Category Archives: Shelby Co. General

Vickers: ‘Perfect Storm’ For Alabaster Schools

Even if you don’t have a child in Alabaster schools…even if you don’t have any connection to the city’s school system, you can’t be around DSC_7025Wayne Vickers long without getting excited.

Alabaster is poised to become a top school system in the state, he’ll tell you.  Vickers isn’t bashful.  The city’s new school system superintendent, who began his job July 1st, will also tell you how the transformation will happen.

Vickers says Alabaster is in a perfect storm of resources, opportunity and people.

Vickers inspires.  His enthusiasm is contagious.

“We will not fail,” he vows.

Many parents have not had the chance to meet Dr. Vickers, or understand his vision for the city’s schools.

So, here’s your chance to hear the man and his plan.  Click the player in the video window below, and enjoy!

Helena Market Days

If you’re looking for a home for sale in the Birmingham area and don’t know the territory well, Shelby Co.—just south of Birmingham—offers a great quality of life.

If you want a great community to live in with plenty of things to do, here’s one of many reasons why Shelby Co. is so popular.

Lots of folks love Helena Market Days, the annual summer farmer’s market that takes place along Buck Creek in Helena every Saturday from 8am until noon.

We thought we’d share some sights and sounds of Market Days from our visit on July 13th.  And nope, we couldn’t leave without some of those wonderful Chilton Co. peaches…they’re just plain hard to beat!

Here’s where you can find more information on Helena Market Days.

Enjoy the video!

David

 

Alabaster’s CityFest: Fun For All

If you’re looking for a home for sale in the Birmingham area and are wondering what living in the community is like, here’s a taste.

Alabaster, one of Shelby county’s most popular cities, has just concluded another very successful CityFest, a family friendly day of food, arts, crafts, games, rides, entertainment and more, put together by the City of Alabaster with support from area businesses.

Check out our video of the festivities:

Happy Home Owners in Birmingham

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Rick and Deborah Halbrooks have just bought a waterfront home in Birmingham’s Highland Lakes. Rick can’t wait to get out and see if the fish are biting…

We always appreciate getting notes from our Clients, like this latest one from Rick and Deborah Halbrooks.  When we first spoke with Rick, he said something that really caught our attention:  Rick said he had been living in the same house for over 40 years!

“You and Colleen did a wonderful job of representing us and earned every cent of your commission.

As a sales manager, it irritates me to have a sales rep get a big commission check when they don’t do much work; this was certainly not the case with you two.

You were always available, quick to research anything you didn’t know and answered our questions promptly.

You were available to meet us at the house on numerous occasions, made the arrangements, coordinated schedules and generally made us feel like we were the only customer you were working with (I know this was not the case — you are constantly juggling lots of deals).

We appreciate your efforts and for helping us make the only move in 42 (me)/31 (Deborah) years a pleasant experience.”

If you’re looking for a home for sale in the greater Birmingham/Shelby Co. Alabama area, give us a call.

We’re ready to help!

Spring Sales Update For Lake Forest

Looking for a home for sale in the general Birmingham, Alabama area?

Here’s an update we’ve produced on market activity in Lake Forest, a popular Shelby Co. neighborhood that’s an easy drive into downtown Birmingham:

Let us know if we can help…

USDA Financing To Stick Around

Good news if you’ve been thinking of buying a home in the Birmingham general area…USDA no down payment financing

With two days left to spare, the government has decided not to allow a change to take effect that would have meant the removal of Calera as one of the communities eligible for no-down-payment home mortgage financing.

Congress has passed a resolution that preserves the areas where homes are eligible for USDA loans.  The bill must be signed by the President before becoming law, but that is expected to happen shortly.

USDA loans are popular with many Buyers because they can be an affordable way of purchasing a home.  The loans are available for properties in specific geographical areas designated by the government.

The decision by Congress means that the home we currently have listed in Calera will continue to be eligible for USDA’s no-down-payment financing:

Tangling With Tornadoes In Birmingham

DSC_6054 Being awakened in the middle of the night is seldom fun.

If your weather radio goes off for a Tornado Warning and then nothing seems to come of it, your first inclination may be to toss the radio in the trash.

If false alarm warnings have ever frustrated you, you missed a good chance to see ‘the other side of the story’ last night in Birmingham:

My head is still spinning after being around a bunch of very sharp scientific minds — the local chapter of the Nat’l Weather Association held its first meeting of the year last evening.

Kevin Laws, Science and Operations Officer for the National Weather Service’s local office, gave a fascinating presentation on Dual Polarization radar, a recent upgrade to the government’s Doppler radar network.

Kevin spoke about the success the NWS is having in working toward two huge goals:  Reducing the number of false alarm tornado warnings, and improving the probability of detection at the same time.  After hearing Kevin talk about the challenges involved, you realize quickly that this is a task that’s much easier said than done.

I enjoyed this meeting a lot.  If you find it interesting to learn how the NWS is trying to improve its warning and other services, this was a valuable chance to learn and appreciate what these folks are doing.

If you’re a weather geek, being part of the NWA’s local chapter is strongly recommended (you can join on line for less than $27; not a bad deal at all).

Visit the local chapter’s website for more information…

David

Birmingham Restaurants Come and Go

The belly dancer is gone.

These seem to be particularly tough times for a number of restaurants in the Birmingham
area.

In just the past week or two, several places we know of have shut their doors.  Some were locally run, while others were part of national chains.

One of the most recent to vanish—Ali Baba in Hoover—had been a favorite for Colleen and me for almost three years.

Competition is fierce. When Five Guys Burgers and Fries opened in Riverchase, it
wasn’t long until Harry’s Place, a long time icon known for its hamburgers and malts,
shut its doors.

In Alabaster, the Hokkaido Buffet shut down only a couple of weeks ago, and now
Cold Stone Creamery is following suit.  Other Hoover casualties include Cafe Luigi and Fish Lips Seafood and Grill.

Earlier this year, at least two Ruby Tuesdays in the Birmingham area closed, including the
store in Vestavia. These were among more than two dozen Ruby Tuesday stores closed
across the country.

O’Charleys restaurants in Pelham and Birmingham were among 14 stores shut down
earlier in the year. Sweet Bones Alabama lasted about three years at the Summit before
closing in February.

It’s expensive and incredibly labor intensive to run a successful restaurant. I’ve known
restaurant owners who would give anything to work a 40 or even 50 hour week; for many,
that’s just fantasy.

What I have seen so many times is that you have to do so much more than serve good
food to survive in the restaurant industry.

You must have a sharp sense of business and innovation.

In the case of Ali Baba, while we were saddened to find the doors locked when we pulled
up with friends Saturday, we can’t say we were totally surprised. We had sensed for
some time that the restaurant’s days were likely numbered. While we enjoyed the food,
Ali Baba never seemed to have a large following, and numbers are what you must have
to succeed.

Belly dancing, a regular Thursday feature for diners, is now a thing of the past with the closing of Hoover’s Ali Baba restaurant.

Ali Baba is a loss to the dining community because Persian restaurants that feature belly dancing are not exactly common place in Birmingham.

When we would ask Ali Baba’s owner how business was, we never got a very optimistic
report. We also saw a series of cuts during the year that started with the elimination
of a Sunday buffet. Not long after that, we showed up one Tuesday evening to find
the doors locked; the restaurant had picked that day as an additional day to be closed each week, effectively cutting off even more chances for revenue.

The restaurant also dropped its participation with restaurant.com, which the owner said cost him money instead of creating new customers. In Ali Baba’s case, I think the biggest factors leading to the restaurant’s demise seemed more outside of the kitchen.  Marketing, exposure and innovation lacked. They seemed to always be looking at ways to cut, instead of trying new things.

In the case of Hokkaido, the restaurant started out on a high note as many places
do, serving fresh, well prepared food. But we noticed a decline during the past
few months, including one evening when steak, one of the main entree choices
at the grill, was not available. They served such a huge variety of food that it left
me wondering how well they could maintain such a large menu.  The answer was forthcoming:  During our last visit, the food did not seem as good.

In the food service industry, you only have to disappoint once to lose business.

Vestavia’s Pappas’ Grill has been another favorite, but it, too, has had to deal with
a tightening economy. The restaurant used to be open on Saturdays and Sundays,
but the owners trimmed back their hours earlier this summer, with the doors open
now only on weekdays. We’re hoping Pappas endures, because it offers some
of the best Greek food we’ve had anywhere.

The cost of simply keeping the doors open continues to go up, with this financial
pressure showing up on menus. At one Mexican restaurant we visit in Pelham, beef
fajitas—once in the $12 range—have shot up to above $15. As much as he likes the food, a friend of ours says he’s cutting back on his visits, lamenting that he can’t have lunch there any more without spending well over $10.

The Bright Star

Having opened its doors in 1907 as a 25 seat cafe, The Bright Star—which now seats 330—has fed generations of families, offering a diverse menu of steaks, seafood and Greek dishes.

Fortunately, the Birmingham area remains blessed with a huge assortment of great restaurants.   One of our favorites—The Bright Star in Bessemer—is still going strong. Any restaurant that has remained in business for over 100 years has to be doing something right.

Other locally owned restaurants—while having been around only a few years—are packing the customers in.  At Alabaster’s Joe’s Italian, don’t be surprised if showing up for a Tuesday or Wednesday dinner still means waiting for a table.

Now in its fifth year, Shono’s Japanese Grill in Riverchase—another spot we hit regularly—is persevering.

Eddie and Flora Cui opened Shonos Japanese Grill in Riverchase in 2007. Customers love the ‘Eddie’s Special’ as well as the grilled shrimp and chicken.

We continue to discover wonderful new places appearing on the scene from time to time, too. On our first recent visit, we decided that Bistro V in Vestavia had scored a home run.

Despite the challenges, entrepreneurs still move forward. At Steak ‘n Shake, which made its Birmingham debut in Alabaster August 23rd, the newness hasn’t worn off.  Don’t be surprised if you have to wait for a table even when visiting at what would seem like a non-peak time.

Across Highway 31, the nearby Dairy Queen re-opens under new management October 1st.

It’s a bold move to open a restaurant in this day and age. For the selfish sake of my culinary desires, I’m hoping more folks will try it, though.

We do like to eat!

David

 

Will Birmingham’s Black Eye Heal?

If you’re thinking of moving to Birmingham from out of town or out of state, you will no doubt hear news that—at best—will seem unsettling about our area.

On November 9th, the county commission for Jefferson county–Birmingham’s home county–voted 4-1 to file for what will be the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. At $4.2 billion, the scale of this filing is mind blowing, making it more than double the famous Orange Co. California $1.7 billion bankruptcy filing from 1994.Jeffrson Co. Alabama

It goes without saying that this is a very unfortunate event, but it’s not exactly a surprise, either; the possibility has been mentioned and warned about for years.

The Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing follows the collapse of an agreement for the county to pay $3.1 billion in sewer debt connected to a series of financial dealings going back three years that cost county taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and caused sewer rates to rise sharply.

Complicating the county’s financial picture was the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling in March 2011 that a controversial occupational tax the county had passed (and depended on for $66 million of its budget) was unconstitutional.

Alabama’s Legislature could have stepped in to try and help the county avoid bankruptcy, but didn’t.

The bankruptcy filing isn’t helped by the tarnished reputation of some of Jefferson county’s elected leaders the past few years.  The county’s leadership became a cesspool of corruption that saw at least 21 people—including five county commissioners—convicted of, or agreeing to plead guilty to, corruption charges, some of which were connected to the sewer debts.  At least the commissioners and department heads connected with the sewer scandal are out of office.

If you’re thinking of moving to Jefferson county, this filing raises questions about the quality of life you can expect. What impact is bankruptcy likely to have on county services, on rates for sewer service, and even how easy or difficult it will be to renew car tags, given the closing of satellite courthouses? What does it mean for the myriad of county services residents need?

County staff has gone through severe reductions, as well, and these cuts have affected everything from roads and maintenance to the courts to health to inspections to law enforcement.

All of these are legitimate concerns for people thinking of moving to the Birmingham area, and there are no easy answers.

So, what does the filing mean for real estate sales in Jefferson county?  The county has a lot of desirable communities that individuals and families have called home for decades.  There are conveniences and benefits that only living relatively close to the metropolitan area can provide.

In deciding where to live, the quality of local government is certainly an important consideration, but so are other factors.  The general feeling a community has, the geography, types of housing, price ranges and proximity to important locations are all major considerations.  Vestavia and Mountain Brook, two incorporated and very desired cities in Jefferson county, have some of the most expensive homes in Alabama.

No doubt about it:  Jefferson county has a black eye that will take years to heal and that could have major economic ramifications.  People are still going to buy homes in the county, but the financial implosion is likely to make at least some Buyers take a close look at living across the line in Shelby county; indeed, we have already seen evidence of this.

A Birmingham real estate attorney says he has seen Buyers purchasing homes in Shelby county who say they want no part of Jefferson county’s problems.

Regardless of the bankruptcy filing, the simple fact is that—for decades—a large number of people who work in the general Birmingham area have chosen to live in Shelby county, because of its great quality of life, financial stability, affordability of housing and proximity to the metropolitan area.

The vast majority of Buyers Colleen and I work with wind up buying in Shelby county.Helena Market Days

Some residents view Shelby county as a breath of fresh air, compared to the financial mess, criminal wrongdoing and political bickering that has plagued their neighboring county to the north.

What’s ahead for Jefferson county?  Residents will no doubt experience new belt tightening, and much of it likely won’t be pleasant.  It is virtually inevitable that services will be strained further, and costs (whether they be taxes, sewer rates or other fees) will go up more.  Real estate sales in the county—both commercial and residential—may well be affected, though no one is sure by how much.

Real estate Agents may find themselves being asked questions from bewildered home Buyers, like, “What’s all this we hear about Jefferson county?”

Can Jefferson county rise from the ashes?

It has to, because it has no choice.

Despite the massive negative nationwide publicity, Jefferson county will have to find a way to continue to provide needed services and facilities.  The county is fortunate to have many talented and dedicated people working within its government.

Those people will be needed more than ever in the coming months and years as the county works to restructure its operations.

The Birmingham area business community may find itself being called on in new ways to be an active participant in helping the county get back on its feet.  Perhaps the state will finally step in and become involved at some point, too.

Another reason to feel optimistic for Jefferson county is the recent hiring Tony Petelos, Jefferson Co. Alabama County Managerof Tony Petelos, the former Mayor of Hoover, as county manager.

With his established track record in the business and legislative community for getting things done, Petelos has drawn praise for his diplomatic skills and ability to bring sides together.

Petelos is well known for his willingness to face daunting challenges, and take them head on.

In Jefferson county, he has found one.

David

Birmingham Shines During Weather Conference

Trying to select a highlight from this week’s annual meeting of the National Weather Association is sort of like walking into your favorite bakery or doughnut shop and having to pick the treat you want most. Good luck. Pink or chocolate icing? With or without sprinkles? The task may be easier said than done.

There were so many informative presentations and panel discussions. There were so many prominent people from the meteorological, scientific, commercial and broadcast industries, and government, gathering at one spot, unleashing and sharing an incredible amount of knowledge.Roger McNeil, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, gives Alabama teachers a lesson in hydrology.

Long before the first speaker ever stepped to the podium, the momentum of this week had been building. WeatherFest, the October 15th gathering of weather experts and the public at McWane Science Center in downtown Birmingham, was one of the catalysts for the success of this week.

WeatherFest’s weather was perfect, the turnout huge, and the enthusiasm tremendous. I saw the excitement in the eyes of young children, many of whom were probably getting a rare chance to be exposed to the sciences. We desperately need more young people pursuing careers in the sciences. Perhaps WeatherFest’s opportunities for such close up, hands-on involvement may have ignited the fire in some of these young minds. Our answer will come years from now.

H. Michael Mogil, a meteorologist and author, shares some fun weather demonstrations with teachers at NWA 2011 in Birmingham.
As the NWA meeting itself got underway, it became obvious that the planning and logistical organizational work that started long ago had paid off.

From the next generation of weather satellites to dual polarization radar, from hurricanes to EF5 tornadoes, from ice to severe weather forecasting and research, a diverse array of experts shared thoughts and experiences, discussing what we’ve learned, and—very important—what we still need to learn.

What we still need to learn received heavy emphasis at the meeting because of Alabama’s April 27th severe weather outbreak. With all our sophisticated technology and so much advance notice, experts and non-experts alike ask why so many people had to die that day. It’s not an easy question to answer. But Tuesday’s Town Hall meeting took a serious try at finding answers that may well keep future generations alive.

As a former television weather anchor and meeting volunteer, NWA was a wonderful experience (I played an extremely small role, about the size of one sprinkle on one of those doughnuts!). Being around so many experts and getting to sit in during this incredible sharing of knowledge was a rare opportunity and one I enjoyed tremendously. It was very educational … and loads of fun.

All of us who were involved in NWA 2011 have our memorable moments from the week of gatherings.

I’ll always treasure getting to help with Sunday’s session of meteorology students, who got tips and mentoring from some of our nation’s most prominent people in science, aerospace, government and broadcasting on how to get a successful career underway.

Meteorology students attending NWA 2011 in Birmingham get advice on how best to get their careers started.
Looking across these students, I realized that the torch is being handed off, right in front of our eyes.

We are watching the next generation of scientists, researchers, forecasters and broadcasters move through a critical chapter in their lives. One of these young men or women may be who makes a startling breakthrough in atmospheric research, teaching us something new about our planet, or who develops a new way of understanding storm structure and behavior.

Future mothers, fathers and children may owe their very survival to what these young people wind up accomplishing. And yes, the next James Spann—ABC 33/40 meteorologist and a former co-worker—is probably in this group, too (but I didn’t see anyone who had lost their hair—at least not yet!).

Another memory that’s hard to lose is seeing James almost break in tears, as he talks with a group of teachers about the horror of April 27th. It is still too raw to talk about. Too personal.

NWA 2011 was a lot more than just a meeting of weather experts. It was a chance for Birmingham to show its best to people from all across the country and the world. From the comments I heard, the meeting and the Magic City shined nicely.

Meetings that go as successfully as NWA 2011 went don’t just happen. Planning for an event like this takes meticulous attention to the smallest of details (most details are small until overlooked; then they’re not small anymore!). Making NWA 2011 work took a lot of devotion, time and effort. From people in professional careers related to weather to people with no formal connection at all (just a love and passion for weather), a lot of people in our community helped make NWA 2011 a success.

If there’s any one person who deserves credit for pulling off such a wonderful conference, I know of no one who has put in more time and effort than self-admitted weather geek Bill Murray. He certainly didn’t do this for the money.

Bill’s passion for weather is so intense that he began the effort to bring NWA to Birmingham years ago (literally). This week, that work paid off. We should be grateful that we have movers and shakers like Bill in our community. Bill assembled a team of volunteers who helped with making sure events and presentations went off as smoothly as possible.

Weather historian Bill Murray was the driving force behind convincing the NWA to select Birmingham as site of its 36th annual Meeting.

NWA 2011 has put our community on the world map for many, and one that will be remembered for years to come for the huge success it was.

Birmingham owes Bill a debt of gratitude.

David