By Emily Williams
The Vestavia Hills City Center welcomed guests to its first official event in the newly renovated courtyard on Oct. 17 to watch the Alabama-Georgia game.
The courtyard is situated in an open area between Planet Fitness, Panera Bread and First Watch.
Lights have been strung above the courtyard, a fountain was removed and replaced by a stretch of synthetic turf, and moveable pieces such as seating and lawn games have been incorporated into the space.
According to Fred McFadden, director of asset management for KPR Centers, owners of the city center, room for flexibility was important to maintain in the area as new tenants arrived.
“I think that (the courtyard) work has been a draw for some of our new tenants,” he said.
Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Karen Odle said that whenever she passes by the courtyard since its completion, there are always people gathered to enjoy it.
In her 18 years with the chamber, Odle said, conversations about the City Center always have included revitalization of the courtyard.
“That’s what people have been wanting, is something happening there,” she said. “We are so excited about seeing it now. It’s not just talk; it’s actually happening.”
The next event set for the courtyard will be a tree lighting Nov. 19.
McFadden said he noticed during discussions with potential tenants that the courtyard concept seemed to have been proposed over the years but never fully realized.
“The proof is in the pudding,” he said. “We had to spend the money and get the work done and get it happening. The more we got done, the easier it was to convince people that this is really going to happen.
“What was our biggest challenge is probably becoming our biggest asset at this point, but we’ve got a ways to go,” he said.
The team just needed the first few tenants to sign on to create a domino effect in the area.
“It’s about the energy and the activity you create within the area,” he said.
New Stores Arriving
Pigtails and Crewcuts drove interest in the center, and the recent announcement that Taco Mama will open its first Vestavia Hills location right off the courtyard has been a major step forward in KPR’s long-term goals for the center.
“(Taco Mama) will be going into the courtyard area and will have outdoor seating and a real presence that will hopefully spur more leasing activity,” McFadden said.
The hope is that more food and beverage operations will move to the center, playing off its status in the city as a designated entertainment district.
“The entertainment district, in essence, is an open container area where individuals within the district – the city center – can purchase an alcoholic beverage in one of the city center tenant’s locations, leave that particular site and take the open beverage to a common area, which … as the city center starts planning activities, can be an opportunity to enjoy the beverage, support the brick and mortar tenants while having a good time in the common area – whether it be watching a football game or anything else,” said Vestavia Hills city manager Jeff Downes.
Since the purchase of the property in 2017, KPR has had a mission to breathe new life into the retail spaces. So far, that has included painting the Publix shopping center, the City Center and the Stein Mart center.
LED lighting is being upgraded and upgrades are being made to the AMC Vestavia Hills 10 and former Rite Aid locations.
Hurdles to development included the closing of the Rite Aid shortly after the shopping center was purchased.
“We have been able to take advantage of that,” McFadden said. “We have renovated the exterior, which is nearly complete.”
The building soon will be home to three new businesses.
One side of the building will become a TrustCare Urgent Care. The opposite side has been split into two spaces that will accommodate new food concepts – Chopt Creative Salad Co., which is corporately owned, and a locally owned franchise of Crumbl Cookies, which serves a variety of cookies and ice creams.
When the businesses will open is hard for McFadden and his team to determine because of the pandemic.
But, he said, “We will be handing things over to them within a month so they can start doing the work they need to on their spaces.”
A new hurdle for the KPR crew has been the August announcement that Stein Mart will be closing all of its stores.
McFadden said there already has been interest from multiple parties in the Stein Mart on Montgomery Highway, some offers more appealing than others.
“Certain possibilities could involve splitting that space up … splitting into two spaces, moving an adjacent tenant around who may want more space,” McFadden said. “We are creative when it comes to that kind of stuff. We do it all the time.”