Birmingham: Young professional stopped in his tracks

Jonathan Pinnick
Jonathan Pinnick

Comebacktown published by David Sher & Phyllis Neill to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.

Today’s guest blogger is Jonathan Pinnick . (We love when young professionals are guest bloggers)

I saw something during a recent trip to Regions Field that made me stop in my tracks. It was so exciting that I had to tell almost everyone I saw for the next week.

It wasn’t anything about the ballpark itself, though it is beautiful. It wasn’t anything about the game, which was great and ended with one of the many wins earned by the Birmingham Barons this season.

No, what I saw were people, thousands of people. People of all ages and backgrounds were spending time together; something I feel is unfortunately rare in Birmingham.

Regions Field and Railroad Park are both still in their infancies, but I think it is safe to label both of the developments as successes. That’s because together they have accomplished what so many other recent developments have failed to do: They actually provide something of value to the city’s residents.

 Invest in the city, not in the out-of-towners

Too often city leaders pour money into projects that make headlines but in the end don’t really make a difference.

Take Uptown, the new $70 million hotel and entertainment district adjacent to the BJCC. It isn’t really for city residents, it’s for out-of-towners. Sure it may be a destination for an occasional night out, but it’s really more of a selling point to help attract new conventions.

The same goes for the $46 million Birmingham Crossplex. It has succeeded in bringing in out-of-town guests for sporting events but outside of a small and sporadic boost for nearby businesses, what has it contributed to the Five Points West community?

The same argument can really be made for the city’s spending on big events such as the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama and yes, even the Magic City Classic. The events bring in out-of-towners, people have a good time and everyone spends money. Some of that money even trickles down to the city business and into the city coffers. But when the events close, Birmingham’s communities haven’t changed.

Money swirls in, money swirls out and in the end the community looks about the same.

Put the residents first

Regions Field and Railroad Park are succeeding because they are focused on the community. They were designed to fit into the existing community and were designed for the existing community. They are accessible and affordable enough to attract people from all parts of the city, and are even bringing visitors in from the suburbs.

Since 1960, 128,000 people have left the city. What may have started as white flight has become a diverse flow of residents draining over the mountain, to other suburbs and simply out of the area altogether. To stem the tide of departures, the city must give residents a reason to stay.

Our elected leaders must strengthen the communities and neighborhoods that make up our city, not just pour money into developments that do nothing for the residents.

The investments don’t have to be sizable to be significant. We don’t need $64 million stadiums across the city. That’s not necessary or even reasonable. Start small.

Keep parks updated, clean and safe. Make sure streetlights work and streets are paved. Promote community events to nearby residents. Encourage small businesses that open up within neighborhoods.

Support the work of neighborhood groups and find ways to make all city residents feel that they have a stake in the betterment of the city.

These efforts require city leaders to get into all of the communities, to talk with residents and find out what would make a difference in their lives and what would keep them from leaving the city.

Asking that question is what gets us to the difficult part, the part that doesn’t just involve spending money. That’s because the answer to that last question will often include variations of two themes: Crime and education.

The next steps

Those two issues, whether they are real or just perceived, are the twin 800-pound gorillas forcing people from our city. The flow of residents out will not be reversed until people in all parts of Birmingham feel safe in their homes and parents feel like their children are getting a quality education.

The good news is that stronger communities can help both of those problems.

And if Birmingham waits until both problems have been solved to start investing in its residents, it will be too late.

So kudos to the city, business and community leaders who have helped to create the city’s newest attractions and a round of applause to the residents who really made them successful.

Now, let’s get back to work.

Jonathan Pinnick works as the business and marketing manager for a local law firm. He was born and raised in Indiana and relocated to Alabama five years ago. He now lives in Birmingham with his wife and daughters where he continues to be a hopeful Notre Dame football fan.  (Editors note:  Jonathan and his wife had their second daughter two weeks ago)

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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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4 thoughts on “Birmingham: Young professional stopped in his tracks”

  1. *While I agree with Mr. Pinnick that we should be investing in areas that make living in Birmingham more enjoyable for our locals, the idea that we should invest less in attracting conventions to Birmingham is completely off base. According to a study conducted by a national research travel firm, in 2012 tourism and visitors had an estimated $1.54 billion impact on our local economy and total full time jobs supported by our tourism industry was over 36,000. Take those dollars and jobs out of our economy and it would be a tremendous negative impact. The thought of Uptown being only for visitors is also off base, just visit the Todd English PUB before a concert or before one of the touring Broadway Plays. One of our biggest drawbacks in attracting conventions has been the lack of restaurants and bars within walking distance of the BJCC. When all of Uptown opens, it will have a positive impact on our ability to attract more conventions and events, which will bring in more dollars and tax dollars to fund those local projects you desire.  I also suggest you visit the Crossplex on any given weekend and see how our local track athletes  and swimmers are benefiting from this world class facility. While you’re there, check with Samford, Birmingham Southern, and the SEC to see how much they plan to utilize Crossplex. We haven’t seen much development in that area, but I promise you the city is working on that. We have had groups from out of town use Regions Field and Railroad Park, so those are being used by both visitors and locals. Working together to build a better Birmingham for our residents and for our visitors is not an “either or” situation. Both sides are winning when positive things happen and right now we’re all winning.   

  2. Brent,

    for your response and I apologize for the delay in mine. I want to
    start by saying that I don’t think of this as an “either or”
    situation. Out-of-town visitors are certainly important to the city
    but not more than the city’s own residents. That is how I want to see
    the city’s investments and focus tip, in the direction of the
    residents. I would be interested to read that full study about the
    economic impact of tourism if you could point me in that direction,
    but even with the headline number, it represents only 2.6% of the
    metro area’s $58.99 billion GDP in 2012. Nothing to ignore certainly
    but I would rather see more of a focus placed on the remaining 97.4%
    of the area’s economy.

    believe that a sure sign of a successful development is the ability
    to spawn other developments and investments. So far Uptown hasn’t
    been able to fill all of ts own doors, let alone spawn new
    investments. I know there are promises of better things in the
    future, but even with the city’s $70 million investment, there is
    only Uptown, nothing else.

    Crossplex has been open for more than two years and again there have
    been promises but as it stands now the complex stands alone
    surrounded by empty and sometimes overgrown lots waiting for
    developments. It certainly benefits local colleges but not so much
    the local community members.

    point of my blog was to show that the real successes in community
    developments, the ones that inspire current residents, attract new
    residents and new investments, come when developments fit into the
    community. Railroad Park and Regions Field do and because of that,
    the public investments have been rewarded with tens of millions of
    dollars of additional private investments, creating sustainable
    growth for the city. They breathe life into the city and provide hope
    that maybe the exodus from the city could slow. We aren’t there yet
    and Regions Field is not nearly enough to slow that flow. But it has
    done dramatically more for the residents, the people the city leaders
    represent, than any other recent project. My opinion is that so far
    the Crossplex and Uptown do not fit naturally and because of that, we
    are still waiting for their greater impact on our community.

    goal of building a better Birmingham should be to benefit the
    residents. Our visitors are a means to that end and yes they do
    benefit as well from a stronger city, but the focus should remain on
    the 97.4%.

  3. crossplex development is coming in the distance near future

    and the uptown entertainment district was the place to be during empowerment week…

    a lot of times, thing works fast and others comes along. just picture in 3-4 years at all the entertainment ventures that’s going to be happening in birmingham



  4. As the Birmingham CrossPlex project manager during its construction and opening,  I can attest that the idea of the CrossPlex came from citizens of the Birmingham area who realized that our young athletes, boys and girls, who participate in sports other than football, needed a place to practice and compete.  The economic impact of the CrossPlex has been huge….economic impact is all about the citizens, not the visitors.  The CrossPlex has yet to reach its full potential because the site is not fully developed.  You may not realize the impact on the citizens because you don’t live and work in Ensley…Its a wonderful thing the city did putting it where it is, rather than the suburbs owning it.  Just watch what will happen to the interchange on I-20/59 when the full site is developed.  They have built it and the development to support it will come and enhance the lives of the citizens of Birmingham and surrounding communities.  Take a look at what they are planning for the future and take a look at the increased level of participation in our state in just track and field…track and swimming are both lifetime sports and do not require a helmet.

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