Alabama’s newest sports venue opened Saturday as UAB fell 36-12 to Liberty, in the grand opening of Protective Stadium a $200 million, 45,000-seat outdoor stadium built in downtown Birmingham.
Visible from Interstate 59/20 and adjacent to an entertainment district, the new Protective Stadium replaces 94-year-old Legion Field as the home of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which helped fund construction along with local governments, the area civic center authority and Birmingham-based Protective Life Corp.
As part of the stadium opening, UAB’s athletics department honored a dozen UAB Medicine employees for their work during the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 14,200 people in Alabama.
“We certainly recognize the burden these past 19 months have had on everyone at UAB Medicine and in UAB Hospital, and we want everyone who works there to know how much we appreciate their spirit, their willingness to help others and their sacrifice,” UAB athletic director Mark Ingram said in a statement Friday.
The stadium was built after decades of discussion about a replacement for Legion Field, which lacks the amenities of modern sports venues and is a maintenance drag because of its age.
“This has been a 35-year plus conversation,” Mayor Randall Woodfin said at a ribbon-cutting event.
A block over from the new stadium, the city’s main indoor sports venue, Legacy Arena, is undergoing a $70 million upgrade, and a 31-acre park is being built beneath the rebuilt I-59/20.
“This is one of those things that says we are a global citizen,” said Ron Kitchens, chief executive of the Birmingham Business Alliance, the regional chamber of commerce. “The city is making civic infrastructure investments. This is not a stadium out in a cornfield but in the heart of the city.”
Protective Stadium will be one of the event sites next year for the World Games, an Olympics-style sporting event.