BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Look around and you’ll see Birmingham is not standing still. The city is on the move. The pace of progress in some places is seemingly faster than others. Railroad Park was a parking lot 10 years ago. As was the popular entertainment district now known as Uptown near the BJCC.
And Regions Field, home of the Birmingham Barons? Like that field of dreams line, “build it and they will come.”
They sure have come by the dozens, apartments, condos, restaurants, breweries, galleries and the like. “Some people might see that as the end all be all, but I see that as just the first stepping stone to make Birmingham a city that residents who live here will be proud of it, people who visit here will be surprised and want to come back and even stay,” says Mayor William Bell.
Mayor Bell says these types of developments are what have attracted people to come back to the downtown area to spend money and create the opportunity of additional revenue. “Now we can move into those neighborhoods to encourage businesses like here in the Ensley area to grow and prosper.”
It’s what Ensley business owner Antonio Spurling is banking on. His law office and event space are located in the area that is sure to be part of the growth and prosperity to anchor the Ensley business district. The plan in Ensley begins with creating more greenspace similar to what you currently see downtown at Railroad Park, in Avondale, and in Crestwood.
The mayor says city investment to renovate those parks attracted people to come into Birmingham’s park system. He showed us plans they have drawn up to turn an entire city block into greenspace in Ensley, “We have been talking to organizations like the Bethel Ensley Action Taskforce about building residential condominiums, townhomes, around this area.”
It’s similar to what was presented to the people of Pratt City where a lot of the foundational work has been done to transform the area with those same catalysts. New home construction, parks, the library which was built after the 2011 tornadoes.
For Mayor Bell this vision for a new Birmingham going forward has to include a look back at Birmingham’s rich history, “What our residents might not be aware of is Birmingham has a positive image in terms of human rights and civil rights around the world. We are the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement. What I’m trying to do is capitalize on that from an economic stand point.”
That includes the pursuit of a UNESCO designation as a world heritage site, but also an effort to declare the civil rights district part the national historic trust for historic preservation as the Birmingham Civil Rights National Historic Park.
“The best way to bring in money, in my opinion, to a city that was struggling was through visitors coming in tourism,” says Bell.
The money brought in from the hotel occupational tax has increased 13 to 14%. The mayor believes a world heritage designation will bring in even more people and with them additional lodging taxes.
“You will notice that there are about 3 to 4 new hotels that are under construction in Birmingham. That’s because of the rise in visitors we have coming here.”
The new intermodal facility already under construction is a key component to Birmingham being a city on the move for those who visit, and those who live here.