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We were there for Regions Field

When is a ballpark more than a ballpark? For a diverse group of Birmingham leaders—including the owners of the Birmingham Barons, key property developers, government officials, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) representatives, and other parties—it’s when a community succeeds in bringing back the tradition of baseball played in downtown Birmingham after a 25-year hiatus. When Regions Field opened April 10, 2013, it not only represented a grand collaboration and a key part of a neighborhood’s ongoing revitalization, but also was recognized in its own right as Ballpark of the Year by BaseballParks.com.

 

Rebuilding a Downtown Tradition

 

For most of the 20th century, people came downtown to cheer on Birmingham’s minor-league team and experience the kind of camaraderie that sometimes only sports can bring. In 1988, the Birmingham Barons moved to a beautiful new park in Hoover, Ala., where fans continued to enjoy the game for decades. The move did, however, leave downtown Birmingham—which had already lost so much of its status as the region’s vibrant social and business hub—devoid of minor league baseball, as well.

 

Enter Robert A. Simon, president of the real estate firm Corporate Realty. “For a significant period of time, Simon had worked to promote the concept that the time was right to bring minor league baseball back to downtown Birmingham,” explains Brad Sklar, who, along with colleague Tom Ansley, led Sirote in representing the developer, B&G CRD Joint Venture, LLC (a joint venture of Corporate Realty Development, LLC, Brasfield & Gorrie, LLC and The Robbins and Morton Group), in the deal—which was eventually recognized as 2012’s Deal of the Year by the Birmingham Business Journal. In its article, the BBJ cited a study estimating the stadium’s potential economic impact as upwards of $3.8 billion.

 

The Anatomy of a Deal

 

Sklar says from the start, it was clear the project would involve winning over a number of key constituents. “Robert was passionate about the project and developed a close working relationship with the team owner, Don Logan and the Logan family, to help make the move a reality,” he states. “Mayor William Bell and the efforts of the city council were critical in creatively finding a  way to fund the necessary public improvements. An allocation of the City of Birmingham’s lodging’s tax was pivotal.

 

“Meanwhile, we worked with some outstanding real estate professionals in the community to assemble needed parcels of property on behalf of the Public Affairs and Cultural Events (PACE) Board, which was created to own the site,” Sklar continues. “That effort also involved a close collaboration with UAB in coordinating a land swap that was helpful to the development plan for the ballpark and also beneficial to UAB in terms of their Campus Master Plan.”

 

Sharing the Clients’ Dream

 

From the start, Sirote shared their clients’ belief in the project’s significance. “Coming on the heels of the successful Railroad Park Project (a popular urban park that opened in 2010), we had a strong belief, even at the initial stages, this joint effort would be truly transformative for the area,” Sklar says. “That has certainly proven true. Since that time, we have been fortunate to work on a number of complementary projects, such as tax incentives for two separate apartment projects known as LIV Parkside and Venue at the Ballpark, and tax and entity work on the Parkside Bakery Project, which is a mixed-use office, retail and entertainment-venue development on the vacant Merita Bakery site.”

 

On a personal level, Sklar says he and the team at Sirote are as delighted as anyone in the community to see how the achievement of bringing Regions Field to downtown has buoyed the team and community alike. “I grew up going to watch what was then the Birmingham A’s play at Rickwood Field,” Sklar remembers. “Many years later, I was at Hoover’s Regions Field in August of 1994 when over 16,000 fans came out to see Michael Jordan play his final minor league baseball game.

 

“To see the Barons in 2014 generate attendance in excess of 425,000 fans,” he continues, “was nothing short of amazing.”

 

 

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