Park Corridor and Sloss Furnaces. Our work will be focused on the Lakeview District and Pepper Place for the foreseeable future.