The Regions Center (formerly the AmSouth Center, and long known as the AmSouth-Sonat Tower and, originally, the First National-Southern Natural Building) is a 390 foot tall, 30 story office tower located on a 400 foot by 190 foot site at 1960 5th Avenue North, facing 20th Street North. The 570,000 square-foot tower serves as corporate headquarters for the Regions Financial Corporation, which merged with AmSouth Bancorporation in 2006.
First National Bank's John A. Hand and Southern Natural Gas' Pratt Rather first announced their purchase of the half-block and plans for the new building in January 1967. At the time the site was occupied by the Birmingham Red Cross, which worked out of the old Southern Club. After completion of a feasibility study by James D. Landauer of New York City, construction proceeded.
The skyscraper was built in a striking modern glass and steel design by Welton Becket & Associates of Houston. Charles H. McCauley Associates served as the local associated firm. A scale model of the new building was unveiled in March 1969, with mayor George Seibels pulling the string to drop a yellow curtain. The model was constructed by Armin Kaufstein of Presentation Associates of Venice, California.
The reflective glass skin stretches between a generously-scaled black granite base story and a louvered steel penthouse enclosure. The building is set back from the corner with a raised terrace plaza. A one story banking lobby facing 20th Street closes off the north side of a sunken courtyard which serves the 400-seat basement-level cafeteria. A 390-car parking garage is attached to the back of the plaza, facing 19th Street North.
The tower was completed in 1972. First National changed its name to AmSouth Bancorporation that same year and the building was then given its most familiar name. Sonat moved its corporate headquarters from the tower to Houston in 1999. The company announced in 2006 that it would relocate its Birmingham area offices to the Colonial Center at Brookwood Village. In 2007, Regions announced that it would sell the neighboring Regions Plaza tower and move some staff into the Regions Center.
The exterior of the building was designed with perimeter lighting – fluorescent tubes set between the window blinds and the exterior glass of the curtain wall divisions on each tenant floor: 2,700 in all. These were designed to be turned on every night illuminate the structure on the skyline. Because of the early 1970s energy crisis, though, President Nixon asked Americans to cut back on exterior lighting. So despite the fact that the tower had a self-contained energy plant which ran continuously and the fluorescent tubes added no additional load to the building's power-generation requirements, the decision was made to keep them darkened as a symbolic gesture.
The idea of coloring the lights to produce large-scale decorative graphics was suggested by Drennen Jones, an administrative assistant to SONAT board chairman John Shaw. First National Bank graphics and design assistant Gigi Baroco created the first designs and worked with real estate company Molton, Allen & Williams to translate the design onto each floor plan. The first installation involved inserting green and red plastic sleeves over 700 of the 2,700 fluorescent tubes, a job that took a four-man crew working seven 5-hour shifts to complete. Unless a design is changed, the colored sleeves remain in place from year to year. Originally the designs were shown from dusk to 1:00 AM beginning December 22 and ending at midnight on December 31. Building occupants are requested to lower their opaque window blinds by 4:30 each evening, with maintenance staff double-checking after offices close.
During the first Christmas after the building opened in 1972, the building displayed a green Christmas tree trimmed in red on the north and south facades and the word "NOEL" on the east and west. The following year no lights were used at the height of the energy crisis. The original designs were re-lit in 1974, and then, for 1975 a change was made, with the word "JOY" replacing the "NOEL". That year it was discovered that from most of the city any part of the design below the 12th floor was likely to be obscured by other structures.
A large green wreath with a red bow replaced "JOY" in 1976 and the north-facing wreath was switched out for a red and green stocking in 1977. That scheme has been used each Christmas since, though the season has been extended somewhat.
On July 3, 1976 a special design with a flag on two sides and the date "1776" on the other two was unveiled for three nights in honor of America's bicentennial. The flag design was brought back in 1990 to welcome the first troops home from Operation Desert Storm.
In 1996 a special tribute to the 1996 Olympic Summer Games was installed on the tower consisting of the Olympic torch and flame, the Olympic rings, and "USA" in red, white and blue. The lights first came on on May 5, 1996 recognizing the naming of the nations whose soccer teams would complete in preliminary rounds at Legion Field. On June 29 the lights came on again as the Olympic torch made its way through Birmingham. Then, during the soccer competition the lights were lit each night between July 4 and 28.
Regions Charity Classic
- Beiman, Irving (January 22, 1967) "Plans announced for huge building." Birmingham News
- Beiman, Irving (March 1969) "New 'office tower' scale model unveiled" Birmingham News - accessed via Birmingham Rewound
- Miller, Elaine Hobson (December 1978) "Our 30 Story Bundle of Joy". Birmingham magazine. Vol. 18, No. 12, pp. 5-6
- Pratt, Ted. (May 2, 1996) "AmSouth/Sonat Tower lights up for Olympics." Birmingham News
- Bowsher, Alice Meriwether. (Winter 2006) "When Less Was More: Alabama's Classic Modern Architecture." Alabama Heritage'.' No. 79