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Why the rush?

04.10.2008 by André Natta · → 1 Comment

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It does feel a little rushed when you take a look at just how quickly the majority of the Birmingham City Council moved to authorize Mayor Langford to use $48 million originally earmarked for construction of a domed stadium for improvements to the Fair Park Arena property. The problem is not the proposal itself (they are welcome news to residents and existing merchants – for now) not the fact that the business community that Langford turned to for an independent analysis of locations for that facility is due back with a report soon (that may not provide the support for his preferred location). It’s the long term implications of shifting focus.

Most of the 2+ years I spent working in Birmingham’s nonprofit realm was spent making sure that people didn’t sell the city’s west side short. The term City of Perpetual Promise seemed to be created for the side of town that boasts some of its most beautiful gems of architecture and its most realistic chance of truly realizing a civic renaissance. It is the sleeping giant waiting to be awakened from its slumber.

While most people would drive down I-20 to get across town, I’d get on 8th Avenue North and just keep on driving west; getting a chance to paint pictures in my head of what a reenergized Western commercial corridor would look like as cars drove through Smithfield and by a renovated Legion Field and thinking of what it would look like with renovated buildings along Tuscaloosa and Lomb Avenues (if you made that left turn on Arkadelphia) and throughout Ensley’s historic downtown area. Along the way, I met and worked with merchants and residents who saw and believed in that same vision.

Whether we always agree with our elected officials or not, when they take office, there is normally some level of genuine interest in doing right by their city and their constituents. Many of these same constituents are probably tired of waiting for their moment to come where someone will come in and save their community. Despite believing that it can happen, they will look at an investment that is city-led as another example of why no one wants to help.

There are currently several organizations throughout the city that have been working on improving the quality of life for its residents for many years. Many of these organizations are operating with far less financial support than necessary. While it is great that the mayor has taken the initiative to push for projects to be completed that would inject new life into portions of the city, perhaps spreading the wealth through organizations like Urban Impact, Operation New Birmingham and Main Street Birmingham would bring about a balanced approach throughout The Magic City. There are many who believe these organizations have taken too long and that a quick fix would solve the problem of urban decay quickly. But it will be that, a quick fix and (unless the public is engaged) one that will lead to other issues that we may not be ready to deal with yet.

Revitalization of Fair Park is not insane at all. New businesses have recently invested in the area, including Serra Honda, an expanded Schaeffer Eye Center and the newest Applebee’s restaurant in the area. There is also movement beginning on the site of the HOPE VI development near downtown Ensley. There is a captive audience that would benefit from this renewed effort to energize the community. The question is how will it benefit those long-time businesses and individuals that have invested in the future of their neighborhoods, for the long term?

André Natta is the publisher and managing editor of The Terminal.

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Filed under: Birmingham · Commentary · development

1 comments
Bob
Bob

I agree that the west side of Birmingham needs attention and I thinking working on Fair Park and the surrounding areas is a good idea. What I don't get is the need to provide an equestrian center. The folks in and around Birmingham that think they will get mugged at Fair Park as soon as they get out of their cars will not trailer or keep their horses there. Why not use that property for a wooded park that could double as a cross country running course or even have a driving range. The state athletic associations would love that idea. Then they could have state swimming, track and cross country meets at the same location.