The big controversy currently is whether the City of Birmingham should fund maintenance for Railroad Park.
I love Railroad Park as do many of you. Almost everyone agrees it has been the catalyst for just about everything good that has happened to Birmingham since it opened.
First there was Railroad Park, then Regions Field, the Rotary Trail, and a then an unending list of announced projects. When the modern history of Birmingham is written, it will be clear that Railroad Park changed everything.
I can’t imagine in my wildest dreams that we would allow it to fail.
But what about funding? Who should pay to keep Railroad Park going?
Everyone assumes it should be the City of Birmingham—who else? The City along with many generous supporters built it. They should keep it funded.
That seems logical, but allow me to make an observation based on a recent experience.
I live in Vestavia Hills. Homewood is just down the hill from me.
Homewood just built a magnificent $16 million recreational facility. I called to see about becoming a member? I was asked, “Do you live in Homewood?” I said I didn’t. They said I wasn’t eligible for membership. Should I be upset? Should anyone be upset? Maybe not–the facility was built and paid for by Homewood and its residents. However, that’s not exactly true since my family spends a great deal of money in Homewood.
Now what would happen if the City of Birmingham required that in order to enjoy Railroad Park or the Birmingham Museum of Art, you had to be a resident of Birmingham? All hell would break lose.
A recent City of Birmingham budget showed that it contributed funds to:
- Railroad Park
- Regions Field
- Ruffner Park
- McWane Center
- Birmingham Museum of Art
- Indy Racing League
- Birmingham Zoo
- Civil Rights Institute
- Lyric Theatre
- Birmingham Botanical Gardens
Just this month Birmingham was recognized in an amazing article in the Washington Post titled, 5 Free things for Visitors in Birmingham Alabama. Four of the five attractions highlighted are funded primarily by the City of Birmingham.
I see folks from Mt. Brook at Regions Field. I see folks from Trussville at the Birmingham Zoo. I see folks from Homewood at the Birmingham Museum of Art.
How many of the 35 municipalities in Jefferson County, other than Birmingham, pay anything for these amenities even though they are enjoyed by everyone?
Why should the City of Birmingham have to pay for everything?
The City Council did the right thing to fund much of the continuing expense of the Park–as they should–because they didn’t have any other option. No one else was going to do it.
But this should make us reconsider our unfair/segmented/ government structure.
Birmingham should be thanked—not villainized. Birmingham has taken on the financial responsibility for all cities in Jefferson County.
I love our Homewood Community–I’m proud to be a neighbor, but they won’t allow me and my friends in Mt. Brook or Birmingham membership in their new recreational center. At least, for now, however, Homewood allows us to walk on its Lakeshore Trail.
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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).