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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