A first look inside old Oporto Armory and plans for redevelopment
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - WBRC was taken on an exclusive tour of the old Oporto National Guard Armory in Birmingham ahead of a major redevelopment planned for the site.
The Birmingham City Council approved the sale of the property for $10,000 to Vance Ballard, owner of B&B Construction.
The 4.9 acre site sat vacant for nearly 30 years before nearly a decade ago, Ballard said he got an idea of how to bring the property back to life.
“I can see Jones HVAC, so and so mechanical services, so and so sheetrock,” Ballard said of his vision for businesses running at the property.
Ballard said he planned to turn the property into an incubator for small construction-based companies that need a place to get started.
“Electricians, plumbers, woodworkers, construction companies... you’ve got 24 months. Take advantage of it. You’re around other like-minded people. Get your business going and the fly out of the best,” Ballard explained.
The tenants would be offered the space for free, Ballard said. The first couple of years of a new business are the hardest and not having to worry about rent can help start ups succeed.
Ballard planned to start with 10 small business.
He said he would also move his previous headquarters, which was a few blocks from the armory, into the armory site at 5601 Oporto- Madrid Blvd.
“Why do you want to help people like this for free,” reporter Brittany Dionne asked.
“People helped me,” Ballard said. “I can remember some of the rookie mistakes that I made and it would be a way to mentor some younger guys.”
The Oporto National Guard Armory also known as Fort Walter Hana, was built in the early 1960s and had been abandoned for more than 25 years.
The city of Birmingham purchased it from the Armory Commission of Alabama for $10,000 in 2018. Ballard said he’d entered into an agreement with the city to secure the property, clean it up, and eventually re-develop it if they’d allow him to buy it from them.
Ballard said, the city agreed, and his plans were officially set into motion in 2022.
Ballard started by putting up fencing and clearing the site, which had been taken over by vagrants.
“This is going to be a big win for the neighborhood. A big win for the companies. A big win for the city,” Ballard exclaimed.
The nearly 5 acre property has two large buildings. Ballard said he planned to take the smaller of the two and have the larger building serve as the job for other businesses.
The place is massive and there are so many hidden treasures.
“There are there walk-in vaults,” Ballard said.
One of the vaults was locked. Ballard said he definitely wanted to see what was inside it.
“Just wondering what could be in there,” he said while pulling on the handle.
The latrines had lockers with names still written on them, along with the large tower, Ballard said paratroopers would use to dry wet parachutes.
Ballard laid out his next steps for getting the place up and running.
“Tackle the roof. Tackle some pressure washing. Get some paint on the walls and just clean it up. Get the doors secured,” he explained.
It would cost about $1.5 million to renovate, according to Ballard, with his company doing most of the work
“So much square footage, and it’s such a big place but I think we’re up to the challenge,” Ballard smiled.
Ballard said he hoped to have renovations complete in about two years.
If you would like to apply for a spot at the site, contact Ballard on Facebook at B&B Construction.
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