Following concrete falling off the N. Old Woodward structure in downtown Birmingham and damaging a vehicle attempting to leave the north exit of the structure on Tuesday, January 28, Birmingham City Commissioners met for an emergency meeting on Saturday, February 1, to authorize approximately $591,000 in emergency repairs, and another $25,000 to engineers and architects to design a barrier cable system.
Assistant city manager Tiffany Gunter reported that a portion of the concrete facade surrounding the N. Old Woodward structure fell from the first floor, damaging the hood of a vehicle attempting to exit the structure at the gates on the north side of the structure on January 28. Since that time, staff, along with engineers and contractors, have worked to establish a plan and proposal to make sure that no further incidents occur at the site.
“The area surrounding the structure has been secured to mitigate that chance of further incidents until the repair work can be completed. The engineers and contractors have confirmed that the façade system provides no support for the concrete slabs within the structure that handle vehicle traffic. The existing façade system serves the purpose of being both a design feature and vehicle barrier system,” Gunter wrote in a memo.
Commissioners voted 6-0, with commissioner Mark Nickita not in attendance, to authorize an agreement with contractors to replace the barrier facade system surrounding the parking structure and install a new cable barrier system for an amount not to exceed $591,000, and to authorize the agreement to have engineers and architects design the barrier cable system as well as to provide construction services, for $25,000.
As of Monday, February 3, work has begun, with the entrance off N. Old Woodward closed, parking spots on N. Old Woodward blocked off, and approximately 120 parking spots in the structure lost to construction, which is expected to take approximately three months.
The city said permit parkers interested in moving to Chester Street to avoid construction should call 248.540.9690.
The N. Old Woodward parking structure, located at 333 N. Old Woodward Avenue, had been identified in 2016 by the city of Birmingham as having outlived its lifespan, having been constructed in the 1960s. It became part of the Woodward Bates parcel, approximately four acres in the city’s central business district, consisting of the current N. Old Woodward parking garage, an adjacent parking lot and adjacent parcels. The city solicited creative and innovative development plans from qualified developers to extend Bates Street from Willits to N. Old Woodward, connecting the north and south parts of Birmingham, to redevelop the remainder of the site by constructing a new parking structure that would have provided a minimum of 400 parking spaces in addition to replacing the 750 parking spaces currently on the N. Old Woodward/Bates Street site, plus adding residential, commercial and/or mixed uses in order to create an activated, pedestrian-oriented urban streetscape while also providing public access to the Rouge River and Booth Park to the north. The project would also have included the national retailer RH.
In August 2019, a parking structure bond proposal in the amount of $57.4 million to secure financing for demolition and rebuilding of a new parking structure to replace the N. Old Woodward structure and an extension of Bates Street, the first phase of the Woodward Bates project, failed, after activist/residents asserted the project was too expensive, the structure was not in need of rebuilding, and the architect chosen had written the proposal.
Gunter said in July 2019, a preliminary visual observation of the façade system was conducted by WJE Engineers and Architects, PC. They identified pillars that had excessive corrosion and identified 13 pillars that required “immediate attention.” Approximately $6 million in repairs were determined to be immediately required if the bond was not passed, based upon preliminary observations.
“The pillar that failed on Tuesday, January 28, was not one of those pillars that had been identified,” Gunter reported. “They determined that the failure occurred due to corrosion of the steel components embedded within the precast panel that are not visible from the outside. It is not possible to know the extent of the corrosion without assessing each individual pillar by testing samples of the concrete.”