Why World Games chose Birmingham

Alan Register
Alan Register

Today’s guest columnist is Alan Register.

The first World Games were played in Santa Clara, California in 1981.

They have not been played in America since.

Why then did they choose Birmingham?

And while we’re at it, why did the USFL select Birmingham?

There’s a simple answer, “a crazy idea” and “a winning streak.”

Streaks in sports never fail to fascinate me – both in what we choose to focus on and in the streaks themselves. They can be strange, somewhat arbitrary, ways of looking at things that – when you stop and consider them – sometimes are even more impressive.

Cal Ripken’s consecutive game streak – 2,632 – is nearly three seasons longer than Lou Gehrig’s. And honestly, no one will likely approach either record in this era of situational substitutions and specialists.

Birmingham has been on a consecutive streak of sorts, too.

Ten years ago, a group of people led by Don Logan, Robert Simon, the city of Birmingham, and many others broke ground on what many people considered a crazy idea.

Today, that “crazy idea” may well be one of the primary reasons that we’ll soon be hosting thousands of athletes and visitors for a once-in-a-lifetime event — the World Games. The region has been getting ready for the games for several years now – completing projects such as Protective Stadium, revitalizing 20th Street, and much more. We have to get the house ready for our visitors.

But like tidying in your own home, when you start to clean, you start to remember. You find things that you’d forgotten. You give things that might have been dusty their due, which was about the time that I gave the streak that our city is on its due.

In February 2012, the Birmingham Barons broke ground on a new stadium — Regions Field. After spending 20-plus years down I-65 in Hoover, the Barons announced that they would be returning to their Birmingham roots – several cut-off throws from their historic home of Rickwood Field in Ensley, where greats like Willie Mays, Reggie Jackson, Tony La Russa, and Rollie Fingers once made the rounds.

The area where the field would be built was ripe for development and investment; the city had just completed a transformational project nearby — something we now call “Railroad Park.”

I had a hand in working on the project that became Regions Field. I add that not because I need any credit for what was accomplished, but because I know what it took to make that dream become a reality – when and where it did. And the results speak for themselves:

  • The first year Regions Field was open it drew nearly 400,000 spectators – almost double what the Barons had drawn in recent years.
  • The field was recognized as Ballpark of the Year

You could take a victory lap around the bases just for what happened in the first few years after Regions Field opened. But this column isn’t about revisiting history as much as it’s about acknowledging something special about this city.

Because “the streak” only started with that investment. Today, take a trip down to Parkside, as the Barons’ neighborhood is now known. It’s not without irony that the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama has a beautiful office catty-cornered to the main ticket office. Or that across the street is one of the city’s first – and most successful — craft breweries. Or that Children’s of Alabama – one of the premier hospitals in the Southeast – expanded to the point of now accepting a nightly wave from fans in the stadium.

The truth is that there is so much good that has happened in that part of town – and across the city – since those days 10 years ago. Economic expansion across the region. New businesses and facilities. A growing tech and digital industry core.

But none of these developments happened exclusive of the others. They built on each other, interconnected … as any successful enterprise must be.

And likely most importantly, a new confidence and a new pathway for growth and development was forged. For Birmingham, our streak isn’t simply about new buildings, theaters, bars or stadiums. It’s in the realization that, as a community, we can and should move ahead, boldly.

As a banker, I’m often focused on managing risk. But that doesn’t mean never taking one. It means taking risks that you have confidence can be seen to completion. And that confidence builds, not just buildings and jobs, but the confidence, the real-world experience that we can accomplish the next big thing.

More than 20 years ago, my wife and I were trying to decide where to put down roots. We’d lived all across the country, but after a trip to Birmingham, we just felt led to make this our home. It’s a beautiful area, a place of potential, full of people who want to work to make life better for others.

With all its imperfections, with all the work we still have left to do to bring equal portions of prosperity to all areas of the city, it’s still that beautiful place to me … except now, I’ve seen when that promise became reality.

So, when I take in a game at Regions Field, or see the new Red Mountain Theater, or the work on the Powell Avenue Steam Plant, I see a streak of connected successes. I see economic growth and development that also lifted our confidence – enough to invite the world to come see what we’ve done.

Alan Register is the baseball fan and father and serves as Regions Bank’s Commercial Banking Regional Executive for Alabama and Market Executive for the Birmingham area.

David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown.  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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Invite David to speak for free to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com.

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5 thoughts on “Why World Games chose Birmingham”

  1. “Managing risks doesn’t mean never taking one!” POWERFUL! With Mr. Register’s permission, it should be Birmingham’s MOTTO! It reminds me of another one: “Don’t be afraid to succeed!”. Just ask a “Football/Baseball/Soccer/Golf/Special Olympics Champion and he/she would likely admit that “Nothing Succeeds Like Success!” We are built to accomplish, build anew, blaze new trails! I pray our young political and civic leaders will emulate and take risks like Alan Register…BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME!

    1. These two are EXACTLY the kind of positive thinking that will build a city that gets better and better. This ‘crazy idea’ that starts/sparks a winning streak is the proper way to look ahead with a delightful destination. Keep this thoughtful approach rolling ahead, and we will NOT be talking or writing about a ‘comeback’ town, but a great city of the future for nice people.

  2. Outstanding article, Mr. Register! Very positive. Thank you. I wish that I were living again in BHM to enjoy these great changes. Birmingham has so much potential and is a real hidden gem of US cities.

  3. Well said, Alan! You have always been there for Bham. Thank you! // Another project that moved us forward but slips under the radar was the transformation of HABD’s Metropolitan Gardens housing development into a Central City as a HOPE VI project. That along with the RR Park were the catalysts that changed everything. I’d also like to give a nod to Mike Calvert and Operation New Birmingham—always pushing to plant seeds, open doors, and make things happen.

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