Birmingham Council Supports Renaming CrossPlex for Langford, Question Parker’s Bid to Bring Oakland Raiders to Legion Field

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Sam Prickett, BirminghamWatch

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin

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By Sam Prickett

Mayor Randall Woodfin and members of the Birmingham City Council announced Tuesday that they would support changing the name of the Birmingham CrossPlex to honor former Mayor Larry Langford, who died last month.

Langford spearheaded construction of the indoor track and aquatic complex in Five Points West, on which construction began in 2008. The $46 million facility opened in August 2011.

Woodfin and District 8 Councilor Steven Hoyt proposed the name change — to the Larry P. Langford Birmingham CrossPlex — during the council’s meeting Tuesday. District 9 Councilor John Hilliard, who did not arrive until later in the meeting, also has advocated for renaming the facility.

“We believe it’s fitting for all the work he did and for bringing this to life in our community,” Woodfin said.

During his statement, Hoyt alluded to Langford’s controversial reputation, which included a 2009 conviction on charges of corruption and bribery for actions he took during his time as president of the Jefferson County Commission.

“We know that, no different than Angela Davis, you have to deal with the body of people’s work,” Hoyt said, referring to the recent Birmingham Civil Rights Institute controversy. “All of us have some issues one way or the other … but when you look at this city and see the things that were done under his leadership … We are better because Larry Langford came through here.”

Hoyt said he did not expect members of the public to take issue with renaming the CrossPlex, “but if they do, they can come see me,” he said. “I’m a big boy. I can handle it.”

Langford’s widow, Melva, a Birmingham City Council employee, said that Langford would have been “excited” to know about the rename — although, she insisted, “He was not a person who liked a lot of accolades.”

An official council vote to change the CrossPlex’s name will take place at an unspecified later date.

“What Are We Committing To?”

Another west Birmingham sports venue took the spotlight at Tuesday’s meeting, as councilors expressed confusion about reports that the city was courting the Raiders NFL team to play some of next season’s home games at Legion Field.

It was reported Tuesday morning that Birmingham was partnering with Tucson, Arizona, to offer the Raiders venues to play home games while construction on the team’s new stadium in Las Vegas is being completed. The team is moving from Oakland, California, to Las Vegas.

The plan was initiated by Council President Pro Tem William Parker, who floated the idea to AL.com Feb. 8. Parker, who also is vice president of the Birmingham Park and Recreation Board, told AL.com that he had spoken to his fellow councilors and the mayor’s office about the initiative. But on Tuesday, both Woodfin and Council President Valerie Abbott said they were largely ignorant about the proposal.

Abbott expressed concern that monetary incentives were being offered to the team without the council’s knowledge.

“I haven’t found a council member who knows anything (about this),” she said. “When I saw that press release yesterday, I was like, ‘What are we committing to?’ We’re all in favor of using Legion Field (more) because we’ve made that commitment, but we need to decide as a group before we go out and start soliciting … . I was just surprised to see that press release with no discussion whatsoever.”

“I can’t communicate anything to you about a proposal because I wouldn’t know what to articulate to you,” Woodfin replied. “There has been nobody on our team that’s talked to anybody with the Raiders organization. There’s nothing I can tell you because I don’t know.”

Parker said the initiative was part of the park board’s “quest to make sure that Legion Field stays viable,” and said that he hoped the council would keep public conversation of the proposal “minimal.”

Abbott said the council and the mayor should “get together and decide what we’re going to do … because the park board is not independently funded … . They can’t make commitments to a team that the city’s going to do anything.”

In response, Hoyt suggested that Parker should be allowed autonomy in his attempts to attract sporting events.

“He has the ability and the acumen to do some things, and we have to all sometimes let folk do what they do well,” he said. “If he could pull (this) off, I’m going to move to District 4 and vote for him.”

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