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Mayor Woodfin to Alabama’s Treasurer: Why Leave 731 [College] Students Stranded?

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By Birmingham Mayor Randall L. Woodfin

This is a guest opinion column

By now, everyone has heard that State Treasurer Young J. Boozer III has now declined to make the $30 million loan to Birmingham-Southern College made possible through an act of the Alabama Legislature that Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law on June 16.

The Treasurer’s denial of the loan after months of back and forth with BSC is puzzling. BSC meets the eligibility requirements, has sufficient collateral to back it, has a financial restructuring plan that makes sense, and has a reasonable timeline for repaying it.

His denial leaves 731 students stranded – 240 of them seniors who are expecting to receive their BSC diplomas in May 2024. And it harms the nearly 1,500 people who work directly or indirectly for the College.

His denial is also ominous for the State of Alabama, which would lose $100 million in annual economic impact; for Jefferson County, which would lose $70.5 million of that impact; and for the City of Birmingham, which is poised to begin a transformative revitalization project on the west side of town right up to the campus gates.

Our city will use a $50 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to launch a $294 million investment in the Graymont, Smithfield and College Hills neighborhoods, including building 1,000 affordable, market-value homes. And thanks to U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell’s advocacy, Birmingham will also receive a $21 million grant to create a 2.5-mile urban trail connecting these neighborhoods to the heart of downtown.

This is great news after too many years of too little investment on the west side. For too long, we have watched these historic neighborhoods struggle despite the tireless efforts of residents and their leadership. Through the years, Birmingham-Southern – which sits on 192 acres on the northeastern edge of Bush Hills and directly across Arkadelphia Road from College Hills – has remained an anchor for the area. BSC students participate in cleanup and beautification projects – including the Panther football team’s work at the Bush Hills Community Garden and College Hills cleanup just last week. And many neighborhood children are looked forward to the annual Halloween on the Hilltop, another BSC student-driven effort.

If you want to know what the future looks like without BSC on that hilltop, look no further than across town to Norwood, another historic neighborhood that lost its anchor when Carraway Methodist Medical Center closed in 2008 after several attempts to save it.

Yes, there is now much activity in that area with the construction of the Star Uptown project, which stands to give the Norwood community and the City of Birmingham a significant economic boost. We are excited about that project and believe it is good for the city and the region.

But it has taken more than 20 years since Carraway’s decline began in 2000 to find a viable project and sufficient capital to make it happen on a plot of land that is significantly smaller than the BSC campus. Neither the city nor its west-side neighborhoods can afford to wait 20 years to bring something back to the hilltop.

The loan program in question was designed for exactly the situation Birmingham-Southern is in.

The Alabama Legislature knew that when they passed the enabling bill, and Gov. Ivey knew it when she signed it.

I call on Treasurer Boozer to reconsider his decision to deny this critical funding to Birmingham- Southern College – and to a part of Birmingham that cannot afford to lose its best neighbor. It is not too late to do the right thing.

This guest opinion appeared originally on AL.com