Langford and Bell may have saved Birmingham

Sunday, June 9th, I was watching TV when suddenly my cell phone lit up with e-mails from people everywhere.

They couldn’t wait to tell me about the positive story about Birmingham in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, Associated Press, Yahoo News, etc. Pretty darn exciting when media everywhere are screaming, “(Birmingham) has a new vibe that’s generating buzz.”

Every major newspaper in the U.S.must have posted the AP piece, “Once dying Birmingham is suddenly hot.”  

I certainly loved the article, but was somewhat stunned by the pictures that accompanied the story in each of the papers.

I honestly can’t remember seeing a picture of Birmingham in the National Press in the past 50 years that didn’t include pictures of dogs and fire hoses.  These articles featured flattering pictures of Railroad Park or Regions Field.  How refreshing!

Of course, the big question is how did we get from “dying” to “hot?”

Some folks might not want to give Larry Langford credit, but many of the projects described in the AP piece originated with his administration.

Our Chamber of Commerce (now BBA) took seven trips to cities around the U.S. to see what was working in other communities.  In 2005 the Chamber went to Nashville. Several of the Nashville corporate and community leaders embarrassed us and tried to make us feel foolish for living in Birmingham.  Langford was on the trip and he wasted no time standing up for Birmingham and our delegation. (Larry has a temper)

On the bus afterwards, he said something I will never forget, “All we need in Birmingham is an attitude adjustment.”  He told us he was committed to tackling big projects to prove we could succeed.

His comments probably aren’t surprising.  After all, when Langford ran for Mayor he beat eight candidates on the first ballot with the slogan, “Let’s do something.”  And say what you want about Mayor Langford, he did something.

I’ve heard people comment that Mayor Bell is reaping the benefits of Langford’s projects, which is both true and not true.  It’s true that many of our successful projects were initiated during the Langford administration, but when Mayor Bell took office, he inherited a huge deficit.

Mayor Bell and his City Council not only worked through the deficit, but kept the original projects and new ones on track. It’s probably safe to say that if we hadn’t had a change of administrations, the outcome might have been different.

And the good news continues.  This week Birmingham was chosen by the National Civic League as an All American City.

Birmingham/Jefferson County has had some bad breaks.  But this time we got lucky–Larry Langford’s big ideas and Mayor Bell’s stewardship.

Let’s turn Birmingham around.  Click here to sign up for our newsletter.  There’s power in numbers. (Opt out at any time)

David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown, a co-founder of Buzz12 Advertising and co-CEO of AmSher Collection Agency.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham)), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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13 thoughts on “Langford and Bell may have saved Birmingham”

  1. *You never did tell us what Langford’s projects were in this story.  I’m still wondering.

    1. John, that’s a good point. I thought about including them, but I wasn’t sure what was initiated under Langford and so I left it out. I’m pretty sure Crossplex, Uptown, and Railroad Park were initiated during Langford’s administration. There may have been others. If anyone knows the details, please let us know. One thing for sure. Railroad park pretty much jumped started us.

  2. It sounds like the Nashville corporate and community leaders embarrassed themselves by trying to make anyone feel foolish about where they live, rather than to: (1) be completed that leaders from Birmingham would see their city as an example to copy; and (2) offer constructive suggestions on trying to better our community.  Frankly, there are a lot of counties in this State I wouldn’t want to live in, but if I met someone who lived in one of those counties I wouldn’t demean them.

  3. David, I appreciate the direction of your article very much.  I would however, disagree with you on what “credit” I would give former Mayor Langford for any of Birmingham’s success.  Whatever ideas he had, on balance I believe his actions did much to damage the City, both creating negative national perception and by being nothing but a divisive lightning rod throughout his tenure.  Political figures always ready and willing to play the race card, and ultimately fail, generally end up as evidence and fodder for the John Bennetts and Paul Kerseys of the world.  Larry Langford destroyed the County and would have the City. When I think of your title I am reminded of the old saying, “nothing good ever came from a dishonest man.”  I think it is appropriate to judge him by his actions and leadership, and not simply his ideas.  He embarrassed us. Good riddance.

    On the other hand, I believe right now we have a Mayor who is an honest and ethical public servant, works hard and humbly for our city, and does not bring race into the conversation.  Which is what Birmingham desperately has needed for a very long time. 

    Thank you for providing this forum for thought. 


  4. *I would certainly give Langford credit for the park, but does anyone remember the idea of the fountains?  Look, not to throw cold water on anything, but we still have issues with education and mass transit.  Hats off to Mayor Bell and the entire city council.  Let’s see if we can keep the momentum going.  

    By the way, a bunch of us rode bikes from Homewood through Birmingham and Mountain Brook- we had a blast!  Great riding areas, beautiful scenery, and maybe something to crow about.  

  5. Good article. But I think you fail to mention that Railroad Park and the move back into Birmingham began under the good stewardship of Bernard Kincaid, who worked to pay down the city debt and did not raise taxes. Frankly, the good climate began as the city started the turn around under the fiscally sound leadership of Mayor Kincaid/
    Bernard is through with politics, but his legacy should be a positive legacy


  6. *I’m sorry, but I absolutely refuse to give Larry Langford any respect or credit for the turnaround that this area has made in the last 3-4 years. Langford managed to ruin the county fiscally and turn Birmingham into a laughing stock within the space of a decade. He was instrumental in the bad sewer bond deal that we are still with to this day. Does no one remember his sack cloth and ashes shindig? How about his bid for the 2022 Olympics (and application that cost taxpayers $500,000) ? Does no one remember that he never actually resided in the city? Langford may have had ideas, but that’s all they were, ideas. He can bitch and moan from his jail cell all he wants, but I couldn’t care less.

  7. It is good to see positive stories about Birmingham in the national media for a change, and there are lots of good things happening here.  In spite of the concerns over the I-22/59 bridge, businesses see the value of being located in the city.  There are many advantages to the highway system, access to a strong labor pool, all kinds of high tech/medical  expertise.  Bankers that are willing and strong enough to lend for capital projects.

    I have been impressed this last year with the quality and the quantity of the tax abatement applications to the Industrial Development Board from companies seeking to expand or relocate here.  The City offers a full compliment of incentives designed to attract companies that will add jobs and build the tax base.  That fact has not gone unnoticed by site selection professionals that work with BBA and the State.  Let’s keep the “BUZZ” going.

  8. I also read and was very pleased with the article about Birmingham becoming a “hot” city again.   Many of my Facebook friends from Birmingham proudly reposted this article on their Facebook pages.  It was certainly a tribute to what we have accomplished in recent years. 

    I read this article on Yahoo and then scrolled down to read the comments section.  I was shocked and dismayed to see that almost 100% were negative, disbelieving comments.  Even worse, some of the negativity came from people who live in Birmingham now or have lived here in the past.  Our crime rate was mentioned and it was misstated (several times) that the city is in bankruptcy.  I did my best to refute and explan these inaccuracies.  There were also comments made regarding the fact that the picture included with the article showed only white people.

    I was beyond sad to read that there is still such negativity surrounding our fair city, both from outside and from within.  I know I’m ‘preaching to the choir’ saying this to you.  It is clear that we have a long way to go to correct these inaccurate perceptions of Birmingham.

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