Alabama State Fairgrounds

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The Alabama State Fairgrounds was a 117-acre exhibition grounds and recreational park located in Birmingham's Central Park neighborhood, adjacent to the Five Points West shopping area. It was on the site of the present Birmingham CrossPlex and CrossPlex Village mixed use development.

Vulcan at the fairgrounds, c. 1910s

Birmingham International Raceway was located inside the gates of the Fairgrounds. The State Fair Arena and Exposition Building covered a combined total of 110,000 square feet. The 117-acre fairgrounds were acquired by the City of Birmingham in 1947.

For many years, the grounds were home to the Alabama State Fair. The statue of Vulcan, which is now a Birmingham landmark atop Red Mountain, was displayed at the Fairgrounds after it was brought home from the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. Business executive Robert "Buster" Brown president over the fairgrounds as president of the Alabama State Fair & Exhibit Association from 1914 until his death in 1936.

In 1927 the Association purchased the Harry Traver-designed "Sesquicentennial Cyclone" roller coaster and "Jazz Railway" ride from Philadelphia's Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition. The coaster was sold before 1933 to the organizers of the "Century of Progress International Exposition" in Chicago, Illinois.

The fairgrounds was purchased by the City of Birmingham for $290,000 in 1946 and placed under the administration of a six-member Alabama State Fair Authority, appointed by the Birmingham City Commission. Because the city provided no funding to the authority, which was expected to finance park operations and maintenance from the income generated from auto races and special events. To boost those revenues, the Authority invested in development of the permanent "Kiddieland" amusement park, and also leased a portion of the ground for the Fair Park Drive-In cinema.

The city supplemented the authority's re-investment of budget surpluses with bond funds for the construction of a new Industrial Arts Building and Agricultural Building and cattle barn. In the 1950s a Fair Park Pool was constructed, with a wide beach of Gulf Coast sand and huge floodlights to allow for night swimming.

During the Birmingham Campaign of 1963, the Fairgrounds, which had been closed to the public to avoid court ordered desegregation, were used by the Birmingham Police Department to hold arrested demonstrators after the city's jails were filled.

In later years the raceway continued to host high school football games and the arena supported several semi-professional basketball teams, as well as flea markets and other events. The parking lot had a capacity of 7,500 cars. The Kiddieland section of the park continued to operate but slid into a dilapidated state by the late 1980s. A go-kart track and batting cages remained on the premises, but were largely inactive by the mid-1990s. Fairgrounds manager Tom Drilias resigned in 1999.

The state fair discontinued regular use of the facility because of poor attendance and high crime in the adjacent neighborhood. The Alabama State Fair Authority went bankrupt, and was dissolved sometime around the year 2001. No state fair has been held on a regular basis since. (The "Alabama National Fair" in Montgomery and another carnival called the "Alabama State Fair" in Pelham, are unrelated.)

Birmingham International Raceway

The raceway grandstands in January 2009

A feature of the fairgrounds was the Birmingham International Raceway which originated as a 1-mile clay oval horse track in 1906. An 8,000-seat grandstand was constructed in 1925 and the track, later reduced to 5/8ths of a mile, has hosted innumerable automobile races, as well as harness races, concerts, shows and football games. The grandstands were demolished in 2009 as part of the redevelopment of Fair Park.

State Fair Arena

Main article: State Fair Arena

The W. F. "Bill" Harris State Fair Arena is a 6,000-seat multipurpose indoor arena located at the Fairgrounds. The arena is used primarily for basketball, but also hosts concerts and other events.

Engine No. 4018

Main article: Engine No. 4018

The St Louis & San Francisco Railway's Engine No. 4018, a steam locomotive, went on display under a metal shed soon after it retired from service in 1952. It was relocated to Sloss Furnaces in 2009.

Redevelopment proposals

In 1969 the Authority proposed a Fair Park East on a 630-acre site near Jefferson State Junior College in Eastern Jefferson County.

A 1987 proposal for redeveloping Fair Park was assembled by city officials with assistance from Barbour Cooper & Partners. The proposal recommended demolishing the raceway and adding an exhibition building, realigning Avenue W, building an indoor swimming pool or track & field facility, building an artificial lake and providing new parking areas. Jim Wilson, owner of the adjoining Five Points West Shopping Mall and Debbie Olmstead, president of the mall's merchants association, expressed full support for the proposal.

Shortly after taking office in November 2007 Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford proposed a large-scale redevelopment of Fair Park which would combine athletic facilities with residential, retail and entertainment facilities. The centerpiece of the redevelopment would be indoor track and swimming facilities. On April 8, 2008 the Birmingham City Council approved the use of $48 million in city funds to initiate construction.

On June 19, 2008, Langford proposed moving the race track to a site in northwest Birmingham off of Daniel Payne Drive, stating that it didn't fit into Fair Park's redevelopment plan. Demolition of the grandstand began on January 31, 2009.

An August 2009 proposal from Fair Park Real Estate Partners to develop 10 acres of the park as a retail center anchored by CVS Pharmacy and Aldi was tabled by the Council's Administration, Budget and Finance Committee until the developers could produce a comprehensive plan for the site.

Redevelopment of adjoining property for mixed retail, entertainment and residential uses has been discussed since the beginning of the CrossPlex development. After several false starts, the city contracted with Bob Nesbitt (acting as the Urban Community Development Consortium) in February 2016 to head the development of a 31-acre parcel under a long-term lease agreement. The project opened in the Summer of 2017.

Alabama State Fairgrounds
Buildings Alabama State Fair cattle barn · Bill Harris Arena · Birmingham International Raceway · Exposition Building · Kiddieland
Events Alabama State Fair · Birmingham Fairgrounds Flea Market · Fair Park redevelopment · Fall Carnival · Southern Heritage Festival · Spring Fling
Exhibits Batmobile Rescue Ship · Engine No. 4018 · Historical Panorama of Alabama Agriculture · Vulcan
Organizations Alabama State Fair Authority · Birmingham Bandits · Birmingham Magicians · Birmingham Power · Magic City Court Kings
Vulcan
 Giuseppe Moretti · Vulcan Park Foundation · Vulcan's Prophecy  · V... The Statue
Details  Vulcan's dimensions  · Vulcan's torch
Events  Vulcan Dedication Celebration · Vulcans on Parade
 Locations   Alabama Mineral Exhibit ·Alabama State Fairgrounds · Vulcan Park

References

  • Rogers, William Warren (April 1958) "The Alabama State Fair, 1865-1900." The Alabama Review. Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 100-116
  • Cartmell, Robert (1987) The Incredible Scream Machine: A History of the Roller Coaster. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press Popular Press. ISBN 9780879723422
  • Faulk, Kent (February 25, 1987) "New vigor for western area: City plans to revitalize Fair Park, Five Points" The Birmingham News
  • Alabama State Fairgrounds. (2007, July 10). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 02:48, October 30, 2007 [1]
  • Bryant, Joseph D. (April 5, 2008) "Fair Park development includes Marriott, Foot Locker, grocery, Birmingham mayor says." {{BN}
  • Bryant, Joseph D. (April 8, 2008) "Birmingham council OKs Fair Park plans." {{BN}
  • Bryant, Joseph D. (June 20, 2008) "Mayor proposes moving Birmingham International Raceway from Fair Park, providing $1 million to help build new track." {{BN}
  • Bryant, Joseph D. (January 31, 2009) "Groundbreaking gets under way at Birmingham's Fair Park." {{BN}
  • Bryant, Joseph D. (August 18, 2009) "Birmingham council committee delays Fair Park developer pitch; asks for more details." {{BN}

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