City officials say they’re working hard on deals with developers for an entertainment/residential district next to a new downtown Birmingham Barons (Class AA; Southern League) ballpark.
The Parkside District, comprising entertainment, retail and office space, was envisioned by Mayor William Bell and other city officials as being a key part of the $64-million ballpark project; without private investment to leverage the public money raised by a local hotel tax, it’s possible Bell and other council members would have dropped their support.
“That will encompass restaurants and shops in a pedestrian-oriented retail experience for the visitors to that area,” Bell told the Birmingham News. “It will be the driving force for redevelopment in that entire area along with the ballpark and all of this piggy-backing on the Railroad Park and the positive response from the public on that….
“As much as I love baseball and as much as I love having the ballpark downtown, if it did not have the potential to generate the economic development interest, it would not have interested me as the mayor of the city,” he added. “We see this as being a strong driver to build that bridge between UAB and downtown and attract people from all over the region.”
The ability of ballpark projects to generate additional revenue is a hot topic in the economic world: many ballpark projects have failed to attract additional revenue, while other projects — like Petco Park or Target Field — have clearly had a tangible impact in the surrounding area. If Birmingham can pull off the development of an entertainment and residential district on a ballpark largely funded by out-of-towners paying an increased hotel tax, it’s a big win for the city and its residents.
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