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The Lyric Theatre – Birmingham: Leveraged Vertical Brownfield Success

Vaudeville’s Roots Yield a Vision for Today


Present Condition of the Lyric Theatre, Birmingham, Alabama: Courtesy of: www.savethelyric.com

Like many important historic buildings, the Lyric’s re-use is hampered by the presence of lead-based paint, asbestos and mold and accumulated contaminated debris. This article is the sisth in a series of EPA Region 4 Brownfields Success Stories, a series designed to share what our hosts of Brownfield 2013 have learned in their brownfields redevelopment efforts.

The Lyric Theatre opened in 1914 as a classical Vaudeville theatre in Birmingham’s then vibrant theatre district. After the demise of Vaudeville, the Lyric served as a movie theatre until its permanent closure in the early 1970’s.  In 1993, the theatre was saved from demolition by Birmingham Landmarks, Inc, a non-profit organization that acquired the theatre from its previous owners.  Currently, the site is a vacant non-revenue producing eyesore in downtown Birmingham.  The Lyric’s environmental contaminant profile is the result of past building and architectural practices that utilized materials and products thought to be safe at the time of its construction.  

Working with Birmingham Landmarks, hundreds of volunteers and arts enthusiasts have contributed to the Lyric Theatre’s revitalization through fundraising, grant funding proposals, media promotion, and other valuable services that collectively catalyzed the revitalization effort. The grassroots volunteers formed Friends of Save the Lyric in 2010 (www.savethelyric.com).  At the suggestion of passionate supporters, EPA Region IV and Birmingham Landmarks made a valuable connection. Following a 2010 site visit by EPA, the Lyric Theatre was invited to participate in an EPA pilot program focusing on iconic structures that meet the test for “real or perceived environmental contamination”.

Historic structures like the Lyric are defined as “Vertical Brownfields”.  In 2011, Technical Brownfields Assistance was provided for the Lyric’s environmental assessment.  As expected, the resulting Phase I and II Environmental Site Assessment Activities revealed concern for asbestos and lead-based paint located throughout the theatre complex.  The assessment data positioned Birmingham landmarks, Inc as an eligible applicant for federal Brownfields funding to remediate/abate contamination within the Theatre auditorium: the first step toward the goal of bringing live performances back to the Lyric Theatre after an approximate ninety year absence.

 

                                                              lyric bw

 

Additional Partners, including the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, and the US Department of Labor, as well as EPA’s investment in the Lyric Theatre captured the attention of additional entities who have since become investor partners in the revitalization project. In October 2012, The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham became the first major non-profit to invest in the Lyric Theatre’s revitalization plan with the award of $70,000 for renovation of the Lyric Lobby.  In addition, Job Corps, Inc. of Montgomery, Alabama, a US Department of Labor entity, volunteered laborers to assist with various construction tasks. The Job Corps investment significantly reduced restoration costs, furthering project outcome capacity from the Community Foundation grant.

Working with the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, Birmingham Landmarks established a powerful framework to guide restoration and revitalization processes for the Lyric Theatre. The framework provides a vision that will keep restoration actions focused upon outcomes that enhance community and quality of life in Birmingham’s urban core. The project framework captures “Actions” that correlate to “Desired Outcomes”.  

lyric drawing

The Lyric Theatre circa 1930 and Concept for Proposed Impact on the existing streetscape and vibrancy of the Theatre District.  

The Lyric project tag line is “Restore, Provide, Empower, and Foster.”  Those actions convert to outcomes resulting from the Lyric’s revitalization for: “Vibrancy, Livability and Sustainability.” For example, when considering the action item of “Restore”:  Vibrancy - results from conversion of a shuttered under-utilized corner property within the City Center into an aesthetically appealing place that attracts people and activity. Livability - is enhanced from the opening of a live performing arts center, providing cultural amenity and attracting additional populations to the City Center through increased quality of life within the Greater Birmingham Region.  Relative to Sustainability - the Lyric Theatre will become a catalyst for development of a Cultural and Performing Arts Theatre District and the resulting jobs and economic impact will be augmented by events and ancillary business operations that will be attracted to the theatre district.

Relative to the balance of the tag line, the redevelopment of the Lyric will provide a sense of pride for the community, empower those that have touched the project, and, again, foster stainable growth by providing a much needed energy/momentum for  the community.

   lyric floor plan                                                

Early Plan and Concept for Restoration of the Theatre: Courtesy of Emory Kirkwood & Associates Architects, Inc, Birmingham, Alabama, (2005)

Find out more at www.savethelyric.com