BRADENTON, Fla. - Despite financial difficulties rocking north-central Alabama and the bond market in general, the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center Authority this year hopes to move forward with building a long-planned, bond-financed, multipurpose facility.
The $526 million facility will have 57,500 seats and will cover 80 acres. In the past it was called the domed stadium project.
The facility will be adjacent to the convention center downtown and will anchor a nearby entertainment and hotel district that also is being planned with private developers, BJCC executive director Jack Fields told the Birmingham City Council Tuesday.
"The domed stadium in this community has been talked about long enough to have built four domed stadiums," Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford told the council.
The expansion project has been discussed and planned for almost a decade, but it was delayed because of funding issues.
Langford, who is facing federal securities charges relating to his tenure on the Jefferson County Commission when $3.2 billion of sewer-system debt was sold, is a member of the board that oversees the convention complex. Birmingham is the seat of Jefferson County.
"We are finally at a point with the revenue and all in place to actually have a groundbreaking ... For utilities, etc., to begin the process of actually building a domed stadium," said Langford, who did not specify when groundbreaking would occur.
No details were made available about the financing plan or when debt would be sold. Authority offices were closed Wednesday and Fields could not be reached for comment by press time.
In mid-December, the BJCC board selected HOK Inc. as the lead architectural firm to oversee design of the new facility. Fields assured concerned City Council members Tuesday that local firms would also participate in the project.
In preparation for the expansion, the BJCC sold $43.6 million of debt in 2005 to work on the existing convention and arena facilities, which were built more than 30 years ago.
Bond proceeds were used to take out an $18.6 million loan, which was used to purchase land, and to finance a portion of $53.8 million of renovations and improvements to the existing concert hall, arena, meeting facilities, and hotel.
Along with constructing the multipurpose facility, the BJCC is working on a $40 million downtown entertainment district called the Forge, a name that is designed to recall Birmingham's heritage as an iron and steelmaking town.
The 156,000-square foot district, which includes clubs, restaurants, and shops, is being developed by Performa Entertainment Real Estate in partnership with the BJCC and other investors.
Fields is expected to make another presentation on the expansion project to the city's Economic Development Committee on Jan. 8.
There was no discussion by the City Council this week about whether the Civic Center Authority would have difficulty selling debt for the expansion project given disruptions in the bond market, and the ongoing financial problems being experienced by Jefferson County.
Birmingham does receive services from the sewer system operated by Jefferson County but is not responsible for the sewer system debt. However, the financially troubled sewer debt has been the focus of international attention because it could plunge Jefferson County into bankruptcy.
Jefferson County has been trying for nearly a year to restructure the sewer debt. The county also is in federal court with two bond insurers that want a receiver appointed for the sewer system.
Some experts believe the widespread attention about the financial struggle could hinder the ability of issuers across Alabama to access the bond market.