Birmingham City Council’s decision Tuesday to approve $3 million annually over 30 years to build an outdoor stadium and renovate the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex’s (BJCC) Legacy Arena will not jeopardize neighborhood revitalization, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said.
The council voted 6-3 to contribute the money despite opposition from some community residents and elected officials.
The council also voted unanimously to create a neighborhood revitalization fund. The additional revenue generated by the convention complex project will go toward the fund, the mayor said.
“We will spend that funding only on neighborhood revitalization, and that can’t be overstated,” he said.
Woodfin said he expects the fund to collect about $9 million annually when the expansion starts generating revenue. He also said groundbreaking on the stadium could begin by the end of the year and the stadium will be ready by 2021, possibly in time, for the World Games.
Many impassioned and angry residents filled council chambers Tuesday to protest spending taxpayer money on an outdoor stadium instead of in Birmingham’s 99 neighborhoods. Susan Palmer, president of the Central Park Neighborhood Association, said she collected a petition from residents who oppose the new stadium. She said the council needs to make “the 99 neighborhoods, schools and crime” the city’s top priority. “Why are we giving $90 million for a stadium when we have people dying?” she asked.
Council President Valerie Abbott and Councilors Jay Roberson, Steven Hoyt, John Hilliard, William Parker and Hunter Williams voted in favor. Councilors Lashunda Scales, Sheila Tyson and Darrell O’Quinn voted against.
The vote provided first-term mayor Woodfin a clear victory early in his administration, which passed the 100-day mark on March 8.
Woodfin and supporters of the stadium said the project will help Birmingham’s neighborhoods. Hilliard said he’s tired of Birmingham losing conventions and concerts to other cities because of its lack of facilities.
“Everybody’s expanding their footprint but us,” he said, noting Atlanta is about to build its fifth stadium while Birmingham argues over whether to support the proposed new stadium. “I want the same thing for Birmingham.”
The mayor said the project is an economic development win not only for the city but for the region. The overall Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex expansion project will cost nearly $300 million, said Tad Snider, executive director and chief executive officer for the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex Authority (BJCCA).
The open-air stadium will have a capacity of 55,000 seats with meeting and exhibition space and will cost $174 million, Snider said. The arena expansion will include luxury suites and upgrades to the concourse and exterior. The city’s $90 million will come from its job tax and other revenues should the need arise, the mayor said. The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), the state and Jefferson County also are partners in the expansion.
“The Greater Birmingham area already benefits from about $217 million in economic impact from the BJCC today,” Snider said. “This (project) just expands and grows that, so that could be as much as another $40 million. And then any additional development around (this project), it’s going to be outstanding for the city of Birmingham. I’m confident of that.”
During the council meeting, residents, state representatives and UAB football players spoke for and against the proposal. State Reps. Mary Moore and John Rogers, D-Birmingham, asked the city to delay its vote. Both said the BJCCA is getting the better end of the deal and asked the council to redistribute its share of $90 million to benefit Birmingham.
Their concerns were echoed by Scales, who questioned whether the BJCCA would make good on minority participation goals regarding construction. Scales said in previous expansion projects, neighborhood leaders were promised to reap the benefits in their communities but didn’t. Scales also said Legion Field is being overlooked.
“We have abandoned Legion Field for years and we wonder why it’s in the condition it is today,” she said. “Yet, we’re willing to go out and finance another project we won’t own, we have no control over then we want the citizens to wait again for another economic development project with promises. … I think the people are burned out on it.”
Woodfin said the city’s support of the new stadium doesn’t mean it’s finished supporting Legion Field.
“We can invest and support Legacy Arena, the BJCC and a new stadium and support our city-owned property,” he said.
This story originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.