Even insiders screw Birmingham

David Bronner, CEO RSA
David Bronner, CEO RSA

I’ve written repeatedly how Birmingham’s always been dominated by outsiders.

U.S Steel headquartered in Pittsburgh, once Birmingham’s largest employer, controlled our economy.

Montgomery, our state capital, has historically treated Birmingham like a step child.

The UA Board of Trustees in Tuscaloosa calls the shots for our now largest employer UAB.

And through recent acquisitions many of our largest companies and banks are now managed from out of state.

But then I was reminded by a recent piece in al.com about the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) that Birmingham isn’t even treated fairly by our own friends.

The al.com piece focuses on RSA CEO David Bronner’s sometimes questionable investment strategies, but what is obvious is how poorly Bronner has treated Birmingham.

Look what Bronner and the RSA have done for Montgomery and Mobile:

“In Montgomery, these sites include the RSA Tower Complex, the RSA Plaza, the RSA Union, the RSA Criminal Justice Center, and the RSA Headquarters. With their signature green roofs, the RSA buildings in The Gump are seemingly ubiquitous.

In Mobile, the RSA’s office holdings include the Battle House Tower, the 34-story Trustmark Building, and the newly renovated Van Antwerp Building – the jewel of the downtown district. The soft electric glow of the buildings can be seen from miles away at night.

Altogether, the buildings were valued at more than $638 million.”

In the 1980’s, 90’s, and 2000’s when Michael Calvert was the President of Operation New Birmingham, he constantly made efforts to convince the RSA to be even handed with Birmingham—but was totally ignored.

In the above noted article, Bronner is quoted, “If you take away all our investments in Alabama, we’d be in bad shape,  Mobile would be a ghost town. Downtown Montgomery would not exist.”

But what about Birmingham—the largest  city in Alabama?  Downtown Birmingham has completely been left out.

Birmingham has to be one of the unluckiest cities in America–controlled by others and overlooked by our friends.  It’s truly remarkable we are now ‘kicking butt and taking names.’

The State Legislature recently formed a committee to examine the pension system and how it compares to other states.

Maybe we in Birmingham need to conduct our own investigation.

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 and is co-CEO of AmSher Compassionate Collections.  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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10 thoughts on “Even insiders screw Birmingham”

  1. If RSA built a large building downtown, who would fill it? How would that be a good investment for the RSA? What would happen to the owners of the other buildings downtown? Perhaps Birmingham is not the one being screwed by Bronner’s decisions. 

  2. As David Carrington said, we can get more consolidation of services, but we will not get a full merger of governments until we do something about the schools.

    I say, the only answer is vouchers.  However, that will not happen so long as we put the interests of union members over the interests of non-voting children.

  3. *The RSA does invest in Birmingham. I have met with David Bronner many times to discuss many issues. He always  ask me which Mayor (we have 32 of them in Jefferson County) does he call to talk about economic development investments? I am fine with collaberation about the 32 cities and 13 school systems in Jefferson County. Voluntary or even legislative enactment by law requiring  consolidation is not practical at this time. Trust among our elected house and senate members that purport to represent Jefferson County is very low.  There are some collaberative project in play now  among these cities and Jefferson County. Trust but verify first and foremost.

    Peace,George Munchus       

  4. It is patently absurd to think that RSA needs to invest in Birmingham, just because it did in Mobile and Montgomery.  Any teacher should be prepared to challenge the RSA if it were to change its respective policies simply to placate to bloggists and politicians.  

    Frankly, it is up to the city of Birmingham to create investment opportunities that are positioned to deliver reasonable returns and with some degree of safety.  By simply avoiding plopping an office building somewhere in our town is not a reason to create an investigation.  

    The RSA is not a government funding agency.  It is a pension plan with the responsibility of protecting retirement assets of teachers and others.  Would you treat your personal retirement account the same way you would a political football?

  5. *David, don’t bemoan the absence of RSA investments in downtown Birmingham. We’re not a ghost town in the least– au contraire– and, in my view, what RSA typically builds is over-scaled and–  ahem, let’s face it–  at least a little gaudy and tacky.  Besides, they mow down historic districts and ignore local guidelines in order to build these gigantic structures, and they think they’re doing everybody a big favor.  RSA is surely a boon to Alabama, but don’t bemoan their absence in Birmingham’s downtown.   It’s doing quite well without them, don’t you think?

    Best,    Linda


  6. Of course the RSA has constantly shafted Birmingham. I am glad someone is finally calling them out. The entire state government has shafted the city as well. But what about the Birmingham Business Alliance? You can’t get much more insider than that. Since Brian Hilson has become president, the BBA has not recruited a single company to the city of Birmingham. Multiple officials from the city and county have commented on Brian Hilson touting Hunstville at airshows and trade conventions. Huntsville has landed Remington, Polaris and several others since Hilson became president of the BBA. Many members of the board of the BBA are sellouts to the city of Birmingham. They don’t live in the city and they have sold their companies to foreign entities. Their Ray Watts butt-kissing was a slap in the face of the city. The BBA has been a MAJOR IMPEDIMENT to the growth of this city.

  7. *My issue with RSA coming to Birmingham is that their properties have an unfair cost advantage over privately owned properties. Because of their unique position, they can build or renovate buildings at a considerably lower cost, they have little or no financing cost and debt service, and long with their tax situation, the rent is much lower than their privately owned counter parts. The fact that their break even cost are so much lower and the fact that they do not have to show a profit provides them with an unfair advantage over other similar properties. If you will research both Mobile and Montgomery you will find that when each of their projects were completed, there were no new tenants coming from other regions. Since their rents were so much cheaper, they took tenant from all the other buildings in the immediate vicinity. I can name one high rise office building in downtown Mobile that became totally vacant and closed down. I find this not completely unlike the City of Birmingham putting store fronts commercial space in the parking decks then subsidizing the rent with tax payer’s money when there is over 60,0000 square feet of vacant retail space currently available. Or them building the “Medical Forum Building” then renting space out at nine dollars per square foot when the market for similar space was sixteen dollars or higher.

  8. I would hardly call David Bronner an insider.  Everybody south of Clinton hates Birminham and its been that way for 200 years.

  9.  requests from Mayors Arrington, Kincaid and Langford to assist with projects like a new consolidated office for DHR, a State Office Building for the scattered  state offices in the Birmingham area in rented buildings, and a new Social Security Building. These would have been leased by the State and not competed with private office buildings except for the State Office Building. The consolidtion of these offices would facilitate coordination with each other and better serve the citizens.

    Reportedly Bronner is unhappy that the City of Birmingham has its own pension system and doesn’t have RSA manage it. Perhaps for this reason, his relationship with Birmingham’s mayors wS not cooperative. Of course our dysfunction Jefferson County delegation allows Birmingham, which represents one-fourth of Alabama’s economy, to be neglected by Bronner and the State of Alabama generally. 

  10. *RSA Birmingham Investments

     Here are a list of investments the RSA has made in Birmingham:

    Danberry in Inverness

    Daniel Senior Living, LLC

    Dole Foods

    Drummond Company

    First Alabama Bancshares

    US Steel

    Renaissance Birmingham
    Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa

    Robert Trent Jones Golf
    Course at Ross Bridge

    Robert Tent Jones Golf
    Course at Oxmoor Valley

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