13 INVESTIGATES: Leasing talks delay Birmingham entertainment d - Alabamas13.com WVTM-TV Birmingham, AL

13 INVESTIGATES: Leasing talks delay Birmingham entertainment district

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Birmingham's Uptown Entertainment District is making progress.

The Westin Hotel, with its Todd English P.U.B., opened last month.

The rest of the entertainment district was scheduled to open this spring.

However, the BJCC has only announced two tenants for the rest of the development: an Octane Coffee Bar and Texas-de-Brazil steak restaurant.

Those revelations came six months ago.

Construction looks nearly complete.

So will it open this spring or not?

We took our questions to BJCC Executive Director Tad Snider.

He revealed the newly-named Uptown will not open before summer.

He says they are still negotiating leases with a handful of tenants.

"It really takes a little longer to finalize those when you're really looking for something unique and not already in the market, but we are really pleased with the progress," Snider pointed out.

Snider believes they will now be ready to open sometime in summer.

Octane Coffee Bar told us they'll open their doors in mid-to-late summer, while Texas-de-Brazil predicted end of summer or early winter.

Snyder says they expect to sign another five-to-six tenants, which will include a mix of nightclubs and restaurants.

He says they've received several letters of intent. 

When asked exactly how many signed letters of intent they've received, Snider responded, "I don't have an exact number now, but we have letters of intent for more square footage than we have available space.  I can tell you that."

The progress Snider cited has seen at least one leasing casualty.

Recently, leasing partner Bayer Properties announced that local pessimism has affected negotiations.

We asked Snyder about a report that Bayer had a lease almost signed with a major retailer, but that after a Birmingham business naysayer's criticism of the project, that retailer has now backed off its commitment.

"Well, it's true.  And again it's critically important that Birmingham supports Birmingham.  This is an important project for the entire downtown area and for the BJCC, of course," Snider said.

UAB marketing professor Bob Robicheaux has followed the Birmingham metro economy for decades.

So he is quite familiar with the marketing dynamics of downtown Birmingham.

"There is no tradition for two generations now of people entertaining, seeking entertainment in downtown Birmingham," Robicheaux pointed out.

The unknown is one reason Robicheaux says he is not surprised by the uptown entertainment district's delayed opening.

The overall economy is the other.

"In the current economic conditions, many firms do not want to be the first movers, to be the first ones to sign the leases and to become the ones who then draw the following tenants," Robicheaux said.

Meanwhile, Snider says the opening of the Westin Hotel is already paying dividends.

He claims its additional rooms have helped Birmingham land seven events they likely would have missed out on without the Westin.

That group includes the NCAA Division II Championships at the Crossplex a couple of weeks ago.

Now with the construction of the entertainment district nearing completion, Snider insists finding the perfect tenant blend is the final key to filling the empty buildings with entertainment destinations. 

So how confident is Snider that they will find enough tenants to sign leases so the Uptown Entertainment District will open in the next 4-6 months?

"We know with the energy from the BJCC and the City of Birmingham is putting on the project along with Bayer Properties who is handling the leasing for us, and the energy and interest we've had in walking people through the project is that it's not a matter of if, it's just when and that when is getting the mix right," Snider concluded.

The Westin Hotel-Entertainment District project was originally pitched as a public-private funding partnership.

In the end, both were funded with about $65 million in public bonds.

Fifty million dollars covered the Westin's construction, while $15 million paid for the entertainment district.

Birmingham's lodging tax will pay off those bonds.

For more on the Uptown project, check out the entertainment district's own web site


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