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Thu February 02, 2023 - Southeast Edition #3
To make way for a major mixed-use development, demolition crews are bringing down the long-abandoned Carraway Methodist Medical Center in Birmingham. The campus, founded more than a century ago, has deteriorated significantly since shutting its doors.
"Carraway Hospital had operated for 100 years when it closed in 2008," said Robert Simon, president and founder of Corporate Realty. "The buildings have remained vacant, and their condition has declined as they were subject to vandalism, the elements and neglect. In some cases, they were also just incompatible with the current preference for large, open spaces, as well as energy-efficient, environmentally friendly buildings."
The developer is keeping a close eye on the multi-million-dollar demolition, which began in the third quarter of 2022.
"Every day, seven days a week, our team is watching each element of the process, making sure all elements are working together," said Simon. "Clearly, the engineering and planning and schematics and demolition have to work in a schedule to reach target milestones. Our experts know what they are doing along the way."
Demolition will clear the way for all forms of residential housing, as well as space for creative office, medical office, retail, hospitality and entertainment uses.
"We will take what had become a blighted area and create a site that will be fresh and lively and offer amenities that the nearby community has wanted and needed for a long time," said Simon. "This will help revitalize the neighborhood, increase property values, encourage future investment, meet the needs of longtime residents and attract new residents to the area."
Simon noted the main hospital building will be emptied and refurbished to provide housing that's affordably priced for working families.
"In addition, there are four grand parking decks ready for cleaning and reuse," he said. "That is key to the area for the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center [BJCC] and its properties. More than 1,900 structured parking spaces and many more surface parking lots will facilitate all that's happening in this area. Mostly, we expect to have fresh and sustainable construction on newly designed buildings for this 50-plus acre site."
According to Tommy Britt, founder and president of Cullman County-based Britt Demolition, the project is a good fit for his company, which is known for taking on difficult jobs that require high technical expertise.
"Our workflow follows the developer's plan to remove the blight from the areas as quickly as possible," he said. "We have demo completed on at least four of the buildings on campus and have much more to do."
Approximately 40 percent of the demolition is finished, with workers committed to staying on schedule. Britt said the biggest challenge on the Carraway project involves traffic flow.
"We are surrounded by interstate on two sides and residential on two sides, so we take extra caution in our traffic patterns," he said "Also, some of the technical work of demolition between buildings to be removed and ones that stay may allow only a few feet of space. That is tough, but we are geared to doing this kind of work."
For the 14-member crew, weather also is an issue.
"In the cold, the machines get more difficult, and maintenance is harder to accomplish. Our workers are dedicated, but when it's cold, it's tough to deal with in the South."
As for the condition of the site, "The perimeter roadways were in good shape, our access has been good and the removal of scrap has been accessible," said Britt, who stressed that safety is always the top concern. "The stability of the buildings is key to our work process as we look out for anything that can fall or hurt an individual. The location of a demoed building and one that remains may be very close, so we have to be extra careful."
The area is clearly fenced to keep the public off the site, which is closely monitored.
"Our team watches each other to ensure our folks stay safe," he said. "We carefully craft a plan for success in demolition, and are following that to ensure buildings are coming down as planned. We also have to watch for buried pipe and opportunities where the structure below grade can fail. This is why our experienced crews can perform effectively. They know how to do that, and do it well."
Demolition is performed according to the developer's desire for access.
"Buildings are numbered, and we are following their schematic to ensure proper delivery time," said Britt, who added that debris is dealt with accordingly. "It is separated, and anything that can be crushed on site will be done. The rest goes to a landfill."
Equipment on the project includes a 530 Doosan excavator with a 14, 000-lb. concrete breaker, a Hitachi 650 high reach, two 450 high reach machines, two 420 Doosan excavators equipped with grapple, a 350 Doosan excavator with magnetic grapple, a 350 Doosan excavator with concrete processor, two Doosan 350s with buckets with hydraulic dumps, a Cat concrete crusher, a Cat concrete screening plant and multiple Kenworth and Mack dump trucks.
As heavy machinery continues to dot the landscape, passersby can't resist the urge to stop and get a closer look as the aging structures are reduced to rubble.
"Some of the neighbors have come around to watch and we welcome that, as we are proud of our work," said Britt. "The site is on a busy street side, so the traffic gets to see our progress daily."
While it will be some time before actual construction of the new development gets under way, Simon is confident it will be successful.
"Timing has worked in our favor. The BJCC has recently built Protective Stadium, completed other renovations to its facilities and really revived the Uptown entertainment district. There have been other positive changes in the area, including the recent configurations of interstates, the creation of the City Walk Park and the location there by TopGolf. Our development rounds out this area with a lively live-work-entertain element that will be outstanding.
"I've been in this business over 25 years, and this area has been in my view for that long. The north side of the city has beautiful, historic homes, winding streets, much like the Forest Park neighborhood. In addition, it provides a tremendous view into Jones Valley, where the City Center lies. For the past six years, we have been working to tie together parcels and plans to get to this point. Much of our work has been focused on engaging the nearby community and giving them a voice in what this site will become."
Nearby residents and motorists who regularly travel the area will be pleased to learn that Carraway's iconic revolving emblem will continue to shine long after the buildings disappear.
"We anticipate the star atop the hospital will be used in graphics related to the development and hold a place on the site as a landmark. For many years, the community looked to that star, and we want to respect that history and preserve it for future generations."
Said Simon, "The team at Corporate Realty and so many others in this community have been working to get to this point for a long time. This is a fine example of strong public-private partnership to address a blighted area and create a shared vision for the future. It's very rewarding to see this vision come to life." CEG
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