Author Archives: André Natta

The Terminal: Ten Years Later

Vulcan in Railroad Park, 2015.

I still enjoy a view of Vulcan from my desk at home (at least, for most of the year and not the one you see above). Discussions about the heart of Jones Valley being of “perpetual promise” still occur. There are still efforts underway to fill gaps in our local media ecosystem.

Some things have not changed in ten years.

That said, new residential and commercial projects are springing up across our metro area with increasing frequency. Outside news organizations focus an ever-sharper light on Birmingham and its people. In the midst of this progress, there’s still a need to focus on the day-to-day events of the state’s largest city.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in March 2007. It helped not to set too many goals back then. Of course, now there’s still a website answering to this URL where you find yourself (although it’s in desperate need of a refresh – it’s coming).

Ten years ago I looked at Pegasus News in Dallas, Gapers Block in Chicago, and Gothamist in New York admirably. I wondered if The Terminal could ever be mentioned in the same breath. I also wondered if we could meet the same need or more. It met at least the first goal, and I’ve gotten a chance to meet (and in GB’s case, know) the founders of those three trailblazers. Mike’s consulting. Jake just sold to DNAInfo. I just had dinner with Andrew while I was in Chicago in November talking about what happens next.

I’m the last of the four that are independently owned, with some level of continued operation. It’s a little scary. Our Twitter account remains active. (It still lays claim to hosting the first Twitter chat focused on discussing current events in a city.) I have a few stories saved as drafts on this site’s backend. I’ve resisted the urge to write commentary, despite having a lot of thoughts on a lot of issues. There are sheets of butcher paper with Post-It notes on the wall of my home office. They outline exactly what came out of that conversation with Andrew and others.

I’ve spent most of the sixteen months trying to recover from a stretch of anxiety attacks. They were so crippling I couldn’t take more than four steps before feeling like I wasn’t going to make it. I’m still not completely recovered, but I’ve learned much from the experience. This includes how easy it can be to beat oneself up about a lack of accomplishments.

This website enabled me to maintain a monthly column for a city magazine. I filled in for one of my favorite media columns at Poynter four years ago. Last year I was asked to co-author one of my own. (It returns next week.) I have the honor of spearheading the return of the Carnival of Journalism. I’ve been a part of the #wjchat crew for seven years now. I even interviewed as a finalist for a Nieman fellowship. I’ve been able to say and do more than I ever thought professionally possible. The friendships that have developed and endured as a result of all of these things and more are treasured – including those made during a Terminally Happy Hour or sitting in an area coffee house or bar just talking about Birmingham.

Plus, there’s still this place on the web. I’m still having conversations about what happens next. I mean, the domain’s paid up for the next year…

The level of change occurring in metro Birmingham is pretty incredible:

  • What part of that change do you need to know about?
  • How do you need to know about it?
  • What frequency do you need to know about it?

Despite the significance of the day, I have no grand pronouncements to make. If you can find the time to respond to any or all of those questions posed, that’d be helpful.  Knowing there’s still interest makes it easier to continue those discussions.

Those who’ve continued to check in on this site and me not just recently, but throughout the last decade, “Thank you!”.

Now’ I’ve got to go find some pi(e) and continue to dream great dreams…

André Natta is the stationmaster for The Terminal. He’s also digital media producer for WBHM-FM; a columnist for; and lead organizer of the Carnival of Journalism.

Changing the South means changing the attitude

NOTE: I wrote a response to a post shared on Facebook earlier today and felt the need to write this (exceedingly long) addition to/explanation for it.

I almost didn’t go out at all on Friday night. The plan was to crash on the couch after a week of attempting to prove to my laptop who was boss — and losing. A night at home would help me regroup and be ready to play catch up over the weekend.

This meant I was choosing to skip the first Art on the Rocks! of 2015 (complete with preview access to the Hale Woodruff exhibit fresh off a visit to the Smithsonian); three chances to see Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood at the BJCC (or a musical); three Barons home games (though I did see the fireworks post-game on Friday from the porch); a screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail at the Alabama Theatre; and buying a ticket for the first ever heavyweight title fight held in Alabama. That was just what was available in greater downtown (Beer on the Back Porch at Ruffner Mountain was pretty tempting as well on Friday).

Then, Mike Fourcher’s face popped up on my phone:

“Hey, man,! I’m in Bham. Where should I go out?” His phone number followed.

Mike is one of the folks behind Aldertrack, a must-read for political junkies in Chicago, IL. He’s also part of a group of peers I often forget are accessible as I continue to maneuver through the world of journalism, first meeting during the inaugural Block by Block Community News Summit in Chicago nearly five years ago.

I sent a message back saying he’d picked one of the craziest weekends to be visiting. Before I could get the next sentence started (stupid thumbs), he replied:

“I’m here for the Wilder-Molina fight.”

Forty minutes later I find myself sitting on the patio in front of Carrigan’s Pub with Mike and four others. There was a married couple from Texas, another woman, and a guy I later found out was from Queens.

I was asked what I did for a living. I told them about this site and then mentioned my new job working for the Southern Education Desk project. There was some interest in The Terminal, but most of their eyes looked intrigued by the work of the SED — then I found out what they all did for a living…

This is how I ended up having a conversation about the current and future state of Birmingham and issues involving education across the south with Eric Molina’s wife (an A.P. History teacher) and two of their friends (both principals). The guy from Queens was Molina’s attorney. There was no pomp, no fluff. Just a party of six enjoying great local beers (Good People and Cahaba, for the record) and great conversation.

I grew up in a city natives refer to as “the Greatest City in the World” and spent eleven years soaking up life in “the Hostess City of the South.” This September will mark eleven years in Alabama’s Magic City, though I often refer to it as “the City Built to Change the South.” It has done just that on numerous occasions, for better and worse. While some of the episodes many would like to forget were mentioned during the 2+ hours on the patio, most of it was focused on the potential, the progress, and the lessons Birmingham still teaches today.

They enjoyed what they’d already seen and hoped to do things like the Civil Rights Institute as well, wanting to see the important places of history, but also the progress. They felt privileged to be here, excited for the opportunity.

We live in the youngest major city in the southeastern United States, but one with a legacy and road map continuing to influence communities much older, albeit not without some longing for it to live up to its original nickname. Time can often be a brutal and unfair thing as it must pass for things to move forward. The city and the region is still positioned to change the South while still being Southern, leading to conflict among those wishing that wasn’t exactly the case.

There is a scarcity still faced by many in the community, leading some to question our priorities as we continue the process of remaking our city. There’s a fight though — a willingness to change the script and forge ahead, to leading or find a way to do something better. It’s still a scrappy community making big waves, and while many of us are the better for it, many more hope we continue to find ways to include more in the progress and the conversation.

Starting down the slippery slope of whether or not we’re a destination city isn’t necessarily where the conversation needs to currently live. Perhaps it’s about whether or not we’re worthy as a city to continue to dream and push forward so we have the attitude that accompanies being the destination actually shared by more than a few select people. Talking about our place in history should be accompanied with what we’ve done to build on it (& what still needs to be accomplished as we truly start to move forward).


It’s catching though, this positive attitude. This photo shows the property catty-corner of Cotton’s in downtown Ensley. There’s a community willing to dream big enough to think of respected artists designing murals for the wall of the Bethesda Life Center, the building of flower beds, and the belief a place is what you think it can be. It’s everywhere you’re willing to look for it — and tap into it. It may take a lot longer than you’d like, but it’s there for the taking — and for feeding off of if you ever begin to worry.

The energy from the conversation on the porch reminds me just how much fun it can be around here — when you want it to be. Do some egos need to be checked at the door? Yes. Does a can-do attitude need to see the light of day in the hearts and actions of the community as a whole? Absolutely.

We’ve changed the South before. Perhaps feeding off the excitement and the potential while finding opportunities for all will help us do it one more time and continue to help us do so for as long as we’d like.

New questions about the UAB situation for a Monday afternoon

UAB-Blaze-at-Bartow-ArenaI’ve been sitting back and watching all the buzz online today with regard to UAB while starting to get ready for my turn to manage a weekly online journalism chat, but I’ve got to share some of the thoughts and questions on my mind:

1) I’m still wondering why Jabo Waggoner has stayed so quiet for so long? Why is that what’s on my mind? A timeline I created for a presentation about this suggests both Williams AND Waggoner were present for a late October meeting with UAB officials. Williams has been quite vocal while Waggoner’s made very few statements.

2) Most of the buzz from today jives with earlier statements made. Just because we don’t always pay attention to what’s been said doesn’t mean it hasn’t been public. It may just mean that emotions are strong on this issue (and rightfully so).

3) Assuming the bill that requires UAB must field a team passes, how do we as a community make sure the university as a whole (and the athletics department in particular) is not in this same position in 4-5 years? If UAB is going to get back a football team (and I, for one, hope that’s the case at some point), how is a similar financial situation kept from happening again? We will be making history anyway as the first state in the country to require that a university field a football team, so we probably want to make sure it stays viable to field teams for as long as possible (especially as we wait to see how the state will attempt to handle its own funding gap in the coming months).

4) Why did so many folks “wait to be asked” to do something if it’s been an issue for years? I’m not talking about those who’ve long served faithfully as boosters to the program, but those who would’ve made the burden less stressful (i.e., major corporate citizens). If it’s always been suggested that we must volunteer to lead instead of waiting to be asked, why point to not being asked as a reason for sitting on the sidelines instead of seeing the need and filling it? Will “they” step up and serve if asked (as they will need to moving forward)?

Then again, perhaps that same question can be asked about several issues currently facing the city and the region…

5) Can we take a moment and say how proud we are of the men’s basketball team for their NCAA tournament run for a little while longer? They did their university and this city proud and will probably be on more than a few radars next year.

6) When we look back, will this be a case of attempting to see what will get the home rule debate before the state’s citizens in a palatable way? If you take out UAB and insert the name of any major city in the state, isn’t it really about home rule? Is a constitutional amendment regulating an athletic team as important as ones that deal with the issues truly affecting the state right now? I’m a home rule fan. I’m not a fan of home rule with strings attached being dictated by the Legislature as is the case right now (see Question #3).

It may be oversimplifying a lot of what’s going on today, but it’s what I’ve got. Chime in if you have a moment (or if I’ve missed some questions — and believe me, there are a lot more that need to be asked of all sides on this one).


By the way: Before I forget, I’d like to acknowledge a former UAH athlete not getting a lot of attention in Alabama in recent weeks – Cam Talbot. Talbot is the backup goalie for the New York Rangers and, in the absence of their number 1 goalie due to a damaged blood vessel, he’s once again proven he’s, as the Wall Street Journal calls him, “the best insurance policy in the NHL.” 36 saves last night alone – insane.

André Natta is the stationmaster of

After all, it’s all about ethics

“You’re not normal.”

uabwatchI’ve gotten used to hearing many people tell me that over the years. It’s never really hit me how useful being different was until I started working on the presentation to the Alabama chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). The focus of the talk will be dissecting the announcement that led to the discontinuation of bowling, football, and rifle back on December 2, 2014. The bio included in the description of the talk tells you a bit of my background. My fill-in stint for Regret the Error has prepared me well for this (I hope – thanks, Craig!). This is also my first public appearance as the incoming president of the Birmingham Association of Black Journalists. I promise I’ll be able to focus on our first meeting of the year (it’ll be on Saturday, January 24 — a link will eventually live here) soon — well, starting tomorrow.

There are probably plenty of folks preparing to attend the session who are Googling me and looking at what I’ve written these last nine years. There’s a chance they’ve even seen the CV I still need to make current over on Urban Conversations. In advance of the talk and some upcoming posts, I’d like to borrow a page from Daniel O’Neill up in Chicago and share some of the ethics and biases that have taken the journey with me.

I’m a former student athlete. Yes, somewhere in the deep, dark recesses of the NCAA databases there exists a set of stats for a left-handed utility player for the 1994 Savannah College of Art and Design men’s baseball team. We weren’t the best squad in the program’s history, but we weren’t the worst either. Depending on how the official scorer recorded my in-game appearances, there’s an outside chance I may be the school record holder in on-base percentage (albeit only because of a lack of plate appearances). Why? That’d be because of the screw in my left knee from discovering a condition during drills one day – the hard way.

I know all about going to practice and missing dinner in the cafeteria; having to lug books and T-squares (I was an architecture major at the time) on buses and planes; and (thanks to my injury) some of the additional headaches associated with rehab and a full course load. Granted, I played in NCAA Division III, so it was all about the degree – and the ribbing that still takes place from time to time online. I still hear from Coach though — he’s currently an AD (and also a former DIII conference commissioner).

I’ve managed a few “real” P&Ls. I started serving as general manager of a boutique hotel in Savannah, GA on October 1, 2001. I lasted nearly 13 months and held my own fairly well considering what had just happened at home in New York City. Actually, I had a top-performing property in the company. It’s not that I like numbers; I’m scared of them, so I tend to spend a lot more time with them to make sure they’re right. It still takes me forever to get through one, but I need to understand them. I got additional practice between 2002 – 2008 as an employee of economic development agencies working with small business owners both here and in Georgia as well as a consultant working with communities in Alabama and Colorado.

Here are a few other things specifically related to this talk –

  • I am a Leadership UAB alum (2009);
  • UAB provided (for free) the space for the last WordCamp Birmingham I served as lead organizer for (though we did have to pay for wireless access);
  • I’ve helped raise money for WBHM during an on-air pledge drive;
  • and I’ve served as a panelist for one of WBHM’s Issues and Ales sessions.

Between this list and the bio, I hope you’ll understand how I approached this topic. I’m looking forward to hearing from all of you in the coming days and weeks.


A lack of bedside manners and options presented at UAB

DrRayWattsSrMD-232x300There’s a commonly held stereotype that doctors don’t all have the best bedside manner. I’ve been lucky to know a few doctors in my life (some as friends, at least one as family) that don’t measure up to that perception; they’re engaging, informative, and personable. Unfortunately, the last 48 hours have demonstrated that it might actually apply to UAB president Ray Watts (especially after the release of an extended video clip showing his interaction with members of the football team during their closed door meeting).

In February 2013 I wrote of the need for the next president of UAB to dreams bigger dreams while being willing to use the bully pulpit to do so. Recent events weren’t exactly what I had in mind.

There is something most doctors are normally good at doing – offering us options and encouraging us to get a second opinion. Even those with the worst bedside manner are capable of this feat. I haven’t found a real instance of the UAB president providing any to the student body. The document used to justify Tuesday’s announcement (merely part of the strategic plan that still needs to be made public upon its completion) took one off the table right off the bat – competing as a Football Championship Subivision (FCS) school instead of Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). Given the answers former UAB athletic director Brian Mackin wrote to UNC Charlotte during their exploratory process – ones shared in a this piece published on the Business of College Sports on December 3 – it’s understandable why; we are in the heart of the most rabid college football fan base in the country. (Incidentally, if you’re still attempting to blame Mackin for what happened even after you realize he basically gave up his post because he didn’t agree with it, stop.) Note, 14 of the 16 schools in Division I to discontinue football since 1995 are FCS schools as mentioned in this piece on the site’s front page today.

What happened at East Tennessee State?

Another option not readily offered was allowing students to decide if they’d be willing to increase student fees to offset the anticipated costs for the program. This is how East Tennessee State University will bring their team back to action next year to compete in the FCS. Their student government voted 22-5 to increase their student fees by $125/semester to support a return of football in 2013. Their university president was in attendance at the vote. This followed a controversial vote of the entire student body in 2007 (four years after the program wrapped up its final season at 3-6 knowing it was the last one) that failed to garner support. The vote in 2013 was not without some students voicing concern about how they would find another $1,000 over four years to pay for their college education (an extremely legitimate one), but the option was presented and considered.

Could their plan work if carried out at UAB?

Based on their plan (as it was passed by Tennessee’s state Board of Regents) and UAB’s currently listed total student population of 18,568, a similarly approved measure would generate $4,642,000 per year if implemented next academic year. Even if enrollment numbers did not increase, $23,210,000 would be available over a five-year period. If the UAB Football Foundation were also able to average $5 million in fund raising efforts per year for the next five years, UAB would have $48,210,000 available to use. Taking the level of passion showed in recent days into consideration and assuming the student body did continue to increase, it’s safe to say the $49 million deficit cited in the analysis could easily be filled – and that’s before the city, county, and state get involved – saving all three discontinued teams.

The timeline of events at East Tennessee State University reminds us neat and tidy is not always possible and that solutions could take time (something the current Blazers may not possess). The idea of an FBS team not taking the field in the Football Capital of the South does have some cringing and upset – after all, as former long-time Birmingham News sports editor Zipp Newman famously wrote, “Football is a religion of the Southland, played by the boys and lived and relived daily by their families.” I’m positive the ‘Dean of Southern sports writers’ would be calling for frank, candid discussions about the options available short and long-term. We need someone – maybe even the university president – to be more candid about what’s possible.

It’s also worth noting if the process necessary for an East Tennessee State-type of solution are carried out the same way here, the final decision would lie with the university system board of trustees. It would be a moment to see if they will listen to their students or if this is about something else. It’d also show if they were willing to take the words of their first chancellor (UAB’s first president, Joseph Volker) to heart about dreaming big dreams for Birmingham.

André Natta is the stationmaster for

Birmingham needs a lot of things, including choices

New York City.I was on the phone with my mother (still up in the Bronx) last week when she asked about what I hoped to be writing about once the site was back up. I told her about the recent twists and turns involving Uber. Then she said, “By the way, Lopez said hello.” I had to smile.

She used a livery service (normally for the ride home to the edge of the Fordham Heights/University Heights neighborhoods) for the better part of 15 years while she worked at both Harlem Hospital and Columbia-Presbyterian after pulling twelve hour shifts as a registered nurse in their NICUs. It didn’t hurt that one of the dispatchers was located only blocks from us. The vast majority of the time, Lopez was the one who picked her up. He’d apparently asked how I was doing after picking up my mother and brother from a trip out on Fordham Road. The service’s number is one that still lives in my cell phone; it’s almost a necessity as a Bronx native. Why? Yellow cabs generally didn’t “do” the outer boroughs “back in the day” and they weren’t allowed to do pre-arranged rides.

I smirk with envy as the “Boro taxis” are now available for the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and most of the northern portions of Manhattan. I grew up seeing folks hailing taxis on television and I’d laugh if it was somewhere known to be impossible to get one (generally anything north of 96th Street). Livery cars gave us one more option to consider when getting around in New York City – especially when it came to getting home late at night when subway and bus (this one’s just the Bronx’s routes) arrivals at stations are more spaced out and the throngs of straphangers are scattered. They weren’t necessarily all equal either. So I was led to laugh some more at folks who kept pointing to NYC as I remembered just how crazy the situation was and continues to be in the city. I remember the need for enterprising individuals to set up solutions in a broken system.

I look at Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, and others like them as simply replacing in-car CB radios accepted as a staple of car service with a new tool. It’s tougher to rob an Uber driver if they don’t have cash to take. It’s tougher for a driver to say they don’t know where you’re going (but they don’t want to listen to you tell them how to get there) when there’s GPS available. It’s tough to argue with a user rating on either side of the equation. The service in Birmingham, however, could be seen as a business opportunity for drivers but an extra for many given the region’s low median household income levels.

One thing I learned long ago was New Yorkers are spoiled in terms of choice. Taxis and liveries work because we had other methods of getting around available for consideration. Something I’ve noticed here is the need for a car often outweighs the want of a car in Birmingham. We’re getting pretty excited for a new service that works best when augmented by other services desperately needed throughout the city and the region.

As much as many believe #BirminghamNeedsUber, I’d argue what the Magic City needs more than anything else is choices. Some of those choices are on the way, though they’d probably appreciate the same level of enthusiasm Uber has received in recent weeks. Why aren’t we seeing #BirminghamNeedsTransit or #BirminghamNeedsChoices or #BirminghamNeedsBikes used with equal excitement? I’m pretty sure Ann August would appreciate a community supporting her efforts to improve our transit authority, the BJCTA. Those efforts would undoubtedly improve opportunities for potential Uber drivers to get fares. While bike sharing may not provide the same potential, the Birmingham Bike share initiative needs some cheerleaders too.

I’ve done my best to avoid using ride-sharing when discussing Uber and other car service apps (though I slipped when posting last week). Mike Smith’s piece on Tuesday afternoon about CommuteSmart and the significance of that term does a great job explaining why it may not be the best one to use long-term as we continue to tackle the issue. It’s worth noting again that other cities are moving forward with similar legislation, with eerily similar hashtags to those being used here deployed – for instance, meet #NOLAneedsUber.

Changes need to be made as this city starts to move at a pace few are ready for, though perhaps it needs to think hard about where those efforts need to be focused first.

André Natta is the stationmaster for

Photo: New York CityDamion Morys/Flickr.

Still dreaming big dreams for Birmingham in 2021

UPDATE: Birmingham was awarded the 2021 World Games on January 22, 2015.

rickwoodjune2014“You know, baseball isn’t an Olympic sport for 2020.”

I smirked as I said this during a chance encounter with David Brewer, executive director of the Friends of Rickwood Field, as we stood looking out at home plate in America’s oldest ballpark late Monday morning.

He laughed and said, “You know, you’re right,” as he returned to the never ending list of to-dos associated with his job, leaving me to think. I often find myself there in the historic structure on the city’s west side sitting in the general admission seats (or the first base dugout) in order to escape and think. This time, I tried to calm my mind to tackle some brainstorming but ended up dreaming big dreams. (It’s a bad habit of mine.) I thought of what it would be like to sit in the stands at Rickwood Field and Regions Field surrounded by others from around the world in 2021. It would take the International Baseball Federation successfully campaigning the International World Games Association to be added as a sport or a request of the city’s organizing committee, but there’s a chance…

IWGA logoNo, I’m not insane. Word of the city’s intention to submit a bid to host the 11th World Games in 2021 spread like wildfire on Sunday morning. People were still taking a breath from hearing of its bid to host the 2016 Democratic National Convention on Friday. These are noticeably bold moves in the midst of evidence of the city’s long-sought renaissance finally taking shape. I brought up during a quick exchange via Twitter that the potential resulting benefits and impact sound similar to those previously floated by a certain former mayor. The response: “Same thinking, but more realistic.” Hindsight is always 20/20 though and I’ve got a feeling historians will look at both situations as examples of the city taking a risk.

That said, this current proposal is a little easier to swallow for folks and easier to celebrate if successful (especially since it would be during Birmingham’s 150th birthday, but I digress). While the World Games started as a way to focus more on the athletes and less on keeping score among nations, they have come to be as significant in meaning to the host city as a successful Olympic bid without nearly the same level of expense.

Why? Here it is, courtesy of the bid packet:

In fact, the Rules of The World Games stipulate that the games must be staged at existing venues, or at venues that have been planned and built regardless of the bid for TWG.

This means that while the multi-purpose facility (a.k.a. the Dome) is probably going to happen, it’s not affecting this bid one way or the other. That can be also read as it doesn’t necessarily mean facilities can’t be renovated or modernized in order to accommodate events. This suddenly makes things like seeing a City Council agenda item for a feasibility study of Legion Field earlier this year more understandable (especially when coupled with the mayor’s comments during this year’s State of the City address).

This is a city that needs an excuse to light a fire under itself to get something accomplished. It also needs reassurances from outsiders. This would seem to accomplish both while, as said elsewhere previously, leaving the city in a better place if the bid proves unsuccessful.

The DNC bid was due last Friday, June 6 (and some have already written about its potential for success, including this piece on June 9 by Cliff Sims at Yellowhammer News and this one published on June 8 by Chuck Dean of Media Group). The World Games bid is due on July 31. Once it’s arrived in Colorado, the hard part begins. We have to keep dreaming big dreams and acting on them.

After watching this recap video from the 2013 World Games in Cali, Colombia (or photos like this one from its closing ceremonies), I’m thinking it shouldn’t be too hard to do.

BTW – it should be noted that American football was chosen as one of the invitational sports for the 2017 World Games in Wroclaw, Poland. Just saying…

André Natta is the stationmaster for