One Birmingham Place
An Eight-Part Celebration of Community and Social Re-engagement, submitted by Colin Coyle, $50,000 first prize.
One Birmingham Place is a multi-use facility, a combination of eight distinct elements, each capable of standing on its own. Yet, when combined as one, each element is mutually reinforcing, allowing a new and vibrant sense of place to flourish. (Please see the attached file for general concepts, imagery and site plan.) 1. iLab. Social media allows us the opportunity to define new senses of community. iLab addresses these technologies responsibly, in a forum where all are equals, to reinforce our common bonds. iLab features an open-access (monitored) computer lab with dozens of state-of-the art computers, peripherals and software, allowing all ages, backgrounds and income levels to come together in the creative process.
The Cool Factor
Facebook is cool. YouTube is cool. Outdoor concerts are cool. Large, outdoor projected images are cool. Seeing one's name in lights is cool. Being on stage is cool. There are all sorts of "cool" things about One Birmingham Place. Yet, cool for the sake of cool can be irresponsible. It can be dangerous. It can be decidedly uncool.
What makes One Birmingham Place REALLY cool, is that it delivers an ageless, timeless definition of "cool", one that gets the adrenaline going but does so in a socially reinforcing way. Cool is finding a new friend in a place you never thought to look. Cool is having social responsibility taught to us when we don't even know it. Cool is developing a sense of presence that comes from auditioning, acting and singing. Cool is seeing past our past. Cool is excluding no one. Cool is taking an inclusive, healing concept like the Railroad Park and making it something more. Cool is sitting at a sidewalk cafe sipping a Coke when two years ago you wouldn't be caught anywhere near the place. Cool is sharing great ideas with other like-minded people who care - really care - about this community. Cool is knowing that every dollar spent was spent wisely. Cool is having "likes this" on your Facebook page because someone learned for the first time how to find you on the internet. Cool are the faces of Birmingham reflected on a video wall as big as this City's dreams.
Cool is being ONE Birmingham without first having to think about it.
Every aspect of One Birmingham Place seeks to extend the sense of place created by the Railroad Park and the Sloss Corridor, both physically and emotionally. In a literal sense, OBP's Pocket Park is an extension of the Railroad Park; its Outdoor Stage helps anchor one end of the park as a natural balance to a future Ballpark; and, its Cafe brings needed food service to keep visitors coming back. The HUB creates a home for the ongoing passion and thought which spawned the Park and Corridor. The Projection Wall expands our sense of time into the evening hours, thus serving as a catalyst for a wider slate of restaurants, clubs and evening entertainment...ongoing revitalization that nurtures itself.
In an emotional sense, the iLab captures the spirit of non-exclusion embraced by the Park. Knowledge should be no more exclusionary than the ability to walk down as sidewalk...or through a park. The civic leadership and poise that went into creating the Park and the Corridor are modelled in the youth Programs of Red Mountain Theatre, constantly sending the message that we have an unending pool of talent from which to draw if we choose to look.
And the Center for Modern Communication complements the Park's deeper sense of responsibility we have to one another and to a the wider community. We can serve ourselves and our community equally. We can be ONE Birmingham.
Feasibility is a product of market demand and financing capacity. One Birmingham Place offers both. It contains enough audacity to attract large donors (it's cool); a cohesive social mission to attract grants (it's inclusive and educational); a sound business strategy to attract tenants capable of paying rent, even at a non-profit rate (it's diverse base is mutually supportive); and a return on investment sufficient to cover remaining debt service, especially if financed through bonds.
While economies of scale would suggest the best return on investment would be construction of the entire facility at one time; the project could be staged thus allowing construction and opening of phases in line with capital raised.
Significantly, the largest targeted user -- Red Mountain Theatre Company -- is currently exploring options for a new home. One Birmingham Place is highly consistent with RMTC's vision and mission. The HUB targets tenants of like-mind who would benefit directly from locating at OBP as both testament to their collective prior achievement (the Park) and in support of their future vision (the Corridor). Equally, the HUB's cost efficient operating model is desirable and needed for the non-profit sector. The Cafe concept has been modelled successfully in many locations, most recently, albeit humbly, at the Vestavia Hills Library in the Forest.
Finally, the iLab resonates with young and old alike. It's cool and it's accessible. Young and old, ONE Birmingham.
One Birmingham Place is inclusive in a non-threatening way. Moreover, it's fun.
To the young, OBP is exciting and relevant: social networking, video creation and editing, and group access to the internet combine with the opportunity to act, sing, or even just enjoy a day in the park. To the old, its comforting: a professionally staged musical; a good meal; a controlled environment for my child's (or my own!) internet exploration.
OBP is not a one-hit wonder. In OBP's every instance each day is different based on creativity, what someone else is doing, what's on the menu, or what show is playing. It's this constant evolution that will make One Birmingham Place as magnetic and contagious next year as it is today. Everyone can have their fifteen minutes of fame...responsibly. And then have it again.
When one considers just the social media aspect of OBP, have we ever seen such a contagious -- and sustained -- phenomenon in our lifetime? Yes, the format may change from MySpace to FaceBook to Twitter, but the element of communication and community remains. In other words, programing options are infinite. Likewise, can we really imagine an end to theatre? There are always stories to tell.
With a limitless supply of material -- whether musicals, food, concerts, projected images, or the internet -- it's safe to say there always will be a reason to come back as each experience is almost necessarily unique. As unique as the ONE Birmingham we create.
One Birmingham Place is more than just blind to color, education, income, or age. Without a wag of the finger, everyone is welcome, everyone is an equal; and, of special import, everyone can learn from one another. In an environment of true equals -- not one legislated or condescended -- everyone flourishes because they are respected and valued. That is the ultimate attraction. It remains interesting because the experience is self defined.
iLab isn't just about giving equal access to the internet, for example. It's about combining the wisdom of age with the exuberance of youth to create responsible, thoughtful cyber-communities or a YouTube video that goes viral and speaks to the larger world too. It's about developing a mind so that poverty -- either financial or intellectual -- isn't all our children face. And it's fun.
Likewise, Red Mountain Theatre isn't just about acting and shows. Red Mountain is about teaching our youth skill sets that transcend color or handicap and do so in a way that learning is passed back and forth -- sometimes the student, sometimes the teacher. It's about creating temporary escapes and lifelong skills. And it's fun.
OBP's ultimate appeal is that it is organic to Birmingham, not just at a superficial level but in the minds and the souls of its citizens. And, it achieves this in a way that celebrates one another with a constant eye on the horizon to come, not the one of our past. It's always about tomorrow's ONE Birmingham.