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RH submits new plans for site in Birmingham

By Lisa Brody

RH, also known as Restoration Hardware, has submitted a preliminary site plan, special land use permit request and a community impact study for a new four-story mixed use building at the southwest corner of S. Old Woodward and Brown streets in Birmingham, which is on the city planning board's Wednesday, March 24, agenda.

The preliminary site plan, designed by Birmingham architect Victor Saroki, special land use permit, along with a community impact study by Fleis & Vanderbrink, seeks to redevelop the properties at 300-394 S. Old Woodward, as well as part of 294 E. Brown Street. Currently, the properties are occupied by Capital Title/Lutz, Roche Bobois, Frank’s Shoe Service and Coldwell Banker Weir Manuel. The entire property has a total land area of 54,052.96 square feet, or 1.24 acres, according to a memo by city planning director Jana Ecker.

According to submitted preliminary site plans, RH hopes to create a building that will look similar to its design studio and restaurant in West Palm Beach, Florida, which is 79,349 square feet. The first three floors are rendered as “galleries” for furniture and accessories, while the fourth floor is a rooftop restaurant and wine bar.

In its plans, RH proposes building a new four-story 50,483 square foot building, with retail and design uses on the first three floors, and a restaurant on the fourth floor. Underground parking is proposed to house 24 vehicles. As the site is within the city's parking assessment district, no other parking is required, and the Peabody Street structure is a block away. The site would require rezoning to accommodate the restaurant usage, as well as a rezoning request for an economic development liquor license for the restaurant.

The community impact study emphasizes that the proposed development and plan “implements recommendations contained in the Downtown Birmingham 2016 Master Plan as the applicant is proposing a mixed use building with first floor retail space, and the applicant has proposed high quality materials and provided architectural elements to provide a pedestrian scale on all sides of the proposed building. .. The proposed retail, gallery, design services and restaurant uses all work together to provide a significant retail anchor at this location, activating this area. The 2016 Plan states that 'Traditional American cities, except the very largest, rarely exceed five stories in building height and most commonly range from two to four stories. Downtown Birmingham adheres to this rule, with the most memorable streets tending to be at least two stories and the least memorable being mostly one story.'

The planning division finds that the proposed four story building does meet the spirit and intent of the 2016 Plan as it does provide for significant massing at this important corner of Brown and S. Old Woodward. The proposed four-story development also provides a transition from the five-story Daxton Hotel to the north and the three-story Forefront building to the south.”

The proposed RH building would be directly across Brown Street from the new Daxton Hotel, which is slated to open at the beginning of April.

A traffic impact study by Fleis & Vanderbrink will be presented at the planning board meeting.

In May 2019, RH signed a letter of intent to anchor the building fronting Old Woodward Avenue in front of a new parking structure for the proposed Woodward Bates project in downtown Birmingham, to create a 55,000 square foot store topped with a rooftop restaurant. RH has similar stores in West Palm Beach, New York City, Chicago, Denver and Seattle, where they have showcase buildings offering their furniture and accessories, a demarcated interior design atelier and a rooftop restaurant with outdoor terrace seating At the time, Gary Friedman, chief executive officer of RH called these spaces “experiential factors” in retailing.

In August 2019, Birmingham residents overwhelmingly rejected a parking structure bond proposal in the amount of $57.4 million in order 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, which would have included the RH Gallery store proposal.

But RH remained determined to locate in Birmingham. After the 2019 defeat of the city proposal that included RH, the board of the company reportedly took a vote to continue pursuing Birmingham as the site for its highly successful gallery store concept. Unconfirmed reports circulated since mid 2020 that RH was still looking at possible building sites in downtown Birmingham and that options had been taken on the various properties on S. Old Woodward. The Birmingham City Commission several months ago held a closed door session at which the RH store project was the topic.

At the Wednesday planning meeting, planning board members will have the option of approving with noted qualifying issues to be addressed, rejecting or postponing action on the RH preliminary site plan. The planning department has recommended that the planning board postpone a decision on preliminary site plan while some issues that were raised in the city review are addressed.


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