Okay, I should have titled this column, “How Trussville, Adamsville, Hueytown, and Pleasant Grove mucked up Birmingham’s future.”
I’m repeatedly surprised by the animosity between our suburbs and the City of Birmingham.
The lack of trust between our City and its suburbs continually plays havoc with our progress.
I’m going to tell you a story.
Once upon a time there was a county located in the State of Alabama named Jefferson.
There were four suburbs of Birmingham in Jefferson County–Adamsville, Hueytown, Pleasant Grove, and Trussville. They were the ringleaders, but they had plenty of company.
To add to the intrigue—there was the infamous “PLAN B.”
The citizens of Jefferson County held a vote on August 4, 1998 that literally stopped progress in our region for more than a decade.
In the mid ‘90’s when I was Board Chair of Operation New Birmingham (now REV Birmingham), I got a call from Michael Calvert, ONB President, to attend breakfast with Rick Horrow, a facility development consultant with the National Football League and Nick Sellers, a bright young athlete just out of college, who currently is a high level executive at Alabama Power.
Harrow enthusiastically described an economic development initiative called MAPS (Metropolitan Area Projects Plan) that had been modeled after a similar Oklahoma City initiative.
MAPS was an ingenious idea
MAPS was to be a multi-year program to tackle capital projects funded by a temporary sales tax (allowing projects to be paid for in cash, without incurring debt), administered by a separate dedicated city staff funded by the sales tax, and supervised by a volunteer citizen’s oversight committee. No risk of debt and limited interference from politicians.
MAPS turned Oklahoma City around
In the 1980’s and early ‘90’s, Oklahoma was a financial mess. The state’s energy business collapsed, financial institutions failed and Oklahoma City was left with too much vacant real estate and no future.
The voters of Oklahoma City approved MAPS in December, 1993 to include a one cent sales tax to raise $350 million for nine economic development projects.
It funded developments like a multipurpose arena for the Oklahoma City Barons Hockey Team; the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, home of the Oklahoma City RedHawks; the Ford Center (now called the Chesapeake Energy Arena) that led to the recruitment of the NBA Oklahoma City Thunder; and development of the Oklahoma Spirit Trolleys, a trolley-replica bus network.
The original MAPS developments have been so successful that Oklahoma City has repeated it two more times: MAPS for Kids–a $700 million initiative to improve schools; and MAPS 3–a $700 million program for eight more projects to include a new Convention Center; a new Downtown Public Park – 70 acres, including festival areas and a state of the art Streetcar/Transit system with an inter-modal transit hub.
MAPS has had a significant impact on Oklahoma City, both economically and from a quality of life standpoint. Since its inception “nearly $5 billion in economic impact can be attributed to the original MAPS program. This represents a nearly 10-fold return on the city’s original investment.”
When Michael Calvert and I met with Rick Horrow and Nick Sellers twenty years ago, we learned that Birmingham’s corporate and political leadership had come together to replicate Oklahoma City’s initial success.
Our MAPS proposed the same one penny sales tax as Oklahoma City to fund eleven projects that included a domed stadium and light rail (1/4 cent of the sales tax was earmarked for public transit).
Birmingham suburbs killed MAPS
The referendum passed in the city of Birmingham with 60 percent of the vote, but failed virtually everywhere else in Jefferson County. In some boxes in Jefferson County, the vote against the referendum was as much as 80 percent.
The Adamsville City Council, Hueytown City Council, Pleasant Grove City Council and Trussville City Council all passed resolutions opposing MAPS.
City of Birmingham voters overwhelmingly voted for MAPS–the surrounding communities killed it.
The irony of MAPS
Can you imagine where Birmingham would be today if we had passed MAPS in 1998?
The projects we are working on today would have been completed more than a decade ago and we would now be concentrating on 2nd and 3rd generations of development.
We still don’t have a solution for Legion Field or an expanded convention center. We don’t have a permanent funding source for public transportation or light rail.
Ironically, the Jefferson County Commission passed a one cent sales tax a few years after the MAPS vote to fund school construction. So today we are paying that sales tax without the benefit of the proposed transformational MAPS projects.
Many Birmingham companies that supported MAPS are gone
In addition, many of the corporations that funded the MAPS campaign are no longer in business, were bought out, or moved away. So they are not available to fund future initiatives.
Some of MAP funders who no longer exist in Birmingham:
- SouthTrust Bank
- Colonial Properties Trust
There was no ‘Plan B”
The opponents of MAPS (called ‘RAPS’–Real Accountability, Progress, and Solutions) pointed to the flaws in the initiative and promised that if MAPS was defeated they would come back with a Plan B.
Eighteen years later, we are still waiting for Plan B.
What we learned
The next time our Birmingham region has a once in a lifetime opportunity, let’s say ‘yes.’
The prosperity of our suburbs depends on the prosperity of Birmingham.
Like it or not, we are all in this together.
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 Co-Founder 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).
Invite David to speak to your group about a better Birmingham. firstname.lastname@example.org