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Proposed $50 Million Amphitheater in Birmingham Raises Concerns in Jeffco

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By Barnett Wright

The Birmingham Times

A proposed $50 million amphitheater in North Birmingham that would anchor The Star at Uptown, a $300-million mixed-use development on the site of the former Carraway Hospital campus drew a number of questions from Jefferson County Commissioners on Tuesday.

Concerns ranged from transparency over the project, the amount of funding from the county and traffic.

“No one is talking about the infrastructure that’s going to be required in order for this to … make sense,” said Commissioner Lashunda Scales. “When you start talking about building out projects of this magnitude, you’ve got to start talking about some infrastructure. You currently don’t have that.”

The amphitheater, which would be owned by the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center Authority, would be a part of office, retail, and residential space and two hotels planned at the site by developer Corporate Realty.

During the commission’s committee of the whole meeting, President Jimmie Stephens said the project could be funded by $5 million contributions each from the county, the city of Birmingham, the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC), and Live Nation, the entertainment company that would operate the facility under a management agreement—along with a $30 million bond.

Live Nation would close the current Oak Mountain Amphitheater and move that facility to Jefferson County from Shelby County.

“If the amphitheater were to come into existence, it will require an agreement by the BJCC, Live Nation, the city and county to make an upfront contribution,” Stephens said.

The project, however, hinges on the ability of the BJCC and the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau to come to an agreement that the CVB would relinquish hotel tax payments provided to it by the BJCC.

Some commissioners said earlier this month they were surprised to learn that Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and Stephens had sent a letter to CVB President/CEO John Oros to “support a proposal to redirect a certain portion of lodging tax funds to help finance this important project.”

On Tuesday, Scales again reiterated her concerns about the lack of transparency.

“[I] almost find it insulting that you … didn’t have a collective conversation [with the commission) about the amphitheater,” she told Stephens, adding … “What I don’t understand are our priorities at this stage what, the county should be focused on is what we’re going to do to ensure specifically districts one and two know there’s some reprieve for us to be able to help folks once we build this project.”

Scales represents district one and Commissioner Sheila Tyson, district two, which makes up large parts of Birmingham.

Scales also said the county has more important priorities. “We’re not looking at folks who are struggling already with water and sewer bills. And at the end of the day, that’s not what we’re talking about,” she said.

Based off a packet he distributed to the commission, Stephens said the new urban amphitheater would host 15 to 17 shows per year, selling 120,000 tickets annually and generating approximately $7 million in gross ticket revenue annually.

However, Commissioner Joe Knight questioned those numbers especially after The World Games was projected to have an economic impact or $256 million, but instead finished with a $14 million shortfall, he said.

“That’s a pretty high prediction,” he said of the amphitheater’s projects, “but also the numbers that Live Nation presented in the packet, there’s a big bold thing at the bottom that says, ‘We won’t guarantee these numbers. This is the just an estimate.”

The seven-page “Amphitheatre Opportunity” packet included an “Economic Impact of Concerts & Entertainment.”

Still, Commissioner Steven Ammons said he was not “necessarily” against the amphitheater which would expand the entertainment district around the BJCC. However, he added, “financially, I want to make sure that it makes sense. I want to make sure that we’re not the backstop (guaranteeing funds if there is a shortfall) if we do cash up front.”