If Mayor William Bell were an ostrich, he’s one that certainly wouldn’t bury his head in the sand, former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Ralph Cook said as he introduced Bell at the State of the City address to the Kiwanis Club Tuesday afternoon.
“If you can see my tie, it contains images of ostriches with their heads both in and out of the sand,” Cook said. “Covering one’s head in the sand obstructs one from seeing the big picture. But I can tell you, [the mayor] is one that sees the big picture.”
During his address to the several hundred people gathered on the third floor of the Harbert Center, Bell spoke at length about the projects that have led to a resurgence of downtown Birmingham, such as the Birmingham CrossPlex, the recently completed Uptown district and the record attendance numbers at Regions Field.
Perhaps one of the more compelling announcements during the speech was a hint made by Bell of “a major expansion of a company right here in Birmingham Alabama.” He said that his office will announce the details of this expansion “in the next few days, if not weeks.”
When asked after the meeting if he could touch on any specifics, he said, “I can’t tell you that because it would give it away. But I will say it will be related to the automotive industry.”
The topic of UAB football was brought up after the speech when Bell was taking questions from the audience. A man from the audience asked, “Would you care to discuss the situation with UAB and the football program?” To which Bell responded jokingly, “No.”
He went on to say that UAB has and will continue to be an important economic engine for the city and that he was disappointed with the decision to do away with the football, bowling and rifle teams.
“It doesn’t help our image,” Bell said, mentioning that the city is still vying for the chance to host the 2021 World Games and that terminating any major athletic programs in the city may harm those chances.
It should come as no surprise that during his State of the City address, Bell highlighted many of the improvements that the city has seen over the last several years, noting that homicide rates last year were at a 50-year low. But there are still other challenges faced by his administration, he said.
“The biggest challenge is always financing and funding,” Bell said when asked about the biggest challenge facing his office over the course of the next year. “We want to make sure that the money we do have is used to the best interest of the community. We hope to generate new opportunities with the money we do spend.”
Birmingham City Council President Johnathan Austin said after the meeting, “Everything the mayor said was wonderful. The city has overcome so many different hurdles over the last several years, particularly the last five years.”
Austin noted the strides that both the city council and the mayor’s office have made to work together since Bell’s second term began in 2013, and the positive impact they have made on the city.
“Since his second term, the council really wanted to focus on its internal operations so we could be more effective as a team and establish a better working relationship with the mayor’s office,” Austin said to reporters after the mayor’s speech.
In the spirit of cooperation, Bell touched on the importance of Birmingham reaching out to surrounding municipalities and put a stop to the “endless competition of dragging each other down.”
As Bell put it, “What’s good for Birmingham is good for us all.”