Jacqueline McKinney moved to Woodlawn 15 years ago.
She liked her large, older home. She appreciated the historic character of the neighborhood. But she was also concerned about problems that were affecting the once sought-after community on Birmingham’s east side.
“Full of drugs. Full of prostitution. Abandoned houses,” McKinney recalled. “It just wasn’t a good place to live.”
But now, she doesn’t want to live anywhere else.
McKinney has one clear reason for wanting to stay. She’s witnessing a transformation.
McKinney sees first-hand the results of Birmingham’s nonprofit and business communities working together, along with the support of local government, to turn a blighted area into one that offers stability, safety and opportunity for its residents.
This week, the transformation took a major step forward with the formal opening of the Park at Wood Station.
A modern, 64-unit townhouse development covering several blocks where abandoned lots and blighted properties had become the norm, the Park at Wood Station represents a significant milestone in the long-term revitalization of Woodlawn.
McKinney is one of Wood Station’s first residents, drawn from her older home to both the security and new construction provided by the townhome community.
“This is – oh, wow!” she said. “It’s just awesome to have a place that you can come to, and it’s so peaceful in the area. This area has been down for so long, but now, it’s just a joy to be here.”
It took a lot of coordination to make Wood Station a reality.
At the center of it all was the Woodlawn Foundation, a nonprofit committed to facilitating long-term revitalization of the neighborhood.
Funding for Wood Station came, in part, through a tax credit allocation from the Alabama Housing Finance Authority. Further, Regions Bank served as an equity provider, investing $11 million in the development. Protective Life also provided substantial financial support.
“When you walk around here, you can’t believe what used to be in this area, but they have turned it around,” Mayor William Bell said. “But they didn’t do it by themselves. We had the cooperation of many organizations, many individuals, others who came to the forefront, the creation of the Woodlawn Foundation – all of it has come together so that we can stand here today and proudly say that Woodlawn is on its way back.”
Sally Mackin, executive director of the Woodlawn Foundation, said as the community sees progress, another crucial ingredient to any neighborhood starts to return.
“Pride,” Mackin summarized. “The residents in the community have a sense of pride having seen some physical transformation begin. And it’s not just Wood Station.”
Indeed, the Woodlawn Foundation launched a homeowner rehabilitation program, which is helping longtime local property owners make needed repairs. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have gone toward roof repairs, facade improvements, energy efficiency and more.
Woodlawn residents also have a voice in the revitalization process as their feedback shapes the vision of the Woodlawn Foundation itself. For example, residents’ input helped create the rigorous screening process for those who apply to rent at Wood Station. Community input also guided the exterior designs and neighborhood amenities at Wood Station.
And soon, Wood Station will grow to include a homeownership component as well. Mackin said the Woodlawn Foundation is working with a development team, homebuilder and real estate firm to develop single-family homes for adjacent lots. The development will begin with five new homes and is expected to grow to more than a dozen new houses in the area surrounding the Wood Station townhouses.
“We’re building a sense of community to try to encourage new construction and more homeownership,” Mackin said.
Leroy Abrahams, North Central Alabama Area President for Regions Bank, said the ongoing nature of the revitalization is essential. Abrahams serves on the board of the Woodlawn Foundation. He encouraged those attending the Wood Station ribbon cutting to remember that for the transformation to truly succeed, it must continue to build on the progress that has been made.
“Let’s not look at this and say, ‘Hey, mission accomplished. Check the box,’” Abrahams said. “It’s great to look back and celebrate, but it’s even more important to look forward and think about what comes next.”
Abrahams said Regions is committed to ongoing support of the Woodlawn community. The successful construction of Wood Station can serve as an inspiration for future developments.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “It’s also encouraging as a testament to what can be done when people come together and are willing to bring resources together to do something constructive. It’s a catalyst to what else can be accomplished.”
As Jacqueline McKinney looked out across the new townhouses at Wood Station, she also looked forward to the prospect of seeing more abandoned lots cleaned up, more blighted properties getting repaired and more people recognizing Woodlawn as a community that is growing stronger and more vibrant as the transformation continues.
“It’s just a dream come true,” McKinney said.