2007 State of the City address
In his introduction, Kincaid quoted from Charles Dickens ("It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.") and from songwriter Paul Jones ("...All of my good days/outweigh my bad days/I won't complain.") He expressed an optimisitc outlook for 2007 and introduced three areas on which he would focus during his remarks: Economic development and job creation, quality of life issues, and neighborhood revitalization.
Economic development and job creation
Mayor Kincaid reported growth in all indicators of economic activity, and in budget and revenue growth. The general fund budget for the city for fiscal year 2006 was almost $317 million, with growth in property tax, sales tax, use tax and occupational taxes and business licenses. 2,825 building permits were issued in 2006, representing a total construction value of $759 million.
He listed the following events as significant for economic development:
- 2,000 downtown residential units completed and more on the way
- $100 million in hospitality projects committed
- Social Security Office Building to open in 2007
- Expansion of Regions Parking Deck imminent
- Eastwood Village and Crestwood/Oporto Master Plan
- Serra Honda Ensley opened
- $8.8 million annual commitment to Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex
Kincaid claimed that 15 commercial and industrial development projects were announced in 2006, representing $85.2 million in capital investment and 1,248 jobs (including Eastwood Village, which alone accounts for $51 million capital investment and 750+ jobs). He also alluded to two "major international projects" for which Birmingham is competing. One of those, already reported by the media, is the Isuzu Truck Assembly Plant at Valley East Industrial Park.
He concluded the section on economic development by quoting W. Charles Mayer III, chairman of the Metropolitan Development Board as saying, "Birmingham is poised for more economic growth as a major population center with a thriving financial services industry, [...] a leading medical and health services community, [...] and one of the nation's lowest unemployment rates. [...] Many cities would love to have these benefits."
Quality of life issues
Addressing the issue of crime, and specifically homicide, Kincaid characterized the problem as "perplexing". He noted that overall crime was slightly down and the loss of law-enforcement personnel has slowed. He claimed that the total compensation paid to Birmingham officers was competitive with neighboring municipalities and hoped to addess that issue with the Birmingham City Council in the context of compensation for all city employees.
- Streamlined training for already-certified officers
- New forensics laboratory
- Two new precinct headquarters
- Implementing "ShotSpotter" gunfire location system
- Operation "Taking it to the Streets"
- Working with faith community to address contributing factors to crime
He also announced a new panel of business leaders and private law-enforcement experts would convene in the coming months to address public response to criminal activity and to survey best-practices from around the nation.
A second quality of life issue Kincaid addressed was the progress on the Railroad Reservation Park, which moved from "concept to construction preparation" with November's "ceremonial groundbreaking." That park plays a central role in the "Park-nership" that promises to give Birmingham the most green space per capita of any city in America.
Third, Kincaid reviewed progress in the "Get Healthy Birmingham" campaign he introduced in last year's state of the city address. He said that neighborhood leaders were encouraged to support the establishment of walking clubs, to identify walking trails, and to involve area churches in the initiative.
Lastly, Kincaid touched on the issues of education, mass transit, and homelessness. Regarding education, Kincaid expressed support for the Birmingham Public School System, but predicted that "belt-tightening" measures would reduce direct appropriations from the city into the system. Regarding transit, Kincaid expressed confidence that the upcoming legislative session would provide "relief" toward a solution, and that leaders continue to "work diligently to find common ground upon which to build momentum." And regarding homelessness, the mayor indicated that Birmingham's "percentage of chronic homeless" is 30%, or three times the national average. A report from the steering committee introduced last summer is expected in the spring, and should guide the city's efforts toward a solution.
Mayor Kincaid expressed his commitment to a "complete revitalization of the 99 Birmingham neighborhoods." which would be characterized by community economic development efforts as well as neighborhood beautification.
He explained that the "What's Hot and What's Not" concept is not a quid pro quo tool, but a program to publicize opportunities in less-developed areas of the city to investors already interested in the city center. Secondly, the BEACON program, administered by Main Streets Birmingham, and now in its second year, will continue to target nine districts for commercial revitalization: Woodlawn, East Lake, Ensley, Lomb Avenue, North Birmingham, Parkway East, Titusville, Tuscaloosa Avenue, and Woodlawn [sic] 1.
He listed the following as successes of the project:
- 11 neighborhood projects totaling $4.1 million in private investment
- Loaned $32,500 at low interest to minority businesses under the "working capital loan fund"
- Facilitated opening of Audiostate 55 recording studio in Avondale [sic] 2.
- Facilitated relocation of Monumental Contracting Services to vacant bank in Ensley
- Helped land new "Family Dollar" stores in Norwood, Ensley and Woodlawn
- Assisted with new Green Acres Cafe franchise in Ensley
Kincaid predicted that the city's growing focus on neighborhood revitalization would build upon itself as the City-wide master plan is developed. New tools for workforce development and strategic plans for each neighborhood with land-use and development issues should be expected in the future.
Lastly, Kincaid added that "neighborhood cleanliness absolutely is an essential element to revitalization," and that the city's efforts to maintain rights-of-way and remove litter would be ongoing in 2007. He further opined that "When we look better ... we act better," and hoped that beautifucation could therefore serve as remedy for the "worst of times" to which he alluded in the introduction.
- 2007 State of the City address (PDF) at informationbirmingham.com