Council approves PACE board funding agreement, opens door for new restaurant
The Birmingham City Council unanimously approved a funding agreement with the Public Athletic, Cultural, and Entertainment Facilities Board (PACE) to provide $1.5 million and additional in-kind services to support the build-out process for a new restaurant to open at the Negro Southern League Museum.
Michael’s Steak and Seafood will occupy the space in the museum as well as the rooftop bar that overlooks Regions Field. The projected opening date is to be determined, but officials say the restaurant will be completed six months after construction begins.
“This is a historical day in Birmingham,” Council President Pro Tem Jay Roberson said gleefully. “It’s a breakthrough in order to take the next steps to fulfill dreams and visions for those who have historically not had these opportunities. I know the owners and I am excited to see a well-known entity which is going to compliment the Negro Southern League Museum and will serve everybody.”
During the discussion surrounding the incentive package to build the space for the restaurant, issues regarding the lack of minority-owned business that have, in the past, not received similar incentives were discussed by the council.
“Michael’s is a homebred company but we will give incentives to other businesses who won’t necessarily hire people locally,” Councilor Lashunda Scales said, referring to comments she has received in opposition to the funding agreement. “When PACE board members were appointed a few weeks ago this was a point of contention — making sure this minority-owned business can open. Now today we want to bring up questions that should have been asked when we appointed people to the board to allow this minority-owned business to open. It was under that premise that the board members were appointed.”
In May, five members were appointed to the PACE board — which had previously not been active — with the expressed intent to distribute the funds that have now been allocated for the construction of a new restaurant space.
Some councilors said that their offices have been receiving calls about the incentive package and why the city is going to pay for a restaurant to be able to open. As some pointed out on Tuesday, the city of Birmingham owns the building that the restaurant will be housed and similar incentives have been given to businesses that operate in city-owned buildings.
“To date, this is the first primarily African-American business we’ve given incentives to. We own the building. We have a responsibility to keep it up. We don’t need other people making renovations to our buildings,” Councilor Steven Hoyt said from the dais. “We have many iterations of this. If we started pointing these out, this one instance is minute compared to other restaurants that have received money from the city. I think this is much ado about nothing,” he continued, adding that when Uptown was being developed, businesses received incentives without specific language requiring minority participation.
Bernadine Birdsong, co-owner of Michael’s Steak and Seafood, said she was extremely excited following the vote to approve the funding agreement. The process of trying to open the restaurant in the Negro Southern League Museum has lasted over a year, dating back to the previous administration, Birdsong said.
“I do feel like a part of history,” Birdsong said. “When we started talking to the last administration about funds that might be available to a business like us, we couldn’t find anyone in our circle who received funding. They’re not giving me the money. They’re building out their own building and I get to take advantage of that. More things like this need to happen so the community feels counted, like they are represented.”
Birdsong said the restaurant will continue to serve fine dining options with steak and seafood but they will also have more offerings that cater to children and visitors of the museum.
The lease for the current location in Homewood will expire in August and Birdsong said it is a blessing that the timing worked out this way. “We’re planning on being oriented to sporting events. It’s exciting to come back to that because when we were on 20th Street, it used to be a place to come watch sports. So we are happy to be getting back to Birmingham and back to the way it was,” Birdsong said.
“I pray this is just the start to many more to come,” Scales said as the meeting wound to a close. “We’re beginning to step into the 21st century in Birmingham with equality and equity for all. As we celebrate July 4th, it’s important to realize this is what independence looks like — equity for all.”