Civic Center Redevelopment: And Then There Was One...

UPDATE: Mayor Sandy Stimpson has now said that the competition is over, as reported by al.com. The mayor is planning to meet with David Cordish very soon. However, this isn't the end of it. The Mobile City Council would still need to sign off an any plan, and there are still lots of questions. This story is really just beginning.

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Stirling Properties has dropped out of the competition to redevelop the Mobile Civic Center property. The company, which has an office in Mobile, was one of just two companies selected to present their proposals to replace the aging venue and surrounding property; the other being Cordish Company of Baltimore. On Tuesday, Stirling submitted a letter that essentially questioned the fairness of the process. In that letter, Stirling said it seemed "clear" that Mayor Sandy Stimpson favored their competitor's proposal. Stirling was unhappy with the lack of financial details given in the Cordish proposal, noting that Stirling was "the only team to include a full financial pro forma or articulate an amount of public support required." Finally, they argue that Cordish proposed a "commercial outdoor entertainment district" in lieu of an arena to replace the Civic Center. In Stirling's view, that amounted to a fundamental change from what they'd been asked to propose. These issues were enough for Stirling to pick up its ball and go home.

I don't blame them. We've seen this coming for some time, and the process thus far has truly appeared to favor the Cordish Company proposal over Stirling Properties' work.

Mayor Sandy Stimpson and a contingent of city officials have already visited 4th Street Live!, a Cordish development in Louisville. That happened all the way back on June 5th, and it made quite an impression. Mayor Stimpson has said there's a "'wow' factor" in what Cordish is proposing. Stirling officials had also asked the mayor to also tour one of their developments -- specifically the PPL Center in Allentown (PA). It's comparable to what Stirling had proposed for Mobile, with an arena as the centerpiece of a full-scale development. But seven weeks since their 4th Street Live! visit, and city officials have yet to see a Stirling property in person.

And indeed, Stirling has given very specific financials. In their proposal, al.com tells us that they projected that the City of Mobile would provide about $66-million in bond funding, while Stirling would finance what's left of the $250 million redevelopment. That's possibly too big an undertaking for the city, but at least we have the information. Neither Stirling, the city, nor its taxpayers know the financials of the Cordish proposal.

 

The elephant in the room is Mardi Gras. The Mobile Civic Center as it exists now may not be a great (or even good) facility, but it accommodates Mardi Gras balls without any real issues. It's ugly, but it sorta works. And because of that, local Mardi Gras organizations are opposed to any plan that does not include a replacement for the Civic Center. Mayor Stimpson wants to shift those Mardi Gras balls to a warehouse at Brookley Field for a few years; but without a long-term plan to accommodate Mardi Gras balls in Downtown Mobile, many Mardi Gras organizations are justifiably apprehensive about being permanently relocated and want the mayor to strongly consider the Stirling proposal.

 

Stirling had presented a plan to replace the Civic Center with a new facility, and notably, would have closed the existing Civic Center only when the new 7500-seat facility was ready for business. Stirling would have also included bars, restaurants, a grocery store and residential development.

The Cordish proposal is now the only one left at this point, and it essentially would include dining, entertainment and retail -- a lot like Louisville's 4th Street Live! An outdoor concert venue also appears to be in play with Cordish. While that may satisfy many of our city leaders, it won't easily satisfy our Mardi Gras organizations. It may not satisfy Councilman Fred Richardson, who wants the city to have a venue that can hold large crowds. Let's hope we can get Stirling back to the table, because it will be much harder for the city to get what it needs from this redevelopment without competition.

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[Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons]

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