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ONB Poised To Exploit Next Big Trend
Depot Idea A Hit
Birmingham () - With the loft craze waning and the overall housing market cooling, Operation New Birmingham (ONB) is anxiously awaiting the next big trend to emerge so that the organization can begin advertising about it. ONB began advertising about goings on in Birmingham several years ago and has had great success in getting its catchy ads noticed. The enormous success of its "Downtown Is..." campaign had billboards springing up all over town touting the various appealing aspects of downtown Birmingham. One billboard next to the abandoned Stockham Valve plant exhorted passersby to "Put Your Feet Up, Downtown Is...Loft Living." The billboard depicted an affluent woman in a white yoga outfit with her feet up on a cayman-lagoon colored wall. One man selling socks underneath the billboard said he fully expected to be able to use his earnings to put down a deposit on one of these "new-fangled lofts."

Another billboard series claimed that "Downtown Is...Cool Spaces" and suggested that owners of downtown properties could place signs to that effect on their many abandoned buildings and derelict properties. The award winning campaign got ONB noticed in many trade journals devoted to non-profit groups which promote the idea of busy vibrant downtowns.

ONB has been busy toying with ideas for a new campaign, but has not seen a big enough trend develop for them to hitch their marketing to. They have had other recent successes though, including getting UAB to call their combined business incubator the 'Innovation Depot'. "All of these groups like UAB are spending a lot of money downtown, which is great," said Michael Calvert president of ONB. "But they need to be consistent with our image and branding of downtown as a trendy and cool place." "We had been tossing around names like 'Innovation Place', 'Innovation Nexus', and even 'Innovation Station'," said Susan Matlock founding president of the Entrepreneurial Center. "We had thought 'Innovation Station' was the best until we were told that the name elicited images of the Amtrak and Greyhound stations. It was Mike [Calvert at ONB] that finally brought it all home with 'Innovation Depot'. The name reminds us of Birmingham's rich railroad heritage and connects us to wholesome successful businesses like the Peanut Depot. But at the same time, the 'Innovation' piece keeps us looking towards the cool future of downtown."

UAB has pledged over $3 million to date on the incubator project which will combine the city's two business incubators into one. The location of the mega-incubator is the downtown Sears building which has been vacant for over 20 years. Bringing the Entrepreneurial Center and the UAB incubator under one roof is expected to enliven a newly created 'Entrepreneurial District' bounded by the Midtown Revitalization District, 2nd Avenue North Revitalization District, 4th Avenue North Revitalization District, and the Railroad Reservation. "We are pleased to have helped define this new district," said Calvert. "We hope other groups come together and decide to spend money on developments in this area. We can certainly help them with names and ideas. I doubt we can come up with anything as good as 'Innovation Depot', but even our second rate ideas are consistent." "It's just going to be such a high-energy environment," said Matlock. "We'd like to see the rest of the entrepreneurial district follow suit with such great names."