A Building for the People

The Pizitz Building experiences new life as it reopens its doors for the first time since 1988.

In the early 1900s, a young Polish man named Louis Pizitz opened his first store, known as the “People’s Store,” in the heart of downtown Birmingham. According to historian Tim Hollis, the name reflected the young man’s desire to cater to the common man. By the 1920s, the store had grown into the Louis Pizitz Dry Goods Company, a department store that was a staple of everyday life in Birmingham. This year the building is reopening its doors as it embodies the character and ambition of the Magic City.

The Pizitz Building will express in the best form the heart of downtown living: eat, play, live and work. The space will serve as home to Birmingham’s first food hall as well as many office spaces and apartments. The lower level will be headquarters to the Sidewalk Film Festival and will also include two art and film theaters, offices and educational facilities.

The Food Hall

A lasting attribute of Birmingham is the quality and array of dishes created in the local restaurant scene. The food hall will act as a place for people of all ages to come together and fellowship while indulging in local cuisine.

“I’m most excited for the day I walk in the food hall and there are hundreds of people there with the same vision, all going to and from the food hall doing different things,” said Tom Walker, development manager at Bayer Properties, the company spearheading the renovation of the Pizitz Building. “I want people to use the food hall for a basis of operation and a gathering place downtown.”

The space will be made up of roughly 15 food stalls that will include an array of dishes, such as burgers, tacos, dumplings and more. All the food stalls will be set up around a central bar that will serve as the heart of the hall. In addition to the food stalls, there will be three full-service restaurants, as well as two areas with more traditional retail including the local printing company YellowHammer Creative.

Reveal Kitchen, a product of REV Birmingham, is one of the food stalls that will be a part of the hall. The stall will feature up-and-coming local chefs every six months who have graduated from Create Birmingham’s CO.STARTERS program.

Deon Gordon, director of business growth at REV, said he is thankful Bayer Properties approached him on this opportunity, as it fills a significant need in the business model for culinary startups. The incubator will bridge the gap between culinary pop-ups, food trucks and take-overs to chefs moving to a more permanent brick and mortar location. Reveal Kitchen provides startups with six months of sales, real market validation, exposure, experience, expertise and targeted technical assistance to back their growth progress, Gordon explained. The stall will contribute a well balanced mix of new upcoming dishes to the food hall while being consistent in providing exceptional quality.

A Role in Revitalization

Birmingham is a city that is growing and evolving. Entrepreneurs, creatives, artisans and chefs from all over are calling Birmingham home. People like Louis Pizitz in the 1900s, have shown up in Birmingham  to   start  lives for themselves, and for many that is in central downtown. The Pizitz Building acted as a gathering place for those people together back then, and it will do the same thing again today.

Walker, who has been working on this project with Bayer Properties for the past five years, said the venture is important to the revitalization happening in the downtown area.

He said it is exciting to participate in the historic rehabilitation of the Pizitz building because of the significant role it has played in Birmingham’s past. He remembered one instance when he was giving a tour of the building and many of the guests remembered walking the halls of the Pizitz building as a child.

The building not only brings back a sense of nostalgia, but it also builds a sense of pride and ambition in the people. “The Pizitz Building forces people to raise their expectation for what our city can do and what should be done… it raises audacious belief in Birmingham,” Gordon said. The Magic City has seen major growth through projects such as Railroad Park, which were once thought to be illogical but have drawn more people downtown. The Pizitz Building has the opportunity to continue the vibrant story being written and told downtown.

Opening Soon

The Pizitz building is located on 19th Street between 1st and 2nd Ave N. The food hall is set to open this December 2016. The apartments will open later in December. Visit the www.thepizitz.com for more information.

Story by: Charis Nichols and Hannah Garrett

Media Contributions:

Pizitz Sketch by Katherine Mixson, Photograph of the newly renovated Pizitz Building by Charis Nichols, Food Hall Renderings contributed by The Wilbert Group showing what the inside will look like.

Talladega National Forest

“The woods are a nourishing home to me, and the strength I find out there is the same strength I take back into the business of life, and it gives me the motivation to return.” – Jacqueline Taylor

Passing through the hustle and bustle that exists on Interstate 20 on a cool autumn morning, many drivers are unaware of the calm and relaxed experience that lies nearby in the Talladega National Forest. Talladega is not just a superspeedway in Alabama. The natural beauty of the massive Talladega National Forest will bring people into an awe-inspiring, different world that is found off exit 185 outside Oxford, Alabama. Alabama has four national forests that are part of the the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service 191 national forests, national grasslands and land utilization projects. The headquarters, located in Montgomery, are in the early stages of officially linking Alabama’s forest paths to the Appalachian Trail.

 

“Theses are your national forests and they are free for you to use any time,” Talladega Area Ranger Gloria Nielsen said. Into the forest we go, to lose our minds and find our souls as we hope to escape the chaos of everyday life, even if just for a few hours. Talladega is an easy hour and a half drive from Birmingham that takes adventure seekers to the Cheaha Trailhead to start their hike along the Pinhoti Trail. Starting there, people can park their cars for the day at no cost. Hikers then begin along the Cave Creek Trail that will take them to the start of the Pinhoti Trail. The Pinhoti National Trail stretches for 335 miles across Alabama’s Appalachian Mountains and into Georgia. The part of the trail found in Alabama was established in 1970 within the Talladega National Forest. The trail is a loop that leads to one of the best overlooks in Alabama, Mt. McDil (1,730 foot elevation). This is a popular destination for overnight backpacking trips.

Hikers all seem to have one simple thing in common: happiness. When people go to Talladega National Forest, they experience solitude. The forest provides a true escape from city life that can be difficult to find in more urban parks. The trail through the forest is clearly marked and easy to follow. During a recent hike, people could be found on the trail traveling for the day from Alabama. One weekend eight students from The University of Alabama Birmingham went backpacking, and a girls Bible study group from Auburn chose to hike the trail for the day. These people all acknowledge one another along the way on the trail, exchanging well wishes and enjoying the remoteness of the forest. They use this as an opportunity to connect with their thoughts, have conversations with their friends and enjoy the peace the great outdoors brings to everyone who encounters the forest for a day. “The views here are even better than what you see in the Smoky Mountains. I think it’s an easier hike too because it is flatter and it feels much more like the wilderness here,” said hiker Ryan Haskins. Talladega is open year round, but fall can be the most captivating time visually. Shades of red, orange and yellow surround hikers as they step into an enchanting, magnificent world. This is a place where the only noises are wildlife, birds chirping and the gentle breeze swaying its way through the trees. Even the most ordinary, city person who is unaccustomed to being outdoors, can connect with the greatness of the forest. Whether you gather a group of friends or come alone, Talladega can be your gateway to a true escape for the day.

 

Birmingham Without Walls

Proximate

Hollie Woodis, a student at Samford University, said she was given insight to a different perspective of homeless by sheer happenstance.

“My boss went out of town and asked me to run errands while he was gone,” Woodis said. “He asked me to run a check to the post office.”

But the trip that was supposed to be a straight-shot to the post office took a turn that Woodis did not expect. That was the day she met a Birmingham citizen living without a home.

“I saw a man walking on the side of the road,” she said, “and he had his big bag and was looking down on himself, like he wanted a ride.”

Woodis picked up the man, whose name she later learned was Lonny Williams, and gave him a ride to the post office.

“Our relationship formed out of that,” she said. “I gave him my number and he calls me when he needs a ride, usually to the post office or to his nephew’s house.”

When Woodis was confronted with this image of homelessness—one that she said she had never seen before—it gave her the opportunity to view homelessness differently. Woodis said it was this personal relationship with a member of the houseless community that allowed her to combat houselessness in Birmingham—not through ministry or activism, but through simple understanding and friendship.

Mallory Pettet, who works with homeless people in Five Points recalls a conversation she had with a local activist. “One thing he told me that raised my hair is this: ‘In order to change the narrative we have cast, we must proximate ourselves with the parts of our city that are broken,’” Pettet said.

“We just want to know them,” Hannah Baker said. “So many [of the homeless] are so broken and are so willing to admit ‘I did wrong, I made a mistake and now I’m stuck.’ It’s not because they are a different kind of people. There is just a lot of hopelessness in trying to get out of that.”

This is the final installment of a five-part series. 

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Birmingham Without Walls

Homeless in Birmingham

Hamilton-Schumacher frequently tells the story of the best newspaper seller he ever met.

“If all our time invested in The Voice came down to one story and one life that was changed, this would justify it all,” he said.

“The story is of this man that came to us. I don’t remember his name,” Hamilton-Schumacher said. “He was a builder—a contractor—living paycheck to paycheck.

“He came from up north and all of his jobs were numbers in his phone and he lost his phone one day. And losing his phone created a snowball effect. This guy who had been his primary contact wasn’t able to communicate with him and probably interpreted his silence as the inability to follow up on a job.

“He lost his work and was evicted from his apartment. Because he had no money coming in, he lost his car insurance. Since he was no longer able to drive it, he sold it because he needed cash. He eventually ended up on the streets. And he is a skilled builder that—because of the loss of his phone—ended up on the streets.”

Hamilton said those circumstances play out over and over; one mistake or one slip sentences people to years of poverty to be served on a street corner or in transitional housing. In the city of Birmingham, the rate of unemployment is 5.4, comparable to 5.0 in Atlanta and 5.2 in New York and a half a percentage point higher than the national average.

“I feel that homelessness is systemic and there are not only current but also historical events that have led to what we are experiencing today,” Hamilton-Schumacher said. “There are individuals in this city who are living paycheck to paycheck.

This is the fourth installment of a five-part series. 

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Birmingham Without Walls

A Voice for the Homeless

Ryan Hamilton-Schumacher and his wife, Hope, noticed a hole in Birmingham. When the couple relocated to Birmingham from Nashville in 2009, they noticed a clear division between two communities in the city.

“We recognized the privilege that we didn’t earn, but were born into,” Hamilton-Schumacher said. “That privilege unfairly gave us a larger voice than others.”

The computer programmer and his wife, a doula, decided to fill that hole by creating a newspaper catering to Birmingham’s homeless community.

“We wanted to provide a medium for those who didn’t have a voice to have a voice, whether it was creative writing, poetry, drawing or reporting on occurrences in the city,” Hamilton-Schumacher said.

The street paper, aptly named The Voice, was a carefully designed business model intended to lead Birmingham’s impoverished citizens back into the work force.

“What we saw as a problem was that if you’re experiencing homelessness, it’s difficult to earn a job. Employers ask for all these key pieces of information that someone who is homeless will not have,” Hamilton-Schumacher said.

“So, this was an avenue to reintroduce individuals to the job market. We wanted to be able to provide some infrastructure to their work and help them earn their own money. They also have someone to put as a reference. We say it is a tool to help individuals pursue other jobs.”

Hamilton-Schumacher said that combatting homelessness begins with employing people who are experiencing homelessness. According to Hamilton-Schumacher, the inability to maintain a reliable source of income aggravates the cycle of homelessness.

“There is a large community of people in the religious community that want to help homeless and houseless people, with all the best intentions in the world,” he said, “but the issue of homelessness cannot be solved just by giving money and feeding people. You can’t rent an apartment, pay for food and send your children to daycare while working at McDonald’s. There is no way to survive. You have to get more than one job, but you won’t be there for your family.”

This is the third installment of a five-part series. 

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A City Divided – A History of the Iron Bowl

Photo by Kate Sullivan

Roll Tide! War Eagle! What may seem like simple words are actually phrases that hold an unexplainable meaning for two very loyal fan bases. Phrases that have become battle cries ringing in the air all year long, sparking both friendships and fights.

In an interview with Charles Barkley for AL.com, University of Alabama football head coach Nick Saban said people who grow up in the state are raised in the football rivalry and it is a part of them. “And they have a lot of passion and they don’t have a lot of other choices. There’s not an NFL team, there’s not an NBA basketball team. So, everybody relates to one of these two schools and there’s a lot of passion for it.”

Alabama and Auburn fans wait all year long for that one day when their teams take the field against each other. The whole state of Alabama turns its attention to the game, and the neutral neighbors of these rabid fans are forced to pick a side. That day is known as The Iron Bowl.

The Iron Bowl gets its name from its Birmingham ties, as the city was the location of the game for 53 seasons, including the first. The programs met in 1893 in Lakeview Park for the first time ever in front of a crowd of about 5,000 strong. Drama ensued from the start as there were arguments as to whether the game should count for the 1892 or 1893 season. Word of the two teams playing and the subsequent tension drew interest as people began to discover the sport of football.

As Auburn was enjoying early success, threats from the university almost put an end to Alabama’s growing program. The dangers of football as well as the cost associated with funding a whole football team, had the University of Alabama’s faculty questioning the need for such a sport at the collegiate level.

Luckily for the Crimson Tide, football would be preserved and the yearly game against the Tigers would resume, that is until 1907 when the series was put on hold for financial discrepancies between the two teams.

Forty years later, the battle was reinstated after the Alabama House of Representatives brought forth a resolution to resume the rivalry by implementing full athletic programs for both schools. The state legislature went one step forward by threatening to withhold funding for the two universities unless they agreed to bring the Iron Bowl back.

The game was to return to Birmingham where the largest stadium in the state, Legion Field was located. By the time the game was officially moved to be played at each team’s respective fields in 1998, the game had earned its title of “The Iron Bowl” due to the city’s rich iron history.

While Birmingham may no longer play host to the most heated rivalry in all of college football, the roots of the teams run deep throughout the city with a plethora of both Alabama and Auburn fans as residents. It is easy to assume that almost everyone in the city has a side with which they align themselves in the series. However, this doesn’t always hold true.

In 2011 the Capital Survey Research Center in Montgomery surveyed throughout the state to see which team they pulled for. Of those surveyed, 37 percent identified themselves as Alabama fans and 18 percent said they cheer for Auburn, but 20 percent said they cheer for both teams and 22 percent said they cheer for neither.

Essentially, 42 percent of the polled population said they don’t care which team wins.

Birmingham is growing and with that growth comes new waves of people who don’t have a background with either team. Regardless of their football preferences though, new residents often find themselves in a bizarre situation of having to choose a team, either by coworkers, neighbors, friends or significant others.

Kasey Mack, a college student in Birmingham, found herself having to choose sides despite her background as a University of Georgia fan. “I moved to Birmingham for school and all of a sudden I was surrounded by all these Alabama and Auburn fans who wanted to know not what my team was, but whether I cheered for Alabama or Auburn. It was like they weren’t satisfied with my response of not really caring between the two.”

Mack said as a Georgia fan she was raised to hate Auburn because they were one of Georgia’s rivals, thus she found herself cheering for Alabama when the Iron Bowl rolled around. Ultimately, she was just watching the game as a fan of football as opposed to a fan of either team. Her Bama fandom was solidified when she began dating an Alabama graduate.

“Yeah, I pretty much have to root for Alabama now. When he found out I didn’t really care which team won, he looked at me like I had two heads. I’m still a Georgia fan at the end of the day, but I find myself saying ‘Roll Tide’ a lot more often now.”

Birmingham Without Walls

A large community of homeless people gathers at Birmingham’s Linn Park. They gather near the fountain as the sound of running water blocks out street noise, citizens say.

There is a common, grim image traditionally associated with homelessness: a dirty, desperate man with a long beard sitting on the corner of a street alone, occasionally begging passersby for nickels.

However, this extremely public image of the indecent homeless man does not reflect the true demographic of the homeless community. In truth, most homeless individuals consider the streets too dangerous to live on.

“They’re scared,” Mallory Pettet said. “One woman I met—she was homeless—but she was mugged and was scared out of her wits. Some men followed her and robbed her of everything she had. And she doesn’t have a place to go and lock a door.”

Pettet and her close friend Hannah Baker visit members of the homeless community in Five Points every week. The pair help lead a Bible study, which they say is mostly led by a seven-year member of the Five Points houseless community.

Even more contrary to the common face of homeless is the fact that the majority of the homeless population is hidden from view.

According to the needs assessment study, only 12 percent of the homeless population in Birmingham stay on the street. About 34 percent stay in transitional housing, 22 percent in emergency shelters and 12 percent in treatment facilities. Around 82 percent of Birmingham’s homeless have been homeless for less than 2 years.

Pettet said that many of the people who live on the streets of Birmingham suffer from severe loss of identity and dignity as a result of being homeless.

“I had a conversation with a guy a couple weeks ago at a grill-out at Five Points,” Pettet said. “This one man wouldn’t look me in the eyes. I asked him his name and who he was and why he wouldn’t talk to me, and he mumbled ‘I just got out of prison.’”

“He put that stamp on his identity and assumed that the nice girl that gave him food was going to walk away,” Pettet said.

This is the second installment of a five-part series. 

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Birmingham Without Walls

Leroy sat in Linn Park waiting for a ride to the bus station on a warm, November afternoon. He was not alone in the park; in Alabama, it is still warm enough for short sleeves in November, so people with no other place to go can sit outdoors comfortably.

He leaned forward on his cane, a crutch he found necessary after a surgery left him with metal rods in his leg. His rough hands—one with stitches running across the palm—crossed one over the other at the crook of the cane. Leroy’s leg surgery left him unable to work, he explained. He draws a disability check for $925 a month and collects $16 in food stamps each month. After a divorce, Leroy found himself with no place to live.

“I lived in my car for a while,” he said. “But I lost my license. I would be in my car all day, driving from Greenville to Mobile, Mobile to Birmingham, Birmingham to Montgomery. I fell asleep. I was in the right lane so I went off the road, but the officer pulled me over. He thought I was drunk.”

The bus he was waiting on this day would take him to Greenville, nearly 2 hours away from Birmingham, where his car was. He had $300 in his pockets—money he planned to give to a contact in Greenville to pay back a debt. It was all the money he had to his name.

“I can’t get an apartment by myself,” he said. “I only get $925 a month for everything. An apartment—that’s my whole check. I wouldn’t have anything left over for anything else”

Leroy is one of the thousands of homeless men and women living in Birmingham. He is one of a smaller subset considered “chronically homeless.”

According to the study “A Needs Assessment of the Homeless of Birmingham and Jefferson County,” 29 percent of the homeless population in Birmingham fit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of chronically homeless. Chronically homeless people either have disabling conditions and have been homeless for a year or more or have been homeless four times within three years.

Many of these homeless people said that “personal relationship issues” caused their homelessness.

“Ninety-one percent report experiencing at least one undesirable life event over the last year. The most common events are job loss, death of a close friend, family member or partner, physical abuse, or problems with a spouse or partner,” the study says.

According to county records, on Nov. 9, 2011, Jefferson County filed for bankruptcy. The debt of $3.14 billion made it the most expensive municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history at the time. Since then, the availability of jobs has been decreasing.

Birmingham has an estimated homeless population of about 3,000 people. That is 0.13 percent of the overall population of the city living without a home.

More people are without work and fewer of them are able to find employment. The loss of job infrastructure caused by being homeless creates a vicious poverty cycle that local activists and volunteers say is not easy to break.

This is the first installment of a five-part series. 

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5