Things have been busy lately for Elizabeth Barbaree-Tasker. The Avondale resident and mother of two recently took the reigns of Main Street Birmingham (MSB), the city’s non-profit economic development engine that works on the revitalization of Birmingham’s historic neighborhood commercial districts. And she comes to that position qualified. With over 15 years experience in community redevelopment projects, Barbaree-Tasker brings new energy and enthusiasm to one of the area’s most important development agencies.
But that’s not all…
Less than one week ago, news broke that Main Street Birmingham would soon be merging with Operation New Birmingham, the organization responsible for economic development within City Center. The melding of these two groups could yield incredible results that would directly impact local small business, entrepreneurs, commercial and residential development, and might even provide a much-needed booster for Birmingham’s struggling image, both locally and beyond.
Even with her busy schedule, this local mover-and-shaker took a few minutes to sit down with us in the Magic City Chatroom. (We tend to like her because she’s small in stature, and we tend to believe the BEST things come in small packages!)
Birmingham friends, meet Elizabeth Barbaree-Tasker:
MCM: Welcome to the Magic City Chatroom? We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with you, so let’s get right to it. How long have you been in Birmingham? What neighborhood do you live in?
My husband and I got married sixteen years ago and moved to Birmingham from Auburn. We first lived in this cool apartment in a Southside “mansion” where you could climb out a huge living room window onto the porch roof. It was the perfect spot for watching fireworks over Vulcan, at least until Railroad Park came along. We moved to Avondale almost 15 years ago, and now we have three houses in the neighborhood, two of which we rent, two kids and a dog. We’re definitely invested in the future of the neighborhood and are so excited to see it changing for the better.
MCM: Okay, we’re a little sad that we never got to sit on that Southside roof. Sounds like a perfect vantage point. And kudos to you for being so immersed in one of Birmingham’s great neighborhoods (Avondale)! (We’ll talk about that later.) Now, you are no stranger to Main Street Birmingham. How has the transition to Executive Director been, and what kinds of new projects might you have up your sleeve?
The transition to Director has been crazy! I came on board in early 2011 thinking I would ease back into work after having a baby. I certainly didn’t see myself in charge of things by the end of the year! I’ve always loved the mission of Main Street Birmingham though, so it’s great to be impacting the city through my work.
MCM: Congratulations, by the way, and we anticipate many future successes as you get settled in to your new role. And, speaking of success… We were so excited about the recent (brilliant)“Occupy Avondale” contest that awarded locally-grown Freshfully six months of free rent in the burgeoning Avondale neighborhood. To us, it appeared to be a great success. Will we see more of this type of innovative development and entrepreneurial support in the future, and in other neighborhoods such as East Lake, Norwood, and Ensley?
We consider the Occupy contest a huge success and can’t wait to fill up more vacant spaces across the city! It not only served the practical purpose of bringing a new tenant into the business district, it also gave us a good idea of the Avondale market. While we might not use the same promotion, we are looking for other creative ways to both fill spaces and test the market in more of our districts.
MCM: No doubt there’s a lot of creative thinking going in to these projects, so we’ll be standing by to see what (quite literally ) develops!
Switching it back to you now… We happen to think that your background is a perfect complement to the creative revitalization efforts underway in Birmingham’s unique neighborhoods? In fact, it’s easy to envision what these community hubs could look like, given the right tools and resources. What’s in your toolbox, and how will we get there?
Hmmm, I’d say:
• A healthy dose of optimism that Birmingham can be a city of great neighborhoods, each with their own unique flavor… the kind of city that creative, smart people of all ages want to live in!
• People who think the same way, so much so that they are willing to work, invest and give to make it a reality.
I pretty much think if we had these two things, Birmingham would become a better version of what’s good already, plus a few great things we can’t even fathom. We won’t convince everyone to use these tools, but I do think we’re finding more and more of them every day! As a result, I’ve never been more excited about where Birmingham is headed.
MCM: Like-minded optimists - just the type of people we like to hang with because we agree that these connections lead to smart, successful, unique growth. And we agree that Birmingham is definitely headed in an exciting direction. What do the next five years look like for MSB?
You’ve probably heard the news that Main Street Birmingham plans to merge with ONB. If all goes well, we will be better equipped to do more of what we’re doing. That means more people-friendly businesses in now-vacant storefronts, more events in districts, more promotions, businesses growing and properties being redeveloped in ways that draw people back into the city as a whole.
MCM: We are “like-minded” in our “optimism” about the merger of these two great forces and believe this fusion could lead to remarkable changes and progress in Birmingham. We’re counting on this new organization to create a little magic! If you could create your own bit of magic here in the Magic City, what would you do?
You know how in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Jimmy Stewart gets to see what his town would be like if he’d never been born? Well I’d use that same sort of magic to show people what life would be like here if they were a bit more accepting of new ideas or new people or people different from them.
MCM: LOVE that. Great answer!! What is your favorite Birmingham sight to see? Favorite character? Favorite dish?
Favorite sight: Railroad Park, filled with people from across the city.
Favorite dish: I do love Birmingham’s food! So to pick just one dish is pretty impossible. I will just say that the current winner is… Saw’s BBQ pork and greens! I may be a little biased because in all our fifteen years in Avondale, we finally have a great place to walk to dinner. Oh, and I also love their fried green tomatoes too (surprise, surprise on that one – I’d say they beat out all the old local faves!) Of course, this all goes best with a cold Battlefied IPA from Avondale Brewery.
(gee, what did I say about not being able to pick just one??)
MCM: Honey, when can we meet you at Saw’s?! First round of Battlefied’s on us.
So we know you are an active neighbor and community leader. If you were trying to convince an outsider to visit our great city, what would your elevator pitch sound like?
Birmingham will surprise you!
Then I’d ask them what kind of food they like and tell them what cool local place they could find it in.
MCM: Another great answer!! Birmingham is so full of flavor.
Okay, last question: We’re planting a time capsule, to be opened in the year 2112. What will you put in it?
Current pictures of Birmingham’s neighborhood destinations and great streets, in hopes that they could make a “Then and Now” book showing all the great progress we’ve made, instead of all the amazing buildings we’ve torn down.
We just loved hanging out with this lovely Birmingham mother/neighbor/leader/innovator in the Magic City Chatroom. If you’d like to keep up with Barbaree-Tasker, here are a few quick links!