Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and District 8 Councilor Steven Hoyt clashed Tuesday over a proposed grant that would fund five new murals in Five Points West, in addition to several other programs,
The argument resulted in a two-week delay and threats from Woodfin to scuttle the grant entirely.
The grant, part of Woodfin’s Bold — Building Opportunities for Lasting Development — program, would give the Five Points West/Crossplex Business Alliance $26,500 to provide a variety of services, including training, talent and recruitment programs for local businesses, a new business office for meetings and training to be developed in tandem with Main Street Alabama, façade and signage improvements for small businesses and the collection of data “regarding all businesses and commercial properties in the Five Points West Commercial Corridor.”
But Hoyt, who had called for the item to be delayed when it appeared before the council last month, took issue with one clause in the proposed grant requiring the business alliance to develop five murals in the Five Points West business district.
Hoyt said that he met with Five Points West stakeholders Jan. 6, with attendance “probably in excess of about 20 or more persons.”
“We decided collectively that we would support this grant with the understanding that we would, rather than do the murals, we would hold off on that, but that we would come back collectively and decide what’s the best way to promote the community outside of the murals,” he said.
Hoyt initially argued that the murals would come at the cost of an economic development strategy for the area. “If this is to be the priority or vision that this administration has for Five Points West, then that’s a low look … . There’s been little to no effort in terms of economic development with respect to west of 65 … . Maybe it’s the vision, I don’t know, but I think we are better than five murals. I would think that we could have spent that money on aesthetics and other things of that nature to bring people into the Five Points West Community.”
“Everybody else got a strategic plan,” he said, apparently referring to other Bold grants approved last year, “but you think the best thing you can do for Five Points West is to give us a damn mural!”
But Hoyt’s reasoning shifted throughout the discussion. “When you’re talking about putting up permanent murals, there’s upkeep, there’s all this stuff,” he said at one point. “You can look at murals all around this city now. Look at the one in Southtown (Court housing project). It’s in disrepair … . Look at any number of these murals around. There’s no maintenance, no nothing, and it looks a hot mess … . We just don’t want the negative connotation that sometimes murals have in the community.”
Woodfin rejected any attempts to change the language of the grant to exclude murals, repeatedly asking the council to simply vote the measure up or down as written.
District 1 Councilor Clinton Woods, attempting to find a compromise, suggested that the wording of the contract be changed so that the Five Points West/Crossplex Business Alliance would be responsible for creating “up to” five murals, wording which he said would allow the alliance the choice not to create any murals.
But both Hoyt and Woodfin rejected that idea.
Hoyt argued that he would rather murals not be included in the language of the grant at all, instead advocating for an undefined “project … to best promote Five Points West” created by community stakeholders.
Woodfin, meanwhile, argued that changing the language of the grant would be unfair to other organizations that had applied for funding. “This (grant) is not the city necessarily dictating what they need to do, but we approved it through a competitive application process,” he said. “There were many applicants … . Changing (the contract) impacts the nature of a competitive grant. When we’ve gone through this process and other people are applying … that makes it unfair to other applicants.”
Ultimately, council President William Parker opted to delay the item for two weeks, vowing to meet with Woodfin, Hoyt, and other community stakeholders “to make sure this is unanimous and everybody’s on board.”
“Nothing should be this political or this hard,” Woodfin said after that decision was made. “I am comfortable with as many delays as this body wants, because it’s your prerogative. But if it’s going to be this hard, and more importantly if it’s going to be this political, we will gladly give the funding to another Bold applicant.”