Building Community: The Legacy of Mike Mouron
By Cara Clark
Mike Mouron gave retirement a shot in 2012. The Mountain Brook native divided his company, Capstone Development, into four separate businesses, an act intended to mark the end of an era that included developing student housing on and off campuses throughout the nation for decades. Instead, it kicked off a new career with tangible impact on the Birmingham area.
When the cosmopolitan Valley Hotel opened its doors to guests in February, the city of Homewood gained a high-end establishment with Ironwood Kitchen + Cocktails fine dining, casual dining and adjacent parking, all the brainchild of real estate development guru Mike Mouron, who saw how the elegant new hotel could benefit Homewood and adjacent communities.
Mouron and his wife, Kathy, both University of Alabama alums, met shortly after graduation while working in Birmingham. When he retired, it was the was couple’s sons who took charge of Capstone Real Estate Investments, one of the four ‘successor’ companies to Capstone Development Corp., while non-family members own or control the remaining three.
But it turns out, Mouron, chairman of Capstone Real Estate Investments, wasn’t ready to take up traditional pastimes like golf and fishing. The ambition and drive that characterized the development deals he struck over his highly successful career continued to push him to excel.
“I enjoy real estate development so much, and I didn’t really have any hobbies I wanted to do seven days a week, 365 days a year,” Mouron said. “One thing led to another, and I started trying to think of projects that would interest me that I could do for my own account.”
Mouron started small, purchasing the vacant Park Lane building in English Village. Originally built as a grocery store, the site later became the Italian restaurant, Arman’s, and later still, an event venue for caterer Kathy Mezrano of Kathy Gs for a time. Mouron bought the site from the original owners and began considering his options. With sufficient parking for a restaurant, he considered that option, but when he learned a Mountain Brook staple for more than 50 years, Little Hardware, was seeking a new location, it felt like the pieces were falling into place. The lot even had adequate space for dry goods storage. Within six weeks, the deal was cut for the Lane Park location, and Mouron began building a series of tasteful garages behind the main structure, offering storage for cement bags and other items that don’t require climate control. In 2014, Frank Davies III opened the new hardware store’s location, named for its original founder, Lewis Little, who sold the business to Frank Davies Jr.
“It had been a Mountain Brook institution, and the city did not want to lose them,” Mouron said. “It was a success and fun. Every time I go in there, I expect to see a Norman Rockwell painting of America in the 1950s.”
Playing matchmaker to a hardware store and the perfect site whetted Mouron’s appetite to do more, and he turned his attention to the historic Federal Reserve Building in downtown Birmingham. Long neglected, the building would need significant renovation, and Mouron accepted the challenge, leveraging federal and state tax credits to restore an important historic fixture. He located the original plans and began reimagining the space while respecting the history-rich features at the heart of the older architecture’s appeal.
In partnership with Harbert Realty and working with architect Williams Blackstock and contractor Hoar Construction, Mouron managed the $20 million building renovation after 15 years of vacancy. Key materials, such as enormous vault doors, were repurposed in the multi-use space that has become a downtown showplace. Not only were the vault doors preserved and refinished, but five entire vaults were repurposed and are some of the most unique features of the entire development.
“When a historic building is done well, it’s like old furniture that has a certain patina,” Mouron said. “You can’t create that patina with new furniture. I feel the same way about historic buildings; you can’t spend enough to create a building that has the same patina as old buildings. There’s a certain charm about it. It seems to ooze history and charm and craftsmanship that you don’t see replicated in new buildings. When I walk in the lobby at the Federal Reserve, it just has a different feel. There’s so much character.”
Mouron’s most recent project, Valley Hotel, a Curio Collection by Hilton property, required strategic acquisition of the land needed to create a space for a significant structure and sufficient parking. When he amassed the property he needed, Mouron worked with city before devising the five-story hotel and additional space for restaurants.
While developing the boutique hotel, Mouron has simultaneously been restoring the Greyhound Bus terminal in downtown Birmingham — from refinishing original terrazzo floors to buying two vintage Greyhound buses that have been refurbished with authentic colors, logos and decals and retrofitted to become suitable for meeting spaces. One will be parked on each side of the terminal, which has been transformed with a skylight that brings in a sense of airiness and light.
Using original plans, Mouron commissioned a greyhound figure to duplicate the original dog loping across the front of the building by the restored vertical Greyhound sign.
“It’s going to be very attractive,” Mouron says. “The skylight brings natural light to the basement to make it more enjoyable and user-friendly. This is going to become a very interesting building.”
The building, where Freedom Riders once disembarked, is built in a Moderne architectural style prevalent in transportation buildings of the area. Mouron plans to use memorabilia and signs to create an interesting vibe for 27,000 square feet of office space. “I hope one tenant needs the entire building —there are four or five unique spaces and a two-story grand lobby,” Mouron says. “In the right and left wings, the ceilings are not as high, but create a different vibe. The baggage handling area has a different feel. I could see people walking around this building during the day and being invigorated by walking from space to space.”
Mouron derives tremendous satisfaction from his post-retirement career, which involves the complexities of problem-solving with multiple parties to bring a project successfully to fruition. When he’s tempted to complain about the workload, he refrains.
“I’ve been married 44 years, and it did not surprise Kathy one bit when I went back to work,” Mouron says. “If I complain about being too busy, she says, ‘And who made you do that?’
I just couldn’t retire the good, old-fashioned way.”
Mouron shares office space with his and Kathy’s sons — Drew, Christopher and Lewis — who manage Capstone Real Estate Investments while he pursues his own dream. With his wife as the consummate mother, grandmother and partner, Mouron attributes much of his success to her support over the years.
“I’m a blessed man,” he says. “I have eight grandchildren and my sons and daughters-in-law within three miles of me. When I go to work, it’s very fun. When I get there, I walk around and try to speak to them first thing in the morning, then off we go with our individual jobs going on.”
It was son Christopher who came up with the idea to establish a scholarship fund for dependents of Mountain Brook first responders as part of the Mouron Family Foundation. The scholarship is part of the family’s deeply ingrained sense of civic and charitable responsibility.
“It’s a way to give back to our immediate community — to give back to people who do for us,” Mouron says. “To whom much is given, much is expected, and much has been given to the Mouron family. Much should be expected.”
In response to that strong sense of civic duty, the Mourons, along with other donors, built a bridge over Shades Creek in Jemison Park, which they formally dedicated to active and retired military.
“I never served, and my sons never served,” Mouron says. “That makes us more appreciative, and I try to never miss an opportunity to thank the men and women of the Armed Forces.”
That appreciation led to involvement in building the Cottages of Lakeshore to house service members’ families while they are in the Lakeshore Foundation for rehabilitation.
“We try to set good examples for our eight grandchildren,” Mouron says.