DETROIT
10/31/2012 10:33 am ET Updated Oct 31, 2012

Is Free Rent Enough To Jumpstart A Sleepy Commercial District?

For decades, about five blocks of the South Avondale neighborhood of Birmingham, Alabama, was all but vacant. Once a small, thriving cultural district on the border of affluent sections of the city's Southside, South Avondale's business district had experienced a stunning decline in recent decades thanks to "white flight," population loss, and the closing of industrial businesses that manufactured goods such as cotton and bricks.

So when stimulus money became available for "shovel ready" projects in Birmingham, residents and city leaders thought of South Avondale's business district. Out of more than $20 million in federal stimulus bonds allocated for streets and park renovations in Birmingham, $3 million was put toward expanding a Central Park-modeled public recreation area on the land where the zoo once sat. Plans for new walkways and baseball fields were proposed along with a new amphitheater and concession area.

Flickr Photo by Dave Hogg

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