$158M regional attraction proposed for Jefferson County

Jimmy Parnell

Today’s guest columnist is Jimmy Parnell.

For thousands of families, livestock shows are where parents and children make memories, pass along life lessons and grow relationships.

For my family, the show ring was our baseball diamond, soccer field and concert stage.  It’s where I watched my children — and countless others — mature into responsible, respectful men and women.

This personal experience, combined with a desire to strengthen Alabama’s economy, fuels my vision for the Alabama Farm Center at Hallmark Farm in Warrior.

I’ve seen the positive impact regional agriculture centers have in places like Perry, Georgia; Grand Island, Nebraska; and Oklahoma City. I’ve also witnessed Alabama fall further behind after over 70 years without significant investment in livestock facilities.

Alabama children and families deserve better. Time and again livestock judges visiting Alabama from other parts of the country are amazed by the caliber of our kids and cattle. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of our facilities.

About five years ago, the Alabama Farmers Federation set out to change this. Our Alabama Farmers Agriculture Foundation has invested millions of dollars in economic impact studies, site selection, architectural drawings, construction plans and land analysis in preparation to build the Alabama Farm Center.

After considering more than a dozen possible locations, we settled on iconic Hallmark Farm on I-65 in Warrior. Through a partnership with Jefferson County, we are working to preserve the character of Hallmark Farm while transforming the 500-acre estate into a world-class destination and educational venue for Alabama families and tourists alike.

In addition to an arena and barns for livestock shows, the site will host an annual fair and feature facilities to attract year-round events — from horse shows to home and garden exhibitions.

As a regional attraction, the Alabama Farm Center will encourage further economic development in north Jefferson County, which will complement the growth of downtown Birmingham and north Shelby County.  When complete, we expect the Alabama Farm Center to create 300-400 jobs and $40-$55 million in annual economic impact.

This will be transformational for Jefferson County and the state of Alabama. Events at the Farm Center will draw visitors from Indiana to Florida and the Carolinas to Texas. These guests will stay in hotels, dine at restaurants and shop in communities. This will support Alabama businesses and provide tax revenue for public services.

Alabama is blessed with unique attractions, from the mountains, lakes and U.S. Space and Rocket Center in north Alabama to historical sites and pristine beaches of south Alabama. Travelers along I-65 already recognize Hallmark Farm as a landmark. We are excited about embracing the farm’s scenic beauty to create the best agricultural event center in the South, if not the nation.

With a total project cost of at least $158 million, it will take private and public sectors working together to make the Alabama Farm Center a reality. To date, we’ve identified sources for nearly 70% of the funds needed, but we are still working to raise about $45 million.

Let me be clear, this is not an Alabama Farmers Federation or Alfa Insurance® project. While we’ve taken the lead in identifying the site and laying the groundwork, our vision is a Farm Center the whole state will use, be proud of and take ownership in.

We have made substantial investment in this vision and are prepared to do more, but the Alabama Farm Center is not about making money, selling insurance or advertising our brand. Instead, my goal for the Alabama Farm Center is that it will be a facility worthy of the excellent young people who work so hard on their livestock projects and that it will strengthen the economy while highlighting the value of our state’s No. 1 industry — agriculture.

Some of my most cherished memories are times spent with my children at livestock shows. They worked hard to prepare their cattle for the show ring. They learned what it feels like to win and, more importantly, to lose. Our children developed relationships with parents, sponsors and other exhibitors they continue to value as young adults.

I’m convinced the Alabama Farm Center can be a place where thousands of families can share similar experiences — whether it be through livestock shows, rodeos, horse shows, 4-H and FFA competitions, Ag in the Classroom or other events.

We are encouraged that others share our vision for the Alabama Farm Center at Hallmark Farm. We thank the city of Warrior, Jefferson County, Gov. Kay Ivey and a growing list of corporate supporters for their dedication in making this dream a reality.

Jimmy Parnell was elected president of the Alabama Farmers Federation in 2012. Parnell is a fifth-generation farmer and a partner in Parnell Inc., his family’s beef cattle farm and timber business. He is a native of Stanton in Chilton County and a graduate of Auburn University in agricultural business and economics. He and wife Robin have two children, James Robert and Anna Grace.

Parnell also serves as president of Alfa Insurance and president of the board of directors for the Alabama Farmers Agriculture Foundation.

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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2 thoughts on “$158M regional attraction proposed for Jefferson County”

  1. THIS is an outstanding example of the kind of positive thinking with the intention of make the future better that is so much needed in Birmingham. This should succeed in every possible way. Thank you

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