One of the images that stick out in my mind when I reflect on the World Games is how welcoming our city was to athletes, coaches and fans from all over the world. From the standing ovation and message of solidarity that was given to the Ukrainian athletes, to stories of local volunteers driving to Atlanta to retrieve bags or the countless meals that residents paid for when they saw teams out at a restaurant, these stories give me hope for what is on the horizon now that the dust is settling.
Lots can be said about the economic impact of these games. It will take some time to truly wrap our heads around what was gained and what it means for the trajectory of our city. But for me, I think the most lasting impact, both from an economic and cultural standpoint, will be the momentum we were able to gain on a local level; reintroducing ourselves to the surrounding suburbs, and reminding folks what can be accomplished when we all share a common goal.
People who may only live ten miles from downtown, but haven’t visited in years, were able to come and see the strides our city has taken over the last decade and, with any luck, come to understand that Birmingham isn’t anything like what they remember.
It’s hard to imagine a single person who visited City Walk — with the lights and colors shining down on crowds of visitors from all over the world – walked away feeling as though we’re going in the wrong direction.
Of course, the goal was always to showcase the Magic City to the world, and to welcome the 3,600 athletes from over 100 countries with open arms, but the true measure of the lasting economic impact will come from local people who fell back in love with our city.
We can all feel it. The wave of regional cooperation is building, and with the incredible success we had during those 11 days in July, we are positioned to attract more and more major events. This is the first SEAR 1 event (Special Event Assessment Rating) that has ever been hosted in Alabama (read that again). That type of coordination with all the different federal agencies with the state and city cannot be overstated.
For Birmingham to be able to come through a pandemic, and in the matter of several months, host the USFL and the World Games is a huge win for the entire region. Hosting an event of this magnitude, and doing so without a hitch, is a major “resume builder” for Birmingham as we continue to recruit in the future. Speaking of, it’s worth reminding readers that in three years we will be hosting the 2025 World Police and Fire Games, which will bring significantly more people to our city. Imagine for a moment where we can be in that time if we continue to lean into our regional cooperation and momentum.
As I previously alluded to, economic development goes far beyond bringing in big, flashy events. We have to continue to push forward with ways we can change our city skyline. Projects like the reimagining and renovation of the old Carraway Hospital into The Star and the redevelopment of Southtown. The only way we will continue to make progress is if we continue to cooperate regionally with surrounding municipalities and if the private sector continues to be bullish on our great city. Those 11 days in July, and the years of work leading up to it, have left me brimming with optimism and thoughts of what the future will bring.
One thing about Birmingham (and I say this with all the love and respect in my heart) is that we’ve always seemed to have a bit of a complex – a deep desire to show the world that they’re missing out on all the things we know and love about living here. Lots has been said about the Southern Hospitality we showed our international friends, but what shines through the most to me is the pride in our city that was on display; from hundreds of volunteers who donated their time and sweat, to every single person who went out of their way to share a moment of kindness with someone who was 5,000 miles from home. We did that. And the world witnessed it.
Hunter Williams is a member of the Birmingham City Council, representing District 2