Did Birmingham backstab Pelham?

Rendering of proposed downtown Birmingham amphitheater. Source: Corporate Realty
Rendering of proposed downtown Birmingham amphitheater. Source: Corporate Realty

By David Sher

I didn’t expect to be writing a column about the new $50 million amphitheater proposed for downtown Birmingham.

I’m not a politician or business person involved in the project and the only information I have is what I’ve read on-line.

So I have no insight into the behind the scenes conversations that brought this project forward.

But when the amphitheater was announced, it blew up my e-mail box.

For those of you who are regular readers of ComebackTown, you know that ComebackTown is all about regionalism and our local governments working together.

Pelham caught by surprise

It appears Pelham, home of the Oak Mountain Amphitheater, was left out of the loop.

And this is pretty darn important to Pelham since a document outlining the plans for the Birmingham performance space indicated that Oak Mountain would not be allowed to be an entertainment venue if the proposal goes through.

E-mails I received looked similar to this one: “I enjoy your Comeback town series and believe in the benefits of regional cooperation.  However, I am terribly disappointed in the approach toward the Oak Mountain Amphitheater.  Our governmental authorities taking part in this deal must make it a condition that Live Nation can’t apply such covenants to the sale of Oak Mountain to prohibit its use as an entertainment venue.  Otherwise it is just a big stinkin’ pot of hypocrisy.”

According to AL.com, “The City of Pelham said it was blindsided by the proposal made to leaders in Jefferson County for the amphitheatre.

“The Pelham City Council had just “approved a project to improve Amphitheater Road, which will improve access to Oak Mountain Amphitheatre, the Pelham Civic Complex & Ice Arena, and The Canopy, a $60 million mixed-use development under construction directly across from the venue, the city said (and)…”Live Nation recently invested a significant amount of money for improvements to Oak Mountain Amphitheatre.”

Collaboration within Jefferson County

I’m disappointed on the way this may have been handled, but I’m glad some folks seem to recognize that our local government agencies should be working together rather than against one another. This has not always been the case.

But in spite of this most recent incident, it’s important to note that municipalities within Jefferson County are making progress working together.

On May 19, 2021, the Jefferson County Mayors Association signed a groundbreaking agreement to end the wasteful practice of poaching businesses from one another within Jefferson County.

Up until that date Jefferson County cities had spent millions of dollars a year to pay local companies to entice them to relocate to their municipality or to prevent them from relocating to capture their sales tax dollars. This practice created no new businesses or jobs since companies simply moved from one municipality within the county to another. This is money that could have been better used to recruit new businesses to our area, invest in education, fight crime, or to improve our amenities.

But the non-poaching agreement was only signed by Jefferson County mayors.

Therefore, there is no written agreement that forbids a Jefferson County mayor from poaching from Pelham which is in Shelby County…or vice versa.

However, this doesn’t make it okay for local government agencies to poach from one another and political leaders in Pelham should have at the very least been notified in advance.

Birmingham Barons successfully moved to Birmingham

In 2013 when the Birmingham Barons moved from Regions Park in Hoover to Regions Field in downtown Birmingham, Hoover was well informed. There didn’t appear to be any serious hostility between Birmingham and Hoover and Hoover was able to convert Regions Field into the very successful Hoover Metropolitan Complex.

And Regions Field has certainly been a big win for our region–with record breaking attendance and endless economic development for its downtown neighborhood.

Shelby County missed opportunity

The Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) is one of the proposed funders of the amphitheater project. The CVB receives monies from hotel taxes.

When I was on its board of the CVB a few years back, the board encouraged Shelby County to contribute hotel tax money to the CVB and to have a seat on its board. Shelby County chose to retain all the hotel taxes for itself and not be a part of the CVB.

If Shelby County had opted for a seat on the CVB Board, then it would have had a board seat. I don’t know if that would have changed anything, but Shelby County would have at least been part of the conversation.

Game Changer for Birmingham

As of this writing, it is too soon to know if this project will be funded.

But the new downtown location will be a game changer for Birmingham and the Carraway neighborhood. Barnes & Associates real estate agent Darius Peace said property values could see an increase between $150,000 to $200,000 nearby” as part of the $300 million upcoming mix-used Carraway project.

Look at the synergy that has already been created in North Birmingham with Protective Stadium, the newly remodeled Legacy Arena, the BBJC, Top Golf, and the UpTown entertainment district.

Huntsville just recently opened its much talked about $40 million Orion Amphitheater.

Birmingham needs to be competitive.

Maybe we can learn from this experience.

The municipalities in Jefferson and Shelby Counties might consider signing a region expanding non-poaching agreement.

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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20 thoughts on “Did Birmingham backstab Pelham?”

  1. It is not so much that Birmingham stabbed Pelham in the back. It is that Birmkngham failed to think as a metro area. We do not need an amphitheater because there is already one in the metro area, more specifically in Pelham.

    We did not need a new baseball park downtown because we already have one in Hoover. The Hoover Met also replaced a ballpark but that was the decrepit piece of garbage known as Rickwoid Field.

    We also do not need a performing arts center because there is one at UAB, but Hoover is building one.. Jefferson and Shelby Counties and all cities therein need to be thinking as a metro area. No more duplication.

    1. I strongly disagree about ‘no duplicates’ Both should be. It is different for tourists, especially those that fly, and residents who drive. There is no need to think that only one event at a time should happen in a metro area as large as Birmingham’s already is. It could be one night at one the next at another, similar or different programs. Why have there been so many theaters and indoor performance halls. What a dull idea, no duplicates!

      What is very wrong however is for one to cut out the other. That is not in any way effective competition that could lead to the best happening at both! Are all events going to be only on night, or one day? What about the unique Sloss sheltered outdoor performances? That has has drawn huge crowds.
      There have been performances of the symphony in Railroad Park.


      Think more fully than this. Please for City and Metro Birmingham an all its citizens, and guests.

      If we were known to offer a wide variety of excellent opportunities to experience outstanding performances, that would enhance both the idea of moving to the area and or visiting the area.

  2. Pelham was raped and stabbed in the back. It is devious what LiveNation did to Pelham. Money, money, money. There is no excuse. I can only hope that Pelham will continue to attract maybe top-listed 2nd tier bands and entertainment.

    The amphitheater in north Birmingham will be as “successful” as the World Games…as in “NOT!” A crime-ridden area, with no parking, and Birmingham will pay a high price for this venue.

    I am sick to my stomach.

    1. As I indicated in column, I don’t feel good about how this may have been handled, but I strongly feel the downtown amphitheater will be a home run for Birmingham. All the venues around it have been very successful–and this adds to the buzz. It will also help clean up North Birmingham. We heard the same negative comments about Railroad Park, Regions Field, and Protective Stadium. I shudder to think what Birmingham would like without them.

      1. I shutter to think about parking and access to the Interstates to get out of there after an event, very inadequate now and it will only get worse. The shortsightedness and the greed of Birmingham is appalling, never take anyone including Jefferson County as a whole into consideration. Shelby County is the fastest growing county in the State, inclusion is vital for the future of this area. It should not be contest to see who can bet who. Perhaps a change in the power structure in Birmingham would be in order for the future benefit of all citizens.

        1. One thing is for sure: If people only criticize and ‘counter attack’ Birmingham itself, realize that you are doing that to the entire metropolitan area whether is it one government or not.

          Positive advice is what is needed.

          Of course there may be traffic problems, of course more dwellings of useful and comfortable character in the area are needed. But what shall they do about this things? Give up on the whole idea? That only moves this place backward.

          No the one thing really wrong about the proposal is blocking other similar venues from operating. That is truly an ugly and stupid move.

    2. The cutting out of Oak Mount Park is stupid, it is absurd and should not be.

      So, re-write it, strike that block out.

      Advance security for the Carraway area and build the new amphitheater. Fill it with attendees. Fill all such places with attendees experiencing top level events. They will desire more And MORE will come to Birmingham.
      Plan so visitors go home and tell their friends that they have never seen such a wonderful thing, What an amazing delight Birmingham really is! That ‘friend’ might be chai of the Board of a major corporation planning to build and looking for the city. Or the ‘Friend.’ could be an investor in big places, with eyes out, looking for the net ‘big opportunity.’

      Go for it people!

  3. More mismanagement from inept leadership unable to think long term in any way, shape or form. Imagine my shock.

    1. David Sher, you have it right. These negative responses will only draw of potentially the finest city right back down into the dumps!

      Surely that wicked point about blocking the Oak Mountain event space is truly wicked and ridiculous. That needs to be removed and then it needs to be decided to go ahead with the project.

  4. funny, it’s never been a problem for business to leave Birmingham for Shelby County. Now it’s a problem when roles are reversed. Kinda hypocritical in my opinion.

  5. I truly feel and agree it’s time for a change in the Birmingham areas. The future holds much for Birmingham “Do more not less” . Even railroad park was a total success. The skate park Wow who would think. Keep it up people of Birmingham.

  6. My hope is that Oak Mountain Amphitheater will be funded by Shelby County and cities in Shelby County and/ or privately funded so entertainment may continue. Not everyone has a desire to go to downtown Birmingham for their entertainment purposes.

    1. I agree, Absolutely.
      The problem with that is that Shelby County is actually overpopulated in my view, being a person who is against sprawl. But that means they should have enough money to take care of themselves. That is one of the fundamental problems about sprawl however, the potential and in Birmingham’s case for sure, becoming disconnected.

  7. Did Birmingham backstab Pelham? Of course it did. This is why regionalism will never work in the Birmingham Metropolitan area. The bully will use its size to strong arm investments and successful business and services away from suburbs.

    Never fear my fellow suburbanites, as we all know those businesses and investments will come back after the failed experiment of the inner city. Ask yourself why the Birmingham Barons, Birmingham Bulls, and Alabama State Fair all moved out of Birmingham and to the suburbs? Simply because of failed leadership.

    As for the proposed project at Caraway, I doubt it will succeed long term without much more development of space around it (especially between it and the stadium). I’m sorry but if left undeveloped the lack of safety will be a huge detriment to the overall success.

    Everything is cyclical and eventually businesses and investors will recognize again that leadership of Birmingham city can’t be trusted and ultimately fails.

  8. It seems to me that no one truly knows or cares what is best for the city as a whole. For some reason, you all think that it’s normal that the entire population of Birmingham abandoned the city and spread out to the suburbs. This is not normal and is extremely unhealthy for the city economically and culturally. This division and scattering of resources is THE reason that Birmingham continues to be surpassed by so many cities in the region around it.

    Therefore, every resource that is moved from the suburbs to the downtown core is a GOOD thing for the city, NOT a bad thing. Cities all over the country are seeing this and deliberately making this happen, and they are prospering because of it.

    It baffles me that virtually none of you see this. Stop fighting things that are good for your city and stop encouraging things that are bad for it.

    1. Glenn. You have not been reading what I have tried to submit. I at the least if only one, agree with you one hundred percent!

      Who realizes how much more expensive, inefficient, and inept government coordination is a result of the massive scramble that metro Birmingham has. One government has got to be better, with one simple aim, the best for all of the citizens of the entire region. Don’t you wish that more people would get out of their seats, get up and at least agree to get something done to improve life here? I certainly do.

  9. I don’t have the calculated, political savvy to interact with some of these exchanges I read . Creativity I do appreciate and I rarely hear talk of ideas away from the predictable slants about new stadiums, concert venues, parking ,etc.

    A great mayor would go in and renovate Legion Field and make the bold move to turn Five Points West into Palm Beach with high roller restaurants, bookstores , ties and fedoras required on entrance, bring in all the immigrants from Kenya and Nigeria and get them to build there, call it Little Africa, make it known as the safest, classiest most arrogant, richest place around. Have Kenyan restaurants , Nigerian Restaurants. There’s already about five scattered around Birmingham (that’s about one more than all the African-American restaurants in a city famous for its Black culture. Come on brothers what’s the deal? Probably about a hundred Mexican restaurants, same for Chinese.

    What about bringing 50 world-class mosaicists and fill the city with permanent art. Graffiti , all of it looks like its done by one eighth grade drop-out. Let them go paint an alley wall or store for rent in Mountain Brook. Fill up the street with artists with their easels, a few clarinet players , jugglers, the whole affair would be about the same for one city planner’s salary. Any creative ideas from him lately? He didn’t respond to my idea, but he had a great bowtie on.

    I sent folks at city hall my idea, but not one person responded. I’m white, by the way. See it at comebacktown “The Ingenious Idea That Could Change the Perception of Birmingham Forever” Sorry I’m a bit disenchanted with watching Birmingham decline even more.

    1. What a great idea, only putting in one place only is not the best part of this idea. I fear its audience might become tightly bound, restrictive feeling.
      A concentration with at least a slight mix at Five Points West area is likely ok, but others spread around, some perhaps branches of the central one at Five Points with spread the word and merge better with the whole city and metro area.
      What a marvelous way to expand Birmingham’s growing reputation as a leader in the good dining world. Food tourism does exist, and what people take back home helps the over all reputation of Birmingham. Folks, this is positively forward looking DO IT

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