By Emma Tolbert
I’m a resident of Ensley. I didn’t grow up there- I bought my first home there at age 28 and moved there two and a half years ago. I moved there for several reasons—no traffic jams getting to work, great values on real estate, good neighbors, and a strong sense of community. To me, those things made it easy to look past the overgrown lots, blighted homes, and pothole-ridden streets resulting from years of neglect by those we’d elected to represent us at City Hall. I was and still am elated to call Ensley my home, and I’m not going anywhere.
Our community, however, is under attack. Mayor Langford had a vision for the west side and saw fit to invest $50 million into building a world class Sports Crossplex in 5 Points West. The vision was not just for the Crossplex but for the resources and opportunities that would flow into the area as a result of it—retail shops, restaurants, hotels, and entertainment—amenities that would benefit not only the tourists and athletes visiting the Crossplex but the residents of the west side as well. There would be job opportunities, stores to do your Christmas shopping without leaving your neighborhood, and places to sit down for a nice meal with your family. I’m willing to bet he would’ve even put provisions in place to ensure that the businesses receiving city incentives had to hire their workers locally.
Now, nearly a decade since that vision was put forth, our current elected leaders have inked a deal to bring us a two star hotel and a development that according to the city’s own design review committee “does not have much integration with the existing neighborhood.” Let that sink in- a two star hotel. This is our one shot to get what we deserve on the west side, and we my friends are getting the two star treatment while communities like Downtown, Southside, Avondale, and Crestwood are walking the red carpet. We must DEMAND better.
In the Birmingham City Council Budget and Finance Committee meeting last week, the Mayor’s Chief of Staff exclaimed that he had news for us, “you’re not going to get a 3, 4, or 5 star hotel to come to Ensley!!” Well, Mr. Mayor and Mr. Patton, I’d like to know why, because to me that comment is not only offensive but stinks of racism and classism. If you can do it for Uptown, do it for us. Our tax dollars are just as green.
We all know how development works. If you bring in a Westin, then you attract business investment of that caliber—nice restaurants. We on the west side know what they’re called because we patronize them, and contrary to comments made by certain elected officials, we CAN afford to go eat somewhere other than Popeye’s and Little Caesar’s. The 5 Points West Applebee’s is one of the highest ranking in sales nationwide.
If you bring in a two star hotel, then you’re looking at a whole different level of investment. Just take a few moments and search “Comfort Inn” on your phone or drive to any of the several Comfort Inn locations in the Birmingham metro area. You might find a truck stop or a Waffle House nearby. At an average rate of $55-70 per night, we’re not going to be housing tourists in town looking to live it up at the Magic City Classic and the like, we’re going to have another budget hotel. Just drive down 3 rd Avenue West and see what those establishments look like—we’ll be housing prostitutes, not CrossPlex athletes.
What we need and what we should be demanding is a hotel with a full service restaurant and bar, a place with meeting rooms and catering available so that we who live in the neighborhood can benefit. We won’t be paying higher rates to stay there overnight—we already live in Ensley, but take a few moments, and think about the type of hotel where you’d like to host your family reunion or your wedding reception or take your spouse on a date night. I bet no one thought of the Comfort Inn.
If we allow our elected officials to sell us out on this project, then shame on us. They’ve committed millions of OUR tax dollars to paying for it. Other proposed businesses include a Walgreen’s and a Starbucks. I won’t belabor this point, but suffice it to say that we already have four drug stores in 5 Points West, one of which would be closing and leaving us with another vacant building when the new store is built.
Perhaps it’s a desperate attempt to deliver something, however sub-par it may be, to us just in time for their re-elections next year or perhaps we should just follow the money. The one thing I’m sure of though is that if we settle for the two star treatment then we’ll never get anything better. So Ensley, it’s up to us. Will we accept the two star treatment by our elected officials? Call or write Mayor Bell and Councilor Hoyt at City Hall. Join me at City Council meeting Tuesday at 9 a.m.
The year 2017 is coming my friends, and Ensley needs a Five Star General, not a two star. Stay woke.