Why Amazon should take a chance on Birmingham

Pizitz Food Hall
Opinion
Pizitz Food Hall
Photo by Kara Kennedy

Why wouldn’t Amazon choose Birmingham for its HQ2? To me, the choice is a no-brainer. Birmingham today is nothing like the Birmingham of just a short 10 years ago. I know a number of people say we have a snowball’s chance, but I for one am a believer that Amazon could thrive in the Magic City.

You see, I grew up here and my father taught in both the city and county school systems in Birmingham. I know where we were and where we are. I am naturally connected to the Magic City.

Railroad Park
Photo by Kara Kennedy

The rebirth and renaissance we see going on in Birmingham was once just a dream talked about in committees through Operation New Birmingham, an organization I volunteered for 18 or more years ago before I moved to Washington, D.C. At that time it was sort of the same ole, same ole when it came to the “new Birmingham,” I kept thinking when is it going to happen?

Vulcan Mural
Photo by Kara Kennedy

You learn to appreciate so much when you move away. The renaissance of Birmingham had already begun when I moved back from Washington, D.C. in 2006.

I was even closer to the action when I worked at Samford’s Brock School of Business. For 10 years I had the opportunity to work with business leaders and stand on the forefront to witness all of the great things happening in Birmingham. I saw first- hand the many wheels that had been put into motion to transform the Magic City.

Sloss Furnace
Photo by Kara Kennedy

One of the major things that put things into motion was the merger of the Metropolitan Development Board and the Birmingham Regional Chamber Commerce in to the Birmingham Business Alliance. The new organization helps coordinate the public private partnerships that are key in sparking economic development growth in any area.

Birmingham Skyline
Birmingham Skyline, Photo by Kara Kennedy

Downtown Revitalization

I travelled to San Diego for a conference in 2008 and my hotel was located in downtown. I had a friend who lived there and talking over dinner one night, she told me about the rebirth of the downtown area. I told her then that I wished Birmingham would choose the path of San Diego and revitalize our downtown. In Oct. 2008, our nation experienced one of the worst economic downturns in recent history, so economic development was not moving as quickly as some of us wanted it to.

The Lyric Theatre benefited from the original historical renovation tax credit.

However, moving forward to the last seven years or so, things began to move again. With Alabama’s Historic Tax Credit program in place, commercial developers in Birmingham began getting involved and taking chances to preserve and renovate downtown buildings.

16th Street Baptist Church
16th Street Baptist Church, Photo by Kara Kennedy

True, some lofts were built downtown before five years ago, even during the economic downturn, but those projects were put on hold. Next to Region’s Field moving downtown, I would point to the restoration of the Lyric Theatre and other buildings downtown as being a huge part of the Renaissance. In 2016, Birmingham’s Civil Rights area also was designated as a National Monument.

A couple big steps in Birmingham’s renaissance also were the opening of Railroad Park in 2010 and the move of Region’s Field downtown in 2013 these two projects have sparked so much growth and rebirth of the downtown area. Regions Field has experienced record crowds for the hometown Barons Baseball team since making the move to Southside. Uptown and the Westin Hotel as an anchor near the BJCC also have added to downtown’s redevelopment.

My love for the Magic City is stronger than it has ever been, so much progress has been made in my hometown. We are nationally known for our food, our sports and our quality of life.

Birmingham Barons
Birmingham Barons, Photo by Kara Kennedy

Magic City Sports

In 2003, a little known park called Barber Motor Sports Park was opened and over the years it has attracted internationally acclaimed sporting events to the Birmingham area.

Birmingham World Games
Photo courtesy of Team USA

I remember waking up in the wee hours on a January morning in 2015 to watch the live stream of the announcement of which city would get to host the 2021 World Games, Birmingham was in the running. Someone from New York told me a few days before that they didn’t think Birmingham could win the games.

I knew we were up against a lot of competition, but I also knew the people involved in making the pitch for Birmingham, and if anyone could convince the committee that Birmingham was THE one to host the games, it was that committee. When Birmingham’s name was announced I couldn’t hold back the tears of joy.

Just recently it was announced that a world-league soccer team also was locating to Birmingham.

 

Highlands Bar and Grill
Highlands Bar and Grill

Magic City Food

Birmingham also has become known as a food destination city thanks to the hard work of Frank Stitt and his efforts to put Birmingham on the map. We have world-class restaurants that are destinations for the foodies in the world. Our chefs and restaurants have been on the national stage as nominees for the coveted James Beard Awards. Birmingham is now a destination food city. The prestigious Garden and Gun Magazine named us an up and comer.

Shipt
Photo by Kara Kennedy

Magic City Technology

Innovation Depot has led Birmingham’s way in becoming recognized as an emerging tech city. Tech Birmingham serves as the region’s organization that helps foster tech companies in Birmingham. Companies like Shipt were founded here, as were Waitr (a food delivery app) and Wyndy’s new babysitting app that won Alabama Launchpad. Then there’s Innovate Birmingham’s new commitment to STEM education to transform our city and Southern Research’s new attention to STEM education. The 100 Girls Who Code organization has a Birmingham Chapter.

Alpex pipeline of success uab
via UAB News

Magic City Education

The University of Alabama, Birmingham, Samford University, Birmingham Southern College, Miles College, Montevallo, Jefferson State Community College and Lawson State Community College are all within the Greater Birmingham metro area. These public and private universities attract people from all over the world to teach their students.

Birmingham Alabama
Statue of Ralph Waldo Beeson at Samford University – photo by Pat Byington, Bham Now

The student populations at these universities are diverse. A number of the students, who come to Birmingham to school, never want to leave because of the quality of life here. I know from personal experience that these students stay here, find jobs here and make a life here.

Red Mountain Park
Red Mountain Park, Photo by Kara Kennedy

Magic City Parks and Greenspace

As of 2014 Birmingham has more parks and greenspace than any other city of its size. Public and private donations were given for the development of Railroad Park, which opened in 2012. We also have these amazing parks: Ruffner Mountain, Rails-to-trails 5-Mile Creek Development, Oak Mountain State ParkRed Mountain Park, East Lake Park, Turkey Creek Nature Preserve and Vulcan Park.

Photo by Kara Kennedy

I am not naïve and I do recognize that there area areas of improvement that need to be made to the Magic City. I know the history and I know it well. When I mentioned my father earlier, I did so for a reason. You see he also was a coach and he coached in the first integrated baseball and softball games in Birmingham’s history when his teams from Ramsay played teams from Parker.

In 1970, he also was told that his Phillips High basketball team, which was integrated, would never make it to the state tournament, but they did. So, yes, I am a believer in the Magic City’s ability to attract Amazon.