BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The Smithfield community on Birmingham’s west side was developed in the early 1900s as a neighborhood for prominent Black professionals. That rich history may now be linked to a bright future thanks to a possibility of a major investment of funds.
Cornell Wesley is the director of the city of Birmingham’s office of Innovation and Economic Opportunity. He’s excited about the city’s application for a choice grant.
”We are a finalist for Choice Neighborhood grants,” Wesley said. “I want to make certain that the public understands what that means for Birmingham. If we are awarded a $50 million grant from U.S. Housing and Urban Development, that transforms Smithfield.”
And transforming Smithfield means addressing the future of its most famous landmark, Legion Field. Wesley believes a transformation of the Smithfield community would mean a discussion on what to do with Birmingham’s iconic stadium.
“If we transform Smithfield, we have to be well positioned to think about what that economic anchor would look like moving forward,” Wesley said.
The area is also home to Parker High School, Birmingham’s first high school for Black students. One part of the proposal for the choice grant calls for building 350 units of multi-family homes on the 11 acres of the school’s surplus property. In all, some 1,000 units would be built across the community, breathing new life into a community with a vibrant past.
Birmingham City Councilor Crystal Smitherman sees the choice grant as the opportunity to not only save Legion Field but save a community that is vital to the heartbeat of the city.
“I think we are finally going to be able to put the pieces together to really uplift that community and Legion Field because when a community is thriving, whatever is around is going to thrive,” Smitherman said. “So, then infrastructure around Legion Field is going to thrive and that community, they just love Legion Field and they love the classic, so I think it’s time that they get rewarded for the unity they have over there.”
This is the second time the City of Birmingham has applied for the choice grant. The first application occurred back in 2020 and was unsuccessful. But Smitherman is confident this application will include lessons learned that will help Birmingham come away with $50 million in funds to put into a beloved chapter in Birmingham’s history.
The finalists will be announced in June, and the grants awarded in the fall.