This week, downtown Birmingham goes uptown with the opening of the city’s new entertainment district. The $70 million district, actually dubbed “Uptown” and located adjacent to the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC), is scheduled to make its debut on Valentine’s Day.
The new $50 million Westin Birmingham Hotel will open its doors to its first guests Thursday and will begin accepting reservations a week later. The hotel consists of 294 guest rooms and includes a rooftop pool and bar, workout room and access to high speed Internet.
The Westin has embraced the rich culture of Birmingham with iron sheets made by local artists, steel-inspired photos and local limestone on the walls. The hotel itself was built with the environment in mind as well and is the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified hotel in the state.
The Westin and neighboring Sheraton Hotel are both owned by Starwood Hotels, and in January, the BJCC announced that Sheraton general manager Mark Noyes would be responsible for both. Tad Snider, Executive Director of the BJCC, explains that efficiencies come with two properties being managed together rather than two stand-alone hotels.
“Economically it makes a lot of sense to have another Starwood Property under the umbrella. There are a lot of shared advantages, responsibility — it keeps expenses down and you can market the hotels together so that you don’t have two hotels competing with each other,” Snider said.
According to Snider, combining the Westin and Sheraton has opened up opportunities which had not been possible before for the BJCC. The two hotels combined have over 1,000 rooms, which he refers to as the “sweet spot” when dealing with bringing in more attractive conventions.
“The ability to combine the two is opening up potential business we have not been able to go after before,” Snider said. “We have been selling the convention component of the Westin for six months now. We have at least six or seven pieces of business that are using both properties that we would not have been able to get to Birmingham if we had not had both [Westin and Sheraton].”
The hotel is not coming alone, though. A renowned chef and a coffee shop with a twist will be opening inside the walls of the Westin.
Celebrity chef Todd English will be opening Todd English’s PUB — Public Urban Bars — inside of the Westin Hotel. The restaurant is planning a soft opening on Valentine’s Day and will begin taking reservations shortly after.
PUB’s General Manager Brad Kleiss describes the restaurant as a “place where a gentleman could be sitting at the bar in a three piece suit and the guy next to him is in a tank top, shorts and maybe one flip-flop.”
This will be English’s second Todd English’s PUB. The first one is located in Las Vegas. “When you do your second [restaurant], you make improvements,” Kleiss said. Some features limited to the Birmingham location are a private dining area, a stage for live music and a game room that includes beer pong and supersized dart boards.
Hourglasses along the bar awaiting customers who dare to to attempt “The Seven Second Challenge.” The rules are simple: if a customer finishes a pint of beer in seven seconds, the beer is free, limit two per customer. On top of having daily happy hour specials, the PUB’s beer selection has exceeded 100, with 60 of those being draft.
Octane Coffee will be located in the corner of the Westin with a projected opening date for March of this year. Octane, named by Bon Appetit magazine in 2010 as one of the “10 Best Boutique Coffee Shops in America,” is not your normal café.
“This is a little bit more than your traditional Starbucks,” Snider said. “They will, in the evening, transition into some cocktails and beers. It is not just coffee. The idea of putting them in the corner is that it is not a coffee shop buried in a hotel, they are a part of what’s going on in the streets. ”
Octane is an Atlanta-based company that merged with Birmingham’s Primavera Coffee in 2011. This will be the shop’s second location opening in town this year, the other being in downtown Homewood.
Brazilian steakhouse Texas de Brazil will be opening this summer. The steakhouse will utilize part of Uptown’s rooftop bar space, which includes a 40 feet wide and 23 foot tall high-definition television. Management is seeking a tenant with a strong sports tie-in for the vacant space facing the television, Snider said.
The remaining retail space is all under a type of letter of intent, with leases being finalized. Snider is confident that the remaining space, reported to be about 20,000 square feet, will be leased.
“The good news is that we have more letters of intents than we have space available,” he explains. “It puts us in the position where we are working to finalize those and really find the right mix.”
Uptown has not only added a new entertainment district to the city, but has helped Birmingham gain hundreds of jobs. The BJCC held four job fairs with more than 3,000 applicants applying to work for Todd English’s PUB or the Westin Hotel. Among the applicants, 260 workers were hired for both ventures. Todd English’s PUB’s chef Jeffery Steedman is excited about his new staff.
“This is a great, great staff that we have hired. Lots of great people, passionate and dedicated about what they do and we are going to have a great team,” he said.
The Westin Hotel Birmingham was designed by Rabun Rasche Rector & Reece of Atlanta, along with help from Birmingham’s NGH Group. The entertainment district was designed by Birmingham’s Keith Design, according to the website Bhamwiki.