Mountain Brook Legacy Transformed
A legacy chunk of real estate in the heart of Mountain Brook is transformed into a master planned development. Heirs of a landmark real estate developer take no risks on leaving oversight to anyone else.
Rele Evans (left) and son John Evans are the investors behind the new Lane Parke development under way in the heart of Mountain Brook Village.
The new Lane Parke development under way in Mountain Brook Village, adjacent to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, promises to greatly enhance the popular upscale shopping and entertainment area. It’s bringing in not only new retailers but also a boutique Kessler Collection hotel and 276 luxury apartment homes.
The planned unit development is being constructed on 27 acres of land that was first developed by the late A.A. Evans in the 1940s as Park Lane Apartments and later for the neighboring Mountain Brook Shopping Center — a project Evans undertook after completing the landmark D’Iberville Apartments in Mobile.
Today Evans’ son, Rele, and grandchildren, John and Sally, are continuing his legacy by partnering with Birmingham-based Daniel Corp. to develop Lane Parke. “I think my dad would be proud to see what’s happening,” Rele Evans says.
Lane Parke has been a long time coming with several major redesigns before and after it was first approved by the City of Mountain Brook in 2010. “The development has evolved into something I think we can all be happy with,” Rele Evans says.
When the Lane Parke development was first suggested, a vocal “save our village” grass roots group emerged to protest the plan’s scope, while the beginning of the Great Recession simultaneously reduced financing options. Mixed use and condo units are no longer part of the plan and retail space has been scaled back from 200,000 to 130,000 square feet.
Water mitigation work by the city has been another major influence on the project.
“I’ve kidded that it was less difficult to go to the moon than to get this project off the ground,” says Rele Evans, who for many years worked as an engineer in the space program.
The first phase of the new Lane Parke apartment complex is complete and construction of four more buildings is expected to wrap up this fall. Rent for one-bedroom units starts at $1,350 a month. Construction of the 100-room Grand Bohemian hotel, which will feature a rooftop bar, has begun and is projected to open in May. Birmingham-based Retail Specialists is close to signing up most of the Lane Parke retail tenants, and construction of the first phase is expected to begin later this fall.
Birmingham-based Goodwyn Mills Cawood Inc. has worked on design and engineering, and Birmingham-based Hoar Construction is the general contractor.
Retail Specialists has enlisted a variety of restaurants and other retailers for the new Lane Parke development but hadn’t announced any of them by press time. “Lane Parke will be in keeping with existing ambience of the village but will also enhance it, by adding exciting new shopping and dining choices,” says Mead Silsbee, vice president and chief operating officer for Retail Specialists.
Parking and traffic studies commissioned by Lane Parke’s developers have shown no overwhelming impact of the new development on the area, especially if proposed changes to traffic flow are made. “According to the parking study, there should always be a few extra parking spaces available, even during the holiday shopping season,” John Evans says.
Mountain Brook Shopping Center will continue to operate until the first phase of the Lane Parke retail development is finished. Western Supermarket and other tenants will move into phase one before a new road and the second phase of the retail center are constructed. There is a question about whether Rite Aid will continue to operate in its same space until its lease runs out in 2019.
The new development promises to be much more upscale than its predecessor. Renderings and the official project pattern book created by Historical Concepts, a Georgia-based architectural firm that created the pattern book for the famous Seaside community in Florida, show what the Lane Parke retail development will look like.
Approved architectural styles for the retail area feature attractive traditional facades named Village Romantic, Southern Mercantile, Birmingham Classic and Village Mid-Century. “Retailers are choosing which of the styles they want for their store fronts,” Rele Evans says. “At the end of development, it will look like an area that has been organically built up over the past 100 years.”
By comparison, the quaint, existing English Tudor style shopping center was built store by store over five years in the 1950s, as retailers, including Western Supermarket, which is still operating there, signed on. “My father didn’t want to overextend himself,” says Rele Evans, “There was a period where it was touch and go, but the shopping center eventually became a little jewel.”
Construction of the original simple brick Park Lane apartments, which were highly affordable compared to other housing in affluent Mountain Brook, was financed through an FHA loan. The government was trying to incentivize the creation of housing for returning veterans, Rele Evans says. “There were a lot of rules to abide by. My dad was really happy after he was able to refinance that loan,” he says.
Rele Evans helped his father survey the land the summer of 1947, during his break from engineering studies at Tulane University. Now he and his children are behind the new Lane Parke development as Evson Inc., in partnership with the Daniel Corp., a major developer of landmark projects, including Ross Bridge, Greystone and Grand River.
“We could have sold the land and let someone else take on all the headaches of development, but we wanted to stay involved, so we could make sure it was done right for the community,” says Rele Evans, who is living in the first phase of the new Lane Parke apartments with his wife, Sophie.
Evson is retaining one third of the ownership of the apartments and will be the full owner of the Lane Parke retail development. The group bought out other inheritors of the property in 1995, two years after the death of A.A. Evans, who had previously bought out 15 relatives who had inherited his partner’s share of their jointly owned property. “We’ve always sought to keep the property in the family. We know what a special location it is,” Rele Evans says.
The Evans family started considering options for upgrading or redeveloping the property during the late 1990s. Flooding was a concern, especially after heavy rains in June of 1999 significantly damaged the apartment complex and caused some flooding in the shopping center. “The dumpsters behind the shopping center were washed down and plugged up the drainage system,” Rele Evans says. “We approached the city because we weren’t going to redevelop the property until the flooding problem was addressed.”
While the city government was sympathetic, it took several other floods damaging other nearby areas to convince them to move forward with an overall flood control program, John Evans says. The Watkins Brook Flood Hazard Mitigation Project included the installation of new culverts and other drainage systems. “The whole community is benefiting and it allowed us to go forward with Lane Parke,” he says.
Kathy Hagood is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Homewood.