Birmingham mayor emphasizes growth, development in ‘State of the City’ address

Birmingham mayor emphasizes growth, development in ‘State of the City’ address
Birmingham Mayor William Bell speaks at the kickoff of Birmingham Innovation Week in August. The growth of Birmingham's tech sector was a major point of emphasis in Bell's State of the City address this week. (Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

Birmingham Mayor William Bell said building permits throughout the city’s neighborhoods are up 11.6 percent, and downtown is experiencing a building boom of more than $1 billion, “our largest number in the history of the city.”

The total valuation of construction is up by 50.7 percent in “an unprecedented increase,” Bell said.

Those numbers were highlighted in Bell’s “State of the City” address to a Kiwanis Club luncheon Tuesday and, later, to community members at the Pratt City Library.

The mayor outlined a laundry list of accomplishments from neighborhood growth to public improvements to technology.

Birmingham tech

The city’s technological standing has grown with Innovate Birmingham and the Innovation District, Bell said.

“Birmingham is experiencing a unique surge in energy around enhancing the city’s innovative capacity, primarily centered on the Innovate Birmingham initiative,” the mayor said. “This is a public and private partnership to advance strategies and to develop resources for the city that address physical, financial and human capital needs.”

Innovation Depot has established itself as an ideal home for biotech startups. (Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)
Innovation Depot has established itself as an ideal home for biotech startups. (Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

Bell said the city is partnering with Jefferson County and working in collaboration with the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Alabama Power in seeking a Smart City Challenge Grant.

“We would like to create a ‘Smart City’ vision and build an action plan for the better future of our city,’” the mayor said. “This will tremendously help us in achieving progress in social, economic and environmental sustainability.”

He announced that Birmingham Innovation will construct a 100-gigabyte network to bring more internet accessibility to the city.

“You have a lot of corporations that want to make Birmingham a Smart City, that want to have that interconnectivity so we can have technology for the betterment of all of our citizens,” he said. “No matter where a child is, they will be able to connect to the internet.”

That will also bring more businesses to the area, Bell said.

“I want them to bring this network because I want you to be able to get free internet service,” he said at the Pratt City Library. “I want the least of our communities to have the access.”

Development and jobs

The mayor said the city has seen growth in the neighborhoods beyond the building permits. Community Safe Rooms are being built in in Smithfield Estates, North and Central Pratt and Sandusky at a total cost of $3.4 million.

He also touched on proposed developments at the CrossPlex Village and Ensley Public Safety Complex and additions to the revitalization in Woodlawn, Avondale and East Lake.

The mayor said he is pleased with TopGolf expanding in Uptown North, a Publix in District 7 that is “beginning to address the food desert issue that has plagued the city” and downtown developments that include the renovation of the Pizitz building, a new Publix and the Intermodal terminal.

Bell said he is also pleased by the job creation under his watch.

“The metro region has seen an increase of over 14,400 jobs under my administration, jobs like Kamtek, LabCorp and Oxford Pharmaceuticals, but also tech industry and starter corporations incubated at Innovation Depot,” he said.

Fighting violent crime

The mayor also talked about the need for the community to help reduce violence citywide.

“There are too many illegal guns on the streets,” he said. “We have to find a way to combat that if we are going to fight violent crime in our community.”

He said his Violence Reduction Initiative “is not just a stick that you beat them upside the head with and say, ‘We’re going to arrest you.’ It’s the carrot that we put out there. There is a hotline that they can call to get the help they need.

“The police are going to do what the police do; they’re going to serve the needs of the citizens in terms of cleaning up things,” he said.

This story originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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