Birmingham City Council

Ensley’s Ramsay-McCormack Building Getting Repairs, But Its Future is Still in Doubt

UPDATED Jan. 15, 2018 — Despite recent approval for $83,500 in repairs, the future of the Ramsay-McCormack building in Ensley remains uncertain.

The property was one of several for which the Birmingham City Council approved repairs during Tuesday’s meeting, along with Rickwood Field, the Southern Museum of Flight, Boutwell Auditorium and the Birmingham Museum of Art.

But the council did not discuss long-range plans for the Ramsay-McCormack, leaving the building’s much-debated future still in doubt.

The Ramsay-McCormack building, a 10-story, 144-foot high-rise in downtown Ensley, was built in 1929 and once housed the Bank of Ensley as well as local offices for U.S. Steel. After U.S. Steel closed its Ensley Works in 1976, much of the building was left vacant, leading to its closure three years later. The city of Birmingham purchased the building for $1 in 1983, though it has remained empty since then.

The building became the subject of considerable debate in 2016, when then-Mayor William Bell ordered a $40-million renovation to the building, which he said would subsequently serve as home to Birmingham’s municipal court as well as the headquarters of Birmingham’s police and fire departments.

But shortly after Bell made that announcement, in December 2016, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Michael Graffeo ruled that the building must be demolished. Graffeo amended his order a week later, requiring instead that the city have commenced with renovation plans by Feb. 10, 2017.

A study conducted by the Birmingham-based firm ArchitectureWorks in January 2017 concluded that the building’s frame was “in solid condition” but that substantial renovations — including new electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems — would be required.

Bell’s loss in the 2017 municipal elections, though, has placed the future of the project once again into doubt.

Speaking after his State of the Community address Monday night, Mayor Randall Woodfin said that his administration had “no plans” for the Ramsay-McCormack building.

“What you saw (the council approve) last week was the removal of the windows of the building to make sure that there’s no debris that causes us to (be liable for) any type of negligence on the city’s end.”

Bell’s plan for the building, he said, “is not something that we want to go forward with. We believe that public safety facilities should exist in the city center. What we do with that building is our choice, and we have not made a decision yet on how we want to move forward.”