By Erica Wright
John Harris, president of the North Titusville Neighborhood Association, remembers when his community was dirt roads, no sidewalks and the beginning of the Loveman Village housing projects.
“I used to walk through here going to Center Street School when I was living in the housing projects,” said Harris, at the vacant Center Court Apartments., “ . . . This [ blight] has not been good for the community, in the early years maybe, but we’ve been seeking something to happen to this property for a long time.”
Harris and other residents were present Thursday for “Blight Demolition Day” as 5th Avenue Holdings, LLC, a subsidiary of Navigate Affordable Housing Partners, began the demolition process at Center Court Apartments in North Titusville.
Titusville is nestled between the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) to the east and Elmwood Cemetery to the west.
Those living in the community were handed hammers to swing at the blight in the units which have become uninhabitable. Construction crews then went in and began tearing down the units for good.
“We believe Birmingham deserves better than the current Center Court Apartments. Our community deserves affordable housing opportunities that are safe, clean and truly livable,” said Lisa McCarroll, CEO of Navigate. “The redevelopment of this property is just one step in removing blight from our city. Many locals are happy to see Center Court torn down.”
Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson, who represents Titusville, said she was excited to see Navigate help with revitalization in the area.
“Navigate is . . . actually doing something with the apartments and that’s the amazing part of it . . . [they] knew exactly what they wanted and how to go into the community and talk to people,” Tyson said.
Navigate is a nonprofit group that focuses on ensuring safe, quality, affordable housing by concentrating on the needs of a specific neighborhood.
Birmingham City Councilor Crystal Smitherman said the demolition will help return the community to its vibrancy.
“This area will be back to its original environment of being vibrant and full of life,” Smitherman said. “Titusville is not just a neighborhood, it’s our home . . . We salute this day and for the progress this demolition will ultimately represent. Center Court apartments are literally in the center of our area, the heartbeat of our community is in the center. Titusville was the first area where black people were homeowners. This community has been and continues to be the home of many great Americans.”
The community has launched the careers of former Birmingham Mayors William A. Bell Sr. and Larry Langford; Birmingham civic leader Odessa Woolfolk; Freeman Hrabowski, renowned educator and president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Harold Jackson, a Pulitzer Prize winner and former editorial page editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
McCarroll said the redevelopment in the Titusville community is focused on four areas.
“Center Court Apartments, soon to be 5th and Center, is the first step as a part of our community development work,” said McCarroll. “We picked four areas, blight removal because all communities need that; education, because the base of any movement in a neighborhood is school children; housing, because that’s what we do and that’s what we’ve done in the past . . . and catalytic development, it’s one of those things that helps a community push everything forward.”
As the organization works through the details of the development plan, it is seeking community input on how it can create a quality, livable space. Navigate will repurpose the lot where Center Court Apartments were located into a community green space called 5th and Center. Two remaining buildings next to where the apartments were will serve as canvasses for local artists and residents to figure out the highest quality and best use for properties whether it’s family or senior housing, town houses, or single-family.
This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.