The Jefferson County Commission today took the first step toward the construction of an open-air stadium near the Uptown Entertainment District with a commitment of $30 million over 30 years for that project.
“Our commitment has been solid for a long, long time,” said Commission President Jimmie Stephens, who also sits on the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center Authority. “It’s now time to bring that money forward and begin the process of aligning the finances. Having a seat on the BJCC board, we have a little better insight of the timeline that this is needed and it’s needed now.”
Tuesday’s committee resolution, which should be approved at Thursday’s commission meeting, is contingent on the county executing a mutually acceptable agreement with the BJCC, having a successful debt offering by the BJCC in 2018 and construction beginning on or before Dec. 31, 2018.
The proposed stadium is set to have 45,000 permanent seats and is to be expandable to 55,000 with the addition of temporary seating. BJCC has retained Populous, a global architectural design firm specializing in creating environments and venues that draw communities and people together, to create the conceptual design of the facility.
“The facility is not just for a stadium,” said Commissioner David Carrington, who chairs the commission’s finance, information technology and business development committee. “There’s 90,000 square feet of meeting space that can be used for conventions or for local meetings.”
Stephens was quick to note this is a BJCC project, not solely a stadium for the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“UAB will be a prominent tenant in that and will contribute through their lease agreement,” Stephens said. “It will be much more than a stadium. It will be a venue that will create activity we haven’t seen around the Uptown area and will be an asset to Birmingham and Jefferson County.”
The commission president said this project will require a public-private partnership that includes UAB, the city of Birmingham and the private sector.
“There’ll be many opportunities there, but this is a much needed project,” he said. “We’re proud to take the lead to get that done.”
The planned project will complement improvements at the BJCC’s Legacy Arena that are about to begin.
“That’s going to be an approximately $123 million project that will change the entire look of our BJCC complex,” Stephens said. “Along with Top Golf, we think that the open air stadium is going to be much needed and help complete our BJCC campus. It will open up an economic development area that is underutilized. The Norwood Community is far underutilized.”
Carrington suggested that firm financial commitments should be in hand from participating parties in the next 90 days
“Hopefully we can go in the debt market and can be breaking some dirt by summer,” he said. “The process is moving. We had already made our mind up what we could do, what our commitment was. There was no reason for us not proceeding so we proceeded today and maybe help accelerate the ball.”
In another matter, commissioners talked about ongoing negotiations with Birmingham Water Works on a joint billing agreement.
“We share the same customers and it’s only logical that we enhance our partnership moving forward,” Stephens said. “They had said they were going to separate the water bill and the sewer bill but that’s not what’s necessary because all water customers are sewer customers.”
Barry Stephenson, chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Registrars, reported that e-poll books, used at 16 precincts for the special U.S. Senate election, drew rave reviews. The electronic tools were used in each commission district, in urban, suburban and rural settings.
“The feedback was 100 percent positive,” he said. “We had no failures. The check-in process went exceedingly well.”
A countywide rollout of e-poll books is set for June’s primary election.
Commissioners also OK’d the design of the mural that will be added to the downtown courthouse lobby. Artist Ronald McDowell was on hand to show his work.
“They say justice is blind but looking at Jefferson County, I feel like justice is freedom,” McDowell said. “That was the basis that came to mind in this imagery.”
The scene includes images of the multiracial judges of Jefferson County, a pair of blind justices and an eagle, which he said represents America.