What’s on the Birmingham Business Alliance 2023 Legislative Agenda?

The Birmingham Business Alliance’s agenda for the 2023 legislative session includes priorities, from saving an at-risk private college to over-growing highways and rehabilitating contaminated land.

“Policy is at the heart of what we do,” said BBA spokeswoman Carla Khodanian. “Strong economic development should be prepared through strategic policy. Therefore, it is very important for us to continuously communicate with local, state and federal elected officials and public officials so that the interests and voices of the Birmingham business community are heard by them.

BBA’s top priorities will focus their efforts on what policies the 2023 Alabama Legislature chooses to support when it convenes in April.

In a news release, the BBA outlined the priorities for the 2023 Agenda as follows:

· Brownfield Authority

BBA supports legislation that would expand eligibility for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management’s Brownfields Program and allow local officials to create brownfield redevelopment zones to compete for public and private dollars and screen potential brownfield projects.

· Investing in Birmingham Biotech

With a critical mass in the seven-county region, the BBA supports the creation of biomanufacturing zones and R&D. [research and development] Counties to make better use of state and federal dollars.

· Northern Beltline

The BBA supports the construction, full funding and timely completion of the Northern Beltline, an essential component of the Appalachian Development Highway System (ADHS) that supports economic development and additional job creation in the region and state.

· Historic Preservation Tax Credits

Given the high demand for historic tax credit projects, BBA strongly supports and encourages the state Legislature to increase its authorization to encourage private investment in restoration, preservation and redevelopment, downtown and neighborhood revitalization and job creation.

· Birmingham-Southern College

BBA Birmingham-Southern College (BSC) is well aware of its position in nurturing and educating our future leaders. BBA wholeheartedly supports BSC’s fundraising efforts with the state legislature and other fund-raising efforts the institution is undertaking. We understand the importance of BSC, and if the institution is forced to close, it will be a loss not only to the city of Birmingham, but to the entire state.

Khodanian named Alabama Sens. Jabo Waggoner, R-Birmingham, and Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, as top advocates for the BBA, especially in the metro.

Historical tax credits

Smitherman expressed his support for many of this year’s BBA priorities, starting with the move to reauthorize and increase Alabama’s historic tax credit program. The program, first introduced in 2013 and renewed by Gov. Kay Ivey in 2018, expires in December 2022. The program allows property owners to receive a 25% tax credit for the redevelopment or preservation of eligible historic sites, up to $20 million each, for the entire state year, according to the program’s website.

The BBA supports extending the program for another five years and doubling the cap amount to $40 million, according to Kodanian. The rule remains that no project can receive more than $5 million.

Khodanian said this funding is essential to the continued revitalization of Birmingham’s downtown area through projects such as the restoration of The Lyric Theater and Pizzitz Food Hall, both of which benefit from historic tax credits.

Smitherman agreed, saying buildings like these are an important part of the city’s history.

“I think we can do whatever we can to encourage and restore our historic district,” Smitherman said. “This is the nature and character of the city. We cannot forget our history.

Brownfield redevelopment

Smitherman went on to be a leading advocate for the redevelopment of Birmingham’s brownfields, another 2023 BBA priority.

As The Lede previously reported, the Greater Birmingham Regional Planning Commission (RPC) was awarded $500,000 by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last year to redevelop vacant and underutilized land in and around Birmingham.

The funding comes in the form of the EPA Brownfields Assessment Grant, which is awarded after the EPA selects recipients from a pool of applications.

According to EPA Brownfields, real estate property, expansion, redevelopment, or reuse can be complicated by the presence or potential presence of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants.

Several areas in north Birmingham and the Enslee area are not only brownfields, but were designated Superfund sites by the EPA a decade ago, meaning they have contamination that requires a long-term cleanup response.

Much of this pollution can be traced back to Birmingham’s history of iron and steel production. Decades ago, when environmental regulations were less stringent, North Birmingham’s factories engaged in activities that caused significant amounts of air and soil pollution.

Most of these plants eventually closed, the most recent being Bluestone Coke, which closed in 2021 following multiple citations from the Jefferson County Department of Health (JCDH) for air pollution permit violations.

Bluestone Coke is embroiled in a legal battle with JCDH, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and the Greater-Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution (GASP). The result was a settlement agreement in which Bluestone Coke agreed to pay nearly $1 million to JCDH to help revitalize the affected communities.

“The people who made these brownfields should be held accountable,” Smitherman said. “People who come in and try to develop it, that’s not the responsible party.”

Representatives for Bluestone Coke did not respond to a request for comment.

Khodanian said the BBA is working with ADEM to support the Brownfields Improvement Act, which would give local leaders more incentive to assess and clean up more brownfield sites around the metro.

“There are a lot of international properties that have changed ownership several times and some of them are just orphan sites, and maybe they don’t have clear ownership,” Kodanian said. “Therefore, this proposed bill will be another tool to find available places to enhance our economic development and job creation efforts…

“Looking around the region, there are about 450 unused and undeveloped sites. That’s why we believe this legislation will make a difference to site development in the entire community and expand economic development not only in Jefferson County, but throughout the state of Alabama.

Investing in biotech

With economic growth in mind, BBA’s legislative priorities outline investments in Birmingham’s biotech sector, which BBA sees as a key driver of increasing quality of life and middle income for people in the community.

Earlier this month, the BBA brought in national consulting firm Deloitte to gather data from bioscience companies to expand the region’s biotech job market.

BBA bioscience program manager Jacqueline Chandler said in an earlier interview that the fellowship specifically chose to focus on important resources in the city — such as UAB and the Southern Research Institute — and high-paying biotech jobs.

Northern Beltline

The BBA hopes the completion of the Birmingham Northern Beltline will bring new people and business to the city.

The proposed beltway has a 52-mile, six-lane corridor stretching from Interstate 59 in northeast Jefferson County to I-459 along I-59/20 near Bessemer.

BBA, a longtime supporter of the project, has previously cited future economic development as a key benefit.

“The North Beltline is a long-term project that the Birmingham Business Alliance has been a proud supporter of for many years,” Khodanian said in an earlier interview with The Led. “We look forward to generations of economic opportunity supported by this project for local businesses and residents.”

Not critics of the Northern Beltline. Environmentalists and others have been opposing the project since construction began in 2014.

In the past decade, the Beltway has come under fire from at least two local environmental groups and the Southern Environmental Law Center, citing water pollution and environmental impact concerns.

The local residents who live near the belt line also expressed their displeasure at being asked to sell their land and ask for a road for construction.

Michelle MacDonald, who was asked to donate family property to the belt, has previously called the project “wrong” and “irresponsible”.

Despite these concerns, the RPC is expected to provide two-thirds of the estimated $1.5 billion in total funding for construction between now and 2045.

Birmingham-Southern College Financial Aid

BBA’s final legislative priority is the $30 million in funding requested by BSC from the state legislature.

In the year In late 2022, Daniel Coleman, president of the private liberal arts college, said, “They’ve been operating under financial pressure for more than a decade.” According to AL.com’s report, in a letter sent to members of the Jefferson County Legislature by Wagoner and Rep. Jim Carnes, Coleman requested $30 million in state funds, $5 million in city funds and $2.5 million in county funding. Roy Johnson.

The letter went on to say that without the requested funds, BSC would be forced to close in May this year. Ever since the letter was issued, the question of whether the government should give the money or not has been debated both inside and outside the legislature.

“I thank him [Coleman] For the effort, I think he’s trying to do everything he can to save the school,” said Alabama House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, according to AL.com’s Mike Casson. “But at the end of the day, I don’t know if it’s the government’s job to save schools, private schools. It’s a slippery slope. If it’s Birmingham-South this year, who will it be next year? What’s the next college or what’s the next big thing?”

Wagoner said lawmakers across Jefferson County are on both sides of the issue in Kasson.

“I’ve had strong opinions on both sides of the spectrum,” Wagoner said of Kasson’s report.

Khodanian said Birmingham-South is an “economic engine” and without it, the metro and the state wouldn’t have many leaders today, he added.

“We don’t need to lose anything where we are as a region?” said Kodanian. “We need to add more assets, not take anything away. So that’s what we need to support.

Smitherman said he wants to help keep the college open. But the aid may not come in the $30 million they are asking for, he added.

“I support their efforts to save their college,” Smitherman said. “We cannot let it go without a serious effort to try and keep it viable. Whether in the form you ask for or not, this is for the legislature to consider. Whether it counts as a loan. Either as a gift or a combination of the two, if it gives the school the stability to pull itself out of its current situation, I’m all for it.

According to a release from the BBA this week, more priorities will be outlined soon when the legislature convenes in April.

Wagoner did not respond to requests for comment on the agenda.

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