The Ongoing Transformation of Mobile's Downtown
It has been amazing for me to witness the transformation of Mobile's downtown over the past 20 years. When I entered the commercial real estate industry in 1998, I went to work for a small developer who specialized in downtown historic redevelopment projects. I felt like this was a good fit for me because of my passion for historic commercial structures and my strongly-held belief that, for any city to be truly strong, you had to have a healthy and vibrant urban core.
Unfortunately, I was too early. In the late 1990's, downtown Mobile was still suffering from the flight experienced in the 1970's and 1980’s. The majority of businesses downtown were government related or part of the legal community, neither of which generated much activity. I was successful in becoming known as the downtown expert, however, there wasn't enough activity to sustain that expertise! I quickly learned why I didn't have a lot of competition for that position. It was hard to make a living concentrating primarily on downtown business and I was starving! To survive, I had to expand my area of concentration.
Fast forward approximately 20 years and it is a completely different landscape. Mobile, like many other cities across the country, has benefitted from a new found interest in our urban centers. I have seen this fueled by the millennials but also embraced by many other demographics.
As I started to see this trend in Mobile, I began to ask prospects what was bringing them downtown. The answers were enlightening, including building aesthetics and construction that is hard to duplicate, the desire for "cool" spaces that are difficult to find outside of downtown, the ease of access to both Baldwin County and West Mobile (centrally located for hiring) and the interaction you find in a downtown environment walking to the bank, to lunch or drinks after work.
Downtown is a melting pot of all different types of people, which is one reason I am consistently drawn to it. You have residents next door to restaurants, down the street from shipping companies, banks, entrepreneurs, artists, etc.—all working together in a fairly small, tight knit geographic area. To me, this interaction is so valuable. I have heard it said that downtowns are the heartbeat of a city. I am so proud to be a part of the transformation of our downtown, which I am convinced will continue to strengthen Mobile as a whole.
Happy New Year! Can't wait to see what 2017 holds for your downtown.