New life in an old place

The former Blackwell Furniture building will soon have new tenants and new businesses under its century-old roof.

Photo by David Garrett.

It’s a story downtown denizens never get tired of: another cavernous former warehouse becomes a space for living, working and entertaining, adding a new chapter to the ongoing tale of vitality in the loft district. This time, the former Blackwell Furniture building, also known as the former BB’s China and Glassware, becomes the new home to MotionMobs, an app developer arising from Innovation Depot (itself the former Sears & Roebuck downtown), and the new home to MotionMobs owner Tayor Peake-Wyatt.

And that’s not all: The same 20,746 square foot space will house MotionMobs, four residence spaces upstairs, a stone-mason’s office and an Irish pub to be owned by David Carrigan, who sold the front side of the building, the 9,719 square feet facing 1st Avenue North, to Peake-Wyatt.

Right now, the building is mostly empty, displaying the attractive evidence of its long history: massive wooden beams a century old, high multi-paned windows overlooking 1st Avenue and 25th Street, big impressive skylights, exposed brick walls, concrete floors downstairs and hardwood upstairs. It also shows signs of inevitable wear: upstairs a pool collects rainwater from a leak, while a few yards away, the scorched beams from a past fire hang over holes in the hardwood floor. There is a lot of work to be done, on plumbing, electrical, ceilings, and those once and future beautiful windows and skylights.

Photo by David Garrett.

But Peake-Wyatt is not only confident that the work will be done, and done in a more-or-less timely fashion – she’s excited about the prospects as she shows off the place she will soon call home. She’s excited enough to move from her already comfortable apartment, blocks away in the Watts Tower, to this soon-to-be new dwelling above her soon-to-be office space. “This,” she says, standing in the middle of the first floor, “is just a perfect building for us.”

But it was the upstairs that made her fall in love with the building. “I love the huge windows and the great skylights. It has really good bones,” she says.

She plans to move MotionMobs into the downstairs about the middle of next month, and move, a scant three months later, into her new 1500 square foot loft, bigger than the one she owns at Watts Tower. She and her husband will share the floor and the front windows with two other lofts, while Carrigan will have the residence space behind, closest to the location of his pub.

MotionMobs is a two-year old company specializing in developing iPhone and Android mobile phone apps. Their success stories include the children’s app Sam The Spider and the photo and video app Pickture This, and the company is expanding its product line and its staff.

Since February, the company has been operating from Innovation Depot, the City of Birmingham- and UAB-founded incubation center. MotionMobs is growing, prompting the need for a larger space, Peake-Wyatt says. “ We’ve made big progress this year. We have brought in several key players and found a number of opportunities to help us reposition ourselves moving forward.”

That includes moving into a downtown space that will expand the footprint of vibrant, re-imagined  city center real estate. “With all the history in this over-100-year-old warehouse building within Birmingham’s beautiful loft district, we knew we wanted to remodel and rejuvenate one of these standing testaments to hard work in Birmingham and add a little of our own history to this town,” Peake-Wyatt wrote in a press release announcing the move.

For Peake-Wyatt, the move symbolizes her faith in what’s happening downtown as more and more people live and work here. “It’s really nice to watch it grow,” she says. “We have a great culture here.”