There is a divide in the Magic City. On one side is a fire station in the Kingston community. On the other is the Carver Theatre in downtown Birmingham.
Birmingham Mayor William Bell wants $3 million to pay for a new Fire Station Number 8 in Kingston, while council members want approximately $4 million to fund renovations for the historic Carver Theatre, home to the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.
There was some discussion during a Budget and Finance Committee meeting on Monday that the council and mayor could sit with architects to find common ground.
According to the mayor’s office, including both the fire station and the Carver Theatre, at the $4 million requested by the council, would create a $3.8 million deficit, and the projects list must remain in balance. The Carver is on the list at $2.2 million, as it has always been, say the mayor’s staff.
City Council President Johnathan Austin said, “the City Council has always been in support of rebuilding Fire Station Number 8 which is why it was included in the City Council’s response to the capital budget. The council’s budget recommendations are now in the mayor’s hands. It is up to him to operate in the citizens’ best interests,” he said.
The mayor’s critics say he doesn’t want to fund the Carver because the venue’s board chairman Bishop Jim Lowe led the fight against changes to the Mayor-Council Act to give Bell more power.
His office has denied that.
“The Carver Theatre is our building. It’s our facility,” Austin said.
Lowe, senior pastor of Guiding Light Church, is a member of the Gatekeepers Association of Alabama (GAA), a group of nearly 40 diverse pastors who earlier this year opposed changes to the Mayor-Council Act, as well as plans to give the mayor additional appointments to the Birmingham Water Works Board (BWWB).
Lowe said he would be disappointed if the Carver Theatre were used as “a political football” to get back at those who opposed changes to the Mayor-Council Act.
“I just hate to come to that conclusion. It’s not productive for the city of Birmingham,” he said. “I am disappointed if this is politics when we are trying to do something that will improve our city and its culture.
“I don’t want to believe that people are attacking what’s going to be good for us and putting their personal interests in front of the interests of the people,” he said. “I am reluctant to believe that.”
Bell said the need for new fire station is a “public-safety issue.” The building was closed in May and demolished in July. There had been complaints of mold, potential asbestos, and the fact that residents viewed the current building as an eyesore.
The mayor said that the Carver Theater is included in the phase 2 bond projects list and has been all along.
“The Carver is part of the overall Civil Rights District. We are actively pursuing National Park designation to revitalize the entire area with the potential of pumping tens of millions of dollars into that district, helping the Carver, the A.G. Gaston Motel, and the entire Fourth Avenue Business District,” Bell said.