The past 24+ hours have seen many heads shaking and hitting brick walls or palms of hands as citizens of Birmingham, AL and the surrounding community are left wondering about yesterday’s Birmingham City Council decision involving a vote on zoning for a senior housing development to be built in Pratt City.
Council President Roderick Royal implored his fellow councilors to delay a decision for three weeks as he made his case to move the project from its proposed site due to concerns about it being in “a known path” of a tornado. The nearly 1 hour portion of yesterday’s meeting and the resulting vote (8-1 to delay for three weeks) has led to some passionate commentaries in both Weld for Birmingham and the July 11 edition of The Birmingham News.
Both Mark and John made so many valid points, so all I can do is take it one step further by pointing at cities like Greensburg, KS and Joplin, MO and ask if those rebuilding efforts are foolish? Maybe we shouldn’t be pushing recovery efforts in New Orleans, or Galveston, TX, or Charleston, SC? Considering I’m a native New Yorker… no, I won’t go there.
It’s interesting when you consider just a few months ago there were some folks a few hours north might have considered Royal a voice of reason thanks to a blog post.
ChicagoNow’s White Sox Observer, Chris Lamberti, published a post in March about the Council’s decision to support construction of the soon-to-be home of the Birmingham Barons, Regions Field, across the street from Railroad Park. In it, he points to Royal questioning the vote to publicly finance the project as the voice of reason.
There are a few things that need to be cleared up based on what was mentioned in that post though. The $60 million+ price tag always mentioned always includes construction of a Negro League museum adjacent to the park. The construction of the museum never seems to be questioned, even though the existence of the National Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas, City, MO (as we mentioned back in 2008 when the idea for such a facility was first brought up on a City Council agenda) seems to make it more of an “it’d be nice to have” than a “we’d have something unique” amenity for the city. This doesn’t even take into account the fact that the facility in Kansas City was designated as the national museum by Congress back in 2006, so we’ll be competing with a facility that draws 60,000+ visitors a year located in the city that served as headquarters for the Negro Leagues…
The author also only points to one city in the state of Alabama for his argument about new ballparks failing in downtown areas. There was no discussion of Montgomery’s Riverwalk Stadium, a renovation of the city’s roundhouse or a look at the Huntsville Stars’ home, Joe W. Davis Stadium. It may have helped (or hurt) the contention about downtown development based on ballparks, but whether a project is successful or not, it takes a lot longer than people think, despite our desire to see things happen yesterday.
It may have helped if there was a closer look taken at the underlying philosophy of encouraging development that spurs retail and commercial being the unfair taxation system currently in place in Alabama (thanks in part to its state constitution – the longest in the world). The idea that more retail establishments would provide more revenue makes sense when you know that’s how the state generates its revenue – rather than a system more reliant on property taxes. It does exactly what it’s supposed to do, though it’s tough for a community suffering through The Great Recession to want to spend money on what many would conceive as a luxury item.
All of that is to suggest that while the council president might have been informed of additional information in both cases, it wasn’t quite clear to a lot of us exactly how he drew his conclusions. If there’s another factor more reasonable to consider for moving the location of a project that would be federally funded, it would help the public if it were shared instead of operating in the realm of the “we know more information that you do” approach alluded to during yesterday’s debate. The electorate votes officials into office not because they know better, but because we trust they will do the right thing and inform their constituents accordingly. Those are actually two distinct statements.
If “The People Are The City” as we suggest via the phrase hanging on the inside of the door of the council chambers, you need to trust the people – on both sides of the equation. Maybe we need to recreate that phrase on the outside of the council chambers so we’re all reminded of that fact as we enter.
André Natta is The Terminal’s stationmaster.
Photo: Roderick Royal in 2007. Bob Farley/f8photo