Barons' Help Brightens Birmingham
On April 10, 2013, the Birmingham Barons opened the season at their new location in downtown Birmingham. The new stadium is part of a revitalization effort, built around Railroad Park, which opened in the fall of 2010. The area comprising the Railroad Park and Regions Field is now being referred to as Parkside. The immediate success of the park represents further progress for the city and has changed the minds of many cynics.
The majority of the properties acquired for the ballpark were obtained through a land swap with the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), and the remaining parcels were purchased from private landholders. The ballpark's official groundbreaking ceremony was on February 2, 2012. As reported in The Birmingham News, Birmingham is paying $3.65 million a year over 30 years in annual debt service on the stadium bonds. Bonds were funded by a 3.5 percent increase in the city's lodging tax.
According to the Regional Economic Growth Report from the Birmingham Business Alliance, Birmingham had strong growth in 2012, with 70 companies announcing 3,831 jobs and $843 million in capital investment in the region's primary business sectors. This growth was a substantial improvement over 2011, and local business leaders anticipate Regions Field to be an economic engine behind continued growth.
Overall conditions in the Birmingham metro area have improved since the recession ended, but employment growth had stagnated for much of the past year. But in March and April, Birmingham added 2,400 new jobs. Meanwhile, the area's unemployment rate declined from 6.5 percent to 6.2 percent over the same period.
Also, the Birmingham Business Journal reported that Birmingham jumped 27 spots on the On Numbers Economic Index in May. This number is compiled by American City Business Journals and is formulated from an 18-part measurement system that includes factors such as private-sector job growth, unemployment, construction, and retail activity and earnings.
While the lasting economic impact on the city will not be known for some time, all indications are that the new development will be very positive. According to sources at Regions Field, they have more than doubled the amount of full and part-time staff since their move from Hoover, the Birmingham suburb where the Barons played until this year, and will probably hire more concessions staff as the season progresses. The local brewery has doubled its staff as well. Robert Emerick of REV Birmingham, an economic development organization, says that with renovations, land purchases, residential development, and grants, the immediate estimated impact is approximately $72 million.
Opening day in April was a sellout, and the Barons triumphed over the Mississippi Braves (sorry, Atlanta). The season is going very well with the Barons in first place of the Southern League's North Division, and the future of Parkside is indeed very bright.
By Susan Remy, a Regional Economic Information Network analyst in the Atlanta Fed's Birmingham Branch
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