The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Lifestyle

June 10, 2013

Once dying, Birmingham is suddenly hot

— BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — It feels like Birmingham finally is emerging from the shadows cast by the ugly racial violence of 1963.

Long haunted by black-and-white newsreel footage of the fire hoses and police dogs city leaders turned on blacks demonstrating for civil rights, the city has a new vibe that's generating buzz all its own 50 years later.

Birmingham's culinary scene is a jewel, with nationally known chefs and restaurants, and decades of white flight are giving way to people moving into flats and condominiums with bare brick walls in once-vacant downtown buildings. The tables are full at trendy bars and bistros nestled in old brick mercantile buildings.

The city's minor league baseball team relocated this season from the suburbs and is drawing big crowds to a new downtown stadium that opens to Birmingham's skyline. It's across the street from an urban park built on what was an unsightly lot strewn with weeds and gravel along railroad lines.

Combine all that with a thriving nightclub scene, new craft breweries and an entertainment district that has started opening, and suddenly Birmingham is becoming a hot spot for residents and visitors alike.

"If Birmingham is trying to come back they've succeeded," said visitor Ron Lee, loading his car after staying at the city's new Westin hotel during a vacation trip with his wife.

Lee, who lives in Washington, D.C., was impressed by the city's parks and trees. The welcoming attitude from residents and slower pace are what really stood out, though.

"It's very Southern. Everyone is very friendly," he said. "It's more progressive than I expected."

Birmingham wasn't very attractive for visitors — or many residents, for that matter — for decades.

Once tagged with the ugly nickname "Bombingham" for the racist bombings of the 1950s and '60s, when racial segregation was the law, Birmingham was a city on the edge for years. The city put its ugliest face forward that spring of 1963, when young marchers advocating for civil rights were met with dogs, fire hoses and jail. A Ku Klux Klan bombing that September killed four black girls at church.

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