Like many natives of the Birmingham metro that grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, Ali Wilburn didn’t spend a lot of time in downtown Birmingham.
But fast forward to today, and Wilburn is now the co-principal of a new real estate firm called Urban Realty. Wilburn and co-principal Emily Stewart started the company last year to develop mixed-use properties that add to Birmingham’s urban fabric and help add vibrancy.
After the dramatic revitalization and rejuvenation of the last several years, Wilburn said they saw the opportunity to continue the momentum in Birmingham that was begun by mixed-use projects like Thomas Jefferson Tower, Pizitz and host of others.
Wilburn said the firm wants to help create community, not necessarily just in downtown Birmingham, but also in areas like Crestwood, Avondale and others where revitalization is happening.
The BBJ recently sat down with Wilburn to hear more about Urban Realty, areas to watch in Birmingham, and what to expect in local commercial real estate.
Why did you start Urban Realty? How is it going so far?
We kept reading articles and seeing how things are trending urban and wanted to be a part of that. We want to be a part of the urban core and continue Birmingham’s awesome momentum.
It’s going well, we just moved to Two North Twentieth and are adding another person to our team, so we are growing.
We are looking at a redevelopment possibility right now and also doing brokerage work. We’re trying to find buildings that we like to work on. We are just pounding the pavement and learning a lot.
Did you always envision starting your own company?
Growing up, I always wanted to get into some type of business and have my own company but I didn’t know what that would entail. My uncle does commercial real estate in Tampa, Florida and I saw that growing up and liked that. It’s creativity but it’s also numbers and business and you’re dealing with a lot of different kind of people which makes it something different every day.
What has your career trajectory been?
I majored in business and I actually got my real estate license when I was in college at Samford. I knew that I wanted to go into real estate. When I got out in 2010, the market was awful. My mother and my uncle gave me the advice to pick CEOs of several companies and go talk to them, to just go pick their brain. I called on several and went and chatted with them. I did this six months before graduating. One of them called me back and offered me a job. That was Raymond Gotlieb. Many CRE folks in Birmingham have worked with him. I worked there for about a year and then got connected to Shannon Waltchack. They were doing Railroad Park area redevelopments at that time and I liked what they were doing. I was involved with redevelopments and also sales and leasing. I was a broker there for about six years before starting Urban Realty.
What are your goals for Urban Realty?
We want to do projects that are a part of continuing to build Birmingham, which I am passionate about because I grew up here.
What trends do you see in CRE?
Everyone in our business is getting older. I love everyone in our business, there are some great local CRE folks. But there aren’t a lot of younger people that go into our business. So I think there is an opportunity for a new generation to come in. Also, it’s male-dominated. I like the fact that Urban Realty is female-operated, and we can kind of change it up a little bit.
What needs to happen in Birmingham?
I think we need to continue to focus on redeveloping buildings and continue to focus on getting new businesses here that will create jobs. Everyone knows the job growth is an issue here. I think anything that comes into the area is good for all of the area, it doesn’t necessarily have to be downtown. But if we focus on the urban core then everything else benefits. I think we are headed in a positive direction. I wouldn’t have started a company if I didn’t think so.
What are some of Birmingham’s wins?
I would say landing Publix downtown, and also Topgolf. Also Buffalo Wild Wings coming–those are national or regional brands and you need those for a stamp of approval for the city. But we’ve also got a great entrepreneurial mindset in Birmingham, and because of that now have so many awesome restaurants that it’s hard to ever try them all. Local businesses are starting now because people see that the folks who live in the city need services and they need places to shop without having to leave the city.
What are areas to watch?
There are so many areas where things are happening right now. I think the area around UAB/Railroad Park for condos and lofts and living. There aren’t a lot of services in that area so I think that will continue to grow.
Also Crestwood. That housing market is pretty hot right now. There’s not a lot of retailers in that area. Commercial in that area will continue to grow as the residential grows. Avondale will continue to slowly expand as well. The Second Avenue North corridor is an area to focus on as well.
What is your mindset for how you approach deals?
We look at areas and see what that area needs and then trying to pinpoint how to fill that need. There’s an opportunity for us to do smaller projects that help fill gaps where maybe bigger players don’t focus on. We want to focus on Birmingham urban and continue the momentum that’s happened.