Montevallo DRC approves COA request for mural project

By EMILY SPARACINO / Staff Writer 

MONTEVALLO – The Montevallo Design Review Committee approved at an Oct. 1 meeting a request from the University of Montevallo to issue a Certificate of Appropriateness for a mural project in the downtown historic district.

Funded through The University of Alabama Council for Economic Development, the project is a collaborative effort among the University of Montevallo, Montevallo area schools and several local artists to paint a mural on the side of the brick building occupied by Barnes & Noble bookstore at 845 Main Street.

A COA was required for the project because it involves the painting of an originally unpainted surface in the city’s historic district.

This is a mock-up of the mural to be painted on the side of the Barnes & Noble building on Main Street in downtown Montevallo. (Contributed)

“This happened very quickly,” Committee member Susan Godwin said at the start of the meeting. “I think that it’s really important that the Design Review Committee considers any public or committee comments before we facilitate a COA or move to go to a vote about it.”

Mayor Hollie Cost said Montevallo was chosen as a pilot city for the mural project, which aims at driving economic development.

“We’re going through a painstaking process to engage many different artists in many different groups,” Cost said. “It’s a true collaborative effort. We’re hoping to have it completed by December.”

Godwin said she is an artist and loves civic art, but suggested the city carefully consider how many similar projects it commits to and where the murals are placed in order to keep Montevallo Main Street on the National Register of Historic Places.

“I think the very idea of having this is a great idea for the community,” Godwin said. “I encourage you to consider other locations other than the downtown corridor.”

City Clerk and Treasurer Herman Lehman contacted Mary Shell with the Alabama Historical Commission to ask about guidelines for murals in the historic district.

Research of the Secretary of the Interior’s historic building restoration guidelines revealed painting a previously unpainted brick building is “not recommended” but is not prohibited, and will not cause the city to lose its historic designation, Lehman said.

Committee members Courtney Bennett, H.G. McGaughy and Kevin Hughes voted in favor of issuing a COA for the mural project. Godwin abstained from the vote.

Bennett said she is a proponent of public art, like murals, that can add vibrancy to a downtown area, but also for more stringent guidelines regarding COAs for such projects.

Josh Cameron, principal planner for Shelby County Development Services, said he wants to do more research on how cities can handle mural requests in the future.

“Guidance for signs and murals is a bit scant,” Cameron said, and added, “It is a good urban design practice to cover up blank spaces in your town. A mural is way to create more vibrancy and interest on an otherwise blank space.”

UM Professor Collin Williams is leading the project in collaboration with Montevallo High, Montevallo Middle and Montevallo Elementary Schools, and artists Robin Nance, Tim Tingle, Andrew Cost, Joel Bullock and Patrick Mayton.

The mural’s letters will be on plastisol and painted individually with different characteristics of the city featured on them.

The letters will be 7 feet tall and set against simple blocks of color.

The mural will be on the side of the building facing North Boundary Street.

The front section of the building will remain brick so the bookstore and university can use the space for banners and advertising.

UM has approved the mural’s installation.