Birmingham and developers ready for downtown business

By Jonathan Hardison

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The city of Birmingham and private developers are ready to invest $70 million in a new hotel and entertainment district near the BJCC.

Mayor William Bell says a private developer is willing to put up $12 to 13 million of his own money for a Westin hotel and entertainment district called "The Marketplace," which would include restaurants and nightclubs.

The rest of the cost would be paid for with bonds backed by extending the current lodging tax from 5 years to at least 30 years.

Bell says the additional 300-plus rooms would give the BJCC a package of 1000 rooms within walking distance of the facility to sell to conventions looking at Birmingham, something BJCC officials haven't had before.

Bell says this project could help move the proposed domed stadium project forward.

When he broke ground last year, former mayor Larry Langford said the dome was a done deal and that the city could afford it. Not so fast, Bell says. "The public has been done a disservice by being told the dome could be built prior to my coming into office," Bell said. "Everyone knows the city of Birmingham could not build this by itself."

In fact, bell says the dome has to take a step back in the priority line before it can move forward.

"I'm trying to be more realistic about it and putting the actual facts out there. It is my belief that if we do the small things well, by developing this new hotel as well as the Marketplace along with it, that it will build confidence for others to come on board."

Those "others" include private companies interested in naming rights for the dome, or even the state, which has shown little interest in helping the dome in the past.

Now, Bell says attracting bigger conventions with the 1000 rooms the 2 BJCC hotels will have will show Montgomery the benefit a dome could bring. But to get the entertainment district built here, he'll have to get the city council to sign off first.

"It sounds that it warrants a fair look but I wouldn't want to obligate the city, particularly where we are in terms of a downturn," said city councilor Steven Hoyt. "But certainly we do need to look at , and I wanna look at something in writing."

"I think this is a great opportunity to start off small," said city councilor Jay Roberson. "Take small steps to get to where we wanna go. And to have a hotel with a name like Westin, the marketplace and the nightclubs downtown and I like that, that will be tremendous for the city of Birmingham and it shows we're going in the right direction."

If the city council and BJCC board sign off on the plans, Bell says construction could begin within 3-6 months and be completed about 2 years after it begins.

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