Downtown Birmingham has changed a lot just over the last year. In the past five years, new restaurants, attractions, hotels, and apartments have popped up all over town. And 10 years ago, it was an entirely different place altogether. A major catalyst for the Magic City’s incredible transformation is REV Birmingham, a nonprofit organization dedicated to revitalizing the city by creating vibrant commercial districts and supporting local business owners. At the helm of REV is David Fleming, a native of Bessemer, Alabama, who has spent the last decade leading the organization. We sat down with Fleming to learn more about REV’s mission and how he’s seen Birmingham change over the years.
How long have you been CEO of REV? What led you to the position?
I have led REV Birmingham since we formed it 10 years ago out of a merger between Operation New Birmingham and Main Street Birmingham. I had founded Main Street Birmingham in 2004 and prior to that had worked at Operation New Birmingham for several years. I have had a long history with the organization and the mission it advances. The desire to help revitalize our city coupled with a particular love of saving historic buildings and neighborhoods brought me to this work many years ago. It still drives me today.
Can you talk about REV’s mission and what the organization aims to do for the city?
REV Birmingham’s mission is to create vibrant commercial districts. This is in the context of a vision for Birmingham to be the most vibrant urban market in the Southeast, where everyone can realize their dreams. We talk about vibrancy as where diverse people and authentic places meet—and we create that in different ways. We work toward our mission by 1) strengthening places by addressing the quality of public spaces as well as privately owned buildings, 2) supporting businesses through our assistance to small and minority-owned businesses, as well as large scale real estate developers, and 3) creating great experiences through events and programs that reveal market potential or promote market activities.
How have you seen REV and the city as a whole grow and improve over the years?
I remember when our downtown was a largely 9-to-5 place with people focused around the large office towers and quiet at night. Since the opening of Railroad Park in 2010, the residential population of downtown has exploded, growing to around 13,000 people. We now enjoy a clear nighttime economy downtown with many of our region’s best restaurants and bars attracting people to walk amongst the historic buildings and experience the authenticity of Birmingham.
REV has been a part of that, and we have become stronger at supporting local lifestyle business growth, historic preservation, and place making. I think we have some of the best team members in place that we have ever had and are selflessly focused on making Birmingham better.
What do you love about what you do?
I get the chance to work every day on making the city I love become a better version of itself. My work requires being able to see the potential in a place, casting a vision for that, and working towards it. Some people just see problems, but if you accept that as the way it is, nothing will get better. However, I get to see good change happen over time, and it has. Few jobs allow you the opportunity to help shape the place you live. It is an honor.
What are some of your favorite projects that REV has worked on over years?
We have done so many impactful projects over the years. Some of my favorites include bringing a bikeshare to the city (Zyp Bikeshare), filling the railroad underpasses downtown with colorful lighting (Birmingham Lights), and the years we ran a business pitch competition that awarded entrepreneurs with resources to realize their dreams (The Big Pitch). A more recent project I am proud of is our working with the city on refreshing the Birmingham Green on 20th Street North. I am also pleased with the impact of the Alabama State Historic Tax Credit I was able to help be passed into law. This has enabled the redevelopment of many historic buildings, adding up to millions of dollars of investment and breathing new life into older places.
Are there any exciting developments or projects coming up that you can share?
We have been working with a coalition to develop a new vision for our city’s oldest park, Linn Park. It is an important civic space that has needed some fresh investment and programming. The public engagement process is leading to a fresh concept for this civic square, and I hope to see it happen. We also are working towards revitalization of the area around the Innovation Depot, an innovation district we call the Switch. It has so much potential to be a place defined by all the great entrepreneurial energy and potential of our people and serve as a showcase of our talent and future.
How can the community get involved with the projects REV works on?
We have occasional needs for volunteers for clean-up days, painting and planting projects, Woodlawn Street Markets, etc. You can stay updated on those opportunities and more by signing up for REV’s weekly newsletter at revbirmingham.org. You can also follow @revbham on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. But the easiest way to get involved in making Birmingham more vibrant is to simply be what we call a Birmingham yeasayer; that’s the polar opposite of naysaying. Look for opportunities to share positive news about Birmingham in conversations and on your social media platforms. When you’re planning a lunch or a night out or a gift, look for ways to support local businesses and spend time in places like downtown and Woodlawn. Vibrancy breeds more vibrancy; so what might seem like a small choice to spend time in the city or speak up about Birmingham at a party actually has a snowballing effect to make the heart and soul of our region stronger.