A Bama COVID Experience!

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How the University of Alabama will reopen for face to face learning in August is as yet uncertain. In April University of Alabama System Chancellor Finis St. John announced the formation of a task force led by UAB Health System experts to develop plans for the three University of Alabama System campuses.

The Yellowhammer News reported that St John “joined an exclusive national group for a discussion with Vice President Mike Pence and other key Trump administration officials on how to best get Americans safely back to school in the fall.” The website said:

Clay Ryan, vice chancellor for Governmental Affairs & Economic/Workforce Development, told Yellowhammer News in a statement, “Chancellor St. John presented on the four pillars of our plans for reopening our campuses: testing, tracking, tracing, and treatment.”

“Vice President Pence and Dr. Birx were impressed by the Help Beat Covid-19 symptom tracking tool, and we believe this group of higher education leaders will reconvene in the next few weeks at the White House to discuss fall plans with President Trump, Vice President Pence, and other members of the White House task force,” Ryan concluded.

Insight into how a university might reopen was provided in a DemocracyNow! interview with Dr. Ashish Jha, professor of global health and director of Harvard University’s Global Health Institute. Dr. Jha, in a response to a question about schools such as the University of Alabama which were reopening, said:

As you might imagine, this is not just a conversation I’m having with lots of public health people and education officials, but also at home with the kids about what’s going to happen in the fall.

The way I think about this is there’s going — what is likely to happen is a lot of variations. Some schools are going to open, some schools are going to stay online. What should drive the decision-making? Well, one is how much community transmission is happening in that place at that time. So, if we’re thinking about Harvard University, for instance, how much community transmission is happening in eastern Massachusetts? If a lot of people are getting infected and sick, it’s going to be very hard for Harvard or any university in eastern Massachusetts to open.

Second is around availability of testing. I think you have to have a strategy where you’re going to have to be able to test kids and staff and faculty on an ongoing basis.

Third is you’re going to have to do certain social distancing things. There are going to be no large classes. There should be no large classes. There should be — if you’re going to do sporting events, certainly not with any kind of spectators, and you have to really think about what sporting events can you justify and how do you do that.

So there’s a lot of changes that are going to need to happen. I like the idea of starting early and trying to end early. I think most of us believe there will be a surge of cases in the fall. All the principles I just laid out need to happen for primary and secondary schools, as well, really rethinking things like cafeteria, rethinking things like sports. And if we do all of that, I believe there’s a very, very good chance that we can open up schools, we can get kids back to school in the fall. It may not look like a normal fall, but if we can get through this fall and we have a vaccine early in 2021, we can get through this pandemic.

Perhaps the elephant in the room, or at least on campus, is how the University of Alabama’s sports program will be affected by the pandemic. Some insight as to what conditions the university’s championship football team might play under this year was given in AP reporter Steve Megargee’s article “NCAA to lift moratorium on football, basketball workouts.”

Margargee wrote:

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said in conference call Wednesday that he believes the Buckeyes could safely play home games with 20,000 to 30,000 fans in its 105,000-seat stadium.

“I think we can get there,” Smith said.

Smith said he hadn’t figured out yet how those 20,000 to 30,000 spectators would be chosen. He said masks and other precautions would be required to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Smith added that Ohio State is ready to open the 15,000-square-foot Woody Hayes Athletic Center to athletes starting June 8 if the NCAA allows it. About 10 players at a time would be allowed to work out on staggered scheduled with social-distancing and other hygiene precautions in place. Some coaches returned to the complex on a limited basis this week.

Most athletic departments need the revenue generated from football to fund their other sports. Hundreds of schools are reeling financially from the effects of the pandemic. Athletic departments, particularly at smaller schools and in Division II, have already cut a number of sports.

The NCAA this week lowered the minimum and maximum number of games Division II schools are required to play in all sports next year. The move includes a 33% reduction in the minimum number of games needed for sponsorship and championship qualification in most sports.

The University of Alabama’s athletic director Greg Byrne has yet to reveal any details about the plans for the Crimson Tide. They may well differ from what Ohio State’s athletic director is contemplating. He did send a Bryne Notice email that said, “we recently added a pack of Alabama-themed face coverings to our online store.”

Crucial to the financial welfare of the City of Tuscaloosa is its “experience economy.” As reported by Jason Morton in The Tuscaloosa News the city’s Elevate/Tuscaloosa program includes $3 million that will be “targeted toward bolstering the city’s ‘experience economy’ by bringing in more concerts to the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater, more events to Live at the Plaza, and more music, food and art festivals, among other events.” Just when the requirements for “social distancing” and crowd sizes will allow the resumption of such activities is uncertain.

The University of Alabama’s sports program and other activities at the University are tangential yet at the same time significant components of Tuscaloosa’s “experience economy.” In the past many of Tuscaloosa’s “experience” events have coincided with the University’s sports and other activities. Of course students have been an important part of the audience for such events.

The city’s sales tax revenues have decreased since the onset of the pandemic. The sectors that have shown the most significant negative impacts can be associated with the absence of University students and events that were cancelled by the University.

A lot rests on what the University’s COVID experience will entail. Certainly the best and brightest minds at the University are at work in cobbling together the details on just how the Bama tradition will continue during the Coronavirus pandemic.


Superspreaders in T-Town?

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Bars and other venues that serve alcohol in T-Town are potentially “superspreaders” of the Coronavirus.

Even talking in poorly ventilated, close quarters may be lethal. Al.com‘s John Sharp wrote:

The biggest concern with night clubs is the propensity for congregation, according to Dr. Ellen Eaton, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Division of Infectious Diseases. Mix alcohol with music, and people become “less diligent” toward hand hygiene and maintaining social distancing, Eaton said.

“Anytime someone is around and dancing and singing and after a few hours and a few drinks, folks are not mindful of face coverings,” said Eaton. “And as the hours pass on, I imagine you see less diligence with hand hygiene and sharing spaces and all of those are high-risk behaviors we would not recommend at this time.”

Eaton compared the risks at a night club to that of a choir practice that generated attention from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week. The CDC examined a deadly outbreak of a 2-1/2-hour choir practice that occurred in early March in Skagit County, Washington. Attended by 61 people, the March 10 practice infected 52 people (87%) with COVID-19 symptoms and has since been described as a “super spreader” event.

A new study, published Wednesday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that simply talking in a venue that is not well-ventilated, can transmit the virus from person to person through tiny droplets that are suspended in air for up to 14 minutes.

A CDC report on a superspreader event concluded:

The potential for superspreader events underscores the importance of physical distancing, including avoiding gathering in large groups, to control spread of COVID-19. Enhancing community awareness can encourage symptomatic persons and contacts of ill persons to isolate or self-quarantine to prevent ongoing transmission.

It’s no wonder that bars and restaurants are closing. An article by Restaurant and bar owners say social distancing could wipe out their industry.” Reporting that “bars are even worse off than restaurants,” they wrote:

Restaurant owners and managers are grappling with the brutal math that underpins their industry. Margins are razor thin, forcing eateries and bars to pack in customers every night, and especially on the weekends, in order to stay afloat. In the toughest markets, that means multiple waves of guests, and tables that are pushed together as closely as possible.

CNN‘s Shana Clarke described how restaurants might cope with the new strictures imposed by the pandemic. She wrote that restaurants might offer surgical gloves, hand sanitizer and masks to diners as they enter the premise.  Also restaurants might utilize disposable dishware and offer salt, pepper, ketchup and other condiments by request only.

After the University of Alabama ended its on-campus instruction in March, the cottage industry in the University’s vicinity that catered to students has been particularly hard hit. Traditional watering holes have closed for good, including Wilhagan’s Grille & Tap Room and The Downtown Pub. While neither of these establishments were primarily serving students, a hybrid bar/restaurant Innisfree known for its popularity with students has resorted to a form of social distancing.

Innisfree Pub is operating at fifty percent capacity according to a report by ABC 33/40:

Innisfree Pub reopened on Wednesday and told ABC 33/40 their increased safety plans.

“We’ve taken the precautions that we’re supposed to, but we’re just happy to be open and have people sitting down,” said Nick Snead, Innisfree Manager.

“You can’t cram three hundred people in here like we do on a game day, but we’ve moved the tables around and have around 160 people and if people are trying to group we’ll advise them [on] social distance,” Snead said.

ABC 33/40 reported that as of mid-May there had been twenty-two businesses in Tuscaloosa caught violating reopening rules. There were some incidents involving patrons who while waiting in line did not observe the required social distancing.

The University will reopen in August with some form of face to face learning. What methods of social distancing will be required by the school are as yet to be established.

Unless the Alabama Department of Public Heath‘s orders on operating bars and restaurants are considerably relaxed, many of the over twenty-five thousand returning University students will find it impossible to return to their routines that involved densely packed drinking environments.

It may well be that many of the venues that they were accustomed to patronizing may no longer be in business.




“Safely” reopening T-Town

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It’s an entirely new ball game in T-Town now. Alabama’s Governor Ivy updated the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH)’s “Safer at Home” order.

City of Tuscaloosa’s Mayor Walt Maddox repealed the April 28th Executive Order that adopted the Reopen Tuscaloosa plan, as reported by Jason Morton in the Tuscaloosa News.

Now restaurants, bars and other businesses can operate under restricted conditions.

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There already have been cases of the patrons at bars not observing the ADPH’s order.

Mayor Walt Maddox Tweeted his concerns.

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He was joined by the West Alabama’s Chamber of Commerce Jim Page:

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Some University of Alabama students have returned to Tuscaloosa already.  Of course some never left. Many had legitimate reasons, including concerns over moving back to a hometown that has been more heavily affected by the Coronavirus than Tuscaloosa. Some students who have come back to Tuscaloosa, even before the University has laid out its specific plans about on-campus learning, were doubtlessly bored. In off campus neighborhoods students have been observed in violation of the ADPH orders. Now that bars have been reopened there will doubtlessly be additional problems.

There have been repeated violations of fire codes due to overcrowding at bars that cater to students. There may be some kind of appeal to many people of the idea of being packed like sardines into a smokey bar. More so than restaurants and other businesses, bars and “hybrid bar/restaurants” have thrived on crowded conditions.

South Korea, which has been exemplary in combating the spread of the Cononavirus, had to walk back its plans after a spike in cases was largely attributed to the reopening of bars and nightclubs. Its capitol Seoul ordered the closure of all clubs and bars over concerns of a second coronavirus wave of infections.

The University has formed a task force to look into what kind of learning environment should exist on campus when the school reopens. Off-campus behavior is an entirely different matter. There are legitimate concerns over returning students undoing the efforts that have been taken by Tuscaloosa residents to “flatten the curve” of Coronavirus cases.

Sophia McCollough reported for San Diego’s 7-NBC that the University of California is implementing a “ground breaking coronavirus testing program for roughly 65,000 of its students, staff and faculty.”

One permanent resident of Tuscaloosa has reservations about the efficacy of such testing if it occurred at the University. “Let’s assume 25,000 students return to UA from all over the world. They would need to quarantine completely for two weeks in order to assure they didn’t bring the virus to campus.”

She said that “testing only gives a snapshot of the persons health at the moment of the test.” Furthermore, “Once tested, a person can be infected the next moment if they come in contact with someone. It almost gives a false sense of security which I think is not helpful. Especially with students who will think a negative test is a license to go back to their usual routines.” She added that “monitoring fever and continuing social distances is the best we will be able to do until there is a treatment. That would mean no sorority rush, no parties, limiting class sizes. And many other precautions.”

Whether the University of Alabama’s football team will return to Bryant Denny Stadium, along with tailgating on the Quad, has yet to be decided. The University must make any kind of commitment at least six weeks before the season would normally begin, in order to adequately prepare.

Neil Paine in FiveThirtyEight wrote about what it likely would take for sports fans to feel safe. He based his conclusions on national polls that had been conducted. Many fans felt that the virus must be controlled before the resumption of any games. Some people actually favored games being played in empty stadiums or arenas without fans.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has claimed that football is the ‘perfect set up for spreading’ COVID-19 virus. Al.com‘s Mark Heim wrote that “Dr. Anthony Fauci believes if the season were scheduled to start today, it would ‘impossible’ to play football.”

Some Crimson Tide fans would likely be willing to risk their lives and the lives of other fans and football players in order to have things returning to normal with a stadium full of over 100,000 people screaming “Roll Tide.” And the impact on Tuscaloosa’s economy of a truncated or cancelled season would be significant.

Just what steps the City of Tuscaloosa can take to enforce the ADPH’s orders will be a matter for its legal department to determine. A question may remain about the capacity of its police force to handle the much greater than normal public safety burden. Perhaps a joint effort in terms of communication and law enforcement between the city and the University can be made? The jurisdictions of town and gown now seem more blurred than ever before.






Reopening T-Town

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Like many other cities Tuscaloosa has been impacted by its state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Revenues have dropped significantly during a State of Alabama mandated closure of many businesses. A revised budget chart produced by the City of Tuscaloosa projects a steady downward trend because of the impact of the virus.

Impact GFComplicating matters is the shutdown of the University of Alabama and the resultant loss of over 20,000 student residents. The specific impact of student spending is not certain but a city graphic indicates particularly significant losses in sales tax revenues from bars and restaurants.

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The University is scheduled to reopen, but specific details of how it will operate have not been made public. How the return of Alabama football will be managed is also uncertain. Tuscaloosa’s tourism is centered on the University’s sports schedule. The revenue generated by football alone has been estimated to be $103 million in a season, with $20 million per home game.  The loss of tourism has already had a significant impact.

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The West Alabama Chamber of Commerce responded to the impact of the pandemic on small businesses in an innovative way by partnering with private entities in creating a Small Business Relief Fund.


Thus far the Chamber through the Community Foundation of West Alabama has distributed over $200,000 to small businesses in the West Alabama area. Many local businesses haven’t benefited from the small business loans offered by the federal government under the Paycheck Protection Program.

For a couple of years on weekends the downtown area of Tuscaloosa has been part of a downtown entertainment district. In the designated areas alcoholic beverages may be purchased from participating businesses and carried in the open. For the last two years local bar and restaurant owners, led by the owner of Cravings Dan Robinson, have been lobbying city hall to extend the district to seven days a week. Since bars and restaurants have been particularly impacted by the COVID-19 policies, it is thought by some that the allowing the sale of alcohol on seven days a week might be their salvation. Others fear that creating a Bourbon Street atmosphere in Tuscaloosa’s downtown  will require a much greater public safety investment for a city that is already reeling from the loss of General Fund revenues.

In any event the return to “normal” in terms of opening restaurants and bars, concert venues, theaters and the like may be difficult if only for the reason that many people will be  reluctant to patronize them. Any loosening of  shelter-in-place restrictions is also opposed by many public health experts.

In the article “A profound danger’: Experts warn against broad U.S. reopening amid COVID-19 pandemic” The Los Angeles Times‘s J Brady McCollough reported some of the concerns of leading health experts:

“It’s clear to me we are at a critical moment of this fight,” Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist Caitlin Rivers told the House Committee on Appropriations on Wednesday.

The number of new cases must decline for at least two weeks; the state must be able to perform contact tracing on any new cases; there has to be enough testing to diagnose any person with symptoms; and the healthcare system must have the capacity to treat all patients, not just those with COVID-19.

“To my knowledge, there are no states that meet all four of those criteria,”  Rivers said.

The committee had already heard from Dr. Thomas Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who laid out 10 ‘plain truths’ about the coronavirus. He predicted there would be 100,000 U.S. deaths by the end of May — the toll surpassed 73,000 Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University — and cautioned that this is just the beginning of a battle that could rage for not months, but years.

“We are all so impatient to restart our activities,” Frieden told the committee Wednesday morning. “Sheltering in place is a blunt but effective weapon. … We have to find balance between restarting our economy and letting the virus run rampant.

“Open-versus-closed is not a dichotomy. It’s more accurate to think of a dimmer dial than an on-off switch, with gradations to avoid undue risk. Another false dichotomy is between public health and economic security. The very best way to get our economy back is to control the virus, and economic stability is incredibly important to the public’s health.”

To reopen Tuscaloosa will require a balancing act between the needs of businesses to return to “normalcy” and the necessity of following the advice of public health experts in order to “flatten the curve” and avoid more people succumbing to the Coronavirus.

It’s literally a matter of life and death.




COVID-19 and T-Town

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Because of the Coronavirus pandemic Tuscaloosa has been under stay-at-home orders for nearly a month. A limited city-wide curfew was announced on March 25th. Many businesses are either closed or operating in a limited way.

Mayor Walt Maddox announced that he would present a plan on April 28th about the next steps that the city would take.  “I will be presenting my plan to Restart Tuscaloosa which will be the fuel to address job losses, neighborhoods, response agencies, and (the city’s) financial future.”

Concerns about the overtaxing of medical facilities have driven the city’s response to the pandemic. Data from CovidActNow.org. was used to base projections on how the city’s hospitals would have been affected by the spread of the virus. The city’s orders have been coordinated with the state of Alabama’s policies. Alabama’s Governor Kay Ivey said that the state’s stay-at-home orders would not be lifted before the current April 30 deadline.

In addition to businesses that are considered “essential” certain outdoor areas, such as the Riverwalk can be used by people who practice social distancing. Humorous signage was created by the city to remind people about the six foot distancing requirement.


The city has used social media to keep people informed. It’s website Tuscaloosa.com/COVID19 provides continual updates on the city’s response to the pandemic.

Mayor Maddox, like other city, state and national leaders, is in a difficult position. Peter Baker in the New York Times wrote: “With no vaccine or cure, the president, governors, mayors and county executives will have to decide how many deaths would be acceptable to restore a shattered economy.”

Tuscaloosa is a college town. With classes at the University of Alabama cancelled and the consequent departure of over 20,000 students the city has experienced an enormous negative economic impact. An article by Stephen M. Gavazzi in Forbes described the situation that exists in many college towns:

Until recently, college towns were thought to have a distinct economic advantage over municipalities that did not host an institution of higher learning. Colleges and universities were touted as “anchor institutions,” a term indicating their long-term investment in the communities they served. With the COVID-19 pandemic, however, these same towns now face very real economic peril.

Chief among the unique aspects of the college town is the back and forth movement of students and how those population swings impact the local economy. When students arrive on campus in the fall, businesses thrive. Apartments are rented, back to school supplies are purchased, etc. Once students settle in, they frequent coffee shops, restaurants, bars, and various entertainment venues surrounding campus. Home football games and other large social events hosted by universities add to the mix. Food and beverages are bought in copious quantities by participants in the revelry. Hotel rooms fill, collegiate merchandise is snapped up, and gas tanks are filled, among other purchases made by these weekend visitors.

When the academic year is over in the spring, students graduate or go back to their hometowns for the summer. Sports seasons are completed, and other campus events wind down. Hence, the college town population contracts for several months, and the economy slows to a trickle of its former self. In a normal year, this downturn is relatively brief, and it can be anticipated by local businesses. Now, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the local economy to an almost immediate and complete standstill, and many months earlier than had been anticipated.

Georgia’s governor Brian Kemp has received a great deal of criticism for his decision to reopen gyms, hair salons, bowling alleys, tattoo and massage parlors and then, a only week afterwards,  movie theaters and restaurants. An article in Reuters (“With reopenings in U.S. South, some merchants lay out welcome mat, others fearful”) by Ann Saphir and Lindsay Dunsmuir reported on the reluctance of many businesses to reopen.

Mayor Maddox has repeatedly addressed the city council during virtual work sessions on the problems that would be associated with the premature reopening of businesses. As an example he said that a restaurant, if given the green light to reopen, would have to retrain its employees and stock perishable food. If the restaurant were to be ordered to close shortly afterwards it would then have seen a financial loss greater than it had experienced by remaining closed.

President Donald Trump has a fondness for the University of Alabama and has mentioned its football program when addressing the nation about the epidemic. Trump is quoted in the Los Angeles Times by David Lauter about his idea of what getting back to “normal” would be:

“Our normal is if you have 100,000 people in an Alabama football game — or 110,000, to be exact — we want 110,000 people. We want every seat occupied. Normal is not going to be where you have a game with 50,000 people.”

Lauter wrote, “Trump’s stressing of a return to full normality was telling — so was his use of Alabama college football as his touchstone.” He pointed out that the director of the White House’s coronavirus task force Dr. Deborah Birx was not as optimistic as Trump about returning to “normal.”  “Birx and her medical colleagues have made it clear that they don’t expect the country to return to true normal until a vaccine against the coronavirus — or an effective therapy — becomes widely available. That could still be a year to 18 months away.”

Returning to “normal” in T-Town may not occur for some time. The continued closure of the University of Alabama and, what to many people would be unimaginable, not having a packed stadium and tailgating for Crimson Tide football games in the Fall may be inevitable.







Alcohol Prime-Time Killer?

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It seems that just about every time the Tuscaloosa City Council meets, it votes on approving special events retail licenses so that alcohol can be served at events involving University students. There are sometimes more than a dozen applications that are voted on at each meeting. The city’s Revenue Enforcement Manager has frequently described many of the events as “frat parties.” Downtown Entertainment LLC (one of many so named LLCs) is the entity that most frequently applies for the ABC license. One of its representatives  has said that in many cases the responsibility for verifying if those being served alcohol are of legal age is left up to security that provided by the fraternities. The Tuscaloosa Police Department does not have jurisdiction over the fraternity houses that are located on campus.

The City Council is currently at a stalemate over how to regulate bar security. Other cities have ordinances that stipulate the kind of training that employees of bars must have. Since there is such a high turnover of security personnel at local bars, there has been concern expressed at Council Committee meetings over training being prohibitively expensive. Problems at local bars have ranged from fire code violations to shootings. Some establishments have been shut down. But thousands of University of Alabama students frequent the cluster of bars located in the vicinity of the University. Enforcement of laws regarding under aged drinking has been difficult.

A new study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism points out that there has been a dramatic increase in deaths of young people due to alcohol use.

Katelyn Newman in the USA Today article Alcohol Is Growing as a Prime-Time Killer quoted Dr. Gabriel Schnickel: “You see a lot of people, these younger folks who … think they’re drinking the same amount as their friends or same amount as people that they socialize with, but for them, it is doing irreversible damage to their liver. We see a lot of young people come in who are in the throes of alcoholic hepatitis who had no idea that they could end up in that situation and, certainly, the terror in their eyes when they hear that they may need a new liver.”

The University of Alabama has a strict policy on alcohol use that is intended to promote the safety and well being of its students. It says:

Individuals under 21 years of age are not permitted to consume alcohol or be in possession of alcohol. Alcohol paraphernalia (which includes but is not limited to: empty beer cans or bottles, shot glasses, etc.) are prohibited and considered a violation of policy. Individuals over the age of 21 may consume alcohol in designated areas on campus in a safe and responsible manner.

With the recent findings on the severity of the problems associated with alcohol use by young people, it would seem as if there would be a greater urgency in the enforcement of policies and laws on under aged drinking.




T-Town: A One Elephant Town?

Bicentinnial Minerva Statue

The University of Alabama bestowed a statue of the Goddess Minerva to the citizens of Tuscaloosa in commemoration of the city’s Bicentennial Celebration on December 13, 2019.

As soon as the unveiling of the statue at the University’s Manderson Landing, if not beforehand, there were criticisms of the sculpture. Some citizens complained about the University’s choice of the Roman Goddess of Wisdom, in spite of the fact that she adorns the institutional seal of the University. Many people asked why a statue of Chief Tuskaloosa, the city’s namesake, wasn’t erected instead of one of a pagan goddess. Some would have doubtlessly preferred a statue of Jesus or even the football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.  However most people appreciated Caleb O’Connor’s beautifully executed sculpture that was cast in Italy. The walkway  around the statue, designed by Craig R. Wedderspoon, replicated the route of the Black Warrior and was replete with historical milestones of Tuscaloosa’s history.

People who live in Tuscaloosa are acutely aware of the importance of the University and the impact that it has on their daily lives. Tuscaloosa is a “one elephant town.” An elephant is the mascot of the University’s sports teams. The Crimson Tide’s football team perennially wins championships. When a football game is played in Tuscaloosa the town’s population often doubles in size. The University is a major employer and contributes greatly to Tuscaloosa’s cultural life.

Of course, there are complaints about the University, which largely center around the bad behavior of some of its students. A civic group Tuscaloosa Neighbors Together did a survey in 2012 of opinion about living with students. As Jason Morton reported in The Tuscaloosa News, there was an “overwhelming opposition to any kind of student housing within a neighborhood.” Many of the problems that citizens have had with students can be attributed to underaged drinking.

The Historic District in Tuscaloosa has been steadily encroached upon by the University’s student population as the University has grown in size. For over a decade there have been complaints about vandalism, home invasions and property damage by students. Kelly Fitts, president of the Original City Association, once opined in The Tuscaloosa News about the “undesirable late-night activity and crime perpetrated by intoxicated patrons” of drinking establishments that are located in close proximity to the Historic District:

Some of these heavily intoxicated people, many of them young women, wander into our yards and, thinking they are home, try to enter our houses. It is a very dangerous situation that, left unaddressed, will result in dire consequences for the city and the university should someone lose their life.

The City of Tuscaloosa’s wants to create an “experience economy” through its Elevate initiative and the concomitant local sales tax increase. Speaking about the Elevate program at a Council committee meeting, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox said:

I tell my staff all the time that I want us to dominate. What I mean is that I want to put into place the investments that will take this community to the next level. That’s why we passed Elevate.

It was never about the status quo Tuscaloosa. When you do something like this you either go bold or go home and we’ve decided to go bold as a community.

We have a sacred responsibility to not let this moment pass us by and to do something significant with it.

Mayor Maddox has raised the possibility of adding public safety fees, in addition to infrastructure fees, that developers must pay to build mega student complexes. He has recognized that there is a need to “slow” the development of student housing. Public safety concerns were heightened by a recent shooting that occurred at a bar located near the University campus. But it was hardly the only such incident at a student bar in Tuscaloosa that has occurred involving gun violence.

Complicating problems associated with student bars is the widespread practice of many drinking establishments serving liquor to underaged students. Most University students are below the legal age of 21 for alcohol sales. The University, according to College Factual‘s “The University of Alabama Student Age Diversity Breakdown”, has 34.5% of its nearly forty thousand students in the 18-19 age group and 30.9% in the 20-21 age group. There have even been complaints about local minors, aged 14-17, hanging out around college bars at night.

The City of Tuscaloosa instituted a curfew on minors because of such concerns. Individuals below the age of eighteen must be off the street after 10 p.m. on any Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday until 6 a.m. the following day and from 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday until 6 a.m. the following day.

Over 900 University students are under the age of eighteen. The city’s curfew ordinance excludes minors who attend the University. But law enforcement officers are taxed with the task of how to enforce the curfew. Should they stop and question any person who appears to be below the age of eighteen? Many University students who are older than eighteen could certainly be mistaken for being eighteen or younger. Many students who are younger than twenty-one frequent establishments that serve alcohol.

The City of Tuscaloosa is investing a great deal of money in its Elevate program. It also will be issuing bonds to pay for projects. In the $503 million Elevate budget the actual amount allocated for projects is just over $250 million. The mayor has also proposed bond issues totaling $143.5 million for 11 of the largest projects. That will result in $138 million of the $503 million budget being spent not on actual projects but on debt finance charges.

One of the Elevate projects The Saban Center, will create a learning center on the Black Warrior River that brings together the Children’s Hands-On Museum, Tuscaloosa Public Library and Tuscaloosa Children’s Theater. The University’s football coach Nick Saban made a $1.25 million contribution to the project.

To help pay for public safety perhaps the City of Tuscaloosa could do as Chicago has done. Chicago has doubled the tax on food and drink served at restaurants and bars by raising it a quarter-percentage point.

Enforcing underaged drinking laws with electronic ID verification (as Oxford, Mississippi has done) may well reduce the popularity of the establishments located near the University that routinely serve minors. Such enforcement would require a good deal of diligence by the police. The city has had a hard time recruiting police officers. Revenue dedicated to public safety could be be used to increase salaries and benefits, in order to attract more people who would be willing to serve in law enforcement and to retain existing officers. The City of Tuscaloosa could also arrange with the University of Alabama to have a joint task force to enforce underaged drinking laws.

To truly “elevate” Tuscaloosa and make it a better place to live will require more diligent public safely measures. Investing in law enforcement is at least as important as building wonderful projects such as the Saban Center. Such measures may reduce the tensions that exist between the citizens of Tuscaloosa and students at the University. When that happens Tuscaloosa can be proud of being, at least in part, A One Elephant Town.