Straight Talk with John Lauriello

I’m a damn Yankee.  I came here to Alabama 41 years ago.  And what’s amazed me for 41 years, especially living and working in the Birmingham area, is how we have done what we’ve done with such overall poor leadership in this city.  It’s just been incredible.

There are 37 different municipalities in Jefferson County.  And for the most part they don’t interact very much or get along very well.  And we (I say “we” because this is my home, and I have chosen to stay here and be here) are like the gang that can’t shoot straight. 

But how we’ve grown in spite of what’s happened in this community, and so many people pulling wagons different ways – it’s just amazing.

To this day, if you mention Birmingham, Alabama, people still raise their eyebrows because they remember the racial issues of the 60s. I think some of the older  generation dying off is a benefit, as crazy and as cruel as that sounds.  Some people just have thoughts and ideas in their makeup that aren’t going away.

When I came here 41 years ago, people didn’t like Italians, they didn’t like Jews, they didn’t like African Americans, Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, Greeks or Asians. They didn’t like anybody!  There was a greater majority of those that weren’t liked versus the ones that didn’t like them.

Then the years have gone on and we’ve had the HealthSouth scandal, the failure of Colonial Bank and the Jefferson County sewer issues.

UAB, which is one of the great economic engines in the Birmingham metro area, has been really mistreated by the state and local governments.  Nobody seems to want to help them much.  But they’ve grown without a lot of support from the University system or the majority of folks in metro Birmingham.

How the hell we are still standing is a testimony to a few good people really doing good things and trying to move this town forward in spite of so many folks pulling things in different directions.  How downtown Birmingham has survived has been a major miracle.

If we could ever get it right with the majority of people working together, statewide, regionally and locally to share certain services and costs like other communities have done (like the Charlottes and the Nashvilles of the world), this city would be unstoppable.

I think this is still a great community to live in. I think its future is still ahead of it.

John Lauriello is a principal at Southpace Properties, Inc., Alabama’s largest independent commercial real estate firm. Southpace offers services such as office, retail, land, warehouse and industrial sales and leasing, tenant and landlord representation, development, consulting, investment sales, and property management – including asset & construction management, and maintenance.

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