The historic Ramsay-McCormack building in the west Birmingham neighborhood of Ensley has been abandoned since 1983.
After interior operations of the building were halted in the late 1970s, a structure once recognized as the tallest building in the city now stands as a former shell of itself in a historic Birmingham neighborhood.
Many locals in Ensley are fed up with the many years of a lack of attention to Ensley and the Ramsay-McCormack building. Several have stayed in the community, seeking out the completion of the project, while others have decided that it is time to leave. One of those individuals is local attorney Henry Taliaferro.
“I am sure this area will be a mess if the city finally attempts to restore the Ramsay-McCormack building,” Taliaferro said. “Thank goodness I am as old as I am, I can simply retire and be gone before anything else happens.”
Although there have been separate court orders for the demolition and revitalization of the Ramsay-McCormack building in the past, many prominent figures in the neighborhood of Ensley are hopeful for the community’s future, due in large part to high hopes for the revival of the deteriorating office tower.
According to Emporis, the building itself is a 10-story, 144-foot-tall art deco style office tower finished in 1929, three years after original plans of construction from investment partners Erskine Ramsey and Carr McCormack were publicized, located on the corner of Avenue E and 19th Street in downtown Ensley.
After U.S. Steel’s Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company ceased workplace operations in the occupied space of the Ramsay-McCormack building in the late 1970s, the City of Birmingham purchased the structure for one dollar in the early 1980s.
Legal limbo between the City of Birmingham and local business owners in Ensley has ensued since 2008, primarily through the incentive of Antonio Spurling, attorney and chief executive of Spurling Law Firm in downtown Ensley.
“The Ramsay-McCormack building is a potential economic engine in this area,” Spurling said. “Everything around that building represents the transmission, axles or steering wheel of a metaphorical car, but that building is the engine and most essential component for this community’s ability to endure.”
In 2008, Spurling filed a lawsuit against the City of Birmingham seeking to force the city to either restore or demolish the building. After numerous years of varying court orders and judicial decisions have come into existence, it appears as if the city is running out of time to restore the building before court-ordered sanctions are imposed on Birmingham.
Although the City of Birmingham’s economic development office declined to comment on the ongoing restoration of the Ramsay-McCormack building, a dual meeting of Birmingham’s Budget and Finance Committee and Economic Development Committee on Oct. 14 approved Ensley District Developers, LLC to lead the restoration of the Ramsay-McCormack building according to the Birmingham City Council. The development plans were approved by the city council on Oct. 22.
Councilor John Hilliard of Birmingham’s District 9 believes that although a timetable on the completion of the Ramsay-McCormack building is unknown at this moment in time, the area’s potential for traffic and revitalization is unmistakably present.
“The area around the Ramsay-McCormack building was one that was constantly bustling with traffic when I was a kid growing up in Ensley,” Hilliard said. “If revitalized, I believe that it would help bring lots of foot traffic to Ensley, thus helping the community build a variety of networks in the Birmingham area.”
Hilliard has assisted in several revitalization processes throughout west Birmingham, and despite the fact that the restoration of the Ramsay-McCormack building and the community of Ensley as a whole has yet to be finalized, Hilliard remains hopeful for a result to be seen and accepted by the public.
“Restoration has worked in similar areas in Birmingham so I fully believe it will work in Ensley as well,” Hilliard added.
While former court proposals have outlined concepts of police and fire headquarters, a senior living area, apartments, offices and a public safety complex, Spurling believes that the best fit for the Ramsay-McCormack building in terms of increasing foot traffic in Ensley the relocation of the City of Birmingham’s municipal court offices.
“Municipal courts are sustainable due to the fact that as long as a city is in existence, people will still go to court for reasons as simple as parking tickets,” Spurling said. “That concept would far surpass the private investment dollars of apartments, senior living facilities and private developers that leave projects unfinished, resulting in our community taking part in the same conversations 40 years down the line.”
On the other hand, new local business owners including Josh Brenneman, owner of Heritage Coffee in downtown Ensley, believe that although the neighborhood has been overlooked and disregarded in the past, the community will persevere and operate as it once did in its glory days.
“I think the restoration of the building would be positive for my business and the other businesses here by simply bringing consistent foot traffic to this area,” Brenneman said. “The Ramsay-McCormack is something we desperately need to bring life back to Ensley.”