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BJCCA hosts groundbreaking ceremony for new stadium

Local and state leaders came together yesterday at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex to break ground on a new open-air stadium that will serve as the home of UAB football and host other sports and entertainment events.

 The $175 million stadium will seat up to 55,000 people.

Speakers at the groundbreaking event noted that a new stadium in Birmingham has been discussed for more than three decades, and that there have been two previous groundbreakings for stadium projects that never came to fruition.

“This one,” said Birmingham City Council President Valerie Abbott, “is going to stick.”

Officials from the Jefferson County legislative delegation, the Jefferson County Commission and the City of Birmingham said the long-sought project is happening now because of an unprecedented level of cooperation and commitment among public and private partners – cooperation that bridged racial, partisan and geographical divides.

“This transformational change we’re witnessing today is happening for this one reason: cooperation,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin. “Everyone has come together to say what can be and make it a reality.”

Said State Rep. Jim Carns, “This is a good day when we’ve got everybody pulling in the same direction.”

Utility work and other site preparations are already underway at the stadium site. Construction is set to begin in the early summer of 2019, with completion targeted for mid-2021, in time for The World Games, said Tad Snider, BJCC executive director and CEO.

The stadium will be home to the UAB Blazers, but President Ray Watts noted that the stadium project will have a much bigger impact for Birmingham. “On the 350 some odd other days, it’s going to be a great attribute for the city of Birmingham,” Watts said. “This is going to be the finest facility of its kind in Alabama.”

Officials said the multi-use stadium – along with anticipated renovations of Legacy Arena – will spark additional development in the area surrounding the BJCC.

“This is just the beginning for this part of Birmingham. You’re going to see, in my opinion, north Birmingham explode,” said State Sen. Jabo Waggoner. “North Birmingham will come back to life.”

The benefits will go beyond the north Birmingham area, officials said. “This project is only the beginning for what I think is going to be a golden renaissance time for Jefferson County,” State Sen. Rodger Smitherman said.

Said Jefferson County Commission President Jimmie Stephens: “I can’t think of a better time to live in Birmingham, Alabama … A rising tide raises all ships, so hold on: The tide is about to come in.”

Rep. Rod Scott said the cooperation that led to success for the stadium will be a foundation for other successes moving forward. “This is just the beginning … to begin making Jefferson County what it always should have been, and of course, that is the best county in Alabama,” he said.

Carns said the stadium project is coming to life in a Birmingham that is already experiencing considerable momentum. Carns recalled his time as a county commissioner when no construction was happening downtown.

“When I walk outside of any building downtown now, you can hardly see the sky for all the cranes,” he said. “That is an unbelievable thrust forward.”

The stadium will allow the BJCC to attract additional sports and entertainment events – and boost the tourism revenues that have a huge economic impact.

Dennis Lathem, chairman of the BJCC Authority board of directors, said the complex is already “a tremendous asset” that supports 2,500 jobs, produces $73 million in earnings, and generates $217 million in spending.

Rather than being satisfied with success, Lathem said, “The people you see here today …  had the courage to look beyond that and look to the future and ask how can we be a bigger asset.”

Woodfin noted that new revenues generated because of projects in the BJCC area will support a revitalization fund that will assist all 99 neighborhoods in the city of Birmingham.

“Elevating small businesses, boosting tourism and entertainment options, and stimulating neighborhood revitalization is what we’re committed to doing,” Woodfin said. “This groundbreaking today has allowed us to lay that foundation.”