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Robert Simon (left), president and CEO of Corporate Realty Associates, spoke about
Birmingham's redevelopment and transformation at the annual CityBuilders guest lecture
event at Auburn on Aug. 3.
Inner-city Birmingham over the past decade has undergone a radical change from areas of blight and boredom to an exciting new array of sports venues, music and entertainment venues, large outdoor parks and recreation areas, appealing residential developments, and exciting new economic opportunities. Much more is on the way, says one of the keystone influencers in the transition.
Robert Simon is president and CEO of Corporate Realty Associates, and his resume’s highlights include a lengthy list of projects tied to the development of Birmingham’s city center and surrounding communities, including venues such as Regions Field and Railroad Park. Corporate Realty is also engaged in two major projects that are among the largest in Birmingham history—Southtown and the Star at Uptown.
Simon spoke August 3 at Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business, kicking off the annual CityBuilders guest lecture series, an initiative of the new Institute for Real Estate Development, which was established to drive real estate education, industry thought leadership, and professional development.
“In 1999, I formed my own company,” Simon said, later adding when asked how he had reached success with so many ventures: “A lot of people in the room are smarter than me. But they’re not going to outwork me.”
He stressed the importance of building a good team and strong partnerships as key to achieving success in commercial real estate development and accomplishing major residential projects such as those undertaken in Birmingham’s city center.
“I have taken a lot of risks. I am taking a lot of risks. But, I’m from Birmingham,” he said of his personal interest and investment in the city’s transformation into a modern, attractive destination for visitors and residents alike.
Simon also talked about the value of government and business leaders working together to attract investors, new business, and the types of industry that can pump dollars and quality of life into creating and maintaining a sound economic environment.
“Never underestimate – or overestimate – political will,” he said, adding that projects live or die based on motivational factors ranging from economic impact affecting quality-of-life factors to establishing a political figure’s legacy.
Examples he cited included the recruitment of a new biomedical hub to Birmingham’s already-reputable medical community led by the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) and the recent addition of a new football stadium, which he said “didn’t need to get done for football, it needed to get done for the community,” referring to its economic benefits and entertainment value to area fans.
Similarly in uptown, the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex soon will have a new 9,000-seat amphitheater capable of hosting concert and theatrical events. The venue, which will be adjacent to the Star at Uptown project, is expected to open in 2025 and host nearly 20 concerts a year. City Walk Skatepark and walking trails in green open spaces also are among the new recreational opportunities Simon noted.