Brasfield & Gorrie Completes Historic Renovation of The Pizitz
A $41.5 million renovation of a former department store in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, completed by Brasfield & Gorrie of Birmingham, converted the building into The Pizitz, a mixed-use development.
“Bayer Properties undertook the renovation to reinvigorate, the ‘busy corner of downtown where the Pizitz department store and other retailers drew crowds of people for decades,’” says Jane Hoerner, Director of Marketing for developer Bayer Properties of Birmingham. “The Pizitz now provides a live, work, play destination, and links the south side of downtown Birmingham, where the University of Alabama Birmingham, Regions Field and Railroad Park lie, with the city’s central business district.”
Revamping the Old Structure
The store closed in 1987 and sat dormant until 2015, when Brasfield & Gorrie began the major renovation. The long road to the recently finished Pizitz building started more than 15 years earlier when Bayer Properties purchased the property.
While it might have been easier to tear down the aging structure, Bayer Properties hired Brasfield & Gorrie to restore it for a new use. It afforded the construction firm a role in the resurgence of the downtown area of its home base.
“The landmark structure welcomed generations of shoppers, withstanding the economic hardships of the Great Depression and the social upheaval of the Civil Rights era,” says Brian Moore, Senior Project Manager for Brasfield & Gorrie.
“The Pizitz has been a landmark in Birmingham since it was built in the 1920s and, after evaluation, it was determined that the structure was sound enough to support a renovation,” Hoerner said. “The project represented an opportunity to mix the old with the new. We fully restored the beautiful terra cotta façade, original hardwood floors and other elements where the building’s historical character shines through.”
“The project was two weeks away from starting when it came to a halt due to the historic tax credit not getting approved,” Moore says. “In the years that followed, several plans were discussed but never came to fruition due to additional hurdles. In 2015, the long-awaited restoration of the 92-year-old building finally began.”
Bayer overcame financing challenges and worked with city, state, federal programs to obtain tax credits and loans to complete the project. The design focus of the Pizitz project was to maintain the historic fabric of the building while giving the owners and guests the modern-day amenities and experiences. The team went to great lengths to restore and reuse elements of the building, Moore says.
Brasfield & Gorrie used laser scanning during the pricing phase to identify places on the south and west elevations of the building where design modifications might be necessary. This saved the team not only much needed time on the schedule, but also money.
The project broke ground in February 2015. Moore indicates the location and age of the building made the project particularly complicated
“With the Pizitz building being adjacent to two buildings and active city streets flanking the other sides, the site was very tight and offered limited laydown area,” he says.
The construction team restored the building’s original façade. The exterior terra cotta was restored after years of cracking and spalling.
“The terra cotta facade restoration was unique, because the building was originally built in separate phases, in 1923 and 1925,” Moore explains. “During that time, anchor systems changed. The team evaluated the entire building to determine how to repair the structural issues for the two different phases."
New windows and awnings were matched with the existing ones. The team also modernized the interior, keeping most of the original floors and some interior walls. The historic plaster ceiling in the food hall/mezzanine level had to be carefully restored due to the National Parks Historic Preservation tax credits.
“In order to transform the large space plan of the original department store layout into apartments, we needed to open the interior core of the building to introduce natural light.” Moore says. “Our team had to create a light well by cutting a 50-foot by 50-foot hole in each floor of the building from the roof level down to the second floor.”
Between the plaster ceiling and the structure above, there were only 8 to 10 inches, which left no room for all the systems, utilities, sanitary water, etc. to go.
“On the second floor, it was decided to build a 28-inch-high access flooring that carried 12-inch pipes, roof drains, sanitary drains and distribution for air on the mezzanine below,” Moore says.
Adding the Amenities
Highly complex mechanical systems were utilized in converting the existing ground floor into a food hall with several tenants. The mechanical penthouse was reconfigured into an amenity space that includes meeting space, a pool, and exercise, steam and sauna rooms. Fabulous views of the city can be seen from all angles.
The project team had zero lost-time incidents and zero fatalities while managing more than 60 subcontract partners and vendors on this project.
The historic gem now serves a new purpose as an 11-story mixed-use facility with 143 apartments; 13,000 square feet of modern and co-working office space on the mezzanine; and a ground floor featuring Birmingham’s first open-concept food hall.
The Pizitz Food Hall is designed to give best-in-class food entrepreneurs a place to showcase their culinary art. The Food Hall is home to 14 food stalls, two full-service restaurants, and other tenants.
During construction, the team discovered some interesting historic items, including an old clock face that has since been restored and rebuilt, becoming a prominent fixture in the Pizitz Food Hall, Moore says.
Two Decades in the Making
Brasfield & Gorrie completed the project in March 2017.
“With any project, no one person or subcontractor makes it successful,” says Brasfield & Gorrie Project Manager Tate Davis. “The Pizitz building became an idea nearly 20 years ago. Without our Brasfield & Gorrie team, the design team, a great team of subcontractors, and an owner with a grand vision, the Pizitz would have never happened. It is now finished and pumping new and exciting life into downtown Birmingham. Each person who was a part of this project over the years has played a role in its success and bringing this historic building back to life. I am proud that I am now a part of the Pizitz history.”
The Pizitz project adds to the growing 8,000 plus residents in the downtown area. In the past four years, Birmingham has seen the number of millennials living in the downtown area grow 58 percent, which is triple the national average,” Moore says. Those millennials are looking for exactly what The Pizitz offers – a combination of residence, dining, retail and office space all located in the historic Theatre District and a short walk to numerous attractions.
“If you talk to anybody in Birmingham over the age of 50, they all have a story about going shopping at Pizitz,” Davis says. “Now, this new generation will have their own story.”