Stadium City

Let’s be a city without a ceiling.

By Max Rykov

To dome, or not to dome” has been the question asked by local politicians, business leaders, and citizens since time immemorial (or at least since 1983 when the late Art Clarkson first introduced the idea of building a domed stadium in Birmingham). Since then there have been multiple attempts to drum up support for an enclosed mega venue that would help Birmingham compete with our significantly larger and wealthier Southern city counterparts for massive revenue generating events.

The construction of a domed stadium is a gargantuan and expensive affair, so while feasibility studies and a cornucopia of plans have been submitted and approved by various Councils and Commissions and Committees over the years (there was even a ceremonial groundbreaking for the mythical dome in 2009!), we’ve never had quite enough money to actually pay for the endeavor.

In 2016, an amendment to the Alabama State Constitution allowed Jefferson County to refinance its $600 Million in school construction debt and apply savings to the general fund, which paved the way for the BJCC expansion that would include the long-awaited, hoped and prayed for…non-domed stadium!

The Birmingham City Council held a public hearing last year to consider a proposal for the City  to contribute $3Million a year for 30 years toward a combined ~$300 Million budget for the expansion of Legacy Arena and construction of a new open-air stadium at the BJCC. The meeting lasted more than seven hours, and included throngs of supporters and droves of opponents pleading their respective cases. UAB fans were adamant about the Blazers playing their football games in a new, modern stadium. Legion Field fans were skeptical about a new, smaller stadium with far less space for tailgating being able to accomodate the Magic City Classic, which is one of Birmingham’s leading money-making events (and probably its most culturally significant). And some people who are blessed with the ability to hold multiple competing viewpoints in mind, both decried public spending for a stadium, while also questioning why it couldn’t be domed.

The answer to that last question is that it would cost at least twice as much money to build a domed stadium, so eventually, the funding proposal passed, with the guarantee that any revenue generated as a result of the project would go toward a dedicated neighborhood revitalization fund to help Birmingham’s 99 neighborhoods address their issues.

Construction is now underway, and with a 15-year title sponsorship deal with Protective Life Insurance Company, Bimingham’s second open-air, 45,000 seat stadium is officially christened “Protective Stadium”.

Now, where did I stand on the debate? Well, I’m a man of compromise: my proposal would be to have 99 tiny stadiums, equally distributed across the city.

Protective Stadium is scheduled to be completed by the time UAB football kicks off its 2021 season, and also in time for Birmingham to host the World Games.

If you’re like most cold-blooded, meat-eating, God-fearing Americans, you’re probably more familiar with the World Games more beautiful, popular, and richer older sister, the Olympics than you are with the thing Birmingham is hosting. Nevertheless, the World Games is probably the largest event Birmingham has hosted, and will bring untold numbers of foreign visitors from over 100 non-American countries to our rich red soil.

In the summer of 2021, Birminghamians will be treated to spectacular displays of athletic prowess in sports (…I think they’re sports…) like korfball, fistball, orienteering, and tug-of-war, and will no doubt develop a profound craving for an expanding menu of exotic festivities to cheer on at Protective Stadium.

Programming events at the new ball field will no doubt provide a creative challenge, but we want to utilize that 45,000 seat sucker beyond UAB home games and a once-in-a-lifetime international sporting extravaganza. So, just in case anyone who’s in charge of such a thing is reading this, I’ve got a couple ideas in mind:

  1. The World Rock, Paper, Scissors Association doesn’t yet have a venue for its 2019 United States Championship event, and it’s clear that they’re in need of a regular home to prevent any future last-minute scheduling fiascos. Protective Stadium could be known nationwide as the premiere destination for hand-sports related competitions.
  2. A hedge maze. Birmingham could help build an entire horticulture-based economy, paving the way for a generation of topiary artists to get contracts to devise large-scale labyrinths on the football field more convoluted and complex than even the process to get a stadium project funded.
  3. A tiny-stadium construction event. Those miniature stadiums I mentioned? Protective Stadium would be the perfect environment to inspire local architecture and engineering students to build a little stadium for each of Birmingham’s 99 neighborhoods. Rental contracts for the “Protect-ish Stadiums” could be a big revenue generator for the BJCC.

May Birmingham’s potential for growth, like its stadiums, be without a ceiling!

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