You’d have to excuse Valerie Abbott for feeling a sense of déjà vu when she attended the groundbreaking Thursday for the new BJCC stadium.
The president of the Birmingham City Council had been here twice before when ground was broken to build a stadium near the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex.
“I was present for both of them, back when Mayor (Larry) Langford was mayor of Birmingham,” Abbott said. “It was right over there in that other block. This is my third groundbreaking for this structure so I’m glad that it’s finally going to happen.”
Dozens of elected officials and citizens were near the corner of 11th Avenue North and 23rd Street for the latest edition of turning dirt. But this one is different.
This time, it seems that everyone is on board with making the stadium a reality. The difference, Abbott said, is cooperation.
“The cooperation of the state, the county, the city,” she said. “Everyone is cooperating with each other. The community, UAB …. I could name 20 different entities that are all cooperating to make this happen.
“That’s different from the past,” the council president continued. “I think this is just the beginning. This is going to be a transformational project.”
The $175 million 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 latest renderings were unveiled at the groundbreaking.
The stadium and $125 million upgrades to Legacy Arena are being paid for through a bond issue, which will be repaid with proceeds secured through the City of Birmingham, the Jefferson County Commission and the state Legislature.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin echoed a vision of transformational change that’s on the way in coming years.
“What we’re standing on now is an empty lot,” the mayor said. “By 2021, we’ll be standing where we will have a stadium as a complex in support of everything that’s happening at the BJCC and convention space, as well as a refurbished Legacy Arena.
“I think this will send a tremendous ripple in a positive way for commercial as well as residential development in our entire city,” Woodfin said. “Not just the northside of town but other areas of opportunity as well.”
Dennis Lathem, chairman of BJCC Authority board of directors, was among the people posing for pictures to commemorate this moment in time. He called Thursday’s groundbreaking the absolute beginning of a new era for the BJCC, which includes upgrades to Legacy Arena.
“We’ve got everything lined up. Everything’s ready to go to continue the designing of the stadium,” he said. “We’re already working on the arena.”
Lathem said the BJCC Authority is also involved in remodeling at Sheraton Hotel and replacing the energy plant for the BJCC for more efficient operation.
“We’ve got four big projects at the same time that in whole will transform the whole area,” he said. “It will add to the ability to book events. When we get the stadium, we’ll have more opportunities.”
And not just for sports.
“There are some shows that will come to an outdoor stadium, monster trucks, things like that,” Lathem said. “There are great opportunities to expand the utilization of the complex with a flexible-use stadium.”
The chairman of the BJCC Authority board added that the stadium is designed to include meeting rooms, which he expects will be used like some that are at Regions Field.
“We’re looking at utilizing it every way possible,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of work, but it will be well worth the reward in the future.
We’ve got great hopes for the area north of town and what private investment and other enhancements will come because of what’s being built here today. It has a distinct possibility that this is just the beginning of a lot of other development this will be the catalyst for.”