This month Birmingham will host experts and professionals from across the state who all share a common goal: bringing new life to their communities. The third annual aLABama Downtown Laboratory Conference, hosted by Main Street Alabama, will feature three days of speakers and sessions focused on economic redevelopment and community revitalization.
“Our first two years were in Montgomery,” said Main Street Marketing and Communications Coordinator Marylon Barkan. “This year is the first year we’re moving into one of our designated communities.” The Birmingham-based nonprofit, which is affiliated with the National Main Street Center, coordinates with cities around the state to revitalize their communities. “We’re excited about the opportunity to showcase one of our programs to everyone else in the state,” said Barkan.
According to David Fleming, CEO of REV Birmingham and co-chair of Main Street Alabama, the organization’s program has long been a part of the revitalization efforts within the city. “REV Birmingham has for many years utilized the Main Street approach for our mission of revitalizing commercial districts,” Fleming said. “Examples of projects that have resulted include adaptive re-uses of historic buildings, Zyp Bikeshare, and a new community plaza in the East Lake Commercial District. All are intended to enhance the experience of place and bring vibrancy.”
Each year, Main Street’s conference focuses on one of the four points of its Four-Point Approach: Organization, Promotion, Design and Economic Vitality. This year’s theme will emphasize the third point, “Good Design. Good Business.”
“It’s a perfect fit for Birmingham, because there are so many different design-type things going on,” said James Little, district manager for REV Birmingham. “Whether it’s the stuff that’s going on in Avondale to Parkside, the Theatre District, Uptown, Five Points, stuff going on in Ensley… It’s a lot of all the design elements of community.”
Conference speakers will include Ed McMahon, senior Resident Fellow at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C. and Donovan Rypkema, principal of the Washington D.C.-based real estate and economic development consulting firm, PlaceEconomics. The conference will also feature a number of other experts, as well as opportunities for community involvement.
“We have a nationally renowned real estate developer coming in who is extremely good at working with historic tax credits and can really lay out an economic reason for historic preservation and revitalization of old buildings,” said Barkan. “We have architects that are going to be focused on both rural and design solutions. We have our Shark Tank, which is a session that won a National Innovation on Main Street Award last May in Milwaukee.”
The conference is intended to provide opportunities to showcase local projects and share ideas between communities. “There’s going to be people from all across the state… and they’re going to be able to see all the great things that are going on in Birmingham,” said Little. “It’s going to be a really great opportunity for all these cities to be able to show and tell what’s really going on and what they’re doing to move their communities forward.”
The third annual aLABama Downtown Laboratory conference will take place August 22-24 at the Highland Avenue Methodist Church in Five Points South. Tickets are $150. For more information, visit Mainstreetalabama.org.