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Councilor Hoyt ‘outraged’ that baseball academy won’t build in city

By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times

Birmingham City Councilor Steven Hoyt said Tuesday he was “outraged” that Major League Baseball would no longer consider building a $10 million academy in the city’s George Ward Park.

Instead, MLB plans to focus on a baseball complex in Vero Beach, Florida.

“I think as a city, we ought to be outraged that we could not empower our young people… this would have been giving our children an opportunity to do something different,” Hoyt said during the City Council meeting.  “You can’t complain on one end that our children are engaging in bad behavior and you’re being offered an opportunity to alter that and you do absolutely nothing.”

The project was met with opposition almost as soon as it was publicly announced. Glen Iris residents voiced opposition saying the academy would use half the acreage in the 120-acre park, displace an existing New South Softball League and impact the dog park, the walking trails, the tennis courts and the disc-golf course.

There were continued delays by the City Council as councilors debated the matter and finally voted 8-to-1 in favor of the academy coming to George Ward Park.

But MLB had had enough.

In an email first reported by AL.com, MLB representative Tony Reagins wrote: “We believe the youth of Birmingham would benefit from our programs, however the timing is not right and quite frankly may never be.”

Hoyt said the neighborhood opposition and political pressure appeared too tough to overcome.

“What I don’t understand is you had a vote of 8-to-1 and I don’t know where that works where one has more influence than eight,” Hoyt said, “… it’s a sad day that one neighborhood stopped a city from experiencing wholesome activities that would have probably produced some wonderful young people and they would have been productive citizens of the world but that’s a sad case.”

Council President Valerie Abbott, who was the dissenting vote, said she was not surprised by MLB’s decision.

“I am flattered that people think I have so much power to overcome an 8-to-1 vote of the council but it is just not true,” said Abbott. “Major League Baseball made that decision because they said they didn’t ever want to go anywhere there was any controversy. If it was up to the City Council, MLB would be in George Ward Park probably digging up the ground today.”

The problem, Abbott said, was no reasonable alternatives were provided either by the city’s park board or other council members

“We had some proposals from other council members but they weren’t considered by MLB to be reasonable,” she said. “It’s amazing to me that in a city that is nearly 150 square miles that we could not find another location for MLB.”

In other business, the council voted to provide funding for the Sidewalk Film Center & Cinema to develop a two-screen art house and educational space on the bottom floor in the Pizitz Building in downtown Birmingham.

The city will provide financial incentives to Sidewalk up to $200,000 over a four-year period in equal installments of $50,000 each.

“This is exciting having an Indie cinema in Birmingham, which is something you would think the city the size we are would we would have one but we don’t and so it’s exciting and I think that the city’s contribution is a drop in the bucket but an important drop in the bucket,” said Abbott.

Sidewalk will maintain and operate the film center year-round and make the space available to filmmakers, students and the community at large to use for film projects. The cinema will also screen movies and serve as an event space.

Construction is expected to be completed by June 2019 and will be open for the Sidewalk Film Festival August 19-25, which will be in the downtown area.