Water Avenue renovation project adding life to downtown Selma

Published 11:32 am Friday, June 2, 2023

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Sitting at the corner of Water Avenue and Broad Street, the buildings commonly known as “The Selma Times-Journal” buildings are in the midst of a $4 million renovation that, when completed, will create a mixed-use development that will consist of both residential and retail spaces on one of the busiest corners in Selma.

Selma Newspapers, Inc., sold the real estate in May 2022 to Heyday Holdings, LLC, which is based in Seattle, Washington, and the company began renovating the buildings shortly after.

Steve Romein and Ty Cramer are the principles behind Heyday Holdings, and their interest in Selma arose through their association with Common Power, a non-profit that works to “foster, support and amplify a democracy that is just and inclusive,” according to their website. Once the renovation is complete, Common Power will occupy the first floor of the fully renovated space, which includes a new elevator, offices, meeting rooms, and bathrooms. Most of the windows on the first floor are also being replaced, and two new staircases are being installed on the Broad Street side of the building – one that serves the second floor, and one the first floor.

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“We’ve been involved with Common Power practically from the beginning,” Romein said. “And a year and a half ago when they started talking about the Institute of Common Power, the educational arm of it, they made a comment that it’d really be nice as part of our education to have a place in the south, because so many of the tours and such happen there. It’s just kind of obvious if the story is about voting rights, where does it pop up? Selma. If we’re going to do something that can help and make an impact in Selma, this is such a visible corner, so we were just thrilled the opportunity came up.”

Cramer and Romein are confident their investment will pay off for Selma, as they have been part of a similar project in Seattle.

“We had done a similar thing here in Seattle where we helped buy, renovate, and expand an organization here in Seattle that provides social services for homeless, urban Native Americans,” Cramer said. “So it wasn’t out of our realm of imagination that something like this could work out. At the end of the day, we just see the importance of that city and the beauty of it, we wanted to make sure that we could be part of honoring Selma’s history and tradition.”

In addition to Common Power occupying the first floor, The Selma Times-Journal is currently, and will continue, to rent the second floor of the building, which according to appraisal documents, was built in 1870. Also in the main building will be Journeys for the Soul, a tour company operated by JoAnne Bland, which offers immersive tours of Civil Rights sites in Selma. Bland was a Civil Rights activist, and marched alongside hundreds of others on Bloody Sunday, where marchers were beaten and tear gassed by law enforcement officers as they attempted to march to Montgomery.

“That building is right at the foot of the bridge, and it helps with the telling of the story,” said Bland, whose tour company brings thousands of people to Selma each year. “With them looking at the bridge, and me or another foot soldier telling them the story, it comes alive. I think the remodel of the building will help with the revitalization of downtown. That building, along with the National Voting Rights Museum, will anchor downtown.”

The building next to the main building is also undergoing an extensive renovation, with the first floor being built out for Jackie Smith to rent for her second location of The Coffee Shoppe, which will continue to operate its original location at 308 Broad Street. The upper floor of that building will have two condominiums – one that faces the Alabama River, and one that faces Water Ave.

Smith said Common Power Executive Director Charles Douglas and David Domke, associate director for organizational support, approached her about possibly renting the space once the sale of the buildings closed. Smith has known Douglas and Domke for nearly a decade, so she welcomed the invitation, and after discussing it with her family, and studying traffic patterns, she was sold.

“During Jubilee last year, my family and I were walking along Water Avenue and we happened up on Charles and he said, ‘Hey, I want you to know that we’re looking at buying The Selma Times-Journal building we feel it’s only fitting if we found a way to bring you into this space with us.”

Smith said throughout the process, Cramer and Romein have allowed her to implement her vision of the space, and how it could be utilized, which is something she’s been appreciative of.

“It’s been an amazing partnership. We are just looking forward to our grand opening, which is hopefully around November 1st,” Smith said.

Lovelady Construction was awarded the renovation project, and historic renovation is something Randy Lovelady specializes in, having completed the $5 million renovation of the historic St. James Hotel in Selma in 2021.

“Overall it’s good to have the project here in Selma because everybody says that Selma’s dying, but it doesn’t seem to be as far as commercial construction’s going,” Lovelady said. “We’ve just finished the Dallas [County] administration building, we’re working on the country club, and of course working on these two buildings.”

One important aspect of the project, Lovelady said, was to utilize local businesses as much as possible to complete the project. Two local businesses, Dallas Air and Carpet Plus, will be the beneficiaries of the project, but Lovelady said others have had to come from outside of Selma due to local workforce shortages.

In addition to the inside of the building, which also includes installing a new elevator, the outside of the building, which was damaged during Hurricane Zeta, will get a major facelift.

“You’re going to see a massive amount of scaffolding going up on the riverside of the building over the next few weeks,” Lovelady said. “And we’re going to be able to get back there and dress up the outside and you won’t have that eyesore that we’ve had since the hurricane came through.”

Lovelady also said a patio would be constructed on the roof that will be accessible from a staircase inside the building. The patio will be a viewing platform used for special events, such as Jubilee. Additionally, there are plans to install solar panels on the roof to serve the power needs of the building’s occupants.

Ultimately for Cramer and Romein, this project is more than an investment by Heyday Holdings, but is an investment in what they see as a bright future for Selma.

“We follow the lead of [Common Power], so it was in conversation around what the vision was that drove us to not just do little tiny Band-Aids to the building, but it became really clear to us after we bought the building that we started to understand more because we were the newbies in town,” Cramer said. “There’s so much talk about investment needs there, I think we realized we really wanted to make sure that we accomplished what we had set out to do and what is so needed, and not just give it lip service.”

Were it not for the experience and expertise Cramer and Romein bring to their organization, Domke said the project never would have gotten off the ground and advanced to where it is now, and where it will be when completed.

The life wisdom and professional experiences that the two of them have separately, but also jointly, are vital,” Domke said. “Ty has led organizations and she is a community leader here in the western Washington area. She absolutely understands how organizations can grow and what good choices are. Steve is a world-class architect, so I shudder to even think what we would do without the two of them.”