Birmingham's Historic 4th Avenue Business District
In 1980, Urban Impact Inc., a grassroots organization was founded in Birmingham’s Historic 4th Avenue Business District with a mission based on the preservation, redevelopment and economic development of the district. The goal was to save and restore the remaining buildings, the memories of treasured places, and preserve one of the only surviving Black Business Districts in the Southeast before it was gone. That same year, the group worked successfully to have the Fourth Avenue Business District nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. This designation brought with it tax incentives and investment advantages to businesses and building owners. With the assistance of Mayor Richard Arrington and the Birmingham City Council, Urban Impact created many programs to improve business opportunities for socially- and economically disadvantaged business owners in the area. These programs encouraged many of the Black merchants – who were renting their buildings from the absentee landlords — to purchase their buildings outright. The programs and other incentives from the historic designation enabled the city and the merchants to completely renovate the inside and outside of Fourth Avenue buildings. Clean and safe issues were also addressed by the organization as criminal activity had tarnished the district’s reputation, scared away customers and kept the area economically depressed. With newly refurbished buildings owned by the merchants themselves and an end to distracting criminal activity, Urban Impact successfully began the revitalization of the entire Fourth Avenue area.
Urban Impact became aware of the Main Street Alabama program in 2014 and quickly became familiar with the framework and the quality services made available to Designated Communities. Urban Impact understood a commitment to implementing the Main Street Four-Point Approach would best position the Historic 4th Avenue Business District to lead a renaissance of growing businesses, community vibrancy and sustained asset building for all community stakeholders. A decision was made to pursue Designation and in 2017, two representatives from Urban Impact attended the Application Workshop. To keep stakeholders engaged during the application progress, Urban Impact regularly convened groups to discuss district improvements and a community vision. An application along with a supporting resolution from the City of Birmingham were submitted in Spring 2019. In May, the Urban Impact team made a presentation on behalf of the district. After the application and interviews were scored, the Main Street Alabama Board consented to the selection of Historic 4th Avenue Business District and the formal announcement was made on June 3, 2019.