By Barnett Wright
The Birmingham Times
In another step needed to clear the way for a $50 million amphitheater in North Birmingham, the City Council on Tuesday voted to finalize its support for a proposed 9,000-seat theater in the Druid Hills neighborhood.
The agreement will not be completed until all commitments toward financing the project are secured, but the city’s contribution was a key step in that direction.
Mayor Randall Woodfin said the amphitheater is the continuation of a “full investment” of the city’s Uptown entertainment district.
“We have our convention space, we have our two hotels, we have restaurants, we have the new football stadium, the renovated Legacy Arena, and this is the last in this footprint as it relates to multiple entertainment spaces, this being the amphitheater,” Woodfin said.
The facility, which is targeted for completion in 2025, will be owned by the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC) and managed by Live Nation, a national entertainment partner.
The city’s financial contribution is limited to a one-time $5 million payment. With identical commitments from Jefferson County, the BJCC and the operating partner, those upfront payments will lower the amount the BJCC must finance for the amphitheater’s construction from $50 million to $30 million.
Bringing together the BJCC, the Jefferson County Commission, the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau (GBCVB), as well as Alabama and city government was the latest sign of regional cooperation and would not have happened 10 years ago, said Birmingham City Councilor Hunter Williams.
“We are finally working together more so as a region to do these big build projects that we’ve kind of talked about in Birmingham for 35, 40 years, but [we’ve never been] really able to get them off the ground,” he said.
Tad Snider, the CEO of the BJCC, said the amphitheater will bring a new asset to the city and “allow us to attract new entertainment opportunities for our residents. We appreciate the City Council’s support, and we look forward to working with the city and all the other partners as we complete the remaining steps to allow this project to move forward.”
The amphitheater will be a component of the Star Uptown redevelopment of Carraway site. It will also complement recent investments that have been made to build a new stadium at the BJCC, to modernize Legacy Arena and to develop the CityWalk area nearby.
Among the steps that still need to be completed are finalizing the agreement with Live Nation and financing the remainder of construction costs. The bonds will be repaid by the BJCC over 30 years, using proceeds from the amphitheater’s operation as well as a portion of lodging taxes generated by the BJCC’s hotels.
The (GBCVB), which had previously received those lodging taxes, agreed to allow the BJCC to keep those funds to support the amphitheater project.
In addition to its $5 million upfront contribution to the project, the BJCC has committed to cover any construction cost overruns and to rehabilitate parking decks on the Carraway property. If proceeds in any year are insufficient to cover the amphitheater debt, the BJCC also has committed to cover those shortfalls.
“This deal is structured to make sure the city and county have no ongoing financial obligations for the amphitheater,” Snider said. “We’re talking about one upfront payment only, and ultimately, we will pay the city approximately $1.3 million for building permits and other fees, bringing the city’s net contribution below $4 million.”
In addition to the entertainment the project will attract, Williams said that it could bring enough revenue to build two more hotels in the city.
“This is a no-brainer investment, and I am very thankful for not only the leadership of…the city of Birmingham, but also all of the different entities that have the same goal in mind and the same aspirations and realize, finally, after generations, that we are on the same team,” Williams said.
With developments like the amphitheater, people are looking at the city differently, said City Council Pro-Tem Crystal Smitherman, pointing to high-profile concerts at new venues and visits from organizations like the National Association of Black Journalists, which will host its annual conference in the city in August.
“I think we have really put Birmingham on the map because I’ve seen, over the last couple of years, big-name artists I didn’t think would ever come back to Birmingham, so I’m very excited. I think people have a different perspective of Birmingham when they come,” she said.
City Council President Wardine Alexander acknowledged the group effort to secure and tailor the amphitheater project for the city.
“We’ve talked about regional cooperation. We’ve talked about the public-private partnerships that we’ve seen in here, and I want to thank the members of this council, how you’ve each individually you brought your time and your talent to this project,” Alexander said.
City Councilor Valerie Abbott was the lone no vote on project, saying, “before we build this thing” the city should have a residential parking zone ordinance on the books.
The ordinance, which would limit non-resident parking in neighborhoods, has been in the works for multiple years, she said.
“There are a lot of people who don’t want to park in a parking deck. They would love to park in front of your house because they feel like it’s safer, but when you come home, you can’t park near your house because a whole bunch of people that live in Mountain Brook are parked there, instead of you,” she said.
Woodfin said progress has been made on the ordinance and that it would soon be presented to an upcoming meeting of the council’s transportation committee.
Times staff writer Ryan Michaels contributed to this article.