Alabama business roundup: Headlines from across the state

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Here’s a roundup of some of the top business headlines from across the state this week: Up from the ashes: Developers awarded $3.7 million federal loan to transform Birmingham’s historic Powell School

Developers seeking to restore and redevelop Birmingham’s oldest school building have been awarded a $3.7 million federal loan to undertake the project.

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham, today announced the award from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to Integral Group to redevelop the 127-year-old Powell School building downtown.

Integral plans to convert the building into 24 units of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments.

“I am thrilled that this award will play a vital role in redeveloping downtown Birmingham,” Sewell said. “This project will create opportunities for economic development and bring much needed attention to the area. I applaud the efforts of local leaders who have joined together in ensuring that we address deteriorating and blighting structures in the Magic City.”

The HUD loan is through the Section 108 Loan Guarantee Program designed to eliminate and prevent blight.

Powell School, at 2329 Sixth Ave. N., was built in 1888. The Victorian structure was nearly destroyed by a massive fire in Jan. 2011.

When demolition appeared imminent, historic preservationists urged the city of Birmingham to spare the structure to give them more time to find other options.

Mayor William Bell and the City Council then agreed to turn ownership of the property, along with $500,000 of seed money, to the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation.

Preservationists used the money to clean and secure the building, along with replacing the destroyed roof.

“We are delighted that HUD has approved that loan and we are optimistic that we will be able to see renovation begin in the next few months,” said Michael Calvert, former president of Operation New Birmingham, who has served as a volunteer with the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation to market the old school. “This was a key and it is a critical element, no question about it. The other things that are critical are the historic tax credits that we believe have been reserved both by the state of Alabama and the federal government.”

Mayor William Bell also celebrated today’s announcement, calling the loan a major step in returning life to the historic building.

“We had some concerns early on that the building was beyond repair,” Bell said, recalling the devastating fire. “It could have gone either way. This gives us an opportunity not only to save a structure, but to also create more residential space in the downtown area.

Bell said the Powell School project was one of two major redevelopments in which the city collaborated with developers seeking HUD assistance. The other was the Pizitz Building currently being redeveloped by Bayer Properties.

According to its plan, Integral will hire a team that includes Birmingham-based Williams Blackstock Architects and Christy/Cobb Inc. engineering.

Integral is already established downtown as the management and leasing manager for Park Place, the mixed-income Hope VI development that surrounds Powell School.

Alabama Newscenter: Tall timber: Forests on the rise throughout Alabama

Contrary to popular belief that urban encroachment is depleting forests, timberland is actually increasing in Alabama.

The state now has a record-high 23 million acres of timber, putting it third in the country behind Georgia and Oregon, according to a new report by the Alabama Forestry Commission. Since 2000, timber volume has grown 18 percent, and now accounts for 69 percent of the state’s total area.

Meanwhile, the rate of replacing harvested timber continues to outpace cutting, with every ton of timber harvested replaced by 1.55 tons of new growth.

“The annualized inventory of Alabama’s forests continues to show all the benefits we derive from our vast forests – wood products, clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities – can be managed in a sustainable way,” said State Forester Greg Pate. “The fact more land is being put into timberland is icing on the cake.”

Another myth is Alabama is overrun with pine trees. But the ratio of pines to hardwoods is about equal, with 9.9 million acres of pines and 9.8 million in hardwoods. A mixture of hardwood and softwood trees account for 3.2 million acres.

The vast majority of Alabama’s timberland, 94 percent, is privately owned; the rest is in public hands. About 7 percent of the state’s timberland is owned by “forest industries” – that is, companies that process wood, according to the Forestry Commission report, while 87 percent is owned by non-industrial, private owners.

Birmingham Business Journal: Coal War, Part III: What EPA regulations mean for Alabama coal producers

*Editor’s Note: This is the third installment of the BBJ’s five-part online series investigating the state of Alabama’s coal industry and its future.*

Aside from market forces, much of the blame for the recent downturn in the Alabama coal industry has been focused primarily on one entity – the Environmental Protection Agency.

Even last week, the government agencymodified a previous decree to Alabama Power Co., leading the utility to announce it would permanently close three coal-fired facilities and swap four others to natural gas.

Alabama Power in 2014 also blamed federal regulations when it announced it would close two coal-fired units in Walker County.

This week, though, the EPA was dealt a setback to its policy when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the EPA had not taken cost into consideration when asking utilities to expedite the process of cutting mercury emissions from their coal-fired power plants.

While the new changes to EPA regulations have Alabama Power reconsidering its energy production, what do they mean for Alabama coal producers like Hoover-based Walter Energy Inc.and Drummond Co. Inc.?

What EPA regulations are hurting Alabama coal producers?

Ron Gord, head of the air quality division at the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, said in an interview with the Birmingham Business Journal that the most recent regulation put in place – the Cross State Air Pollution Rule, or CSAPR – likely won’t have a major impact on coal producers.

Yellowhammer News: World’s largest aircraft maker declares ‘next 100 years of innovation’ will take place in Alabama

The new Boeing facility in North Alabama is larger than a football field, and that may just be the least impressive thing about it.

The enormous 80,000 square foot facility (A football field is a paltry 57,600 sq.ft.) is described as the home of “future aerospace solutions,” perhaps even including space flight.

According to a press release from Boeing, the 220 engineers employed by the center will develop state-of-the-art technologies including simulation and analytics, metals and ceramics propulsion, avionics systems and analysis, and communication.

“The next 100 years of innovation starts here,” said the facility’s leader Steve Swaine. “We’ve brought together a team made up of the best and brightest in data analytics, advanced engineering and many other disciplines to help Boeing create, develop, produce and support the best aerospace products in the world.”

Between Airbus in Mobile, NASA, Boeing, United Launch Alliance, and multiple other aerospace contractors in the Huntsville area, Alabama is quickly becoming the space and flight headquarters of the Southeast—if not the country.

During the Paris Air Show two weeks ago, Alabama leaders in attendance announced multiple huge new projects coming to the state, including a new Hutchinson Corporation “Aerospace Manufacturing Center of Excellence” in Mobile, and a set of preliminary studies to determine the state’s ability to land Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) Dream Chaser reusable spacecraft at Huntsville International Airport.

Add to that Huntsville being named the best city in the country for Engineers earlier this year, and you start to see a really clear picture of Alabama’s future:

With all this new momentum and development, putting a man on the Moon 46 years ago may be just the beginning of Alabama’s aerospace dominance.


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