Dr. Ray Watts honors Sen. Waggoner for helping fuel UAB’s early growth

At his “State of the University” address today, UAB President Dr. Ray Watts recognized
State Sen. J.T. “Jabo” Waggoner for his contribution to the growth of the university at a critical moment in its early history.

Dr. Watts commended Waggoner for sponsoring a 1975 appropriations bill that allowed the University of Alabama at Birmingham to finalize the purchase of around 40 square blocks that today make up the western portion of the university complex.

The funding from the State Education Trust Fund totaled $8.5 billion, a figure equal to around $41 million today.

Dr. Watts said the transaction established a foundation for the growth of the academic and clinical programs at UAB, which had become an independent institution within The University of Alabama System just six years before, in 1969.

“As we look back, it stands as one of the major milestones that allowed us to become the powerhouse university that we are,” Dr. Watts said in a video created for his “State of the University” presentation.

See the UAB 1976 Acquisition Map.

Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, called the appropriation bill the most important piece of legislation he has sponsored during his career in Alabama government, which includes 17 years in the House of Representatives (1966-1983) and 29 years in the Senate (beginning in 1990).

Waggoner recalls working with Dr. Rudolph Davidson, representing UAB, on the bill that helped advance the university’s ambitious growth plans in the 1970s.

“That little bill back in 1975 helped to create an institution with a $7 billion annual economic impact today, and it’s growing,” Waggoner said. “I shudder to think where we would be in Birmingham and where we would be in this region were it not for The University of Alabama in Birmingham.”

CRUCIAL TIMING

UAB’s growth story actually dates to early 1968, when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced final approval of a plan for the university, allied with the City of Birmingham and the Housing Authority of Birmingham, to acquire the downtown property in a transaction valued at $33 million.

The city provided a significant portion of the funding for the purchase, and the Housing Authority relocated more than 1,000 families from the area and handled site improvements.

At the time, the university’s footprint was about 15 square blocks. The expansion extended UAB’s complex to Interstate 65 in the west between Fifth Avenue South in the north and 12th Avenue South in the south.

Waggoner’s appropriation bill arrived at a crucial time.

The agreement between the City and the university with HUD called for a final payment on Sept. 12, 1975, according to newspaper accounts in the UAB Archives. If the payment failed to arrive on time, HUD planned to sell the property, which already housed university facilities, to the highest bidder.

The Alabama Legislature approved Waggoner’s bill in August 1975. The next month, UAB President Joseph Volker presented the Housing Authority with a check to complete the land acquisition from HUD.

At the time, Volker called the land purchase “the greatest event in UAB’s history,” according to the Birmingham Post-Herald.

Major UAB faculties today standing on the expansion property include the Sterne Library, Hill Center, Bartow Arena, the Alys Stephens Center, the Collat School of Business and other instructional buildings.

“This is one of those bills that I am very proud of – it really had an impact, it really made a difference,” Waggoner said. “It allowed for the growth of the university. You know, $8.5 million was a lot of money back then, but when you look at what UAB has been able to do today because of that appropriation, it’s huge.”