City and county leaders meet with BJCC command

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - By Jonathan Hardison

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A new hotel and entertainment district for downtown Birmingham is a small step closer to reality.

The board of the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Complex met with Mayor William Bell and his staff to answer questions about the proposal for a Westin hotel and marketplace on BJCC property, but a final vote on the first step in this process is still on hold.
Bell has an agreement on the table with the BJCC that would pay for the new hotel and entertainment district with city funds from the lodging tax, but give the BJCC control of the property and build it on their land.

After a week to look over the agreement, Bell was hoping for a vote Tuesday night. Instead he had more than an hour of questions from some skeptical board members about whether the BJCC would be on the hook if the city couldn't come up with the money to pay off the project's bonds.

"I'm familiar with the personalities on the board and I'm not surprised questions were raised, but the point of raising questions is to get answers and I felt we answered those questions that were raised and we're still on a positive track," Bell said.

Bell and attorneys for the city and BJCC say the board won't have any liability and will reap the benefit of millions in profits from the new project.

The vice president of Starwood Hotels, Westin's parent company, was in town Tuesday to pledge his support for the deal, but board members lead by Jefferson County Commissioner Bettye Fine Collins and E.C. Brown said they still have concerns about how the property will be managed.

"I think it's going to get done," said Clyde Echols, BJCC Board President. "I think there's folks that wanted to be heard tonight, and that's their privilege. In my view, we're moving forward."

Mayor Bell said, "The city is trying to give the BJCC a gift it could not get on its own. We want to build this hotel, we want to make sure that it's a first-class hotel and the only thing we're trying to do is expedite the process."

Bell says the clock is ticking on this project. Developers want to start turning dirt in the first part of next year and the mayor says if the city doesn't act fast, it may lose out on this opportunity.

The board is scheduled to meet again later this week for vote regarding the project.

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