City Of Tuscaloosa Could Use Eminent Domain To Take Property: NBC-TV13 (Birmingham AL), 4/20/06

Business Owners Reject City's Offers To Buy Buildings

The city of Tuscaloosa is trying to buy out many downtown business owners as city leadership works to revitalize downtown.

City leaders plan to build a federal courthouse, public plaza and upscale retail space in the heart of downtown. The city is taking the land for the courthouse and plaza using eminent domain, but it is trying to buy out 13 business owners whose properties would be used for private development.

Tuscaloosa Blue Printing is one of the first businesses to move. Shirley Crowder's former landlord accepted the city's offer to buy the old Tuscaloosa Blue Printing store. Now, Crowder and her sister have relocated just a few blocks from their original shop.

Crowder and her sister said the benefits of having a renovated downtown outweigh the trouble of needing to relocate.

Not every business owner agrees, however.

"We've been here nearly 70 years. My grandfather opened this store between 1935 and 1940," said Ed Barton, of Tuscaloosa Furniture.

Barton said Tuscaloosa Furniture is not on the market, regardless of the offer.

"We have no interest in selling the building whatsoever," Barton said.

Legally, the city could force Barton to sell using eminent domain, but Barton pledges to fight back if the city tries. He said the amount the city is offering is a fraction of what the buildings are worth.

"The offers are extremely low," Barton said.

The owners of several downtown businesses, such as Cabiness Paint, Norris Radiator and AESC Superstore, are rejecting offers from the city.

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox said that even though the city could legally take the businesses using eminent domain, he will work out mutually acceptable deals with any business owner whose property would be used for private development, such as condominiums or coffee shops, around the public courthouse and plaza.

NBC-TV13: http://www.nbc13.com