Leer Tower

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Rendering of the Leer Tower

Leer Tower was the name for the Leer Corporation's planned $32 million redevelopment of the Cabana Hotel at 1631 2nd Avenue North into 60 condominiums plus retail and office space under the Alabama company Leer Tower Birmingham, LLC formed on April 5, 2006 by David and Krystal Leer. The proposal, which was first publicized in 2005, was delayed by a challenge brought by Atlanta's Inman Park Properties over the sale of the building to Leer and later abandoned when the owner found it impossible to secure financing.

After a July 2006 judge's ruling in favor of its claim, Leer announced that they would move forward with their plans. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the ruling in February 2007. By then, the company had already received approval from Birmingham's Design Review board for their new signage while Hendon & Huckestein Architects developed condominium and renovation plans. A "lighting ceremony" for the rooftop sign was held on August 30, 2007 and construction documents were completed in November.

Announced plans included four sizes of condominiums, each with two bedrooms. The "Jefferson" was a 1,665 square foot layout with private elevator access, and could be expanded to three bedrooms. The "Lincoln" had 1,350 square feet, but could be made smaller if it shared a floor with an expanded "Jefferson". The "Roosevelt" had 1,318. The smallest unit was the "Washington" at 1,097 square feet. All units would have had gated parking, pre-wired high-speed internet and multiple phone lines, 24-hour security, mail and package pick-up and delivery, and access to a fitness center. Prices ranged from $229,000 to $589,000.

The plans called for condominiums on 16 floors (3-18), regional offices for Leer Corporation on the 19th floor, a penthouse residence on the 20th, and renovation of the existing lobby, ballroom, restaurant and banqueting hall on first two floors. The lower ballroom roof would have had a tennis court and barbecue grills. Ground floor retail space was available for a coffee shop, salon, dry-cleaner and/or deli that would have served residents as well as the public.

The exterior renovation was aimed at the building's original 1929 appearance with bronze railings outside the corner windows, canopies and awnings at ground level, and large flagpoles near the base of the tower. The lobby was to have had a concierge table with a water wall as backdrop, a grand piano, and a fireplace with seating area, bookcases, and wireless internet access alongside Mr. Leer's restored Model T automobile. A billiard and games room was planned along with a fitness center. The rooftop would have had a garden with elevated swimming pool and two jacuzzis (indoors and out). The original mooring mast for airships was to have been restored and specially lit as an architectural feature of the tower.

Part of the marketing plan for Leer Tower included the use of a 4-seat GEM electric car for each residence to make downtown trips more efficient and convenient. In addition to a secured deck adjacent to the tower, Leer Corporation planned to lease off-hour spaces from the Birmingham Police Department's parking lot and to purchase land for a 40-car gated lot.

Construction

McCrory Building Company was initially selected as the builder, but Leer Corporation later decided to act as their own general contractor. A copper theft in the winter of 2007 disabled the rooftop sign, which remains unlit. Cost increases and soft pre-sales required the developer to seek additional financing, including a request for assistance from the City of Birmingham. Construction was re-scheduled to begin in February 2008, with completion expected in the summer of 2009.

In June 2008, however, the building went into foreclosure with possession reverting to its former owners. David Leer blamed Birmingham's "conservative" banking community for difficulties in financing the project. Leer claimed that he intended to redeem the property from foreclosure, but was unable to do so. As of mid 2012, the building remains vacant and heavily damaged on the interior.

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