RSA Union – Political Deals

Union ClippingBy 1991 the success and acceptance of Dr. Bronner’s initial round of buildings, the RSA Plaza and the Alabama Center for Commerce, had completely changed the political chemistry of the city.  Governor Guy Hunt, who had previously fought with Bronner, now offered him the full support of the State.  Mayor Folmar completely reversed his negative, obstructionist attitude.  The Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Un-limited were now gung-ho, and told the real estate interests to bug out.  It was in this climate that Bronner was able to make deals and demand concessions from the political players.

As a first step, David Bronner solidified the support of the Governor’s Office by declaring that he would include a day care facility for the children of state workers and name it the Helen Hunt Child Care Center.  In return, Governor Hunt gave Bronner a written commitment for several major state agencies as tenants, enough to insure the financial integrity of the project.  I recall that Hunt committed the leasing of 309,000 square feet by the Health Department and the Arts Council in the “downtown location”, and another 219,000 square feet for agencies to go in the “location within the (Capitol) complex.”

To encourage the RSA development, the Chamber of Commerce agreed to switch positions, from the side of the local real estate moguls, to that of the Retirement Systems.  For its public support, the Chamber demanded that the proposed high-rise office building on lower Monroe Street, not be connected directly to the parking deck which was to serve it.  According to Chamber officials, the people who worked in the first two RSA buildings never saw downtown; they just drove to work, got back in their cars when the day was over, and drove home.  “We want them down on the city sidewalk where they can support shops and restaurants.”  The Chamber also wanted Bronner to pursue his plan to bring an outlet mall downtown as part of the development package.

Mayor Folmar and the City were also brought into the deal.  The City agreed to afford the construction effort every courtesy and cooperation, as opposed to how the RSA team had been treated during the earlier work.  Folmar appointed a special coordinator, one Roy A. Boudreaux, whose job was to be our liaison and advocate with every City department.  For the next three years, when I would walk into their office, the city department heads would jump up and rush from behind their desks to shake my hand–which was sure better than the old treatment in which they would scowl over their secret note from Mayor Folmer which said “Screw Humphries”, to get back at David Bronner.

Folmar’s biggest contribution to the endeavor was to persuade the State Judicial Department to accept the rearrangement of its remote parking facilities.  It seems that, a year or so earlier, in his drive to get the State Supreme Court Building built on Dexter Avenue, the Mayor had agreed that the City would secure and clear land on which to provide parking to meet the City’s own zoning ordinance for the Court facility.  Then when Dr. Bronner’s Monroe Street package came along, the very land he secured for the Judicial Department was in the way of the RSA development.  Thus, to make the RSA deal feasible, the Chief Justice had to agree that his surface parking lot would become the first level of the huge six-story, 1,000-car deck that Bronner proposed to build there.


-Charles Humphries (“Peril and Intrigue Within Architecture”)

This is one of many RSA Union stories. The rest can be found here.

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