Sears Building may be bought soon - Printable Version

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- Blazer85 - 06-06-2005 09:15 AM

Purchase of Sears site to be considered
Proposal would put two business incubators under one roof
Monday, June 06, 2005
News staff writer

A $15 million deal to purchase and renovate the Sears building could turn a symbol of downtown decay into the home of entrepreneurial vitality.

The Entrepreneurial Center business incubator along with UAB's Office for the Advancement of Developing Industries technology center would move into the two-story, 167,000-square-foot former retail building to create a "mega-incubator" for upstart technology and service companies.

Susan Matlock, president of the downtown Entrepreneurial Center and executive director of OADI, said putting the two incubators together in one site makes sense. "There would be a much higher efficiency," she said. "It would be exciting to be home to that many companies under one roof."

Matlock said the Sears building at 100 16th St. North is as large as the two buildings now home to the two incubators. Up to 65 companies could move into the Sears Building when it is complete, which could take up to two years.

"Everything would be very carefully coordinated," Matlock said. "Our current tenants shouldn't be concerned."

A proposal before the Birmingham City Council's budget and finance committee today calls for the city and the Entrepreneurial Center evenly splitting the $3.05 million needed to buy the building and parking lot.

The Barber Companies, which owns the building, is willing to sell it at the appraised value, Matlock said.

At least $12 million more will be required to renovate the building into the new incubator, Matlock said. It will need laboratory space and custom space required for the technology-heavy tenants of OADI, which are mostly commercial spin-offs of biotechnology and biomedical projects with origins at UAB.

Matlock said once a consolidation is complete, the current properties the Entrepreneurial Center and UAB own would likely be sold. UAB's property is a building off Lakeshore Parkway in the Oxmoor Valley while the Entrepreneurial Center building is in the 100 block of 12th Street North in Birmingham.

The sale and redevelopment of the Sears building would eliminate a downtown eyesore identified by Operation New Birmingham as one of the 12 buildings most in need of renovation. Built in 1945 and once home to the retailer, it has been vacant for more than 20 years.

More recently it has become a political football between businessman George Barber, who owns the Barber Companies, and Birmingham Mayor Bernard Kincaid.

Last year, Kincaid and the city refused to put up financial backing to help lure the 2005 North American Motorcycle Grand Prix to the Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham near Leeds. That race is being held in California instead.

In exchange for a $250,000 annual commitment for three years to secure the race, Kincaid wanted control of the Sears property but Barber refused, saying the race itself would be an economic boost to the city and make its investment worthwhile.

In the past, Barber has attempted to sell the building and even proposed tearing it down for a new park.

Negotiations with Birmingham, the Entrepreneurial Center, UAB and Barber have been ongoing for close to a year and at one point involved a complicated land swap with property in the Oxmoor Valley, participants have acknowledged.

Matlock said the city decided an outright purchase was better.

"From the city's standpoint, this seemed to be quicker, cleaner and we could make it work," she said.

Efforts to reach representatives of Barber were unsuccessful.

Griffin Lassiter, economic development liaison to Kincaid, said redevelopment of the property would likely draw other companies downtown.

"It's a big domino that needs to fall to develop the west side of downtown," Lassiter said. " It has great ramifications that may not be apparent."

E-mail: mtomberlin@bhamnews.com

- LJBlazerFan - 06-06-2005 09:59 AM

That would be good. That place has been sitting there empty for as long as I can remember.

They better get a good deal on it, though, because I'm sure that is going to require a lot of work to get it into usable shape.

- HiddenDragon - 06-06-2005 05:26 PM

Definitely an eyesore that needs to either be removed or renavated.


- Blazer85 - 06-06-2005 06:19 PM

Too bad it wast addressed a couple years ago... otherwise, Birmingham and Barber Motorsports Park might be host to the MotoGP.

- BlazerTex - 06-06-2005 06:23 PM

glad to see that the building will be used for something, but it looks to be in really bad shape and seems like it would be better to just tear it down and rebuild another building on the site.

- Blazer Engineer - 06-06-2005 09:18 PM

Yeah I drove by recently and it looked in rough shape. I remember go to that Sears as a kid. Back in the day before wal mart

- linus - 06-07-2005 10:25 PM

Based on the age of the building, I wonder if there are asbestos abatement issues with the building. i still think it would be a great location for the city to build a 20-30K seat stadium for HS football, and maybe try to bring the Barons back. not to mention a new home for my favorite college team

- Blazer Engineer - 06-07-2005 11:35 PM

I had not thought of the asbestos issue, but I'm in a position to check. I guess there could likely be, but there are ways to deal with it.