Preservationists Oppose Downtown Building's Design

This is a view of the current Dexter Avenue.
This is a view of the current Dexter Avenue.
This view of Dexter Avenue includes the new RSA Building.
This view of Dexter Avenue includes the new RSA Building.

It's progress versus preservation. The battle lines are being drawn surrounding a new, multi-million dollar office building in downtown Montgomery.

At first, preservationists were thrilled when the Retirement Systems of Alabama offered to buy the old, abandoned state supreme court building, which was facing demolition. But now, those same preservationists are criticizing the RSA's renovation plans.

Work is already underway at the site on Dexter Avenue, just steps away from the state capitol.

Recently unveiled drawings reveal the RSA's plans to expand the old building, creating a massive 12-story office complex. Historic preservationists worry that it won't fit into the existing streetscape.

The president of the Montgomery Landmarks Foundation, David Braly, released a drawing of Dexter Avenue that includes the new RSA building. Braly says the building detracts from the nearby state capitol.

RSA Chief David Bronner defends the project. He says the RSA is in the business of making money. And expanding the old supreme court building is the only way to make it profitable.

"The only way you can make it a viable entity is to encapsulate it into something bigger," Bronner explained. "You can either save it or flatten it."

Critics also point to the city's new smart code ordinance, which was designed to ensure that growth downtown spreads out instead of up. It says buildings along Dexter Avenue can only be six stories tall. The RSA building will be twice that high.

"My hope is that all the parties can come together," said Assistant to the Mayor, Jeff Downes. He says he is listening to the preservationists' concerns.

But Downes says because the RSA is considered part of the state government, it's not subject to the city's smart code law. And he says the city is reluctant to turn down the RSA's offer to invest over $200-million in downtown.

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," Downes said. "We have committed to the RSA to make this project happen."

The project is expected to create about 800 new construction jobs and be finished sometime in 2009.

Reporter: Mark Bullock