By Barnett Wright
The Birmingham Times
Lodging tax generated in Birmingham increased by nearly 15 percent in 2016 with more sporting events and conventions coming into the city, according to officials.
Mayor William Bell said the city sought out larger events that attracted additional people.
“We took on the task of building the entertainment district with the Westin Hotel with the opportunity to bring more people here to the city for conferences and conventions,” Bell said.
As a result of bringing larger conventions and more conventions, “our lodging tax is up 12 to 14 percent,” the mayor said. “That means we have more revenue for our general fund budget that we can then use to address those issues in our neighborhoods and communities.”
The city had a number of major attractions in 2016, including a Deontay Wilder fight at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex; the 110th annual session of the National Baptist Congress and, one month later, the Gospel Music Workshop of America.
Those events, which attracted tens of thousands of visitors, were in addition to the annual Magic City Classic, which continues to grow; The Birmingham Bowl, which has featured a Southeastern Conference team since 2013; and the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.
In 2017, the city has additional events planned, such as the U.S. Davis Cup tennis team returning to Birmingham to host Switzerland Feb. 3-5 at the Legacy Arena at the BJCC.
Wilder will again defend his World Boxing Council heavyweight title, this time against Andrzej Wawrzyk on Feb. 25 at Legacy Arena, and the National Baptist Convention USA will also hold its mid-winter board meeting in the Magic City, Jan. 9-12.
All of that is part of the strategic growth the city is enjoying, the mayor said.
“I knew that we had to do some things to make the city grow,” he said. “That’s why we came up with the idea of building a baseball stadium and the entertainment district. Now most people will say, ‘Why are you going to build a baseball stadium when you have potholes? Why are you going to build an entertainment district when you have issues of overgrown lots and dilapidated houses?’ We have to find a way to generate revenue and activity in the city because we don’t have a (large enough) tax base.”
The baseball park could have been built near Rickwood Field, “but that would not have had the impact that we wanted,” Bell said. “We located it down in the Railroad District because we had so much success with the Railroad Park, and I’m a firm believer that if you got one good thing going, try to put something else on top of it to make it good as well.”
Bell said he wants ways to make the city look “cool.”
“I tell people all the time that people in my age group go out to a restaurant and have a nice glass of wine and then they go home, but it is the young people that define the vitality of a community,” he said. “That’s why you see the Bikeshare program that we came up with. We try to create outdoor activities … so people say it’s cool to live in Birmingham.”