Gene Hallman: 5 myths about a Birmingham dome

Gene Hallman
Gene Hallman, President and CEO of Bruno Event Team

ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.

Today’s guest blogger is Gene Hallman.  If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.

They said no one would go to Railroad Park.

They said no one would go watch the Barons play baseball downtown.

They said downtown was dead.

Guess what?  They were wrong.

Now it’s time to talk about our biggest and most rewarding project.

The dome to some people is a foul four-letter word.  Arguably, the dome, or the multi-purpose facility, is the most hotly and widely debated project in the history of Birmingham.  More than 18 years in the making, the quest for the dome has become a very emotional issue.  Allow me to discuss some of the misconceptions surrounding this project.

Myth #1: Birmingham doesn’t have a professional sports team, so why the dome?

Truth: A professional sports team would frankly be a huge drain on the finances of a Birmingham dome.  Team owners require much of the facility’s operating income generated from parking, concessions, merchandise and sponsorships.  Every feasibility study done regarding the Birmingham dome has assumed no professional sports team as a tenant, and all studies have highlighted our region’s need for the facility.

The new facility would allow us to effectively maximize our reputation as a great sports event host.  Legion Field, built in 1927, is no longer competitive when trying to lure prestigious sporting events to our region. BJCC was built in the early 70’s and is host to a wide variety of events, but it also is no longer competitive with comparable facilities throughout the Southeast.

Myth #2: Birmingham is not a convention and trade show destination.

Truth: According to the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau, traveler expenditures in Jefferson County in 2012 reached $1.54 billion.  The total estimated number of overnight visitors totaled more than 4 million.  Hotel managers estimated that 59% of overnight guests in 2012 came to the city specifically for business or conventions.  That number would have grown substantially had there been more convention floor space at the BJCC, creating availability for multiple groups to simultaneously book conventions or trade shows. The BJCC and the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau can document the countless conventions and trade shows that the city has lost due to limited convention facilities.

Here’s one thing to know about domes—they are utilized very effectively as convention facilities.  The transformation from a sports facility to a convention hall can happen quickly by lowering ceiling lights and moving in temporary walls.  The BJCC’s total available convention floor space would be increased by 73% with the addition of the Dome and allow us to capture many of these missed convention opportunities.  Domes are used on average 150-175 days per year, and most of this utilization is for conventions and trade shows.

MYTH #3: A New BJCC arena is the next big step for Birmingham.

Truth: A new arena would be a costly investment relative to our community’s needs. A typical arena has 15,000 square feet of floor space while a typical dome has more than 100,000 square feet of floor space. As mentioned above, this Dome floor space is much needed for the Birmingham convention and trade show business. An arena would not enhance our convention capabilities whatsoever. And most facility experts estimate arena construction is 70-85% of the cost of a comparably constructed Dome.

Myth #4: Stadiums are a drain on local governments.

Truth:  An article printed several years ago in The New York Times and reprinted by The Birmingham News stated that stadiums and ballparks rarely pay for themselves and are a bad investment for cities.  That article referred to facilities built specifically for professional sports teams and their wealthy owners, most of which were outdoor facilities with limited use capabilities.  It is comparing apples to oranges to infer that the facility examples in the article are comparable to Birmingham’s circumstances.

Study after study has concluded that a Birmingham regional Dome would generate incremental tax revenues from visitors that over a 30-year period would provide any public funding a positive Return on Investment.

Myth #5:  We can’t afford it.

Truth:  Using today’s economic indicators, much of the funding needed for this new facility is already secured. Already earmarked for this project are four taxes that were previously passed by the state legislature, including an alcohol and lodging tax.  The land for this new facility has already been purchased and sits across the street from SEC Headquarters and the growing Entertainment District.

A similar facility debate raged in Birmingham in the late 1960’s.  It revolved around the construction of the current BJCC complex.  The opponents of the proposed new project thought that our then current facility, Boutwell Auditorium, was sufficient for our community needs and that we did not need a new “gym”.  Imagine a Birmingham community today with Boutwell Auditorium as our one and only civic center complex.

We have a new Birmingham where everything is possible.  The groundwork is laid—it’s time to take our next big step.

Gene Hallman is President and CEO of Bruno Event Team, the largest dedicated sports event management company in the U.S.. Gene has been in the sports marketing field for 22 years.

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David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown, a co-founder of Buzz12 Advertising Agency 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 “Gene Hallman: 5 myths about a Birmingham dome”

  1. Very informative information on why Birmingham needs a dome. Gene and his team have done so much to bring prominent events to Birmingham. Unfortunately, they are limited to some major events because the lack of a dome facility. Many of these events are non-sporting events. As a former non-advocate of a dome over the years I personally think it is time.

  2. *I have known jean since the inception of his company over 25 years ago . Along with Ron Bruno, they have set a standard that we all should be proud of and mimic in our own ways. They have always thought outside the box just as the great founders of our community did 130 years ago . It’s time to return to that kind of positive thinking … Simply believing in ourselves and in the community. The genes of greatness are still here but have become dormant under what seems to be an acquired inferiority complex. All we need is charismatic leadership to awaken the communal DNA to return Greater Birmingham to its Magic path as one of the finest places on earth to live. Our assets far exceed  our liabilities. Our greatest asset our citizens are waiting to be led. A professionally designed and planned facility that represents our dreams and aspirations should be built regardless of cost.

  3. The time is truly right to move forward with a dome or multipurpose facility for our city!  The excitement generated by the Barons’ return to their rightful home, as well as the good citizens of Birmingham embracing the downtown area as a great place to live and work is returning that genuine magic to our town.  

    I can envision a photograph of third avenue ablaze with thousands of citizens and visitors attending events at the Alabama and Lyric theaters. Twentieth street and second avenue continue to birth new restaurants, lofts, shops,and apartments as young and older professionals alike become more and more involved in the excitement. Nowhere in the south are there more creative and hospitable entrepreneurs currently investing their time and efforts to bring about the renaissance that is occurring right here while the “haters” continue to drown in their own negativity.  

    Welcome to BIRMINGHAM – “The MAGIC CITY”

  4. *So I’ll do my usual and cut right to the heart of the matter…funding. In 2008 the following taxes were raised by 1% in an effort to fund the dome project in some way shape or form:  auto sales tax, farm, general, manufacturing, and vending. In 2011 the lodging tax was raised 3.5% specificaly for the dome project. The funding is already secured, well much of it anyway. What Gene failed to mention is that much more funding will be needed for years to come. Where will this extr funding come from…tax payers of course.

    Now don’t get me wrong I am not against the dome. I am against politicians using tax revenue for their own pet projects. In 1998 Jefferson county voted on a proposed “referendum” public funded dome project. The proposal was soundly defeated 57% – 43%. If I recall the resounding “no” votes came mostly from the white suburban community. Why are taxes being raised and used for a project that failed at the ballot box? Why does a mayor and city council vote in 2009 to earmark $8 million per year toward a project that people voted down?

    I honestly am neither a big supporter or antagonist of the idea of a dome. I am however a big supporter of open and honest government, which it is obvious we currently do not have. If the “citizens” decide by vote they don’t want a dome then the politicians should honor that. The is true if the citizens want a dome. Politicians should be servents to the citizens not the other way around.

    If the truth be told I just want to be the guy to coin the latest anacronym. We’ve had MAPS, Metropolitian Area Projects & Strategy. Then there was cRAPS, citizens for Real Accountability Progress & Solutions. One of my favorites was DUMB, Dome Unnecessary in Metro Birmingham (who calls themselves dumb!?). So my suggestion is MAJIC Birmingham…Making Atlanta Jealous In the City of Birmingham!!!   That has got to be a winner! 

    Next item, what to name the dome & complex. The most obvious name at this point has got to be Ronald Sims Expo. 

    If the idea of a dome continues to be pushed forward I would like to see another referendum proposed. I believe it only fair to require total funding for a set period of time (5, 10, 20, 30 years) and the source of that funding (what taxes are to be raised). Then I would ask all the politicians and folks who have a vested interest in the project (Mr. Hallman to name one) abide by the referndum results for the period of time outlined in funding. Anotherwords if the proposal designates 10 years of funding by “x” taxes then those folks should actively vote & support the funding measures for 10 years, and the same would be true if flipped. Should the referendum fail then the politicians honor the citizens vote for the same specified time (in this case the example was 10 years). This would be very helpful in identifying which politicians are truely servents of the people.

    I for one will be excited to see if Gene and the county commissioners are able to get Mr. Sims on board. That should make for some interesting conversation.        

  5. *Great job Gene. I agree to move Birmingham forward and try to keep up with other medium sized southern cities we need to get this done. I moved here after the MAPS project was voted down and they used Oklahoma City as a prime example as to why to vote against it. I lived in OKC when the downtown revitilazation was going on and it was a tremendous boom for OKC. That town has been transformed. Let’s keep the momentum that is going on downtown and let’s get this multi purpose facility built.

  6. What people often forget is that governments are not private corporations.  The things governments provide are things like safety (police and fire) and transportation (Roads, bridges and public transportation for those cities that have them).  Not all government facilities are built to make a profit.  Many government facilities are for the citizens to enjoy.  Does Oak Mountain State Park make money?  Do we even discuss it?  Railroad Park? Etc.

    I grew up with the ability to see the SEC basketball tournament in Birmingham every year.  Our BJCC was considered one of the finest, and even the SunBelt Conference tournaments used to sell out.  Legion Field was a good facility for Alabama, the Americans, the Vulcans and the Stallions.  Those were fun games to attend.

    Unfortunately, those facilities are old and dilapidated. It’s time for something new to provide us as citizens more activities to enjoy as well as conventions to help offset any costs.  The concerts, NCAA Tourney games, and other great events will return to our city.  It is past time to do this.  Nashville not only got together as one government, but they also built a world class arena and stadium.  It set the City in motion.  Now they have an incredible convention facility which was just completed.  Atlanta is starting on its second dome and another baseball stadium after only 17 years.  Look at all the comparable cities to Birmingham. 

    We aren’t building a dome to be these cities.  We are building a dome so that we have amenities we can enjoy.  Additionally, it will create development – hotels, restaurants, etc.  It is also another tool our governments can use to lure businesses back to our community.  We have lost so many Fortune 500 companies, and having facilities such as regions field and a new dome are attractive to these employers/employees.

    Build it and replace our old and rundown arenas.  We only have to look South to Regions Field to see what is possible.

  7. *I would love to be part of an offline
    discussion on this topic. I have spent the last 14 years booking more
    meetings and events outside of Birmingham than in. I would love to see
    that change. I am attaching an article and video to go along with what Gene is
    saying about generating jobs and revenue. To me, it is very important
    that this facility be conducive to the variety of different consumers.
    Sporting events are very different from convention events and the
    flexibility to pull them all off under one roof would be key to it’s
    success. I think the versatility of this complex could put Birmingham
    on the map for much more than just exhibits and sporting events.

    Another perspective on the economic impact of meetings and conventions can be found through this Meetings Mean Business video.  It should inspire us to want this for our Comeback Town! 

  8. Since the first talk about a Dome, I have raised the issue about

    the underfunded status of our MAX public transit system.

    Those who would be involved in carrying the banner of a

    Dome/Expanded Civic Center campaign must include

    a funding component for public transportation. We live

    in a massive metropolitan area. Transit service is available

    in a fraction of this multi-city population of more than one

    million or more citizens, many of whom do not own or can

    afford a car. A modern 7-day-a-week transit system would

    bring more of these customers to a Civic Center/Dome complex.

    I would urge the planners not to overlook this potential customer

    base by failing to include a MAX transit funding plan as a priority 

    in the BIG PLAN. Please include Mrs. Ann August, MAX General

    Manager on that team. She is a experienced transit manager who

    can provide valuable advice to the planning team.. – John Wright, Jr. 


  9. This is really what is needed in this community to continue the positive momentum that’s already created. Mr. Hallman has really been a positive breath of fresh air with all he and his colleagues do in this community. I really hope a project of this nature can take place over the next couple years.

  10. John Rogers Gets His Dream – and Gene is the only trusted leader in this enterprise…I agree with many of the above as it’s well overdue…if we can collaborate as a community, regardless of agenda and free from coruptive pocket lining, then we will have the opportunity to leverage what the new Birmingham can bring to the southeast. 

  11. The best available research is solidly against government funding for stadiums. Here’s a 2008 summary from economists Dennis Coates and Brad Humphreys: In this podcast, Coates and Humphreys explain in greater detail how spending governments waste resources when they spend money on stadiums:

  12. This project is needed. What’s not needed is a downsized 40,000 seat arena/stadium hybrid. There is a reason that structures with similar capacity rarely exist. Usually too small or two large to adequately accommodate the events they’re intended to serve. Obviously, the added floor space is sorely needed. But unless the structure can, at the very least, expand to a more modest capacity (think 60,000 to 70,000), we’ll be wasting away a prime opportunity.

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