So this weekend in the Birmingham Metro is the first Magic City Con. No, I am not going to discount Magic City Con in this post, I will have another post promoting it on this blog. But, Birmingham has had a terrible time keeping geeky/nerdy cons around. For example, before the Alabama Phoenix Festival there have been other cons that have come and gone. I have wondered why Birmingham has a terrible time keeping a convention for more than a few years. And in this post, I am going to list a couple of reasons I think the Birmingham Metro does a terrible job hosting conventions for the geeks and nerds. Let’s go!
1. Horrible Convention Spaces
Lately, many geeky/nerdy cons have been held in the Cahaba Grand Conference Center in the Hoover area. Now look, the center is wonderful and has been nice. I have been in there to cover events and left happy every time. But there is one major problem, the location. The center is located on the worst urban thoroughfare you will find on planet Earth, US 280. For the locals, you know what I am talking about! 6 plus lanes of bumper to bumper traffic with so many traffic lights that it can drive anyone insane! I have been critical on this road and other infrastructure problems in Alabama and have directed the criticism towards ALDOT, sadly they don’t like it!
So, if you are trying to lure someone well known in the geek/nerd fandoms to come to your convention, you have to convince them to travel down a horrible road that is like the traffic on the Los Angeles freeways, but 10 times worse. Good luck with that! Yes, the Alabama Phoenix Festival in 2013 was a small exception, but in 2014, things feel hard for that convention. And sadly, downtown Birmingham is not much better. Sure there is the BJCC and the Sheraton, but outside of this, there is not much to host conventions. And this leads me to my second point.
2. Downtown Area Not Living Up To Potential
Before I explain this, downtown Birmingham has gotten a lot better over the last five years. Places like Railroad Park and Regions Field have helped to turn downtown around. But sadly there is still a lot of work to do to make downtown Birmingham as a destination area. If the Cahaba Grand was instead in downtown Birmingham, it would not do much better because there is not much to do outside the convention. I have been to other conventions in other cities, and outside the convention, there are plenty of other things you can do!
For example, in downtown Atlanta there are numerous restaurants and bars you can take a break in and eat and drink. In downtown Pensacola and Chattanooga, there is the nearby waterfront you can relax at. In downtown Nashville, there is music row where you can hear a lot of great tunes. And in downtown Birmingham…, well I guess you can enjoy watching the traffic lights sequence and traffic going by. Downtown Birmingham has a long way to go before it becomes a world-class destination. It’s going to take a lot of time to make the area better!
3. Not Much to Do Outside the Convention
So, what can you do outside the Cahaba Grand? Not much at all! You have to get into a car, be like in a video game and battle against others on US 280 traffic; and wait for a long time at a sit down restaurant, or enjoy some fast food. So what about outside the BJCC and Sheraton? You have some mini entertainment district you can enjoy. Other than that, you can enjoy looking up some 1960’s freeway infrastructure that divides the downtown area. What does this all mean, outside of the convention areas, you are going to get bored and quick.
So what can be done to change this? For starters at the Cahaba Grand, there needs to be things right next door so you don’t have to get into a car or travel on a bus to get to the Hilton where the game paying is going on. Over at the BJCC and Sheraton, would it be wonderful if that I-20/59 bridge was torn down, the highway moved, and a park was put in its place, that would be a gamechanger for downtown! What I am saying is there has to be things very close by so convention goers can get out of the crowds, take a break, and enjoy something different that they might not have known was there!
4. Have to Drive a Lot
In just about every other metro in the United States, you have a great mass transit system with buses, light rail, and trains. Think about it, someone cosplaying does not want to deal with the hassle of taking everything off, getting into a car, drive around, and then put everything back on at a different event. If Birmingham had a much better mass transit system, people could utilize it and things would be a lot easier! They have this in Atlanta, Nashville, Chattanooga, and other places. But in Birmingham, they are too broke to do this!
The Birmingham Metro already has a major problem with many people driving alone in their cars. In fact the metro has one of the highest amounts of single car drivers in the United States. The reason, the mass transit system in Birmingham is a joke. Yes, things could get better and the bus system could be improved, and the metro could use the massive amount of railroads to create a light rail system. But you won’t see that happening anytime soon, because the Alabama government does not value mass transit. Speaking about the Alabama government, this leads to my fifth point.
5. Alabama Politics and Controversies
Where to start on this one! This is the awful truth about the ones who are making the content geeks and nerds love! Mostly all the actors, actresses, directors, writers, producers, writers, animators, and anyone who makes the TV shows, movies, cartoons, books, games and anything else geeks and nerds love is more in the middle and the left of the political spectrum. I’m one of those! For example, when Apple CEO Tim Cook, who is from Alabama, came back to the state and criticized state political leaders for being too slow for granting rights for LGBT people, people on the right in the political arena had no problems criticizing Tim Cook. And this story went national embarrassing Alabama.
And when other leaders in this state do stupid things which make the national and worldwide news, you are discouraging anyone from the geek/nerd world to come to Alabama and visit this state. They would see that mostly everyone is nice and friendly, but thanks to the media they see a whole different outlook on this state. Another example is Roy Moore criticizing gay marriage, which went viral, and put another black eye on Alabama. And yet another example, someone is suing the state to put back up the confederate flag when other states have taken it down on government grounds. Stupid things like this which is against the values of most geeks/nerds hurts any con in Alabama wanting to bring in people as guests.
Each week there is yet another story that makes most geeks/nerds outside Alabama discourage this state. And if any con wants to survive more than a few years in Birmingham, you might need to have some meetings with the people in power in Montgomery to change their thinking and how do I say it, shut up for a change! But things only move in politics in Alabama when you have a lot of greenbacks or cash. You can be critical about the legislature like I am here on Geek Alabama. That might get you targeted down at the state house! I have already made a name for myself!
To sum everything up, geek/nerd conventions in other states do better because the state is not making the national news because someone in power said something most geeks/nerds don’t agree with. If Alabama is going to have a successful convention that can survive more than a few years, the people needs to get off their high horse for a change and agree on some things that the geeks and nerds have already supported, like gay marriage, LGBT rights, the right to have healthcare, the poor not having to suffer, and more. If you don’t do that, you probably have to go to another state to enjoy your cons!
And there you have it! It seems weird that smaller metros like Chattanooga, Pensacola, and even Huntsville, which are all smaller than Birmingham, can keep around and host successful conventions that have been going on for a long time. I mean, Birmingham has plenty of geeks and nerds living in the metro. Sadly there are some factors preventing conventions from sticking around for more than a few years. Maybe things will change, and the Magic City Con can be the turning point, but it’s going to take a lot of work to turn Birmingham Metro into a destination for the geeks and nerds like me!