Birmingham City Council Backs New Downtown Stadium

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Conceptual rendering of proposed stadium in downtown Birmingham.
Conceptual rendering of proposed stadium in downtown Birmingham.

The Birmingham City Council on Tuesday voted to back a proposed $305 million downtown stadium and expansion of the BJCC. At the urging of Mayor Randall Woodfin, the council approved a “resolution of intent” to contribute its share — $90 million –toward the project.

Other supporters include the Jefferson County Commission, the BJCC and UAB. The stadium would be home to UAB football, which now plays at Legion Field.

Woodfin says the project can help fund city priorities, like fixing up neighborhoods.

“Sometimes you have to take calculated risks that have high returns,” Woodfin says.

The city’s annual budget tops $420 million, but Woodfin says that is not enough to fund all of the city’s needs. The new stadium and expanded  BJCC would bring in $9.9 million a year, Woodfin says. He wants to earmark that money for neighborhood revitalization.

Woodfin points to Regions Park near downtown and the CrossPlex athletic complex in west Birmingham as examples of projects supported by the city that are generating revenue.

“You’ve seen the ripple and there were naysayers in both of those projects. Now I am asking you to support this project, where there is a ripple for the entire northside community,” he told the council on Tuesday.

But some, like councilwoman Lashunda Scales, are skeptical.

“We are now talking about a stadium when we should be talking about roads, dilapidated homes and cleaning up our neighborhoods,” Scales says. “I’m for progress in our city, but not at the expense of the other 97 neighborhoods.”

Scales says if the city builds a stadium downtown, Legion Field will die. She abstained from voting on the resolution.

Darrell O’Quinn represents the area around Legion Field. He voted for the stadium.

O’Quinn said before voting yes, the mayor promised to work with councilors and community leaders to develop a plan for revitalizing Legion Field and the surrounding community.

Council President Valorie Abbott said Legion Field needs a revamp because the city is hosting the World Games in 2021, and that would be one of the main venues.

“I’m definitely concerned about Legion Field because taking care of it is one thing. Finding someone to use it is another thing,” she says. “You don’t want to fix it up so it can be like a sculpture out in the middle of that big field.”

Robert Walker is vice president of the Wahouma Neighborhood Association in east Birmingham. He says he’s tired of seeing neighborhood needs placed on the back burner while the city goes after big developments.

“Every time they tell us ‘wait, neighborhoods, keep waiting, and we’re going to get back to you,’” Walker says. “We’re still waiting, and now they want us to wait another 30 years.”

The city would pay $3 million a year toward the stadium for 30 years. Supporters of the project say city neighborhoods will see benefits soon after it is completed.

Walker has doubts.

“I have neighbors that are 70 and 80 years old,” he says. “They will never see their needs addressed at the rate they are going.”

Councilman Steven Hoyt submitted several questions to the mayor about city neighborhoods and the inclusion of black businesses in the project.

The mayor answered the questions and promised he would ensure minority participation and use the new funds to enhance communities.

 “Give the mayor a chance,” Hoyt said. He voted for the resolution, along with Abbott, Hunter Williams, William Parker,  Jay Roberson, John Hilliard, and O’Quinn. Councilwoman Sheila Tyson was absent.

Woodfin says once the stadium is built and the BJCC is bigger, it’ll attract more events and visitors to the city.  BJCC officials say they’re ready to line up financing and finalize plans for the stadium and the expanded civic center.