By Cody Owens
The persuasive smell of Southern cuisine wafted through the crowd as the freshly cut ribbon fell to the ground in front of the Comfort Inn and Suites at the CrossPlex Village last week.
It was a joyous moment that has been years in the making. The new hotel will be an anchor point for attracting future athletic competitions to the CrossPlex facility that is located just a hundred yards away. “When you think about all the hard work that so many people have put into this, it really just hits home,” Councilor Steven Hoyt said as people shuffled in and out of the automatic door leading to the hotel lobby behind him.
“I think the whole city of Birmingham is as excited as I am about this. It’s a good day. We’re talking about job opportunities for people who live in the area and could walk to work,” Hoyt said. “This is truly a dream that has come true.”
To date about $22 million has been spent by developers on the retail spaces and hotel at CrossPlex Village. Hoyt said that after the completion of the amphitheater and additional restaurants, upwards of $110 million will have been spent on the sprawling grounds that used to house the Alabama State Fair.
Just down the street from the hotel is the new Starbucks which celebrated a grand opening last month. The store is the first of its kind in Alabama, serving as a community training center for the company — the 11th store of its kind nationwide.
According to the Starbuck’s website, “The new store in Five Points West is part of an ongoing Starbucks initiative to support economic development in diverse, underserved communities across the U.S. by creating local jobs, providing in-store training opportunities for youth, and working with local minority-owned businesses.
“Since announcing the Community Store initiative in 2015, Starbucks has opened 10 other similar locations including in Ferguson, Mo.; Englewood in Chicago’s Southside; East Baltimore; Miami Gardens; Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Seattle’s White Center. Together, these stores have helped create more than 250 local jobs and connect more than 1,200 youth to education and meaningful employment opportunities through local in-store training programs. The company will open three more stores in Dallas, New Orleans, and near Atlanta, in the coming months, with many more in the pipeline for the years ahead.”
This redevelopment initiative is made all the more powerful when one considers how the former Alabama State Fairgrounds, where the new store is now located, were once used by Police Commissioner Bull Connor as an overflow holding area for demonstrators who were arrested during protests against segregation in the 1960s.
As buildings begin to sprout up around the massive CrossPlex campus, more minority-owned businesses are opening their doors to the community that has long been in need of additional restaurant and retail options. J Wings, a minority-owned restaurant that will soon be open at the CrossPlex Village, is one such business that has benefited from the targeted redevelopment of Five Points West.
During last week’s ribbon cutting, the line for free samples from J Wings snaked through the crowded parking lot. Jamie Smith, owner of J Wings, said that seeing how many people showed up to try some of his food, “gave [him] a glimpse of the amazing things to come.”
“We can’t wait to get over there and get involved with the community,” Smith said. “We expect to hire between 15 and 20 people and we’re really trying to make a positive economic impact for the people living here.”
Smith, who already owns and operates two other locations, said he expects J Wings to be open in November. “Working with Bob Nesbitt and the developers has just been a blessing. We want to keep paying that forward and help add something great to this area that people can be proud of.”
Speaking in front of the hotel on Tuesday, Bob Nesbitt, whose development company has spearheaded the CrossPlex Village project, said the hotel, which will hire 130 people, will be a pillar for the entire community. He thanked all those who made it possible and said this is just the beginning of what’s to come.
“I’ll tell you this too,” Nesbitt said. “Without the persistence of Councilor Steven Hoyt, this never could’ve been done. You cannot imagine the heavy lifting that has to be done for a project like this on many different levels. He always told me not to need something for this project and not let him know about it. And for that I say thank you.”