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Ray Watts On The Current State Of Birmingham's Economic Engine

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'Not just about football' Birmingham City Council withholds routine UAB permit, seeks meeting with president Ray Watts

Updated ; Posted austin and watts.jpg Birmingham Council President Johnathan Austin and University of Alabama at Birmingham President Ray Watts

By Joseph D. Bryant

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Birmingham City Council members have put a usually routine permit request by UAB on hold until university president Ray Watts agrees to sit and meet with them.

Council members delayed UAB permission to use a right of way to install water pipes as leverage to press for a meeting with Watts, said Council President Johnathan Austin.

UAB needs permission to cross city property to install pipes for a chiller at the Hill Student Center on 7th Avenue South.

Tension between UAB and the council peaked last year following Watt's elimination of the football program. The council staged a rally in support of football and passed two resolutions support the program.

"We need to make sure that moving forward there is an open line of communication. We've had that in the past with the previous presidents, so we would like this president to come," Austin said. "With an institution as large as UAB, you can't tell me there's not a plan that they are following."

Austin said the city wants details about the university's long term plans.

He said the current UAB leadership is aloof. Delays could continue until Watts comes to the table.

UAB officials told the city that Watts' schedule is booked this month. Austin said the council would set a special committee meeting, just for him, if he agrees to come.

"UAB administration looks forward to coordinating a meeting with councilors as schedules allow to discuss the exciting growth happening at UAB," officials said in a statement to AL.com this afternoon.

Austin has been among the most vocal critics of Watts, following his decision to end football. He has said that Watts' move to eliminate football, over the city's objection and offers of support, has damaged relations between the two groups. Still, he said the council's delay goes beyond athletics.

"Athletics is part of UAB's future. Of course we have made our position very clear about his decision to kill football at UAB, but that's only part of the program," Austin said. "This is an effort to get him to work with the city."

Councilman Steven Hoyt, who was among the unanimous vote for a two-week delay, said today that he objects arbitrarily hampering the project. No reason for the delay was given when it was proposed by Austin April 28, Hoyt noted.

"One has to do with the future expansion of UAB and the other has to do with football, so I can't weigh them the same way," Hoyt said. "Whatever plans they have could only benefit the city of Birmingham. They stand as one of the largest economic engines in Birmingham and the state of Alabama."

Hoyt said he supports the return of UAB football, but called it a separate issue from the school's growth and development. Delaying a routine request is counter to the needs of both the city and the university, he said.

Likewise, Mayor William Bell, who has expressed his frustration with the end of football, has said the issue was not strong enough to damage the city's relationship with UAB.

Hoyt, whose position regarding UAB has softened in recent months, said the city should put its disagreement over football in the proper context.

"What we have to do is join forces with UAB instead of separate and apart," he said. "You've got to give his leadership an opportunity. Any CEO is deserving of that."

The council Tuesday is again set to discuss the issue.


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Source : http://www.al.com/news/birmingham/index.ssf/2015/05/not_just_about_football_birmin.html

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