Category: Birmingham City Council

Birmingham Council Approves MLB Youth Academy at George Ward Park, If the Group Is Still Interested

After weeks of debate, the Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to approve the proposed development of a Major League Baseball Youth Academy at the city’s George Ward Park, though it remains unclear whether the MLB Youth Foundation is still interested in pursuing the project in the wake of the controversy surrounding it.

Though the MLBYF apparently had nixed its plans for the academy after receiving pushback from residents of the surrounding neighborhood, councilors said they did not believe a “vocal minority” should scuttle the project, arguing that it would benefit youth from all of Birmingham’s 99 neighborhoods.

Despite the lengthy discussion on the proposal and on a proposed compromise that was soundly rejected, almost every councilor voted in favor of the academy, leaving the project’s fate in the hands of the MLBYF. Read more.

Councilor Smitherman Carries the Next Generation of the Family Name Into Politics

At 25 years old, Crystal Smitherman might be the youngest member of the Birmingham City Council, but she arguably started the job with the most name recognition. Her father, Rodger Smitherman, has been a member of the Alabama State Senate since 1995; and her mother, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Carole Smitherman, served on the City Council from 2001 to 2013, was council president from 2005 to 2009 and briefly served as acting mayor of Birmingham in 2009 after Larry Langford’s fraud conviction.

Crystal Smitherman was appointed to take over her mother’s old District 6 seat in January, after Sheila Tyson, who held it from 2013 to 2018, was elected to the Jefferson County Commission. Despite still being enrolled in the University of Alabama’s School of Law, Smitherman was considered a noncontroversial appointment by councilors, who voted for her unanimously. She graduates from law school in May.

“No one doubts that you have the capabilities to do this job,” said Council President Valerie Abbott after Smitherman was sworn into office in January.

Since taking office, Smitherman has worked with Council President Pro Tem William Parker to launch a “Let’s Keep Legion Field Green” recycling initiative — a project not without its challenges, she says — and has been appointed as head of the council’s public improvements committee.

Smitherman spoke with BirminghamWatch last week about how growing up in a political family prepared her to be councilor, the shape of ongoing efforts to bring an MLB Youth Academy to Birmingham and what she hopes to make priorities during her time on the council. Read more.

MLB Youth Foundation Reassessing Plans for Youth Academy at George Ward Park

“It’s truly a sad day for Birmingham,” Birmingham City Councilor William Parker said Tuesday after revealing that Major League Baseball Youth Foundation was “reassessing” its plans to build a youth academy at the city’s George Ward Park.

The announcement preceded a long series of monologues from councilors, Mayor Randall Woodfin and members of the public, all of whom had differing opinions on what had scuttled the deal. Some councilors attributed the MLBYF’s decision to a racially charged campaign by residents who opposed the academy. But others, including Council President Valerie Abbott and several members of the public who spoke at the meeting, pinned the plan’s apparent failure on a lack of communication between the council and neighborhood associations.

Eventually, the council opted to set a public meeting with residents to clarify details about the project — which councilors said they hoped would save the deal with the MLBYF.

The Major League Baseball Youth Foundation had planned to construct a $10 million youth academy in the 120-acre George Ward Park, located in the city’s Glen Iris neighborhood. The academy, which would take up about 20 acres, would serve as a free, year-round training center — for baseball, softball, and “life skills,” according to the MLBYF’s proposed contract with the city — for the city’s youth. There are 11 such academies throughout the country; it would be the first for Alabama. Read more.

Birmingham Council Plans Quarterly Night Meetings to Make It Easier for More Residents to Attend

The Birmingham City Council will hold three evening meetings this year in an effort to increase accessibility and transparency at City Hall.

In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the council approved a measure spearheaded by District 1 Councilor Clinton Woods to hold one meeting per quarter at 5:30 p.m. starting in April. The evening meetings, Woods said, would allow members of the public whose schedules cannot accommodate the council’s regularly scheduled 9:30 a.m. meeting time. Read more.

New Birmingham Councilor Woods Is a Quiet but Focused Addition to the Council

Compared to his predecessor, Clinton Woods has been a quiet presence on the Birmingham City Council since he took office in January. He was appointed to fill the vacancy left by Lashunda Scales, who resigned in November to join the Jefferson County Commission. Scales defined her role as councilor as that of a vocal advocate for her district, and she rarely missed opportunities to speak at length about items that came before the council. “When you saw me with my mouth in those long meetings, (it was because) my district had been overlooked for a long, long, long time,” she said at her last council meeting.

Woods has yet to deliver any soliloquies from the dais, but he said he has spent considerable time speaking to the constituents in his district, finding out what their priorities and needs are. In his interview with councilors before he was appointed, he lamented “that people have come to city council meetings for entertainment value,” and instead presented himself as someone focused on delivering results.

“I’m not going to sell 100 … things I’m going to do,” he said then. “I want to tell (residents) about three things I know I can do.”

After the Feb. 5 council meeting, Woods spoke with BirminghamWatch about what those priorities are, as well as his stance on the issues facing the council in 2019. Read more.

Woodfin to Seek Limits on Dollar Stores as Way to Encourage Grocery Store Developments

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin has announced legislation he believes would address the lack of healthy food options faced by a majority of the city’s residents.

A proposed healthy food ordinance will be officially released in coming weeks, Woodfin told the City Council on Tuesday, and will include measures to “limit the development of new dollar stores in our city… as well as open more opportunities for fresh food producers (and) lowering the overall costs for grocers.” Read more.

Birmingham Council Supports Renaming CrossPlex for Langford, Question Parker’s Bid to Bring Oakland Raiders to Legion Field

Mayor Randall Woodfin and members of the Birmingham City Council announced Tuesday that they would support changing the name of the Birmingham CrossPlex to honor former Mayor Larry Langford, who died last month.

Langford spearheaded construction of the indoor track and aquatic complex in Five Points West, on which construction began in 2008. The $46 million facility opened in August 2011.

Woodfin and District 8 Councilor Steven Hoyt proposed the name change — to the Larry P. Langford Birmingham CrossPlex — during the council’s meeting Tuesday. District 9 Councilor John Hilliard, who did not arrive until later in the meeting, also has advocated for renaming the facility. “We believe it’s fitting for all the work he did and for bringing this to life in our community,” Woodfin said.

During his statement, Hoyt alluded to Langford’s controversial reputation, which included a 2009 conviction on charges of corruption and bribery for actions he took during his time as president of the Jefferson County Commission.

“We know that, no different than Angela Davis, you have to deal with the body of people’s work,” Hoyt said, referring to the recent Birmingham Civil Rights Institute controversy. “All of us have some issues one way or the other … but when you look at this city and see the things that were done under his leadership … We are better because Larry Langford came through here.” Read more.

Druid Hills Renewal Plan Expanded, Now Includes Carraway, McArthur School Properties

Birmingham is expanding its plans for the Druid Hills neighborhood. On Tuesday, the City Council voted to amend the Druid Hills Urban Renewal Plan by 104 acres to include blighted areas such as the vacant Carraway Hospital and F.D. McArthur School campuses.

Inclusion in DHURP is intended to make the area more conducive to potential developers, Michael Ward, a senior planner at City Hall, told the council. It gives the city authority to provide incentives for projects located in urban renewal districts, such as clearing land, constructing or reconstructing streets, installing utilities, assisting with property acquisition and selling property it owns for below market value. Read more.

Woodfin’s Decisions for Extra Funding Delayed for Council Discussion

The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to delay $5.5 million in funding measures that Mayor Randall Woodfin said would address “critical needs” in a handful of city departments. The proposals will instead go before the council’s Committee of the Whole when it meets Wednesday.

That $5.5 million would come from projected increases in use tax and occupational tax revenue, said Director of Finance Chaz Mitchell, who assured councilors that those projections were “very conservative.”

But several councilors, including District 2 Councilor Hunter Williams and District 8 Councilor Steven Hoyt, said that the council had not been adequately informed of the proposed expenditures. Read more.