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Turning Birmingham's Brookwood Village inside out

Until recently, Brookwood Village shopping center in Homewood, Ala., was like many aging malls around the country. Built in 1973 by the Shepherd family, the building was reaching the end of its useful life and was losing business to newer, sleeker shopping centers. When Birmingham, Ala.-based Colonial Properties Trust bought the property in 1997 for $35 million, it decided to change all that with a $50 million renovation.

Readers - outside the South - may think of Birmingham as a sleepy southern town, but that could not be further from the truth. The area surrounding Brookwood Village has the highest per capita income in Alabama, more than three times the state average. Colonial knew, with the right approach, it could take advantage of that prosperity.

Colonial wanted a distinctive look for this project, and to do so the company worked with Street-Works, the Arlington, Va.-based urban design wing of White Plains, N.Y.-based PEG/Park LLC. Renowned for its "New Urbanism"-influenced projects, Street-Works was responsible for the overall design of the renovation, while Birmingham, Ala.-based HKW Associates was contracted to make those designs a reality.

Mark Coyle of HKW is responsible for making Street-Works' vision happen, and seems genuinely excited about the project. "They are definitely taking the model mall from 1973 that we have and turning it inside out," enthuses Coyle, "and they're making it more of an urban setting, which seems to be a trend these days in the retail market." Brookwood's original 1973 design was completely enclosed, but as part of the renovation an open streetscape was created to give the mall a more appealing face. "It will have an interior mall component just like a typical mall, but the outside surface gives you a much larger public presence...the mall is much more appealing from the curb," explains Coyle. The mall now faces a different street than it used to, and shoppers who haven't been to Brookwood in a while may not even recognize it.

The two-level center is still anchored by Rich's and McRae's, and features 65 stores spread across 750,754 sq. ft. of leasable space. Four new restaurant pads surround the property, and Colonial has contracted Irv Siegal of the Wolfgang Puck Food Co. to help attract upscale eateries. In addition, the mall's formerly separate parking decks have been linked by ramps to provide a single, more convenient deck.

Among other changes, Brookwood's redevelopment has created a new public road in cooperation with the city of Homewood. The new curved roadway leads up to the new entrance, dubbed the "Great Hall." Richard Yeilding, senior vice president of Colonial's mixed-use division, explains that the city was excited about the prospect of additional visitors and tax revenue and helping to facilitate the project. Among other things, Yeilding says that "Homewood wants to be more pedestrian-friendly and urban." He expresses confidence that the Brookwood project will help the city achieve those goals.

Colonial also cooperated with a six-mile-long local greenway project that follows Shades Creek Parkway, allowing it to cross the property on the new public street. "The new greenway is going to become part of the project, which is unusual and fairly exciting," says Coyle, "I think it is going to be a good draw for the retailers and it will have a good function for the public."

Brookwood's current makeover should be completed by sometime in November 2001, but Colonial isn't planning on stopping there. Future plans include adding a hotel to be designed by Memphis-based Kemmons Wilson Cos., as well as a six-story 160,000 sq. ft. office building. With Birmingham's booming demographics behind them, the sky should be the limit for Colonial Properties and Brookwood Village.

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