RSA Plaza – The OB Doctors

The Retirement Systems of Alabama’s (RSA) rather timid first step toward their $200 million office building/urban renewal venture into downtown Montgomery began early in 1988 when Dr. Bronner called us in to say that he had acquired two small residential size lots facing Adams Street and located immediately behind his headquarters building.  He wanted to construct a multi-level parking deck on the property to relieve a rather critical shortage of parking spaces for the RSA staff.

Little did I suspect that this meeting was the opening bell of my third “saga” in the architectural world.

RSA Plaza Night It took us several weeks, but we managed to convince Bronner that he had insufficient property for a parking deck because its ramps would consume almost the entire space available from his two tiny lots.  Thus began a rather frantic search for more ground.  The next property to the East appeared to belong to the OB Doctors Group who had developed 750 Washington Street as a doctor’s office complex.  These doctors (who included Joe Perry, Cameron, Capiluto, David Dunn, Till, French and others) had mostly reached their late seventies, had retired from practice, and now leased their former office space to an assortment of lobbyists and associations.

The 750 Washington property consisted of 300-feet of frontage on Washington Street, with a 38-foot wide tail that fronted on Adams and cut the block in two.  It was this tail that blocked Dr. Bronner’s acquisition of adequate land for his deck, and I was sent to contact the retired physicians.  The doctors indicated they might be willing to sell, but stipulated that the purchase had to include their entire property – some five times the ground area that Bronner needed for his project.  Bronner considered their proposal but declared the asking price was too high.

The Doctor’s Group sent word back to Bronner that if he would not buy them out, they would develop their holding into a giant commercial parking deck to service the Capitol Complex.  Since it would be situated directly across from the Statehouse, such a deck could well be financially successful, but, oh, what an affront it would be to the historic State Capitol area.

To turn up the heat, the Doctors Group proposed to hire PH&J to design the parking deck.  Talk about a conflict of interest!  I would be a real estate bird-dog and advisor for the RSA, and at the same time working for the offending land owners.  I warned all parties of the conflict and no one objected.  What I really was, was a conduit for negotiation.

I warned Bronner that the Doctors Group was serious about their deck, and, at the same time, cautioned the Group that Bronner would not be pushed around, that he would simply take their lot opening onto Adams (the one he really had to have) by Eminent Domain.  Whatever, it all seemed to work, and the RSA soon acquired not only the missing Adams lot, but the entire 750 Washington Street frontage as well.

Unknown to me, Bronner was concurrently negotiating with Morris Dees to acquire the Alabama Center for Commerce Site.  On July 29, 1988, he called the PH&J bunch together again and outlined an entirely new program which involved not just a parking deck, but two large office buildings and an additional parking deck.  On August 23rd, he called me at home to report that he had acquired the last parcel and PH&J was to proceed at full speed.

-Charles Humphries (“Peril and Intrigue Within Architecture”)

This is one of many RSA Plaza stories. The rest can be found here.

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