Mayor Bell confident of plans bringing Westin to Birmingham

By Jonathan Hardison

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Birmingham Mayor William Bell got a tentative thumbs up from most of the city council Tuesday for his plan to bring a $70-million hotel and entertainment district to the BJCC.

The council approved a resolution supporting the plan, but they weren't ready to officially vote on the idea of extending taxes to pay for it.

Everyone on the council who attended said they like the idea of this project, but some of the council members had questions about specific parts of the design like its name or who would benefit from the jobs it would bring.

A slightly exasperated Bell finally asked, "Am I wasting my time, or should we move forward?"

The hotel and entertainment district for the BJCC would feature a 4-star Westin hotel and a $25-million shopping and restaurant complex connected to the property. All would be built on vacant lots next to the SEC Headquarters and the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.

"I'm confident that the council will support this effort to bring new businesses to the Birmingham area, in particular, the northern side of the expressway," Bell said. Yet he faced almost 2 hours of questions about specific details of the plan including its name, who will build, and how it would be financed.

Bell told the council he would give them plenty of say on the details, but for now, he just needs to know if they will extend part of the lodging and part of the occupational tax that are already in place for another 30 years to pay for the bonds that will finance this project.

The council decided its not ready to vote on that formally. The project will be sent to 2 committees before voting upon next Tuesday.

Despite the hesitation, councilors say they like this idea overall.

"I think it would be good for the city to move in this direction because we do have a convention business that seems to be on the move, and I think it would be a good sign in terms of where the city is heading," council president Roderick Royal said.

"I support the concept," councilor Lashunda Scales said. "I still have some reservations with regard to extending this tax and not having this project properly vetted. It is so important to me that we're not rushed into decisions."

The agreement to extend those 2 taxes will head to the finance and economic development committees next Monday.

Mayor Bell expects a vote from the entire council next Tuesday.

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