The Historic Huntsville Foundation supports the adaptation of the historic First National Bank of Alabama in a way that supports a thriving downtown Huntsville, whether as a community arts center or privately-owned condos. Nearly two hundred years ago, Huntsville’s founders invested in this building as a symbol of their belief in Huntsville’s prosperous future. History has proven them correct.
It is critical that we, as a community, preserve this property and its important historical legacy. The First National Bank of Alabama is individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of a few bank buildings from the Jacksonian era still standing in the United States. The building’s importance is derived from its architectural style, historical significance and strategic location on the Courthouse Square.
City leaders are wise to be concerned about the costs of maintaining this property. Updating and maintaining the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems in this building will be a costly investment. If the building stays in public hands, taxpayers must be willing to fund these costs or slowly witness the deterioration of a grand legacy. If the building is in private hands, where private money would fund repairs and maintenance, perhaps the city could use preservation easements to protect the bank’s exterior façade. Unlike properties in our downtown historic districts, proposed changes to the building’s exterior are not reviewed by the Huntsville Historic Preservation Commission. A preservation easement would not, in any way, limit modifications that could be made to the building interior as it was renovated for a new purpose.
The preservation and adaptive reuse of this historic property presents challenges, but it is also provides a rare opportunity for a person or organization to develop prime downtown real estate full of character and unlike anything else in the city.