Mayor William Bell’s deadline for Goal Institute of Construction Technology to submit a sustainable plan to repurpose the long-closed Banks High School has expired.
On May 29, Bell wrote a letter to Marvin Smith, founder of Goal Institute, informing him that the 45-day deadline to present an acceptable proposal would expire on June 8, and the city would terminate the Memorandum of Understanding between the city and Goal Institute.
“We have thoroughly reviewed the feasibility study that you submitted as well as the latest submitted documents from GICTA and determined that the proposal lacks the required documentation to fully assess the potential to implement this project,” Bell wrote.
He noted that the city had not received documents outlining financial commitments or an acceptable business plan for the project.
After meeting with the city on several occasions, Bell said Smith did not bring proper “submission requirements” as outlined in the legal agreement with the city.
“At this time, while applauding your efforts and strongly recommending that you garner commitments from viable economic development partners, we believe that Goal Institute does not possess adequate organizational or financial capacity to carry out the scope of work outlined in your conceptual plan,” Bell wrote.
As of June 8, Goal must cease and desist from organizing any other events or activities on the Banks School property, according to the letter.
Smith however, said that he feels as though he has been cheated by the city and left “used and abused.”
“I’ve done everything they asked me to do but I have had no cooperation with the city. On May 1, I submitted the 700-page feasibility study to Jarvis Patton with the city. He originally said he would get back to me in ten days. I talked to him again on May 28 and he said he needed more time,” Smith said.
On May 29, Smith received the letter from Bell saying that he had until June 8 to turn in an acceptable plan. “But I know they didn’t even have time to read the feasibility study before they just wrote me off completely,” Smith said.
Smith said that despite working on this project for months, not a single member of Bell’s office or any city council members came to visit the site after he sent out several invitations.
The plan, Smith explained, was to turn the dead school in to a living campus where young people take courses ranging from construction trades to sewing and arts, and members of the community could learn a variety of skills. He also wanted to see the cafeteria and a theater on the campus drawing the public to Banks.
Smith, a general contractor, wanted to open a postsecondary school offering programs in construction trades including electrical and plumbing, a master builder curriculum that would qualify students to pass the general contractor licensing exam. He says the final “exam” would have been building a home from the ground up using resources at Goal.
Smith’s goals for the project included returning the military jet that was a prominent feature of the Banks campus back in its original setting. Currently the jet can be found at the Southern Museum of Flight.
Smith had taken steps to work with the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs and had reached out to Gov. Robert Bentley’s office for assistance. He had also proffered a video showing the work and what he considered the potential of the project.
Smith said he has trouble understanding why he has been given so many deadlines by the city – but that he has met them all. “Here I am trying to do some good work and clean up this school, keep the grass cut, clean up the trash, all for no cost to the city, and this is how they are treating me? It’s despicable,” Smith said.
The biggest issue with Smith’s proposal may have been a lack of funding. However, Smith argues that this was because Bell told him the city would lease the property to him for $1.
“Mayor Bell told me that the city was going to lease me the property for $1. He told me that. So I didn’t focus on financing that much because he had told me that. Now, they have gone back on what they said and are saying I haven’t done what I needed to do and that is simply not the case,” Smith said.
A provision in the original MOU said that Smith could request a three month extension if he needed one. He said that his attorney filed an extension with the city three weeks ago, but found out June 8 that the request had been denied.
“Councilor Kim Rafferty, of all people, should have been involved with this process because I’m just trying to make a difference with this empty building in her district and bring in jobs and a school. I don’t understand why she hasn’t gotten behind this,” Smith said.
Another issue that Smith mentioned was that Brad Hobbs–who Rafferty said, “was the one who brought publicity to the records left inside Banks and has contacted the mayor’s office repeatedly to question the problems with the Goal Institute’s activities on site” — took to Facebook last week and announced the city would not be pursuing Smith’s plan. The post was subsequently deleted, but not before Smith printed out Hobbs’ post.
“The City of Birmingham has issued notice of intent to terminate the agreement with the organizer of the ‘Goal Institute’ proposal for the Banks property due to nonperformance and lack of delivery for basic things outlined in the [MOU],” Hobbs wrote.
“The group has until June 8 to address the city’s concerns (primarily that this is more than all talk), as it is at least the second time it has been requested that promises made be delivered on. So far they have not. The concept was great and very exciting; the reality turns out to be that there has been no substantive progress, nor is there likely to be,” Hobbs said.
Smith said he is confused as to how Hobbs could say there was no progress being made when city officials have not taken him up on his offer to come see the progress at Banks.
“He shouldn’t be out there discussing my business,” Smith said. “How would he even know what kind of progress has or hasn’t been made?”
Rafferty, who represents the district where Banks is located, said that she is not aware of any plans to repurpose the old school at this time.
After being briefed on Smith’s plans in 2013, Rafferty said that the city administration had moved forward with the Goal proposal and she was not privy to any further plans.
“I do not know anything about this Goal Institute except for the fact the compliance report lists a number of issues with the agreement that must be resolved. I had brought another interested party to the mayor to develop the property but do not know where in the game the administration is on Banks,” Rafferty said.
“Neither Mr. Smith nor the administration have communicated any plans further than the one year goal of cleaning up brush and debris. Until the legal issues between the administration and Mr. Smith are resolved, there is nothing I can really say specifically to either side on this development,” Rafferty continued.
Jarvis Patton, the mayor’s chief of operations, could not be reached for comment.
Sources with city hall have said that while the mayor thought the Goal proposal was a good idea that deserved to be explored, Smith couldn’t present what the city thought was a credible plan for fundraising or a source to cover operational costs of the program. Also, there were some concerns over the city’s liability.
Bell’s office is still open to suggestions for what to do with Banks.
Renee Kemp-Rotan, with Birmingham’s Office of Special Projects, said, “The city of Birmingham remains open to any and all proposals for the adaptive re-use of Banks School. Interested parties must present rational proposals with accurate environmental assessments, credible feasibility studies, certifiable construction estimates, realistic budgets for construction, programming and operations, a strong development track record with committed public-private partnerships and verifiable financing.”
Smith said he plans to keep fighting. “We’ve been out there, trying to do good work and the city is just writing us off. They have all my plans and all the numbers now. I wouldn’t be surprised if they just took my idea and ran with it after they just push me aside.”