News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Huntsville gets tech center; B'ham shoots for stadium

Perhaps there is a lesson in what happened this week in Huntsville that Birmingham leaders should remember.

It's about excellence.

Instead of focusing $1 billion of taxpayer money on an ill-conceived domed stadium, they might have pledged that money to The University of Alabama at Birmingham for medical research.

Huntsville on Tuesday formally announced creation of a $130 million biotech institute that can make the Rocket City foremost in research. As it turns out, UAB wanted the institute. So did Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt.

But local residents who made their fortunes in Huntsville wanted the center there so much they put up $80 million to launch the project. It is projected to employ more than 900 people.

How big is the project?

U.S. Rep. Bud Cramer said it's as big as Redstone Arsenal.

That's big.

Political feelings were hurt elsewhere because Gov. Bob Riley was there for the announcement and with another $50 million in state money. It was a deal hard to refuse.

While Birmingham politicians haggled without success with the governor for $75 million for the dome stadium and expanded civic center/entertainment district, Huntsville quietly got his attention with something of substance.

UAB may not have had a shot at getting the institute because the investors want the project in their hometown. The group may, however, have been willing to look a second time if Birmingham and Jefferson County had committed to UAB for the biotech center as they did for the domed stadium complex.

Huntsville has a reputation for excellence that was hard won. The institute will do nothing but enhance that image.

Meanwhile, Birmingham continues to stumble trying to find something to put the magic back into the Magic City.

UAB is already losing its top researchers to other institutions because the financial commitment incentives are greater in other states. But it's not too late for Birmingham to focus on the medical research facilities already there and forget about building a 70,000-seat stadium that doesn't have a team to play in it.

As properly funded research centers, Huntsville and Birmingham together could change the economy in Alabama.

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