The Birmingham City Council has agreed on a funding plan for a new downtown ballpark to house the Birmingham Barons (Class AA; Southern League), but they can’t agree on the location — a situation complicated by balky ballpark-area landowners.
Mayor William Bell has been upfront about where he wanted to see a new downtown ballpark: At the Railroad Park site. And when the City Council first started discussing where to put a new ballpark, that site was always the assumed location.
That’s changed. The thing is, when you announce you’re ready to spend more than $40 million on a new ballpark and don’t control all the land, you’ve got to be ready for property owners ready to feed at the public trough. And that’s what’s happened in Birmingham: Property owners displaced by a new ballpark are asking for more than city officials anticipated after going through the property-tax rolls. Or, as Bell says, “We’ve seen a rise in the cost expectations of the property owners in that area, and that’s caused us to take a second look at two or three other sites. We’re not going to be held hostage by saying it’s going to be done in one location only, especially if the cost of the property becomes unreasonable.” Another site near the convention center is now on the table, and some council members are pushing for a former steel-plant site in Titusville as well.
So the city is now looking at other downtown and area sites, a process that is delaying things. In fact, the current talk is that it could take three or four years for a new ballpark to open by the time a land package is put together — extending the time the the Barons will spend at Regions Park.
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