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Jeffco Commission Approves $2.6 Million for Tourism Projects in the Civil Rights District

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Elected officials and representatives of six organizations in the downtown Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument district and historic Bethel Baptist Church were on hand as Jefferson County approved $2.6 million for tourism projects. (Barnett Wright, The Birmingham Times)

By Barnett Wright

The Birmingham Times

The Jefferson County Commission on Thursday approved $2.7 million in federal ARPA funding to six organizations in the downtown Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument district for tourism projects.

The organizations include the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church; Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.

The $2,691,642 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding will be used by the groups for not only capital needs but attract tourists into the Civil Rights Monument which was established in 2017 to preserve and commemorate the work of the 1963 Birmingham campaign, its Children’s Crusade, and other Civil Rights Movement events and actions.

“This is a very important project in Jefferson County to preserve our county’s African American history,” said Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson, “[it] will not only lead to improving education opportunities for our local students, but it means that millions of visitors over the coming decade will be able to learn about the Civil Rights Monument and how protests led by groups like the Foot Soldiers, clergy and ordinary African Americans and citizens changed the world.”

Isaac Cooper, Chairman of the board, for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, said “the investment allows us to further our programs and our exhibitions, upgrade our technology to make sure that this next generation of leaders, but also the next generation of future employees … will have the opportunity to deploy their skill sets with the type of technology that we have, we’re super excited about this journey, thankful for the investment into the district.”

Ivan Holloway, Executive Director of Urban Impact. Inc, said he represents a number of African American businesses in the Fourth Avenue Business District and throughout the Civil Rights Monument District. “The goal is to have this immersive experience around growth and understanding of our community … our goal to make sure that there is a next generation of business and business products in Birmingham so that there is an economic impact locally that we all can participate in.”

The Rev. Arthur Price Jr., pastor of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, said its $900.000 in funds will be used for creation of a Visitor and Educational Building, which will be adjacent to the church.

“People can have an immersive experience when they come, where they can get information about not only the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church but some of the other Civil Rights National Monument spots in the district and outside the district,” he said. “We think that’s going to add to the experience that people have.”

The following organizations will receive funding:

–Sixteenth Street Baptist Church: $900,000 to fund work associated with the creation of a Visitor and Educational Building. The church is expected to break ground at its 150th anniversary in April of 2023 with estimated completion by Sept. of 2024.

–Urban Impact, Inc.:  $320,895 to aid in the creation of a culinary incubator within the National Civil Rights Monument and 4th Ave. Business District and provide access to capacity building and business development for entrepreneurs.

–Birmingham Civil Rights Institute: $900,000 to fund work associated with hiring a full-time curator to inventory exhibits, develop content, and implement updates. BCR also plans to modernize existing exhibits and boost outreach by creating a traveling exhibit.

–Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame: $407,506 to create original exhibit content, restore historic textiles to feature in existing and new museum exhibits. It will also aid the organization in being able to continue its regularly scheduled programming in the Carver Theatre for Performing Arts through its Jazz Greats educational and exposure program.

–St. Paul’s United Methodist Church: $101,261 to help fund a museum-quality tourist center. The exhibit will feature pictures, letters, newspaper articles, and videos to make the past come to life. The project is expected to be complete by February 2025.

–Historic Bethel Baptist Church: $61,980 – to aid in expanding its interpretative programs and tour experience by transforming the basement area into an augmented virtual reality tour for all guests.

In total, Jefferson County received $127 million in ARPA funding. The funds must be obligated by the end of 2024 and expended by the end of 2026. In addition to this allocation, the Commission has allocated:

$4 million to mental health and substance abuse programs

$13 million for household support programs

$45 million for clean water and storm water projects.