Across the table were Memphis, Nashville, Jacksonville and New Orleans. Each was vying to take away the event that has been home in Hoover the past 19 years.
But Hoover added an ace to its strong hand that was built from hosting the tourney nearly two decades. Hallman and Mayor Gary Ivey said at a press conference that a new $76 million sports complex may have made the difference in Hoover being the unanimous choice of the Southeastern Conference’s athletic directors.
“I think we hit a grand slam,” said John Oros, president of the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Terms of the agreement have not been completed. The tournament will remain in Hoover at least three years, but its stay could stretch to five years.
Hallman called this one of the most competitive bid processes in which he has been involved. He said the four other cities pushed Hoover to be better.
“I think the new addition was the separator,” Hallman said at the Met Friday.
Ivey admitted being somewhat nervous, but “I knew if we didn’t get it, we had done everything we could.”
The mayor said the city didn’t have to “step up its game” very much, saying the sports complex was going to be built regardless of whether the city kept the baseball tournament.
Hallman, executive director of the Alabama Sports Council, acknowledged that Hoover could have retained the tournament without the complex. The SEC Baseball Tournament drew a record 150,064 fans to Hoover last week.
“It was insurance, so to speak,” Hallman said. “This new addition will allow us to do a lot of things … that heretofore we have not had.”
Work began May 31, breaking ground on the 155,000-square-foot indoor events center. It will be complete by May 2017.
The complex will allow the hosts to provide a sports bar, a food court, a merchandise area, a fan interactive zone and a player lounge.
“All these things are going to create a great atmosphere in that building,” Hallman said.
The expansion will provide 1,500 more paved parking spaces at the Met. It also will expand the RV parking area from 145 to 176 spaces.
Those spaces are already sold out, with 60 on a waiting list.
Similar to IndyCar events at Barber Motorsports Park, there will be a Ferris wheel between the sports building and the stadium, and a zip line. The Ferris wheel will face the stadium, allowing passengers a view of the ongoing game while they ride.
Hallman added that the “little things” Hoover did in hosting the tournament last week helped to sway league officials. He cited the football treatment granted baseball teams as they received motorcycle escorts from their hotels to the stadium.
An added touch was having that team’s flag flying from the back of the escort motorcycle.
“There’s so many things that went into this effort over so many years,” Hallman said. “The road to Omaha will continue to begin here in Hoover.”