Why would anyone want to vacation in Birmingham?

The Vulcan statue--largest cast iron statue in the world
The Vulcan statue–largest cast iron statue in the world

I get jealous when I visit other cities with major tourist attractions.

Birmingham just doesn’t seem to be competitive.

But with a little imagination, we could do much better.

At the end of this piece, I would like to hear your ideas.

Atlanta has the Georgia Aquarium; New Orleans–the French Quarter and Bourbon Street.

Huntsville has the Space and Rocket Center; Nashville, the Grand Ole Opry; Memphis, Graceland;  Chattanooga, Rock City, Ruby Falls, the Incline, Chattanooga Choo Choo and Tennessee Aquarium.

But what local amenities do we have to entice families to travel hundreds of miles to experience Birmingham?

Yes, we have some unique tourist attractions which I’ll discuss in a moment, but others are not major national or regional draws.

We love our Birmingham Zoo, Railroad Park, Red Mountain Park, Rotary Trail, Regions Field, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Botanical Gardens, McWane Science Center and the Alabama and Lyric Theatres, but many other cities have zoos, parks, museums, old theatres, and stadiums.

Recently my family drove to Atlanta to tour the Georgia Aquarium. The number of families visiting that day was staggering.

A guide told us that Bernie Marcus, one of the founders of the Home Depot, gave a gift to the city of Atlanta of $250 million to build the aquarium. The Coca-Cola Company donated the land and another $40 million was raised so that the aquarium opened debt free in 2005. In 2010 there was a $110 million expansion and there is another $100 expansion in the works. The aquarium generates enough money to fund these additions.

Through the years it has been suggested that Birmingham build an aquarium—but we would never be able to compete with Atlanta and there’s a very nice aquarium located nearby in Chattanooga.

I often hear ideas about copying some tourist concept from another city to bring to Birmingham—but Birmingham needs to develop tourist attractions that are unique  to Birmingham.

Unique to Birmingham

Here are seven unique attractions that have the potential to turn Birmingham into a mecca for tourists:

  1. Vulcan
  2. Barber Vintage Motorsports
  3. Civil Right history
  4. Alabama Walk of Fame
  5. Sloss Furnaces
  6. Red Mountain Cut
  7. Rickwood Field

These are one-of-a-kind attractions unique to Birmingham and not easily replicated.

1, Vulcan is the largest cast iron statue in the world and our city’s symbol reflecting our roots in the iron and steel industry.  It was recently upgraded with new computer generated lights, landscaping, and hiking trail.

But how about building a sky lift from Vulcan into Birmingham?

One of the highlights from our family trip to Atlanta was to ride The Summit Skyride, a high-speed Swiss cable car up and down Stone Mountain.

2. Our Barber Motorsports Park is world renowned–with a multi-purpose racing facility, museum, and the Porsche Track Experience.

 In 2014 Guinness World Records declared that George Barber “had more motorcycles than anyone else on the planet: around 1,500 bikes, with new ones arriving frequently.”

Mr. Barber has contributed over $100 million of his own money to make the Barber Motorsports complex world class.

3. Birmingham has been designated a Civil Rights National Monument by the U.S. National Park Service. We’re the only city in America with the A.G. Gaston Motel, Birmingham Civil Rights, Institute, 16th Street Baptist Church, Bethel Baptist Church, Kelly Ingram Park, Colored Masonic Temple, St. Paul United Methodist Church, and 4th Avenue Business District.

4. The Alabama Walk of Fame was created in 1989 to honor famous Alabamians similar to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

It’s composed of stars of rose-colored marble in the sidewalk in front of and along the Alabama Theatre.

Since the project hasn’t been upgraded in a generation, young people may not recognize many of the engraved names.

We could take great pride in honoring famous Alabamians who have passed like Harper Lee, Helen Keller and Jesse Owens; or current day celebrities and news makers like Hank Aaron, Lionel Richie, and Tim Cook.

5. Sloss Furnaces, a national historic landmark, operated from 1882-1970 was the longest continually running blast furnace in Birmingham’s history.

6.  The Red Mountain Cut  likely has more geologic history than any other road cut in the U.S. It was honored in 1987 as a National Natural Landmark.

7.  Rickwood Field is America’s oldest baseball park.

Build demand for Birmingham

Let’s juice up our local treasures, create synergies, and turn Birmingham into a national tourist attraction.

What are your ideas?

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 how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com

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29 thoughts on “Why would anyone want to vacation in Birmingham?”

  1. Here it is worthwhile to look at what is happening in other cities. I think there are several things that can be given useful further consideration.

    First is location. Many of the cities mentioned are already location at highly trafficked crossroads, usually meaning airports and interstate highways, but it would be good if it could in future include high speed railroads.

    Second. So many of our most attractive places for visitors to see are almost unknown. Our advertising is downward or non existent. For example, every time I take flight on an airplane that the airline has flights to Birmingham, such as Delta, I always look at their magazine and check to see if anything is mentioned about Birmingham. Always there is absolutely NOTHING! as in ZERO. That represent to me the failure to lett he world know what is in Birmingham. Yes that is probably because the number of Flight to Birmingham are background minuscule. That of course gets us absolutely nowhere. Pressing the bring more non stop flights to Birmingham should also reduce the difficulty of getting here from more distant places and reduce the cost and time of doing so.

    Expansion and upgrades are my third point. Yes the list of places to come and see are very good and have interests, but they could use improvement, adding such things a special places to eat, landscape improvement, expansion, ease of access. That has happened with Vulcan somewhat noticeably, but more could be done. Making it clearly the beginning point along with Sloss Furnace a starting point for touring the whole regions iron and steel and related historic industry by driving and tour buses. The sites toured could use some improvement tour. Tannehill for example is quite interesting to visit. There are others, such a seeing the mine entrances at Red Mountain Park. Where are the stories of coal and limestone told.
    More should be done about our Civil Rights District. Well could go on about this.

    This is a worthwhile subject to study. It can help add to the draw of new businesses, and better higher paying jobs. Keep up on this subject.

  2. The problem is simple, none of those unique attractions are that impressive to be honest. They don’t make anyone say “ohhh a big iron statue.” I mean we see massive iron structures all the time (skyscrapers). One shaped like a dude isn’t worth a drive and hotel room for.

    None of the cities you mentioned get their bread & butter from tourism except New Orleans and Nashville.. Both of which have extraordinary and indubitable industries. Furthermore, each of the cities you mentioned have every thing Birmingham has, but more and bigger, with exception to the Civil Rights Museum.

    But to be frank, the Civil Rights Museum doesn’t really bring lots of $ to the area. Talk to anyone from a sizable metro and as they’re bragging about their city say this “yeah but did you know we have the civil rights museum?” THey’re going to look at you and say “ok? nice.” It’s an important piece of history but people don’t jump out of bed for it… Don’t hate me, they just don’t.

    Barber is definitely a unique attraction but again, people are not flooding the streets to come there.

    Tourism is not going to be something Birmingham will ever be able to leverage unfortunately. It needs to develop industry first – perhaps automotive.

    Not being hater btw. I love Bham the way it is and love the efforts made to make it better to live in. I just get annoyed at the obsession of being on par with other cities.

    1. Scottie, I agree with much you say, but we could have said the same about Chattanooga a few years ago. When I was growing up Chattanooga was an ugly, dirty city. I see no reason for Birmingham not to aspire to be better. Ten years ago there was no Railroad Park, Red Mountain Park, Rotary Trail, or Regions Field and the Lyric hadn’t been developed.

      We love our Birmingham Zoo, Railroad Park, Red Mountain Park, Rotary Trail, Regions Field, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Botanical Gardens, McWane Science Center and the Alabama and Lyric Theatres, but many other cities have zoos, parks, museums, old theatres, and stadiums.

    2. Since further thought after my recent comment on this subject of tourism. Your coments have made it really appropriate for me to give this reply.

      Why would it be so important to have a big tourism industry in Birmingham anyway? Why? There really actually is no real basis for it.

      In addition I strongly agree with the idea of just letting Birmingham be Birmingham.

      Finally and I will probably start saying this over and over again, as I have said before: what is all this copying other cities about anyway?

      Now for my ultimate fundamental thought, one that has bee going on all my life about Birmingham: It is always a follower and never a leader in anything, not even Iron and steel. That came to Birmingham from elsewhere because of the geologically specail discovery.

      So it is high time, way past it. to start imagining the future vision for an actual Birmingham, not some missunderstandable place with a little bit of some city and a little bit of another city and so on. None of the other places frequently mentioned are in any way equivalent nor should the be thought to be. That is something to adapt to not worry about!

      Birmingham, take charge of yourself and be the best you can be. As a leader the competition is to be won, not as a lower rated mediocre follower. I trouble believe that is the problem we have and we have even been slow to discover that! Speed up. and to paraphrase the Admiral, ‘Damn the nonsense and full speed ahead!’

    3. Automotive, perhaps: buy your car in Birmingham after a tour and get a major discount? Probably would not work. AND there will something more ‘new hat’ rather than ‘old hat’ like cars that Birmingham should imagine something, inspire it, do it and then advertise it, as a special Birmingham first thing in which Birmingham is THE real leader, rather than an attempting copycat follower

    4. Our history is about making steel , The resorces of Iron ore , limestone, and coal . Maybe a trip into some of the mines would be a interest to tourist ,and tied in to the net work of trails and perhaps a hotel or two. It would be cool in the summer and warm in the winter 58 degrees . Rail system into the mine where samples could be sold, coal , iron ore, and limestone , local steel shapers artist, and forgers, could be through out the mine . Red mountain , shades mountain, and others promoting our caves, and a tour, to our mines . Other states have promoted caves, but mines have been off limits, to dangerous all the excuses not to do something different. Mining might be apart of history one day, Ok

  3. I love the Vulcan skylift idea, especially if/when Five Points becomes a happening area again. If there was a place to park at the top of the mountain (even if it means using the Vulcan parking lot when it’s closed) and take the lift down, I think it would be popular.

    Bimingham should emphasize its food scene to non-natives – maybe food tours, more food festivals, etc.
    I also think the theater scene/district could be played up, including the Sidewalk Film Festival and the really talented improv groups that Birmingham has.

    My last suggestion would be to continue fostering the creation of street art and to continue lighting up Birmingham. One of my favorite scenes at night is the view of the colorful lights from Children’s over the Regions Field sign. It seems very uniquely Birmingham.

  4. I think the Red Mountain Cut has great potential as a tourist attraction. I was reading about some of its history recently and it was a beautiful story that should be brought to life!

  5. You definitely need to add the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail to the list of unique attractions. Also the Talladega Superspeedway.
    We have a growing list of very nice parks that are becoming a destination for many who enjoy outdoor activities. We also have a growing bicycling community. Let me suggest that we connect our park system with a Rails-to-Trails system that would allow pedestrian travel between our parks. A Riverwalk has been envisioned for the Cahaba River and this would be a lovely way to connect Barber Motor Sports and the eventual Southern Museum of Flight, with Oak Mountain (sort of),and then up to Red Mountain Park. Power cuts and Rails to Trails could be used to connect to Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve, Railroad Park, and the Rotary Trail.

  6. Why does Birmingham need tourism? A: Cities prosper when they bring in money from other cities. Currently, Birmingham is behind many other SE cities in this regard. Two major ways to accomplish this – 1). Companies that trade goods and services to other cities 2). Tourism. Think of it like the old feudal city/state system.

    Here are my top ideas:
    1). Birmingham is blessed (or cursed) with an abundance of hills/mountains. Why don’t we make use of this and build a Mountain biking park right on Red Mountain. Mountain Biking is much more popular than you may think and people are willing to travel for it (I meet people at Oak Mountain all the time from Atlanta that come and bike for a weekend). Walmart built one in Bentonville and economists think it provides over $100MM in economic benefits per year to the city. This would be a relatively cheap project and I don’t think it would cost more than $5MM. We could then start branding Bham as “The Mountain Biking Capital of the South”.

    2). I really like the idea of a Red Mountain sky tram. If you’ve ever been to Pittsburg – they have something similar and it is a major tourist attraction. As an added bonus, you could put it right next to the Mountain Biking park and it could serve as a lift to get Mountain Bikers back to the top of Red Mountain 🙂

    3). We have a lot of roads downtown. Why not have a pedestrian only area that spans 4-5 blocks sort of like Las Ramblas in Barcelona (i’ll settle for Beale street 🙂 ) that has outdoor restaurants and merchants. My vote for this would be 20th Street North from Paramount to Linn Park.

    4). We need a marketing campaign to promote Birmingham both for tourism and to get people to move here. I would target areas like Mississippi, Memphis, and the other semi-large cities in Alabama. Please, not something sappy or overly emotional. I’m thinking something more like the K-Swiss commercials featuring Kenny Powers (Hilarious if you haven’t watched it) – something that is quirky and going to get everyone amped up.

    5). In the city I used to live in, there was a park very similar to railroad park and they would show movies in the summer and fall on an outdoor inflatable screen, have food trucks, and serve beer. This was an incredibly popular event!

    Mayor Woodfin – Consider this my application for Birmingham’s “Director of Fun”.

  7. Since Birmingham doesn’t believe in bike commuting (even though Regions invested in those electric bikes that nobody uses), a Mountain bike trail would be nice and unique, but since they don’t allow bikes on streets in Birmingham, kind of a waste. BUMP does a fantastic job building trails. As far as trails go, I contacted CSX railways in regards to extending the Chief Ladega trail. There is an abandoned railway that runs from Piedmont where the trail starts, to Childersburg, that CSX will not relinquish. The trail if extended into Birmingham would make a great connector that would run from Birmingham to NE of Atlanta on a fairly level bike trail, but CSX said no and then there is the Coosa River, which would require a very expensive bike bridge, the whole project was too convoluted with politics and greed. But I tried.
    I would say Birmingham could have districts of entertainment Lakeview and Avondale and downtown are nice areas for something like this with bars and restaurants, but dammit, the crime is too high, not just in those areas, but all over. It feels safe, but it’s not.
    Everyone already has parks and zoos, so those won’t work and the civil rights museum is a joke, but also history and not fun, so what do we have to offer? Bupkis.
    Birmingham is a nice town to raise a family, if you live south of Red Mountain, good food and friendly people, but until Birmingham gets smart about fighting crime, until the Mayor’s office gets rid of the me, me,me attitude of employees working for the city who hoard good ideas for themselves, until we clean up this city of the corruption (huge job and that includes gutting the BWWB!), until Birmingham gets rid of the blight from Red Mountain Expressway to the Airport (first thing people see coming into town), until Birmingham gets some decent airlines to help bring people to and from Birmingham, this town will stay right where it is, stagnant.
    Some day, when I return to Birmingham, I hope the changes have been made because they are obvious to everyone but the Mayor’s office and he (they) hold the key to success or failure to the future of Birmingham. Let go of the past and move on to the future! Birmingham needs change.

    1. Avondale and Lakeview are about as safe as you’re going to get for any city. I live near lakeview and it’s honestly not dangerous at all.

  8. Trying to get the city of Birmingham to participate in any funding of any new project would be problematic at best and more than likely impossible. They can’t even take care what we do have, Legion Field is falling to pieces and has been for years. So why not work with something that we do have, UAB the largest employer in the state. Think technology, think technology. UAB draws people from all over the world most are young, all are smart, to our restaurant scene and music venues. Forget Atlanta, where I lived for 35 years, (Happy to be home by the way) and Nashville, think Austin with its vibrant music and Tech scene. To me Austin has become a mini Silicon Valley and in a way Birmingham is kind of a mini Austin right now. Let’s build on that, no funding from the city needed and I feel sure that UAB would be all behind it

    1. So much of what you wrote is absolutely right. BUT. Forget Austin, a great city and place to live, also Nashville. Atlanta, I find it even quite unpleasant to drive through, or fly through without imaging the likelihood of an awful experience. Live there? Never!
      The point must always be: never should Birmingham or any other city be anything other than itself. However, understand that in no way does that even suggest staying as it is. A major difficulty for Birmingham is its apparent ineptitude in thinking about the future and becoming a leader of cities in the future. It is always late. It now needs to think about being willing to imagine, think, try, and take carefully thought through risk. With a clear and strong objective of being a great Birmingham it can become very special indeed.
      The foundation is strong.
      UAB is a good place to start. One of the smartest things that ever happened is the establishment of the medical center and the determination to make it an excellent one. And that is the most recent really serious accomplishment. Think of other possibilities yet unimagined. That thinking can and should happen at UAB. Onward and forward we go!

  9. Except for Barber Vintage Motorsports, I see nothing unique to Birmingham that would make me drive out of my way to visit here – having lived here since 1978. Maybe City Stages in its heyday or Talladega Superspeedway, or Oak Mountain State Park. Oak Mountain State Park beats Red Mountain Park hands down, especially its nationally-known biking trails, lakes, camping, and hiking. And it conveniently avoids Birmingham.

    Not having a murder/shooting per day in adjacent Birmingham areas would be nice. Enough about that…it’s painful enough to hear about it every day.

    What Birmingham needs is a riverfront – which it never will. Most of the go-to cities mentioned have waterfronts to capitalize on our ingrained love for water. What saved Chattanooga was its River Walk, San Antonio, too. Don’t forget Pittsburg…I could go on. Birmingham’s only water-related notoriety is the corrupt Water Works.

    Even nasty Panama City Beach, Memphis, and New Orleans are bigger draws than Birmingham due to beaches/water. Mobile would be a backwater were it not for its relationship to the Gulf and beaches. Charlotte (my home town) in spite of its growth and banking business wealth is another town that is not a destination site. Charleston? Savannah? Myrtle Beach? Georgia’s Sea Islands? Asheville? Nashville? Austin? It’s all about water. Food and activities follow…

    1. Uhhh, we don’t have a river or ocean and I don’t think the Cahaba River would suffice, just saying. We do, however have a railroad going through town to work with. Something else we have that I didn’t even know about until about a year ago talking with a middle age couple from Pennsylvania at Bottage’s is a Beer Trail!! They told me that beer drinkers from all over the country come to Alabama’s beer trail starting in Gadsden then going to Birmingham to hit all the new micro breweries here. Along the way they also hit our restaurant scene which we are nationally known for. I guess if Mississippi can have a tamale trail (true story), Good beer and good food would bring about a great beer trail.

  10. Don’t forget Arlington Mansion out in West End. And although they are not in the City, the Robert Trent Jones Gold Course and Tannehill State Park.

  11. These are great and cool ideas but you’re forgetting that Birmingham doesn’t have the demographics to make most of this possible. I’m not talking about race. All of these other cities (except Memphis) has a strong educated young professional scene where young people with money reside. These people spend money on cool hip things. Birmingham’s pool of these people is very small. The amount of people under 30 with $100k+ salaries is very small and the ones that do exist live in Birmingham for a reason because they don’t like the “scene” crap that you find in swankier cities. They’d rather enjoy a modest lifestyle. Nothing wrong with that. I’m just saying that Birmingham doesn’t offer enough career’s for the people who can/would make this difference to thrive.

    Tech scene? Not near enough of them making $ yet in Bham.
    Engineers? They don’t spend money (look at HSV)
    UAB? Yep, that’s probably your biggest pool.
    Regions? Yeah that’s the second largest pool of young professionals but it’s not THAT big. Not enough to move forward a metro of 1.2 million people.

    The people who could have made this change are growing older, having kids, and moving down 280 somewhere or have already moved off to cities that provide them what they’re looking for.

    This will take decades to swing the other way if it ever will.

    In the meantime, let Bham be Bham.

    Do a great job with Red Mountain park and make it an Alabama destination…. But it’s a far cry to think that any of this will cause Bham to rub elbows with Nashville, Austin, or ATL.

  12. I lived in Asheville, NC for over 20 years, and worked in tourism there. We’ve lived in BHAM for four years, and I’ve given tourism a lot of thought. For a tourism industry to grow here, BHAM would have to focus on safety, vibrancy, and forward-thinking, while remembering the resident population that would staff the industry. I have not taken advantage of any of the multiple civil rights museums in the area because that fight is still too present and raw. Although civil rights education and preservation of that history is a vital part of our cultural responsibility, as a facet of tourism it serves a niche purpose, especially when outsiders cannot come here and see a positive changes since the 1960s, like they would see in some Southern towns. They would see a deeply fractured community and the constant threat of violence at certain places on the Urban Civil Rights Trail, for instance. As a resident of Bessemer, I’m reminded that BHAM is chock full of reminders of industries that have fallen, as well, and our tourist attractions reflect that: Sloss, Tannehill, Vulcan, etc. Again, it’s important to preserve those places for educational purposes, but as tourist attractions, they don’t really speak to growth. Furthermore, places like McWane are not kept in good shape. When a family plans a trip – even an educational trip – they want to see that a community takes pride in their institutions. BHAM doesn’t send a message of civic pride and joy to the rest of the region. Like Asheville, we have an abundance of natural resources that could grow tourism, provided they were sustained by healthy food options, great entertainment, a vibrant creative arts scene, and the feeling that natives are enfranchised and participatory in these pastimes, as well. As has been mentioned in Comeback before, BHAM needs a brand, but the community needs to gather around that vision first. Plus, that brand needs to focus on the present and the future. What makes the town great now? Unlike Asheville, BHAM is a family town, so our brand and our tourism should reflect that. Beautiful natural experiences? We have those. The potential for a signature BHAM style, taste, sound, arts district, etc.? We could have those, too. We can learn from other towns while making something that is uniquely our own and ultimately more successful IF we’ll make those benefits accessible to the resident population.

  13. Thank you for this article. As someone who has travelled from Melbourne, Australia to Edinburgh, Scotland, city planning and what it takes to be a destination city is something I’ve thought about concerning Birmingham. Something I’ve learned is “one size doesn’t fit all” meaning what works in one city might not work in another.

    With the interstate detour I’ve been driving up and down a lot of the downtown streets and an idea had come to me but I had never had anyone to tell. Are you familiar with Magazine Street in New Orleans? I’ve looked at 1st Avenue North and wondered if something like that could flourish and grow there. Retail as we know it may be dying, instead it may be evolving into something different. Just imagine if 1st Avenue N from say 13th Street to the Red Mountain Expressway was filled with unique “Mom and Pop” stores. No chains, all very specific but with a 21st century slant. I’ll give you a few examples.

    I’m a big fan of the 3D printing industry. I’m also a huge sci-fi fan. I’ve bought many models of Star Trek ships and other Star Trek props from individual 3D printing dealers. They mostly do this from their homes. A few have expressed to me a desire to have some type of retail store front, if the location was affordable. They could still do their internet business, which would be the bulk of their business, but also have a small retail front, good for PR and and simply the idea of been “seen”.

    In Scotland a favorite store I went into was a small custom tool shop. They sold handmade tools, things you didn’t see just anywhere else.

    Another favorite of mine in Edinburgh was a rare book dealer and an antique map and globe dealer.

    I’ve also wondered if an Alvin’s Island store, seen exclusively on the beach might bring a unique draw in a metro area. Imagine a store like this having a “summer in January” day.

    In Melbourne I walked through their city markets. A vendor that caught my eye sold unique sporting goods representing all the professional rugby teams in Australia. Imagine if a store on 1st Avenue N selling merchandise not only from the mainstream universities but the smaller colleges. Even the junior colleges and high schools. Many people have never seen some of the beautiful logos like the Birmingham Americans professional football team, one of the best I’ve still yet to see.

    There are many other unique specialty shops that I’ve seen in my travels, a custom wood carving store, custom Christmas shops. I think there is a market for a one of a kind gadget store like the old Brookstone. Many friends of mine miss that store.

    There could be locally owned apparel stores which is what Magazine Street is famous for. Antiques, art galleries. They however should all be of local ownership.

    One chain store that I believe would be an asset would be a Gateway Newstand located near the new hotels on the “heaviest corner”.

    I would sprinkle restaurants in with the retail shops, again something unique, a crepes restaurant for example.

    Two things that I believe will be game changers in the downtown area are City Walk and the Powell Avenue Steam Plant. I’d love to see “city markets” at either or both.

    Perhaps this isn’t part of what you consider Birmingham but please don’t sell short Alabama Adventure when thinking of a destination. The Koch Family has done a tremendous job getting this park back on its feet. I encourage anyone to talk to Daniel Koch and talk to him about the difficulties he has encountered but the progress he has made with the park. Getting cost under control was a huge challenge. However he seems to be well on his way to doing so and has some exciting things set for the future. The park is a true hidden jewel and deserves our support. It’s been nominated for several “best park” awards.

    Thank you for allowing me to express my view.

    Rod McCoy

    Jasper, Al

    1. I have just now returned from travellng from Birmingham. to Jacksonville, Ponte Vedra beach, Bowen Island BC, Vancouver, BC, my wife’s home town, (she is a planner) Tallahassee Florida and Back to Birmingham next week.

      Forget comparing. It simply will not work. Thee may be lessons to learn, but nothing to copy!

      Rod, Welcome to Metro Birmingham! Yours is exactly the kind of forward thinging that Birmingham really needs. The new Birmingham should not and will not be the old or even a copy! I can’t. There are and will be memories and the good ones should be emphasized. The state’s historic building re-use tax incentive is brilliant in this regard. There are beautiful new buildings too, and present day architects seem to be very good and getting better and better.

      I have not posted my main response to the travel matter yet, but my main point there is the same as here. Look to BIRMINGHAM’S future not as a slow brained place that is stuck in the present, only at best. thinking of following others.
      Think of the wonderful city of the future just as you have, Rod. Thank you.

  14. As a Black Kid in Birmingham 1963, I was so happy to leave Birmingham as soon as I could. Decades later, I am enjoying my frequent visits from the beautiful North SF Bay Area/Wine Region of California to Birmingham, where I enjoy and appreciate the progress that Birmingham has made over the past 5 decades!

    I totally relate to many observations shared in so many thoughtful posts, and YES there is much room for improvement. Yet, Birmingham has accomplished and persevered through much. It is so exciting to read so many comments about how the collective best ideas might inspire even more progress! I am happy to read so many comments, ideas and interest in making my hometown better.

    However, high quality community planning is not a matter of choosing the best ideas and flipping a switch. As Regional Urban Development Manager for a top global Bank and Chair/Commisioner of a long range collaborative Community Planning effort in Fairfield, CA, over 20 years ago, it is truly rewarding to see the manifestation of many “ideas’ that took a long time to implement in my North Bay Area community.

    Yet, there’s “No Place Like Home”. In recent years I have brought a few Californians (Black and White) to Birmingham. I can assure you that every single visitor has left with a desire to return, retire or invest in Birmingham. Many initially wondered why I spend so much time in Birmingham which they all regarded as a “hate filled toxic cesspool”. Once they experience how close my affordably, renovated bungalow is to the freeway, downtown, museums, restaurants, entertainment, how friendly the police are, how amazing my neighbors are… they highly value their “tourist” experience.

    I am sure I have a lot a company that finds it inconvenient to circumvent the Interstate construction which re-routes airport traffic through the absolute worst parts of town, disapprove of poor environmental decisions in the past that are still occurring in the present, and very high opportunity costs. Fact is, the recognition and visualization of quality opportunities is an important step forward! Thank you David Sher for this forum and thanks to all that are sharing, visualizing and leading Birmingham forward!!

    1. Now this experience of yours is really very special. And your points about viewing progress, seeing present further opportunity and looking to the future is truly significant. Lets keep pushing our hometown.

  15. Regarding Alabama Travel and tourism efforts: Here’s what the state says about visit opportunities. Meh… Breweries are mentioned, but not played up as “a trail.” Probably so the hard-core religion folks won’t be upset. The Peanut Depot is mentioned, but no restaurant by Frank Stitt, Chris Hastings, or other top chefs rising in national rankings.

    Road trip #6


  16. Mr. Sher-
    Since receiving last week’s letter re “Why would …….,” I have been racking my brain as to an attraction, pertinent and appealing, for Birmingham. Barber Motorsports keeps saying to me automobile racing. With Talladega
    almost in Birmingham’s back yard, a “NASCAR Museum” would be a natural, especially were it to be located in the vicinity of Barber.
    Charlotte has the Hall of Fame, but I do not see the use of “Museum” for NASCAR on Google.
    As an aside, I believe there are several Civil Rights Museums, including Birmingham, Montgomery and Memphis.
    So now you have my idea for what could very well become a destination attraction.
    Bob Hynson

    1. Bob, the NASCAR Hall of Fame is a museum also. Interesting story that ties in with David’s story about how the Georgia Aquarium came to be with Coca Cola donating the land downtown so Bernie Marcus could build it.

      When NASCAR was looking to build the hall of fame, Atlanta was the favored site and they approached Ted Turner about donating a two acre parking lot he owns overlooking Centennial Park adjacent to Turner’s headquarters. The building houses Turner Enterprises, the Turner Foundation, Ted Turner’s penthouse (which serves as his Atlanta residence) and Ted’s Montana Grill restaurant as well as the restaurant chain’s headquarters.
      “I wanted to do something solar right here in Atlanta as a demonstration project,” Turner said in an interview. “It is an experiment and demonstration project. When the whole thing gets done, it’s going to power the building and the restaurant.”
      Walking along the parking lot, which is across Luckie Street from the Tabernacle performance venue, 14 large canopies of solar panels cover the asphalt parking lot in the first phase of the project.
      The solar panels in Phase I are manufactured by First Solar, a company that Turner has been working with on another joint venture. The second phase of the project, which will have 11 canopies of solar panels, will use the technology of Atlanta-based Suniva Inc.
      Turner was especially proud that he was able to install all the solar panels and not cut down any trees or even tree limbs on the site.
      Plus, the installation only took up a couple of the lot’s parking spaces. The solar project also will be able to provide the power for the recharging of electric cars parked in the lot.
      “In the summer time, the cars get to park in the shade,” Turner said. “It’s using the sun, and that’s free. It helps us with our power.”
      Turner did say that he had explored putting the panels on the roof of the Bona Allen building, but there was not enough structural support.
      The parking lot, which fronts along Centennial Olympic Park Drive overlooking the park, has been mentioned as a possible site for several development projects. It was the preferred site for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which eventually went to Charlotte, N.C.
      Turner, however, has not been receptive to those development ideas, and he is not one to sell or give away land. Ted’s not as generous as Coke.
      “It’s not Ted’s intention to develop the property at this time,” said Taylor Glover, president of Turner Enterprises. “That’s why he put the solar panels there.”
      Glover remembered when Turner brought up the idea at one of their office meetings of turning the parking lot into a solar demonstration project. “He wanted to prove the capability and set an example that it can be done.”

      So this is what Charlotte got :

      The NASCAR Hall of Fame is one component of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Complex adjacent to the Charlotte Convention Center. The Complex includes:
      The NASCAR Hall of Fame: An 86,500 sq. ft. state-of-the-art hall of fame, entertainment attraction and museum.
      Crown Ballroom: The 40,000 sq. ft. ballroom is located in the Charlotte Convention Center. The Crown Ballroom has a seating capacity of 2,400 banquet style and more than 4,200 theater style.
      NASCAR Plaza Office Tower: A 393,000 sq. ft., 19-story, Class A office building developed by Lauth Properties, in a joint venture with Rubenstein Partners, and NASCAR. NASCAR and NASCAR Productions are primary tenants and include full-scale studios to be operated by NASCAR Images.
      NASCAR Hall of Fame Parking Garage: Features more than 1,000 parking spaces.
      In Birmingham, in my opinion, Barber Track and Museum are an overall better tourist draw and a much cooler facility than the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Who needs NASCAR when we have the Indie cars through here twice a year.

      1. With all do respect, I don’t think NASCAR is on brand. I think Ted Turner made the right move.

        Sorry, but Atlanta knows where it is going and does its best to look progressive. NASCAR has a more Nashville or Charlotte feel to it.

    2. Only a couple of years ago it was announec on Birmingham Business Journal that the Barber Motorsports Museum had been rated one of the very best museums of any kind in the world. I do not remember what organization gave it that rating. but there you are, a great local attraction anyway. I grew up as a schoolmate of George Barber, never a small thinker is he! I remember him as a very young driver driving an MG and that already impressed all of us who knew him. He is the kind of person we would like to have more of living in and contributing to Birmingham: a true forward thinker.

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