In early December of 2014, UAB shut down its football program.
It wasn’t a popular move, to say the least.
Students protested, fans wailed, coaches and players grieved. And the Birmingham community, which had shown little interest in Blazer football before, realized it had lost something good.
There was such an outcry that UAB President Ray Watts, who had announced the program’s demise, came back six months later and announced that it was coming back – if the community would get behind it and pledge donations to make it a first-class operation.
Now, a little more than a year later, Athletics Director Mark Ingram told Alabama NewsCenter, “We are making great progress in terms of fundraising.”
Gifts and pledges are coming in for a 46,000-square-foot football operations center.
The center will include offices for coaches, meeting rooms, locker rooms, weight rooms, film rooms, a training room and nutrition room.
“We’re planning for success,” Ingram said.
Legacy Credit Union is donating $4.2 million – the largest sponsorship in UAB athletics history – for the operations center and an open-air pavilion. The donation will give Legacy naming rights for 20 years.
Legacy was founded by a group of UAB employees to serve faculty, staff, students and the community.
“Since UAB had the vision to charter us, and is the largest employer and most dynamic economic driver in the state, we believe an investment in UAB will yield returns for Legacy members and the entire community,” President and CEO Joe McGee said.
Last month, retired businessman and Blazer fan Jimmy Filler made a $1 million donation for the operations building.
“UAB football is good for the city of Birmingham and is good for UAB,” Filler said. “A strong UAB means a strong Birmingham, and football is an important component in declaring that message.”
Hatton Smith, CEO emeritus of Royal Cup Inc., is chairman of a fundraising task force for new facilities.
“We will need $21 million for the football operations center,” Smith said. “There will be two fields initially and a covered pavilion” so the Blazers can practice in inclement weather.
Construction should begin in late August and be finished June 2017, a couple of months before UAB begins playing football again.
Smith said he took on the task of raising money because “I believe in our city, and abolition of football was not good for our city.”
Several large donations have been made in support of football, including $500,000 each from Protective Life, Alabama Power, Medical Properties Trust, Mike Thompson of Thompson Tractor and Harold W. Ripps of Rime Capital Account Inc.
The Birmingham City Council, which previously paid $250,000 for UAB football tickets, last year approved a resolution pledging to commit $500,000 a year for tickets, if UAB football returns.
Smith sets high goals. He is hopeful and optimistic that a 45,000-seat stadium will be built in Uptown, across the street from the Westin Hotel, to host not only UAB but also the Magic City Classic, Birmingham Bowl and the 2021 World Games.
He estimates a stadium would cost about $150 million.