One of two possible developers of the Civic Center site has said plans for the redevelopment of the decades-old building includes a multi-purpose arena, which could be used for Mardi Gras balls in the future.
Stirling Properties plans include a 7,500-seat arena, which could host Mardi Gras balls and other events, Vice President and Regional Manager of Eastern Gulf South Will Barrois confirmed in an interview with Lagniappe.
“It was the number one thing the city said they wanted,” he said. “It’s the idea of an active adult lifestyle ….”
Plans could also include a grocery store, fitness center, office space and family entertainment, Barrois said. However, he cautioned the 22-acre site would not be built out all at once, but in stages to better fit the growth of the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods. With that in mind, the project could also consist of apartments, which studies have shown there is still a need for, he said.
“We want to do that,” he said. “We’ve got a goal. We’re not going to come and build this project out all at once. It’s going to be phased in over time.”
This plan runs somewhat counter to what Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration has been saying about the project. In previous interviews, city spokesman George Talbot has suggested that the solution for Mardi Gras and the solution for the Civic Center property would be separate.
More recently, however, the administration has changed its tune a bit, instead seeking a “temporary” solution to house Carnival festivities.
Stirling is competing for the development rights to the site with The Cordish Companies. City officials toured a Cordish Companies site in Louisville, Kentucky, but have yet to make it to a Stirling Properties site.
Barrois said the company wants to host Stimpson and councilors before a contract is finalized. He said the city sent a request on July 1 to visit a site and they would work to make that happen.
“That’s something we’ve been very vocal about,” Barrois said.
The public and especially neighborhood groups would be involved in the planning process in Stirling’s case, Barrois said.
“We’re not going to build this thing and be gone,” he said. “We live here. We’re stakeholders.”
This comes after the Church Street East neighborhood has complained about being left out of the process by the city.
The city did initially reach out to the neighborhood and had several meetings with the leadership in 2017, Marie Dyson, president of the neighborhood association, said. The meetings stopped and the neighborhood didn’t hear anything else until the finalists were announced publicly.
Not all Church Street East neighbors agree, but a consensus of them think site plans must include a performing arts center and an arena to host Carnival festivities, Dyson said.
“Mardi Gras is central to the economy of downtown,” she said.
Not only had the neighborhood been shut out of meeting with the city on the project, but it had no representation on the committee tasked with choosing the winning bid, Dyson said. She added that members of the Downtown Mobile Alliance were not part of the process.
“We feel like we’ve been left out,” she said. “We feel like we’ve been dissed.”
Dyson is hopeful the city will hold community meetings before the council makes a final decision.
For weeks, city officials remained closed-lipped about which developers were involved and who was on a committee to advise on the finalists. The public became aware of the committee members only after Lagniappe made a records request. The request was fulfilled on Mother’s Day.
If Councilman Fred Richardson has his way, there will be a slew of community meetings before councilors sign off on a contract.
“Right now the ball is in the mayor’s court,” Richardson said. “Once we get it, we’re going to open it up to public hearings. The mayor had a closed-door process, but the council will have an open process.”
As for a timetable for the project, Talbot said the council will be briefed on the plans from the two developers in a private, executive session on Monday, July 15. After that meeting, the city will name a winning bidder and could have a contract before councilors as early as the first meeting in September.
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