All bets are off on Birmingham

City Walk BHAM World Games 2022
City Walk BHAM World Games 2022

By David Sher

This is the article I always wished to write, but didn’t know if it would ever be possible.

ComebackTown began publishing in February, 2012 with the sole purpose to begin a discussion about how to revitalize a struggling Birmingham. That’s why it was titled ‘ComebackTown.’

Now it’s time we stop and take a moment to celebrate our victories.

Birmingham’s history has always been feast or famine.

Founded in 1871, the bottom dropped out of Birmingham almost immediately when its citizens began dying from the Cholera epidemic of 1873.

Then between 1881 through 1920 the pace of growth was so fast that Birmingham earned the nickname, ‘The Magic City.’

The depression of the 1930’s completely devastated Birmingham. President Roosevelt tagged Birmingham the “worst hit town in the country.”

During World War II, Birmingham’s large industrial economy boomed. We were clearly the industrial center of the South.

Then came the dark 1960’s with Bull Connor, dogs, firehoses, and the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church.

Over the next several decades, Birmingham suffered from low self-esteem and a feeling that we could not do anything right.

When I graduated college in the mid ‘60’s from the University of Alabama almost every one of my Birmingham friends moved out of state.

All I can remember thinking is ‘thank goodness for UAB.’

The year that everything changed

In September 2010, Railroad Park opened and things began to change for Birmingham.

The park had been debated for more than 25 years because many people thought it was a dumb idea. “Why would anyone bring their family to an urban park?”

Two years later the Birmingham Barons moved to Regions Field next door and many folks were shocked with its remarkable success. Ominous predictions had been rampant: “Why would the Barons move from Hoover where it is safe to downtown Birmingham?”

Since the opening of Railroad Park and Regions Field, Birmingham has gone from one success to another.

Birmingham ready to move to next level

The newly founded USFL just completed a successful inaugural season in Birmingham and a second season is scheduled with Birmingham remaining as its headquarters. The Birmingham Stallions even won the championship.

The World Games just concluded an outstanding Birmingham run.

Again, we were soundly warned by cynics that both would fail. They reminded us that Birmingham has lost one professional football team and league after another—and we’re certainly not capable of handling a world class event.

Attending the World Games, however, opened our eyes to the progress Birmingham has made. Venues like Protective Stadium, the newly beautifully remodeled Legacy Arena, the amazing CrossPlex; the creative new City Walk BHAM underneath the brightly lighted I-59/20; even the newly lit historic Sloss Furnaces received a lighting facelift.

You may have taken the archery competition for granted at Avondale Park. But, quite frankly, how many of us would have felt safe to go to Avondale even a few years ago? Avondale Park is much improved—and the Avondale neighborhood continues its renaissance.

Birmingham’s diversity of attendees and of the many incredible volunteers was on display for travelers both domestic and international.

Birmingham leaders collaborated with one another…politicians, corporations, and universities.

Jefferson County and Birmingham along with 15 other cities sent officers, patrol cars and equipment. Even the State of Alabama shared 91 state troopers.

We’ve discussed regionalism for years—but this was regionalism in action.

Our first step big breakthrough may have been Railroad Park and Regions Field, but the community success of the USFL and the World Games proves we are ready to move to the next level.

We definitely have momentum going for us.

A lot of people felt we needed to host the World Games to show Birmingham to the world.

We actually needed to host the World Games to show Birmingham to ourselves and prove what we are capable of.

We know the big winner of the World Games.

It was us.

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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25 thoughts on “All bets are off on Birmingham”

  1. Thank you David.; it is nice to celebrate our successes. You and ComeBack Town told us to believe in ourselves. We did. And, we do.

  2. Love the post hopefully we can get rid of the negative Nancy’s that all they do is complain sitting in their Mom’s basement talking about crime meaning to Black every city in America has crime they moving I leave in Las Vegas tourist capital in America trust me its Crime lost of it but people come and they will to Birmingham I’ll be there In August an October for Classic see you’ll soon

  3. GREAT ARTICLE ‼️ So interesting to read from the beginning to the present. It’s 45 years since my family
    has lived in Birmingham and enjoyed the progress of the city! 👍👏💕

  4. AMEN, David! “Nothing succeeds like success..!” All due CONGRATS…
    But , in my view, Birmingham and Alabama need even more attractions and events like this..we should strive to become more PEOPLE FRIENDLY …a noble challenge for our community leaders to improve our lifestyle in many areas: sports…entertainment…arts…museums ..recreation…beautification…safe, clean and paved streets…flowers and trees…transportation…handicap access…tax-free food purchases…boost teachers salaries…new schools and labs…police assistance….a true International Airport…and more.

    1. I know that you do know, Jerome. And what you have written is true.

      As I often travel by air, and check the magazines, I have almost never seen any mention of Birmingham, ever.

      So I add that Birmingham, until World Games, has been a hidden city with an inferiority complex connecting to years of suffering from constantly being broadly described as a horrible place to be avoided at all costs. That has been driven in so deeply that people traveling south have been known to avoid it, and even if the experience of those who have dared has been good, it has not been noticed. ADVERTISE this great city for all it is worth! Continuous positive action and convincing and reporting will be required! Accomplish what is on your list, Jerome, and it can and will happen. The intended great city will be!

  5. So happy and proud for Alabama!! This was a very well planned out event and great effort!! Congratulations and thanks for making us proud!

  6. It will be very interesting to see what is next. I truly hope that the primary need, knowing that Birmingham is a great city can begin to take place now. It has been so hidden for so long, its top assets unknown. Maybe the World Games will succeed in turning national and international attention to Birmingham as a city of great opportunity, because it is. And hopefully it will bring stronger local faith it our favorite city’s capabilities.

  7. Very proud of Birmingham the games were very nice I attended twice. Things look so good, love what they have done with the lights in the interstate. Can’t wait to see what comes next.

  8. I know that you do know, Jerome. And what you have written is true.

    As I often travel by air, and check the magazines, I have almost never seen any mention of Birmingham, ever.

    So I add that Birmingham, until World Games, has been a hidden city with an inferiority complex connecting to years of suffering from constantly being broadly described as a horrible place to be avoided at all costs. That has been driven in so deeply that people traveling south have been known to avoid it, and even if the experience of those who have dared has been good, it has not been noticed. ADVERTISE this great city for all it is worth! Continuous positive action and convincing and reporting will be required! Accomplish what is on your list, Jerome, and it can and will happen. The intended great city will be!

  9. It was good to see regional cooperation for a large event unlike what we have witness in several decades. How can we maintain this momentum and continue to move forward as a region and not go back to our super segmented (tiny fiefdoms) communities? What’s next in moving the region forward? How can we work together without fracturing what we have and have already accomplished over politics or the Us vs. Them mentality? Because society is VERY divided and most of the division is driven by that very same mentality of Us vs. Them. I am asking honest questions of what can we do to move forward and avoid these pitfalls that cause so much division? Thanks!

  10. David,. This is the article I have always wanted to read. Over 43 years of my life was spent in Birmingham, from the mid 1960s to to 2008. I saw it go from the Magic City to the Tragic Town. Though I don’t live there any longer, I still keep close tabs on what’s going on there, and I do return from time to time to see those I still care about deeply and still live there, I often wonder what could Birmingham have been today if it had the city leaders it has today back in the late 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. I was especially heartbroken being forced to watch the company I literally grew up in leave Birmingham for Dallas. I called the mayor and tried to get the city to intervene and they just didn’t care. Now a once vibrant building sits sad and alone.

    The biggest reason Birmingham is where it is today is because finally after over 40 years of struggle, Birmingham today has a mayor and a City Council that has made the City their top priority, not themselves. From the late 1970s to the 2000s, almost everyone at City Hall was either creating one senseless idiotic protest after another. Then came the day Richard Arrington decided he had to make it all about himself and trapce down 5th Ave North in chains. Not one person who saw this disgusting site on every Evening News in the country, not one person in Canada or Australia or the UK that saw the news reports gave a fig about why the mayor was pulling such a stunt, they only recall the stunt itself. There were 3 big corporations talking about making some serious investments in Birmingham that would have each brought jobs, lots of good paying jobs. After seeing that fiasco, all three said thanks but no thanks and Birmingham went into a deep coma. It remained like this until after I moved away.

    You might be asking why I took you down this Memory Lane? It’s simple. There’s no way to know where you are going unless you know where you have been. And if don’t keep in mind the mistakes of the past, I promise you those mistakes will be repeated. Birmingham, you finally, finally have great competent, talented people running the city, who for the first time since George Seibels was mayor. These leaders are Birmingham’s future. After seeing the wonderful progress and inroads that have been made just in the last 10 years, that future could be beyond outstanding. But know this, it only takes one or two people who are only in it for themselves who constantly roil the pot and suck all of the media airtime and this regeneration will freeze in it’s tracks. If you treat this chance like it is the last chance being given, I feel sure that y’all can pull it off and truly become World Class, making your Big Sister City in England sit up and take notice. I already am so happy to be able to say, Birmingham, you have come a long way baby and it’s about damn time you got here. Now it’s time to get to work on tomorrow!!! Godspeed All!!!

  11. Great article, David. It’s good to see a recap of things that have occurred in the city. Regional cooperation and cooperation in general is the key. I hope the momentum continues as that is what draws others to the city to visit, live and invest.

  12. I would humbly suggest that the Birmingham renaissance began a few years prior to Railroad Park with the advent of the Sidewalk Film Festival in 1999. That was when my colleagues in the entertainment industry began to take notice of the city and those who traveled in to see for themselves left with a positive outlook. Our biggest obstacle these days is overcoming the negative image of the state of Alabama due to our backward state politics and politicians, I liked Mayor Woodfin’s tee-shirt message on closing night of the World Games: “I’m from the Great State of BIRMINGHAM.” Indeed.

    1. Even in 50 years, Birmingham can still say “WE DONE GOOD” with the World Games. Who knows, there could be some World Cup Soccer games coming to Birmingham in 2026.

    2. Wow didn’t see that does anyone know how to get that t-shirt?? An TOTALLY AGREE WITH YOUR COMMENT 👍👍👍

    3. Side Walk Film Festivals, Yes. Schloss Furnace events, widely known, and more. Make more. Build on this growing record of positive steps and the city will keep getting better. What a delight it is now to read all of these positive and constructive thoughts.
      Carry on!

  13. I was born and raised in Birmingham and have not resided there for many years.
    However, I do keep up with what is happening there by being a subscriber to Birmingham Business Journal plus other publications that keep me informed.
    I am still proud to call Birmingham my home and praise the many contributions that people such as David and others have achieved.
    I wish the people of Birmingham continued success.

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