The Tuscaloosa City Council frequently deals with big numbers, and Tuesday’s meeting was no exception, with approvals of more than $1.4 million each for McWright’s Ferry Road improvements and Jack Slope Stabilization. Warner Parkway, both passed quickly and unanimously.
But tens of millions could rise as the city moves toward completing another pair of major works, passing a resolution Tuesday night backing a move to “design phase services” for the Saban Center and Tuscaloosa Event Center. offers.
“I’m willing to bite one at a time, but I can’t do both. No,” District 4 Councilman Lee Busby said in the only dissenting vote against moving to the design phase.
The former will become a state-of-the-art, interactive learning center offering science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs, with added theater and outdoor recreation, created on and around the site of which has been for about 20 years. Tuscaloosa News.
The latter is a proposed convention, sports and events center designed to fill a gap in the city’s ability to attract events. Hired in 2020, the Johnson Consulting Group out of the Chicago study took longer than expected, due to the pandemic. The city’s $110,000 contract urged the group to gather data on the feasibility of a site and, if necessary, consult on size, scope and location, in conjunction with Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports. , West Alabama Chamber of Commerce and Tuscaloosa County. Parks and Recreation Authority.
The other six councilors voted a quick yes.
“The resolution passes, congratulations. We’ll move on to the next step,” said Mayor Walt Maddox, who has advocated for the center’s creation since passing his Elevate Tuscaloosa plan in 2019.
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District 5 Councilman Kip Tyner was also clearly pleased and eager, adding “…I’m a big advocate for 30,000 square feet for this event center….”
District 7’s Cassius Lanier said “…this is a great investment, and we look forward to all of Tuscaloosa realizing that the possibilities are great for our district, and we’re looking to get everyone on board, so that we can make this dream a reality.”
Norman Crow, elected in March 2021 to represent District 3, said it was important for the community to know that due diligence was done. “We’ve had a bunch of work sessions. We’ve done a lot of extra miles, in my opinion…Overall, I think this will transform our community.”
District 2’s Raevan Howard spoke, as the second-senior council member, about the long history behind planning the event center. “From the time we first introduced Elevate until tonight, the hard work seems to be paying off. … Our families and children need and deserve so much more, and I’m very excited about this moment.”
The mayor praised members of the business community who have stepped up to support Elevate and promised the center would present happy challenges for Kelsey Colglazier Rush, who recently took over as CEO and President of TTS, after Don Staley’s retirement last month. .
“Our goal is to get you so busy filling hotel rooms that you’ll need more and more resources, which we will have. So good luck,” Maddox said.
“It’s a historic night, and I want to thank everyone for playing a part in this… Congratulations to Tuscaloosa.”
Filling of hotels
Johnson Consulting weighed in favor of a venue of 20,000 square feet or more, with potential lounging areas, located on at least 2 acres of land, but ideally 5 acres, also ideally built near the current hotel cluster and coming from downtown.
Estimates indicate that such a venue could help fill an additional 30,000 hotel rooms each year, by hosting large-scale basketball or volleyball tournaments; cheering, dancing, gymnastics and weightlifting events; or what Johnson called “something unique,” like competitive video game tournaments, which ring strong in college markets. The venue could also contain more traditional meeting and ballroom spaces, as well as space for a variety of entertainment.
Johnson’s findings suggested a market gap between 12,000 square foot and 70,000 square foot venue sizes, which a Tuscaloosa Event Center could fill. The consultants also suggested “leveraging our existing assets”, such as PARA’s Bowers and Sokol Parks, and the Phelps Center, in support of the event facility.
Once proposed with a planned budget of $60 million, the Tuscaloosa Events Center was more recently reduced to $43 million, with the $17 million difference going toward land purchase, engineering and the design of the Saban Centre, and the planning and construction of the River District. Park, the outdoor component of the Saban Center, currently under construction. But the final costs are not yet determined.
The challenge, according to the consultants, would be to gain a foothold in an already saturated sports venue market, such as the Finley Center in Hoover and the Crossplex in Birmingham.
“There are so many indoor sports venues in our driving time now that we may find it difficult to break into the market,” said the consultant’s summary. “However, if we are determined, we can certainly leverage our unique strengths and offerings to pursue new business.”