July 15, 2004
Mayor Kincaid Playing Hardball with George Barber
Mayor Bernard Kincaid remains opposed to giving money to the Barber Motorsports Park to bring the world’s top motorcycle racing series, the MotoGP, to Birmingham until George Barber addresses the blighted Sears building property he owns in downtown Birmingham. Barber is reportedly asking the City to kick in $250,000 per year for three years, plus another $80,000 per year for police presence at the motorcycle Grand Prix. In a July 6 interview, Kincaid said, “I will not go to the council with the recommendation for MotoGP, which I support fully. . . . I will not do that until we have gained some site control of the Sears building, a blighting influence in our city.” Kincaid said he was not asking any more of Barber than he has of other developers of blighted property in the City, including the Peerless Saloon and the City Federal building. “And those [other developers] aren’t coming to us asking for our support [as Barber is]. But the City’s support of the Barber Motorsports Museum was tied to our getting that completed and then getting some closure on the Sears building. And until that happens, I’m not prepared to make a recommendation. I hope it doesn’t come to that, because I would not like to lose that event—some 230 million people across the world might view Birmingham. But the Sears building is a blighting influence, and if we don’t do it now, I don’t know that we ever would.”
MotoGP is a worldwide racing circuit that stages 16 motorcycle races in different countries during the racing season. It has not held a United States Grand Prix in a decade, and the Barber Motorsports Park is reportedly the leading candidate to land the race in 2005, 2006, and 2007. The 2005 race would be scheduled the weekend before the May NASCAR race at Talladega and could draw up to 100,000 people to the Barber racetrack and museum located off I-20 in Birmingham near Leeds. The Grand Prix has a worldwide television audience of more than 200 million that is broadcast to 200 countries. Although Birmingham is leasing the 700 acres to Barber for $1 a year, Barber has spent $55 million of his own fortune to build the facility, and the dispute with the City centers on whether or not Barber committed to doing something about the Sears building in exchange.
“I stand with the Mayor on this issue,” said Birmingham City Councilor Carol Reynolds, in whose district the motorsports park and museum lie. “[Barber] has a lot of blighted area in District Two,” much of which is in the Eastwood Mall area, Reynolds said. Councilor Valerie Abbott agrees with Reynolds. “[Barber] made a commitment,” said Abbott. “I don’t care how wealthy he is, and I really don’t care what opportunities he has over there, he needs to do what he promised he would do. The City already bought all that land out there and gave it to him for a dollar a year until the point at which he chooses to purchase it. These people think they’re heavyweights and can throw their weight all over the city of Birmingham.”
A year after approval by the City Council, a 311 telephone number is now available to report non-emergency situations to the police department, fire department, mayor’s office of public assistance, and the department of public works. According to Mayor Kincaid, the police and fire departments receive approximately one million calls a year (that’s one every 31.8 seconds), with nearly 45 percent of those being non-emergencies. “The 311 call center will allow citizens to have a service to call for non-emergencies and receive real-time action from the respective departments,” said the Mayor at the July 6 meeting of the Birmingham City Council. Kincaid added that 311 would also be a “management tool” that lets the City know what reports have been made and how timely the response is. “It gives us an ability to see if we need to shift resources to one area or another,” Kincaid said.
John Wade, who oversees the City’s department of information management, explained that the primary goal is to take the load off of 911 to allow for “true emergencies” to be addressed. Wade said close to 200 calls have been made using 311 since May. He explained that the City began testing software for 311 a year ago, and then implemented it in November 2003. In May, a call center manager was hired. Wade said the service number would be extended to other city departments in the future, including the traffic and engineering department, so that residents can report malfunctioning traffic lights and damaged traffic signs.