On Birmingham’s new stadium: an interview with council member Darrell O’Quinn

Birmingham, Alabama, Darell O'Quinn, Cory Pettway
Birmingham, Alabama, Darell O'Quinn, Cory Pettway
District 5 Birmingham City Councilor Darrell O’Quinn and Cory Pettway, a Birmingham neighborhood advocate on Zyp Bikes.

He’s a new Birmingham City Council member with a district that covers both Legion Field and the BJCC. Find out what Darrell O’Quinn has to say about the new stadium.

Via www.bloximages.com
All Those Details

After the Birmingham City Council approved funding for a new stadium and upgrades to the BJCC last week, I reached out to Councilor O’Quinn to understand how divided his constituents are on the project.

A cancer survivor, a city councilor and an entrepreneur. Photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now.

He agreed to an email interview, and I think you’ll find his detailed answers to be enlightening. I sure did. All the moving parts to this project, along with all the talk about it on social media becomes too much for me.

True story: I can finally incorporate the rough speech of “I. Can’t. Even.” into a post. Because really, I can’t. Yay. I feel young again. Interview is below.

Birmingham, Alabama, BJCC, stadium, city council

In The Beginning

Could you help our readers understand the path of a project like this?

O’Quinn: “I am new to the Council of course, but I to the best of my knowledge the council was informed of this iteration of the project (from dome to renovation and expansion) in the context of the release of the most recent BJCC master plan.

Birmingham, alabama, BJCC, master plan
A rendering from the BJCC’s updated master plan. Via BJCC.

“Based on conversation with some of my colleagues, I gather that the council was not fully engaged in the development of the master plan. (Even former Mayor Bell was quoted in published media talking about a dome after the public release of the BJCC mater plan.)

“Shortly after being sworn into office, councilors were given the opportunity to be briefed on the conceptual plans for renovation and expansion of the BJCC. The first conversation between Mayor Woodfin and the council came in the context of a Committee of the Whole meeting where he asked the council to support the project. That support would come in the form of a resolution of intent, which passed 7-0-1 with Councilor Scales abstaining and Councilor Tyson absent.”

Birmingham, Alabama, Randall Woodfin, stadium, meeting, BJCC
Randall Woodfin speaks to the Birmingham City Council about financing a new stadium and upgrades tot he BJCC, via WBRC.

“The next time I heard anything about the project as it relates to the city’s participation was from a reporter who called on the afternoon of Thursday, March 22nd to ask how I felt about the forthcoming stadium deal to be considered at the Budget and Finance Committee meeting the following Monday.

“I received a draft copy of the funding agreement around 3 p.m. on Friday, March 23rd. I immediately read through the agreement and sent a list of questions and concerns to the mayor. On Monday, March 26th around 11 a.m. I met with the mayor to discuss some of those concerns. He also informed me that some of those concerns would be addressed in a forthcoming second draft of the agreement that I would receive later in the day.

“The next iteration of the agreement, now in two parts with an accompanying resolution, was provided at the Joint Budget and Finance and Committee of the Whole meeting that afternoon around 4 p.m.

All of the councilors were present and brought up several significant concerns and questions during about two hours of discussion. Around 11:30 p.m. that night, the council was emailed another draft of the agreements and resolution along with red-lined versions highlighting changes. Hard copies of these documents were given to us around 10 a.m. the following morning during the council meeting. So, the entirety of the process of considering the legal agreements and resolution happened between Friday afternoon and the council meeting on the following Tuesday.”

Birmingham’s District 5: Houses Divided

Please tell our readers about your district in regards to the stadium.

“District 5 contains both Legion Field and the BJCC. I got a lot of input from both supporters and those opposed to the project. And it was definitely not as simple as being for or against it. There were nuanced positions in between.

Magic City Classic, Birmingham Alabama, football, AAMU, ASU
The Magic City Classic, a Legion Field tradition and one of Birmingham’s largest events, via blackamericaweb.com.

“I definitely heard from a lot of folks. Someone even went to the extent of contracting with a telemarketing company to call a targeted segment of my district. The caller had a script, then offered to connect the person to call my office and/or my cell phone so that they could urge me to support the deal.

Birmingham, Alabam, Druid Hills
A street view of the Druid Hills neighborhood in Birmingham, Alabama, via Red Fin.
Why He Voted No

“Nevertheless, this did not drown out the thoughts and opinions of those I had heard from on the other side, especially those whose neighborhoods would most immediately be impacted by the decision. In particular, those in Druid Hills.

“This is the neighborhood where the BJCC is located. They voted their opposition to the project the night before the council meeting. That definitely weighed on my mind. Those are my constituents. They were telling me that they wanted me to say no to a project in their neighborhood. Under the circumstances, that made it extremely difficult for me to do otherwise.”

Alabama Theatre
Birmingham City Council members Darrell O’Quinn and Council President Valerie Abbott in front of the Alabama Theatre.

How did you come to your decision to vote no on the project?

“My decision was based on several factors, but ultimately came down to an objection to the process that was employed to push the legislation through. I had some significant unanswered concerns.

But more importantly, the public had no chance to review the details of what we were being asked to decide … I was not provided with a sufficient amount of time to throughly consider those contracts before being asked to vote. Moreover, the public had no real opportunity to consider them.”

 

Darrell O'Quinn Birmingham City Council Candidate
Darrell O’Quinn, submitted photo
Just A Little More Time

“I want to make clear that I was not opposed to the renovation of Legacy Arena in particular, nor the expansion with the open-air stadium per se.

Especially due to the approach that the mayor took with committing all new revenue from the project towards neighborhood revitalization, I wanted to give the deal thorough consideration. Had I (and the public) had a little additional time to evaluate the details, my vote may have been different.”