About 10 years ago Memphis opened a new downtown baseball park and the minor league Redbirds moved in. Since then, over $80 million of development has occurred around the site, and Memphis has a great, family-friendly downtown activity set against the backdrop of the city skyline (seen in photo above).
Could the Birmingham Barons be poised to move to a new park downtown across from Railroad Park? While other locations across the city center could be possible, Railroad Park makes a lot of sense for many reasons, among them:
1. The huge community interest and momentum behind the Railroad Park itself;
2. The proximity to UAB and the ability to easily walk/bike from campus;
3. A large, mainly underdeveloped fabric of one and two-story warehouse type structures between the Park and UAB that could easily be renovated/rebuilt as housing, restaurants, and other amenities;
4. Ease of access from all points northside and southside .
The Birmingham News printed an editorial praising Mayor Bell for leading the effort to bring the Barons back to the City after a long spell out in Hoover at an outdated, isolated, suburban location. Mayor Petelos of Hoover recently stated that if the Barons did indeed move back to Birmingham, he would see it as a win for the region, not a loss for Hoover. This kind of regional thinking has been too infrequent in metro Birmingham; kudos to both mayors for meeting and talking like partners, rather than like competitors.
The skyline of our own city (above) sure looks great from the new Railroad Park. It would look even better if a new ball park for the Barons was built adjacent, and the crack of the bat and roar of the crowd became as common as a picnic on the new lawns. Fingers crossed.
UPDATE: one of my favorite local blogs, Heaviest Corner, just posted a very detailed piece critical of publicly funded sports projects, which is well worth a read. While on balance, I believe that Birmingham could attain a net benefit from a new downtown ballpark, economically and psychically, there are indeed many variables and potential pitfalls to be mindful of. And it goes without saying that given the choice between a well-funded, well-organized transit system or a ball park—I’d have to take the transit system.