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No room for inauguration ball in capital
Montgomery lacks convention space

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com· (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Next month’s inaugural ball will be the first held outside the capital city because there is no room for the event in Montgomery. The state’s aging Garrett Coliseum, while large enough, needs renovating.

Alabama Department of Archives and History Assistant Director Debbie Pendleton said people who track inaugural history say every inaugural ball in the past took place in the capital city. All other inaugural activities will be in Montgomery, including the governor’s swearing in at the Capitol at noon Jan. 15.

Due to the space problem, Gov. Bob Riley’s inaugural chairman, Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, announced that the ball will move for this year to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.

Hubbard’s committee explored constructing a floored, heated and cooled tent building for the day at Blount Cultural Park near the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. The cost was too great. The ball drew 4,000 people in 2003.

Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, whose department owns the only building in Montgomery large enough for the event, said Garrett Coliseum is unsuitable for a formal event.

“It is a shame that the capital city does not have space big enough for something like this,” Sparks said. “You’ve got venues in Birmingham, Dothan, Huntsville and Mobile that are big enough, but not here.”

Sparks said architects and engineers began drawing proposals to modernize the coliseum more than a year ago. He said he hopes to take their proposals to the governor’s staff and Legislature later this month.

The huge coliseum building with its dramatic arching exterior support wings was ultra modern when it was constructed more than 50 years ago, but Sparks said bathrooms are old and inadequate, seating is old, the electrical system needs an upgrade and there is no central heating and cooling.

Mass renovation and construction at the site of Gov. Bob Riley’s first inaugural ball in 2003 makes the Montgomery Civic Center unavailable as construction continues on a new luxury hotel and convention center at the site. Sparks said a renovated coliseum would complement, not compete, with the new civic center complex jointly funded by the city and the Retirement Systems of Alabama.

“There is no hidden agenda here,” Sparks said. “The problems with space for the inaugural ball just underscored the need renovations that we already knew we had.”

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