The numerous online forums here in town are always interesting to click through, especially when there is a hot button issue dominating the boards. In recent weeks, the issue in question is the expansion of the BJCC and the development of an entertainment district for the convention center district by Performa Entertainment Real Estate, Inc.
The development of the entertainment district is a no-brainer; locating such an attraction near Malfunction Junction provides visibility near one of the busiest intersections for interstate traffic in the Southeastern United States. The area’s redevelopment will most likely generate additional revenue for the city and the county through encouraging passersby to stop and take a moment to find out just what’s happening around town.
The more interesting debate among those that take place in the forums is the one about the expansion of the BJCC. Everyone points to all of these reasons why the expansion must include a 70,000 seat “dome” and not a 40,000 seat “arena”. In a city that is quick to point out how quickly something is out of date and needs to be replaced, maybe the real issue is whether or not the current situation is really broken. Maybe it’s also a case of deciding whether political grandstanding in an election year will keep us from exploring the possibility of doing what is truly best for the city and the region.
Legion Field is currently sitting by minding her own business, waiting for people to decide a fate that is not based on whether or not it can be salvaged and reborn, leading a renaissance of an area, but rather whether or not it’s heir apparent can support one game out of the year that locals most identify with it. I will not say I’ve taken an extensive poll, but I have heard from several people that they come to the Magic City Classic not as much for the game, but for the tailgating and the socializing. Neither of these issues would be addressed with a new facility downtown, though general parking for those that do attend the game for… well, the game would be, relieving many from being worried about being blocked into someone’s personal lot by others that want to stay for the entire experience.
Now I am one of the biggest proponents of seeing this city’s downtown grow and thrive, however this is an opportunity to take advantage of an existing asset and help bring back a great community. Yes, I said great community. My last merchants association meeting took place at Rickwood Field this week. I decided to drive down 5th Avenue North to get to the ballpark, taking me past Legion Field’s front door and through its neighborhood. I’ll save my piece on Rickwood’s needs for a later date…
The area surrounding Legion Field still has signs of its commercial past, one that would have been its entertainment district of the day, and one that would not be that hard to return to the area. The field still hosts international events, including the upcoming Futbol Internacional opening event next month. The field serves a purpose and provides a backdrop that few other cities can provide in the age of the enclosed multipurpose facility. In an ideal situation, the expanded BJCC could be hosting a concert and a convention while the Magic City Classic or an event like it takes place on the West Side and something else is happening at both Railroad Reservation Park and Fair Park. In other words, the urban synergy that so many people talk about would actually be taking place. The area around Legion Field is worthy of seeing some additional investment in it, though it will not come until someone decides that renovating one of the most revered structures for football in the South can be done.
This is a case where it is not an all or nothing proposition; you can have as much as you desire. I’ve had people tell me why you have to have an expanded BJCC or a renovated Legion Field. Why can’t you have both? While naming rights are not necessarily the purist’s way of dealing with issues, selling the naming rights for Legion Field and using the funds generated from that “sale” to upgrade the facility would allow for football games and the real reason that many come out, the idea of “sitting out in the elements” to enjoy the game or event, to rule the day. The need for expansion is definite, however let’s not forget about what makes Birmingham, Alabama unique.
Share ’em if you got ’em. One more later on today…