City council approves $5 million to build Birmingham amphitheater
By Lee Hedgepeth, BirminghamWatch
Birmingham taxpayers will provide $5 million toward the construction of a proposed 9,000-seat open-air amphitheater on 25th Street North, adjacent to the site of the former Carraway Hospital.
In its meeting Tuesday, the Birmingham City Council voted 7-1 to approve the amphitheater funding. Councilor Valerie Abbott voted against the measure, and Councilor Carol Clarke abstained. Tuesday’s discussion also revealed new details about the management of the planned venue, including an overview of a planned 20-year Live Nation contract to promote and operate the amphitheater.
Birmingham’s $5 million investment in the project is expected to be matched by equal contributions from Jefferson County, the BJCC and venue promoter and operator Live Nation. The remaining $30 million of the $50 million construction price tag is set to come from bond borrowing. Profits from the amphitheater and lodging taxes should pay for the bond debt, officials have said, but the City of Birmingham and Jefferson County have agreed to foot the bill if necessary.
Current plans suggest the venue could hold its first concerts as early as 2025.
“This is the continuation of a full investment in our Uptown entertainment district,” Mayor Randall Woodfin told councilors in Tuesday’s meeting.
The proposed amphitheater, officials said in the meeting, will be completely promoted and operated by Live Nation, the world’s largest live events company.
Live Nation has garnered widespread scrutiny over its safety record, particularly following the 2021 Astroworld tragedy in Houston that left eight dead and hundreds injured.
In Tuesday’s meeting, Councilor Clinton Woods asked BJCC’s Tad Snider about the proposed contract with the venue operator. Snider said the contract will last 20 years and will be renewable at the option of Live Nation, not the BJCC or local governments.
“Live Nation would market, sell, manage, operate the venue completely. The civic center authority would have no day-to-day responsibility in the management of the amphitheater,” Snider told councilors.
Parking surrounding the proposed venue also was discussed by multiple councilors, particularly Abbott, who said she’s concerned about residents near the proposed amphitheater site whose parking could be limited by concert attendees.
“When you come home, you can’t park near your house because a whole bunch of people who live in Mountain Brook are parked there instead of you,” Abbott said.
Abbott said councilors have been waiting “for years” for a residential parking ordinance from city officials.
“It’s incumbent upon us, if we’re going to do a project like this, we need to make sure we take care of our residents first,” Abbott said. “Because we say that we take care of our residents first, and we actually need to do it.”
Lift All Boats or Sink the Neighborhood?
Tammy Smith was one of only three members of the public to wait through the entirety of Tuesday’s meeting – just more than two hours long – to address councilors. She was the only citizen to comment on the amphitheater funding at the council meeting.
“We hear a lot about the growth, and you all, even with this amphitheater, you all is in (agreement) that this is the best thing that could happen. But just a street or two over, the neighborhood is falling down,” she said.
Smith said more investments should be made in inner-city neighborhoods in Birmingham to improve housing conditions, not just to build entertainment venues.
“The residents is not that happy,” Smith said. “This is not what the residents in that area want. This is what the powers that be want. And remember — the powers that be do not live in the neighborhood.”
Most of Birmingham’s city councilors, though, voiced support for the plan, citing the new entertainment venue as a way for the city to continue economic development that they argue will “lift all boats.”
“I’m very excited about this,” Councilor Crystal Smitherman said. “And I think the seats will be better than the ones in the Pelham amphitheater.”
Lee Hedgepeth is an investigative journalist based in Birmingham. He is the author of Tread by Lee, a newsletter of Southern journalism.