By Hollis Wormsby, Jr. I should probably begin this column with a disclaimer; I live in Ensley and own two rental properties there, so anything that stabilizes the community benefits me personally. With that said I love the recently announced plans to move municipal court, police and fire headquarters to Ensley, in a projected renovation that will be budgeted to the tune of over $40 million.
In addition the Bethel Ensley Action Task, Inc. announced plans to raise $24 million to build a mixed use development next door to this facility. That means a combined $64 million investment in the old downtown area, while it is speculated that new development at the Crossplex facility could bring an additional $100 million in new investments in that part of the community. That is a kind of economic shot in the arm this community has not received in the years since 1986 that I have lived here.
These new investments will mean 1000’s of new people working at good paying jobs in the Ensley community. I hope this will also mean 1000’s of new people who will consider living in the Ensley community. Right now our community is filled with too many empty and decaying homes, because there is not a market for housing on this side of town. So what used to be quality single family owned homes, become part of foreclosure investment portfolios by out of state investors whose only care is how to milk every possible dime of profit, out of the misery of others. Right now people who can afford to, don’t want to live here, and some of us who have invested over the years are left to wonder the wisdom.
But the Mayor’s proposal this past week was a shining ray of hope. I know there are issues about how the announcement was made and the lack of cooperation with the Council and I think there are legitimate concerns to be expressed there. But still this is one of those game changing moments, where the City has a chance to do something that would truly make a difference in the lives and wealth of citizens who have waited so long for hope.
Outside of what this development would mean for the citizens of the Ensley community, it also appears that it would be a financial winner for taxpayers across the City of Birmingham.
The City has entertained two other alternatives for housing the Police and Fire Department Headquarters. One of them was a proposal that would cost $119 million over 40 years in lease payments to a developer who has spread a lot of money in the political community. And the other was a proposal to spend over $190 million to build a new building in Norwood. Both of these developments require more than twice and as much as five times the cost of the proposed Ensley solution.
We have seen the impact that Regions Field and Railroad Park had in stimulating the creation of the loft district. With the momentum begun with these projects still rolling, the downtown and loft districts are at a point where close to a billion dollars worth of improvements have been made and in the process a better educated and higher income population has been attracted.
This is the same vision I would hope for if this proposed plan comes to fruition. This could be the beginning of making the western side of town attractive to the middle class again. The potential outcome is so much more important than who said or did what on the front end.
Or at least that’s the way I see it.
Hollis Wormsby has served as a featured columnist for the Birmingham Times for more than 27 years. He is the former host of Talkback on 98.7 KISS FM and of Real Talk on WAGG AM. If you would like to comment on this column you can go to Facebook.com/holliswormsby or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.