During the question and answer portion of the December 2 press conference held by UAB president Ray Watts to announce the discontinuation of the university’s bowling, football, and rifle teams, he offered up to those in attendance that he’d stopped an earlier attempt to end the football program for the purpose of conducting what’s now known as the Carr Report.
Here’s a passage from Bryan Davis’s report published in the Birmingham Business Journal quoting Watts:
“There were some who told us to eliminate football, some who suggested we do that when Garrick McGee quit,” Watts said. “We were six weeks into this plan, and we said ‘we don’t make decisions like that. We’re not going to make a unilateral decision that perhaps might be convenient.'”
Davis’s reporting also points out how Watts stated the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees had no role in determining the fate of the programs.
The story as it’s been told
Those who have come out against the university’s decision are quick to point to the trustees choosing to not take up the issue of an on-campus stadium in late 2011. The board made that decision two months after a report suggested the increased reliance of the member institution’s budgets on tuition and student fees.
At the time, Birmingham News columnist Kevin Scarbinsky asked Paul Bryant, Jr. — as part of a pretty extensive exchange originally published on November 3, 2011 — if the on-campus stadium was dead. His response?
“As presented, yes.”
It’s worth pointing out that UAB had not yet acquired most of the land necessary to carry out the development of the proposed on-campus stadium. It was slated to sit on property located close to Interstate 65 along its eastern edge, with parking located on the opposite side of the road from it and pedestrian access to the site (the horseshoe clearly stands out in the image on this page from UAB Magazine’s website).
A look at an article filed in 2013 by then-Birmingham News reporter Evan Belanger suggests there may have been efforts underway to make it time — and ones that could have led to Watts’s statement.
Approval at last?
Belanger’s February 7, 2013 report, “UA System trustees raise concern over UAB plan to purchase downtown property,” (updated the following evening after the Board of Trustees meeting had taken place) was specifically focused on resolutions for two negotiated land purchases — 11.7 acres at 400 10th St. South and 2.4 acres at 430 12th St. South. It would do well to click on the links associated with the addresses above and then take a look at the location of the bright green dots on the image below, taken from the UAB Master Plan update proposed in 2011 (and first presented to the board in February of that year).
While Belanger did include quotes from concerned trustees, it’s worth noting that neither Joseph Espy III or Finis St. John IV were sitting members of the committee taking up the issue. As is the case with Birmingham City Council committees, all such meetings involving the UA Board of Trustees are open to all members with each having the opportunity to be recognized by the committee chair but not necessarily being able to vote. The photo accompanying the story shows that was most likely the case that day. Both men were, however, members of the athletics, legal, nominating committees at that time according to a site capture of the board’s official website from January 26, 2013, explaining the concerns raised by each in the article.
It’s also worth noting the appraisal year mentioned in this portion of the piece:
“Vice President for Financial Affairs and Administration Richard Margison said a 2011 appraisal valued the land at about $3 million and a more recent appraisal valued it at $6.3 million — roughly $4 million excluding depreciated assets, which would be demolished.”
Both items passed the physical properties committee unanimously. The total expenditures approved as a result were $21.5 million — $20.7 total for the two purchases and $800,000 to help the Hardy Corporation relocate and replace equipment as a result of having to move. The cost referenced by Dr, Watts in his announcement on December 2 to invest in infrastructure for the football team was $22 million — a number The Carr Report points out does not include the cost of a new football stadium. The original price range for the entire on-campus stadium project as presented was between $66-75 million.
The vote took place the day before the general business meeting of the board of trustees — the day before Ray Watts was named the new president of UAB. The properties were also included on the board agenda (PDF; Page 15 under Real Estate Items) and approved. In other words — the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees allowed the purchase of two pieces of property specifically called out in UAB’s proposed Master Plan update in 2011 for use as a parking lot and an on-campus stadium the same day they hired Ray Watts as UAB’s new president.
If one drives by the properties in question (specifically the 12th St. South property), he/she notices most of the surrounding land is now controlled by the university; most of it converted to surface parking lots. An example of what the structures still standing are being used for is the building currently being used by the campus’s Barnes & Noble bookstore. It is scheduled to move into the soon-to-be-completed student center when it is finished next fall, making it available for future development plans.
The relocation of Alagasco as the result of the purchase of the 10th Street property eventually led to them purchasing a significant portion of the former TCI Iron Works property along 14th Street and a lengthy battle over the future of the historic freight depot on the site. The resolution of that episode led to the relocation of the depot to Rickwood Field for use as an enclosed batting cage facility.