MAPS (the Metropolitan Area Projects Strategy) was a 1998 proposal to fund a number of capital, transit and development projects, including a new domed stadium or convention facility, in the Birmingham Metropolitan Area.
The plan, which failed to win necessary voter approval, called for a $525 million sale of bonds to be paid off by an increase in sales and lodging taxes (projected to raise as much as $697 million). About half of the bond revenue was earmarked for a "multi-purpose convention and entertainment facility," more often described as a "domed stadium."
The MAPS proposal was created by a steering committee made up of Larry Lemak, Richard Scrushy, Elmer Harris, Larry Striplin, Mary Buckelew, Richard Arrington, and Jabo Waggoner. The campaign for public support was headed by Donald Hess. The committee and its campaign chair volunteered their time and effort. Rick Horrow, a facility development consultant with the National Football League was hired to assist their efforts. The name and structure of the MAPS proposal was drawn from a similar 1993 proposal which was approved by voters in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The Alabama Legislature passed Act 98-127, authorizing the projects and creating a self-governing agency, the Jefferson County Progress Authority, to administer the funds. A special referendum was set for August 4, 1998, to approve or rescind the measure. Opponents of the proposal formed a group called "RAPS" (Real Accountability, Progress, and Solutions).
Voters defeated the proposal by a vote of 57 to 43 percent. The turnout was the largest since the 1992 presidential election. 96,490 voters, mostly in the communities surrounding Birmingham, opposed the project, while 71,495 voters, mostly inside Birmingham, supported it.
The MAPS proposal outlined 14 specific projects that would be funded by the bond sale. The following list is ranked by popularity according to polling done in July 1998:
- McWane Center
- Domed convention center
- High-tech library system
- Birmingham Zoo expansion
- Downtown improvements
- Regional transporation hub
- Light rail system
- Vulcan renovations
- Alabama Theatre and Lyric Theatre renovations
- Walking and biking trails
- Swimming and aquatic center
Funding for the majority of these projects has since been pursued successfully despite the defeat of the MAPS proposal. Some of the projects were funded by a smaller-scale city-wide sales tax hike, the "Birmingham Economic and Community Revitalization Ordinance", which took effect on January 1, 2008.
The basic mechanism for repaying the bond debt was a proposed 3/4 cent increase in county sales taxes, which would be repealed once the debt was paid (estimated to take 14 to 19 years). Residents aged 65 or older could apply for a refund of the 3/4 cent sales tax. An additional 1/4 cent sales tax was earmarked for public transit, and was not subject to repeal or refunds.
The mechanism for the planned repeal was not automatic, leading critics to claim that the authority would likely continue collecting the tax for other purposes.
MAPS supporters stated that their plan included a variety of projects that would enhance the quality of life in Birmingham. The "MAPS Victory Committee" distributed yard signs reading "The Future Can't Wait." On July 7, 1998, a half-hour "infomercial" aired simultaneously on every Birmingham television station.
The domed stadium was the main focus of controversy during the campaign. Proponents described it as an economic engine that would generate jobs. Opponents objected that the public was being asked to assume massive debt, and that similar projects had failed to improve the local economy in other cities.
Other criticisms were leveled against using a sales tax increase, described as "a penny for our future," as the means for paying down the debt. Opponents argued that the county's taxation was already unduly regressive and that the tax would unfairly burden lower-income families who were the least likely to benefit from the domed stadium and other high-profile projects.
Nevertheless, polls taken by Southern Opinion Research during the campaign showed that most residents supported the MAPS project, but that those most likely to vote were inclined to oppose it.
- The "MAPS Victory Committee", the official campaign arm of the steering committee, raised $1 million to support a media campaign for the MAPS proposal. About 40% of that was spent on the July 7 television broadcast, produced by political consultant Hank Sheinkopf's firm. Significant contributors included:
- Alabama Power ($100,000)
- BellSouth ($100,000)
- HealthSouth ($100,000)
- AmSouth Bank ($100,000)
- SouthTrust Bank ($100,000)
- Brasfield & Gorrie ($60,000)
- BE&K ($55,000)
- McWane Inc ($50,000)
- Sonat ($25,000)
- Compass Bank ($25,000)
- Coca-Cola Bottling Co. ($25,000)
- Proffitt's ($25,000)
- Hoar Construction ($15,000)
- Mayer Electric ($10,000)
- Regions Bank ($10,000)
- Torchmark ($10,000)
- Drummond Companies ($10,000)
- Donald Hess ($10,000)
- Bruno Event Team ($10,000)
- Energen ($10,000)
- A Political Action Committee, the Citizens for the Future of Jefferson County collected nearly $139,000 in contributions for the MAPS campaign. Significant donors included:
- The Alabama Sports Foundation spent $100,000 for "MAPS study and media kits."
- The Birmingham City Council voted 4-3 to support MAPS.
- The Birmingham Museum of Art board unanimously endorsed MAPS.
- Birmingham School System superintendent Johnny Brown, Jefferson County superintendent Bruce Wright and Alabama Education Association Executive Secretary Paul Hubbert all supported the proposal.
- David Bronner
- Art Clarkson
- RAPS, led by Councilman Jimmy Blake and others.
- The Adamsville City Council, Hueytown City Council, Pleasant Grove City Council and Trussville City Council all passed resolutions opposing MAPS.
- Project LEAP (Legal Evaluation and Action Project), founded by Ronald E. Jackson and Kamau Afrika, filed suit to block the special election.
- "Hard to pinpoint when MAPS tax would expire" (July 27, 1998) Birmingham News.
- "The Lingering Image: Take Risks to Improve Perceptions, Report Urges" (July 17, 1998) Birmingham News
- "Just the FAQs on MAPS: Who would control the money?" (August 2, 1998) Birmingham News.