Black contractors sue, ask for halt to construction of Birmingham amphitheater

Black contractors sue, ask for halt to construction of Birmingham amphitheater


By  Joseph D. Bryant | jbryant@al.com

An industry trade group advocating for Black contractors is seeking to halt construction of the downtown Birmingham amphitheater just days before its ceremonial groundbreaking.

In a lawsuit filed late Wednesday, the Black Contractors Association of Alabama alleges that the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Complex Authority failed to comply with an agreement to increase minority participation in the 9,000-seat amphitheater project.

“In our community, where Black residents comprise the majority, it is crucial that we tackle the issue now,” said Jarrod Sims, president of the Black Contractors Association of Alabama. “Our aim is to establish a new standard where equity and fairness are core to every project, not just an afterthought. That’s what true participation looks like. Representation matters.”

Jefferson County Judge Don Blankenship scheduled a hearing for Wednesday to consider a request for a temporary restraining order to stop construction until the BJCC fully complies with its diversity provisions for historically underutilized businesses (HUB).

Attorney Richard Rice, who represents the Black Contractors Association, said the lawsuit centers on the action steps that the BJCC agreed to undertake when it accepted city of Birmingham funding for the project and in the general project agreement. For example, Rice told AL.com, the BJCC agreed to host an information meeting with minority contractors before bids were advertised but did not.

The Black Contractors Association, Goudy Construction Inc., and Patrica Sigers filed the lawsuit and requested the temporary restraining order just ahead of the Star Amphitheater groundbreaking, which is set for Monday. The open-air amphitheater on 25th Street North will sit on the 50-acre campus of the former Carraway Hospital, just north of Protective Stadium. The amphitheater is slated to open in the summer of 2025.“The BJCC was obligated and bound by statute, contract and basic tenets of good faith dealings to adhere to the letter and spirit of the forgoing resolution and listed obligations,” the lawsuit states. “The BJCC failed to adhere to all or part of the terms of the forgoing stated resolution and the terms of the agreements with the city and the county as it relates to the inclusion of HUBs.”

Tad Snider, the executive director of the BJCC, said the authority is meeting its goals for participation and cites millions in contracts already awarded to minority companies.

“The BJCC is committed to diversity and making sure that all businesses have an opportunity to participate in our construction projects and in our operations. We have worked closely with leaders in the City of Birmingham and Jefferson County to make sure this is a priority, and together, we have been very successful,” Snider said in a statement to AL.com Friday. “These results are a reflection of the good-faith effort we have made and continue to make to achieve strong minority participation – a goal included in our agreements with the city of Birmingham and Jefferson County and in our own policies as an organization.” The debate over minority inclusion in publicly-funded projects has for decades been a contentions – and litigious – issue in Birmingham.

To critics of diversity initiatives, Rice called the programs essential to addressing long-help discrimination that hurt minority businesses.

“There has to be some type of affirmative intentional effort to correct it in order to create more parity and inclusion in the marketplace,” Rice told AL.com. “Otherwise, the disparity will just perpetuate indefinitely. That’s why there is a need to have this type of intentional set aside. “These types of programs not only benefit black contractors, they benefit the city overall.” The BJCC in 2023 sold $30 million of municipal bonds backed by pledges of amphitheater revenues and lodging taxes from the Sheraton Birmingham Hotel and Westin Birmingham Hotel, which are owned by the BJCC. The bond money, along with $20 million from the city of Birmingham, Jefferson County, the entertainment company Live Nation and the BJCC, make up the funding plan for the amphitheater. Snider said the BJCC had achieved a high level of diversity on the amphitheater — particularly on the construction side, where state bid law allows them to encourage, but not require, participation. The BJCC in February awarded a $3.1 million site-grading contract to SDAC, the low bidder and a minority-owned firm.

“We are required under current Alabama law to accept the lowest responsible bidder with no exceptions,” Snider said.Snider also noted that more than 33% of the design work on the project went to minority- and women-owned firms.

Rice stressed that the lawsuit was not about a specific number or goal, but centers on actions that the BJCC was contractually obligated to perform. “In so many of these other projects we’ve also set a target of participation, but in this particular one, it has specific steps that had to be taken in a certain period of time in order for you to be able to say you are making a good faith effort to meet that target,” he said. “And if you don’t do those steps, then you can’t subjectively say, ‘oh well, we tried.’”

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