Negro Southern League Museum
The Negro Southern League Museum is a history museum exhibiting memorabilia and information telling the story of African American baseball from Birmingham's perspective. The facility also houses the Center for Negro League Baseball Research founded by Layton Revel in Dallas, Texas.
It is located on 16th Street South adjoining Regions Field and opened in August 2015 with no charge for admission. Traci Bennett is serving as interim director after the departure of Natasha Rogers in June 2018.
The museum houses exhibits covering the Negro Southern League as well as Industrial League baseball, various Birmingham Black Barons teams, the Birmingham Giants, and the movement of black players into baseball's Major Leagues.
Construction of the two-story 15,750 square-foot building and the design and installation of its 8,700 square feet of exhibits was funded by the city of Birmingham through the Public Athletic, Cultural and Entertainment Facilities Board (PACE). The city has also committed to fund the museum's operational expenses indefinitely.
The idea of building a Negro Leagues museum in Birmingham was proposed independently by the American Negro League Baseball Association, which secured a contract for space in the Booker T. Washington Building at 18th Street and 3rd Avenue North and the Alabama Negro League Association, which secured the promise of Layton Revel's $4 million collection of Negro League baseball memorabilia.
At the insistence of then-mayor Larry Langford, both groups agreed to cooperate with the Friends of Rickwood on a joint Negro and Southern Leagues Hall of Fame honoring the Negro Leagues' Birmingham Black Barons as well as the Birmingham Barons, which was a charter member of the Southern League. In April 2009 Mayor Larry Langford unveiled a proposal to build a museum encompassing all of Birmingham's baseball history adjacent to historic Rickwood Field in West End. Further restoration of the baseball park was also included in the $7.5 million proposal.
The Birmingham City Council passed a resolution supporting the project, and promised to find funding for it in the 2010 city budget. Under pressure from the Mayor, the Council approved a motion to fund the project with unspent capital funds at their May 5, 2009 meeting. On July 14 the Council approved a $310,000 contract with Exford Architects to complete design and construction documents. A ceremonial groundbreaking was held on August 12 with hopes that construction could be completed in time for the West End park's centennial in the summer of 2010.
Work on that project never really started, and the proposal died with Langford's October 2009 criminal conviction. With the development of a new downtown baseball park in the vicinity of the Railroad Park, a new Negro Leagues Museum was announced by Mayor William Bell as part of the city's plans.
The City of Birmingham served as general contractor and insurer for the project. Ground was broken for construction on June 25, 2014, and the museum opened on August 28, 2015 under a temporary certificate of occupancy. In addition to its permanent exhibits, the building includes 7,050 square feet for special events, space for a rooftop restaurant with a terrace overlooking Regions Field, and a gift shop.
Operational funds for the new museum were carved out of Mayor Bell's office budget for two months before the City Council approved a measure to dedicate revenues from a settlement with Alabama Power to provide the funding.
The museum's restaurant space remained vacant until 2018. In order to attract a restaurant operator, the city offered to build out and equip the space and to abate the first 24 months of rent in exchange for a 10-year lease. Bernadette Birdsong signed on for Michael's Steak & Seafood to be the restaurant tenant.
During build-out for Michael's, significant deficiencies were found in the building's construction, including issues with the roof and walls, and under-designed electrical and mechanical systems. Battle Miller Construction estimated it would cost at least $240,000 on top of the tenant build-out to bring the building up to code. After some debate, the City Council approved $290,000 in additional funding (with a 20% contingency), but also requested a full explanation from the Mayor's office. Michael's opening was further delayed by the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic. The restaurant opened for take-out and delivery, with limited dining service, on August 3, 2020.
- Wolfson, Hannah (December 23, 2007) "Baseball veterans and supporters want to build a Negro Leagues museum in downtown Birmingham." The Birmingham News
- Norris, Toraine (April 15, 2008) "Group wants to build museum to honor Negro League veterans from Alabama." The Birmingham News
- Oberholzer, Kristin (May 14, 2008) "Groups unite to develop Negro Leagues museum." The Birmingham News
- Bryant, Joseph D. (April 2, 2009) "Birmingham considering museum, restoration at Rickwood Field." The Birmingham News
- Archibald, John (April 12, 2009) "John Archibald: Behind gunk, a diamond of an idea." The Birmingham News
- Bryant, Joseph D. (May 5, 2009) "Birmingham City Council OKs $7.5 million for museum, Rickwood Field improvements." The Birmingham News
- Spencer, Thomas (July 14, 2009) "Birmingham City Council gives OK on Rickwood Field work." The Birmingham News
- Bryant, Joseph D. (August 14, 2009) "Ceremonial beginning for Rickwood Field renovations." The Birmingham News
- Bryant, Joseph D. (October 26, 2010) "Mayor Bell pitches bigger plans for Birmingham baseball stadium." The Birmingham News
- Bryant, Joseph D. (July 27, 2011) "Site set for downtown Birmingham ball park." The Birmingham News
- Bryant, Joseph D. (June 25, 2014) "Birmingham baseball museum to feature mix of traditional, interactive features, mayor promises." The Birmingham News
- Crenshaw, Solomon Jr (June 25, 2014) "Birmingham's Negro baseball museum 'completely different' from any museum in the United States." The Birmingham News
- Bryant, Joseph D. (August 18, 2014) "Birmingham city leaders eyeing $2.8 million to build Negro League baseball museum, commit long-term financial support." The Birmingham News
- Stephenson, Creg (August 27, 2015) "Negro Southern League Museum set to open Friday next to Regions Field in downtown Birmingham." The Birmingham News
- Edgemon, Erin (June 22, 2018) "Restaurant gets $1.5 million in incentives to open in Birmingham Negro Southern League Museum." The Birmingham News
- Bryant, Joseph D. (September 15, 2019) "Johnson: Who whiffed on Negro Southern League Museum construction?" The Birmingham News