District Spotlight: Woodlawn UrbanMain

October 4, 2019 | Neighborhood News: District Spotlight: Woodlawn UrbanMain | By Julie Clark McKinney, Director of Communications at REV Birmingham |
Woodlawn_Street_Market.jpgWoodlawn Street Market. Photo credit: REV Birmingham

With support from Main Street Alabama and UrbanMain, REV Birmingham is focused on making way for equitable entrepreneurship in the Woodlawn neighborhood of Birmingham, Alabama. The organization believes UrbanMain has unlocked a magic formula for community transformation in Woodlawn. We recently caught up with Julie Clark McKinney, Director of Communications at REV Birmingham, to learn more about the Woodlawn Urban Main program and their thoughts on why it takes a village to support a robust entrepreneurial community.

What is REV Birmingham's mission?

Our mission is to create vibrant commercial districts in Birmingham – and local businesses are essential to the vibrancy of any business district. REV Birmingham helps start-ups and small business owners create strategies for growing their business, finding the right brick-and-mortar space, honing key messaging and communications, and solving problems. REV’s Business Growth team offers workshops, one-on-one business consulting, business-proving opportunities, and real estate assistance to help entrepreneurs as they work toward making their dreams reality. Our help goes beyond just what the REV team can offer because it truly takes a village to support a robust entrepreneurial community. Together with invested partners, REV equips passionate people with knowledge and connects them to even more resources to grow their idea from concept into a brick and mortar.

Describe the commercial district of Woodlawn, including its business mix, assets, and challenges.

Woodlawn has seen substantial growth over the past several years, from housing to restaurants to recording studios. A diverse neighborhood full of charm, Woodlawn has strived to preserve its authenticity throughout its growth. The historic commercial district is a mix of new and legacy businesses that offer everything from coffee to clothing to beauty services and products – and more. There are also several recording studios, nonprofits (including REV’s HQ), medical offices, and other services located in the district.

When did you start collaborating with UrbanMain? Describe how the partnership helped to reinvigorate the business environment.

In 2016 and 2017, REV worked with Smart Growth America and the National Main Street Center’s UrbanMain team to engage community members to design an equitable approach to Woodlawn’s commercial revitalization. Through extensive stakeholder interviews and data analysis, teams developed a plan to deploy a transformation strategy focused on the creation of Equitable Entrepreneurship. The effort is intentionally inclusive, targeting high-potential minority-led businesses that have historically received little investment, while also identifying community residents who could be empowered to develop their talents and side-hustles into businesses.

In 2018, REV provided a stipendto a Woodlawn resident to convene volunteer working groups to begin a human asset mapping exercise, identifying would-be entrepreneurs and those currently operating home-based businesses or businesses outside of the commercial district. A volunteer Design Team surveyed current businesses in the district, identifying owners willing to participate in future facade improvement partnerships.

In 2019, Woodlawn UrbanMain, the community partnership of REV Birmingham and Woodlawn Foundation with planning support from Main Street Alabama and Main Street America, is making exciting progress applying Main Street’s Four Point Approach with strategies focused around Equitable Entrepreneurship in this historic district within the city of Birmingham.
Porch Parties hosted by Woodlawn residents and business owners. Photo credit: REV Birmingham

Tell us about your three community volunteers that are executing projects under your Equitable Entrepreneurship transformation strategy.

In 2019 and 2020, we are working to fully implement the UrbanMain approach, focusing on three points: Economic Vitality, Promotion, and Design & Development. Each area is led by a community volunteer, with support from REV staff. Goals and strategies include:

  • Identify and develop existing and emerging entrepreneurs through monthly (April – October) Porch Parties hosted by Woodlawn residents and business owners. Changing hosts each month allows us to connect with a wider network of Woodlawn residents and entrepreneurs. REV then empowers these entrepreneurs through business growth classes, such as BIZ 1.0, business consulting, and market testing opportunities, like pop-ups and the Woodlawn Street Market. This effort is led by passionate Woodlawn resident and overall superstar Alycia Levels-Moore, with support from REV Director of Business Recruitment and Growth Taylor Clark Jacobson, who shepherds aspiring entrepreneurs to problem-solving resources.
  • Promote new and existing entrepreneurs, and Woodlawn's brand as a home for equitable entrepreneurship through Woodlawn Street Market (five times annually) and storytelling through the Woodlawn Business Association website and social channels. Bekah Fox, a co-founder of Woodlawn Street Market, runs the market with overflowing creativity around programming and business mix, and REV Communications Director Julie Clark McKinney supports her with storytelling and social media help, graphic design and other public relations efforts.shoppesmuralbeforeafter.jpg
  • Address design issues that hamper Woodlawn’s efforts to attract entrepreneurs and customers, including façade refresh projects with local business owners, a commercial district banner program, and an ‘arts in windows’ campaign. These design efforts support local entrepreneurs while promoting a brand that is authentic to Woodlawn. Façade refreshes and other district design projects are spearheaded by Jason Avery, a Woodlawn resident who seems to specialize in leading building owners in vision-casting then implementing these design projects; Jason is supported by REV Chief Strategy Officer Atticus Rominger. Thus far in 2019, the UrbanMain team has completed one façade refresh, held three Woodlawn Street Markets (including its first-ever night market in August!), three Porch Parties, and welcomed two Woodlawn residents into REV business growth classes for the first time. Responding to the new paint and mural on his building as part of the first façade refresh project, Wayne Honeycutt, owner of The Shoppes at Wood Station, said: “It’s creating an atmosphere that is so productive. People are ready to get up and make something happen. It’s a definite boost in the community.” – and we couldn’t agree more!

What is your vision for Woodlawn?

Our UrbanMain team envisions an even more vibrant Woodlawn with more refreshed storefronts, formerly vacant spaces filled with a healthy mix of Woodlawn-grown business owners and recruited businesses that complement them, and an even more active calendar of events that, first, serves the needs of community members, but also invites others to come experience and enjoy Woodlawn. We also hope to engage even more Woodlawn residents in the growth of the neighborhood and support those who have a side hustle they dream of building into a brick and mortar in the district. We believe that this UrbanMain team has unlocked a magic formula for community transformation in Woodlawn, and we look forward to working more with this amazing team!

Woodlawn Urban Main is a partnership of REV Birmingham and Woodlawn Foundation with planning support from Main Street Alabama and Main Street America.

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