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Old Posted Feb 21, 2007, 4:36 PM
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Blazer85 Blazer85 is offline
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Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: Birmingham, AL
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Wonder what he's got in mind...

Birmingham woos St. Louis developer
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
News staff writer

Birmingham city leaders are wooing a St. Louis developer who says he is interested in building a hotel, lofts or another kind of commercial development in the city.

Michael V. Roberts, chairman and chief executive of the Roberts Cos., is scheduled to hold a special breakfast meeting this morning with city officials at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.

Roberts, who owns the Roberts Crowne-Plaza Atlanta and in 2003 transformed an old St. Louis school board building into 47 loft apartments, said he has long had an interest in Birmingham. He said he tried unsuccessfully a few years ago to do a project here, though he declined to divulge details.

"I would love to do a project here in Birmingham, but the key will be what kind of incentives the city has in place," said Roberts, who added he specializes in converting old warehouses and offices into lofts or retail developments and in upgrading distressed hotels.

Roberts said other cities he has done deals in, such as Atlanta, Tampa and Houston, have provided tax breaks and reasonable land costs that make projects feasible. He said he hopes to get the same response in Birmingham.

"We have the capacity to get things done," Roberts said. "All we are looking for are deals that make sense. We are focusing on the Southeast and Midwest."

A lawyer, Roberts owns a business empire that includes eight hotels, television stations, office buildings, loft apartments, a shopping center and a wireless company, Roberts Wireless Communications. He chairs the National Association of Black Hotel Owners and serves on the board of the International Association of Shopping Centers.

BusinessWeek said Roberts, who started his business in 1989 with a $7,000 loan from his father, was "blazing a telecom trail for black Americans" in a 1999 profile. The article talked of how Roberts, after buying seven phone licenses serving St. Louis in 1989, partnered with Sprint and expanded the business.

"He's one of just a handful of black entrepreneurs who have broken into the telecom business. He's proactive and energized," Thomas Mateer, a vice president for Sprint PCS, told the magazine.

Roberts' wireless network provides Sprint service to 2.5 million residents of Missouri, Illinois and Kansas.

He is in Birmingham to present a 10:30 a.m. workshop, "Eliminating the Fear of Failure," as part of the A.G. Gaston Economic Empowerment Conference at the BJCC. He will sign copies at the conference of his book, "Action Has No Season: Secrets and Strategies to Gaining Wealth and Authority" (Authorhouse, 2005).

Conference organizer Bob Dickerson set up the breakfast meeting and invited Carol Clarke, director of economic development for the City of Birmingham; Russell Cunningham, president of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce; David Fleming, executive director of Main Street Birmingham Inc., Jack Fields, executive director of the BJCC; and Michael Calvert, head of Operation New Birmingham.

Dickerson said persuading Roberts to do a project in Birmingham would be a big plus for the city. "With Birmingham's history, getting a black man of his caliber to invest in the city is more profound than if he did it in another city," Dickerson said. "He recently bought a Crowne Plaza in Atlanta and it barely made headlines."

Clarke said Birmingham would love to strike a deal with Roberts. She said the city can assist developers with land purchases, give historic tax credits, help with infrastructure improvements and in some case can extend low-cost loans.

"We are always willing to work with people wanting to invest in the city, especially African-Americans with his kind of track record," she said.

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