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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