News from the Tennessee Valley Business
SUNDAY, APRIL 15, 2007

Protesters rally at University Boulevard and Campus Drive on the Strip on March 7 in Tuscaloosa. University of Alabama students marched to protest UA’s encroachment on the area known as “The Strip.”
AP photo by Michael E. Palmer
Protesters rally at University Boulevard and Campus Drive on the Strip on March 7 in Tuscaloosa. University of Alabama students marched to protest UA’s encroachment on the area known as “The Strip.”

Bama students fight to save The Strip

By Jay Reeves
Associated Press Writer

TUSCALOOSA — Win or lose a football game, pass or fail a test, students at The University of Alabama have been hanging out for generations at a row of old haunts called “The Strip.”

Butting up against campus, The Strip is a mishmash of bars, restaurants and stores, many in decades-old buildings. It’s lined with ornamental trees and brick sidewalks, and there’s not a livelier — or more beer-soaked — place in the state on a football Saturday.

No, it’s not Harvard Square. But to Bama students, alumni and fans, things don’t get much better than this stretch of University Boulevard. That’s why so many are up in arms about a university plan that critics say will kill The Strip.

The school already has bought one tract on The Strip, a move that resulted in the closing of a popular bar, and business owners say administrators want to tear down a book shop and liquor store to construct a massive parking deck.

President Robert Witt says the university wants to have an attractive gateway to campus, but the school hasn’t confirmed the extent of its plans for the area.

“Since we are committed to improve The Strip as a welcoming, secure, enjoyable and easily accessible area to all, the university is working side-by-side with neighborhood groups to enhance it,” Witt wrote in a newspaper column.

Campus tradition

Strip supporters accuse the university of losing sight of a beloved campus tradition.

“Once they tear this down it’s gone for good,” David M. Jones said in an interview Tuesday.

Jones, 58, has fond memories of his student days on The Strip, and he really never left after graduating in 1971. He owns the Alabama Book Store and is a leader of a movement that has come to be known by the address of a Web site he established:

Save-the-strip banners hang along the three-block stretch of businesses, and a few windows are decorated with anti-administration stickers that say
“oUttA control.” About 100 students gathered on campus last month for a demonstration in favor of keeping The Strip as-is.

The student newspaper, The Crimson White, is also against plans to gut The Strip.

“There isn’t much to do in this town, if you haven’t already noticed. There should be more culture and fun things to do near the university. If you sacrifice what we’ve already got, then Tuscaloosa may as well be another cow town like Auburn,” it editorialized in February.

The Strip has long been a point of contention between students and Tuscaloosa residents who don’t like its nightlife. The issue burst to the forefront in December when the university confirmed it had purchased for $2.1 million property that included “The Booth,” a popular student bar that has since closed.

Witt will not answer questions about The Strip, said spokeswoman Cathy Andreen. But in a newspaper column published in February, Witt said there were 17 businesses that sell alcohol within a 1,200-foot span on The Strip, including seven bars.

Combined with inadequate parking and dilapidated structures, he wrote, the heavy concentration of nightclubs is trouble in the making.

“We cannot neglect or ignore these factors and expect The Strip to remain a safe place that students and the community want to frequent,” said Witt.

The school hasn’t decided whether to build a parking deck, said spokeswoman Deborah M. Lane in response to written questions. She denied claims that the school is trying to shut down private bookstores like the one owned by Jones that compete with university operations.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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