By Monique Jones
The Birmingham Times
Birmingham Mayor William Bell calls it “one of the most important undertakings in the history of our city.”
The proposed CrossPlex Village development in Five Points West could change the face of Birmingham for generations to come, say supporters.
Tuesday, Dec. 13, the Birmingham City Council is expected to consider the project after weeks of delay and opposition from some quarters.
Councilman Steven Hoyt, who represents the district, said he’s confident his colleagues will support the redevelopment.
“It’s long overdue,” Hoyt said. “I’m hoping this is spark for . . . western area revitalization. I think it’s going to be catalytic from many angles including existing businesses that they will begin to invest in their businesses to complement that which will transpire with respect to the CrossPlex.”
The CrossPlex is a 750,000 square-foot sports facility which houses an Olympic pool and six-lane track. But plans for the area around the facility are what have city officials excited.
Bell said, “With the planned hotel, restaurants, amphitheater, walking trails, and retail shopping, we are not only creating a complex that will be enjoyed by athletes and visitors, but our citizens living in the western areas of the city will have more dining and shopping options and a great place to walk and exercise and enjoy a first-class venue with friends and family,” he said.
In an interview Wednesday, developer Bob Nesbitt of Engel Realty said the first phase includes a 101-room Comfort Inn and Suites, a building that will house a Starbucks and two other tenants. A second building will house five restaurants including breakfast eatery Huddle House, he said.
Phase two includes more tenants, some of which have already signed on and likely include a national drug store chain and several more retailers and restaurants, he said. A 4,000-seat amphitheater with the possibly of expansion is also slated.
Nesbitt added that $80 million has been invested into the project, and with the number of businesses expected to come to the area, Five Points West could see a tremendous gain in property value and income.
“We have some great momentum going for us in this project [even though] the infrastructure work hasn’t even started yet,” Nesbitt said. “That tells you a lot about what to expect once the infrastructure does start.”
The project has not been without criticism.
Some have asked for affordable housing and a five-star hotel to be a part of the plan.
Affordable housing has never been a part of the plans, Nesbitt said, but apartments are.
“Those apartments were always slated to be market rate apartments and not subsidized housing,” he said.
Nesbitt said he has also received pushback over apartments. “We are currently trying to determine how best to use that particular part of the site if we’re not going to build apartments,” he said.
Another concern has been a planned Comfort Inn and Suites.
“I don’t really understand those concerns,” the developer said. “What we’re building here is a 101-room, $12 million Comfort Inn and Suites. … The hotel we are building will be nicer than most because the Comfort Inn and Suites [hotels] in and around Birmingham [don’t have] 100 rooms; all of them are less than 100 rooms.”
As for building a bar in the hotel – which some have asked for — Nesbitt said, “the research that we did with various hotel experts indicated that a bar was not a good plan for this particular hotel . . . the primary customer base will be visitors to the CrossPlex [who are] generally young people, many college-age and many high school age. These are the athletes that come to participate in events at the CrossPlex along with their families.”
As a compromise, space is being reserved next to the hotel specifically for a restaurant and bar tenant, the developer said.
Despite the concerns, Nesbitt said the project has been well received by residents in Five Points West, which include Central Park, Bush Hills, Fairview, Green Acres, Ensley Highlands and Belview Heights.
“As a matter of fact, I would say we could not have gotten as far as we have in the development with this project without the strong support of the folks who live in the Five Points West community,” he said. “We have listened to them and they have listened to us, and we’ve tried to accommodate them in every way possible.”