IT’S PRIMETIME FOR MONTGOMERY
Driving down I-65 South toward Montgomery, Ala. this past week was a completely different experience than it was when I first arrived in Alabama in 2008. Then, Montgomery was a shell of its historic self, and it showed no signs of becoming much more than that. But today’s Montgomery has certainly become more than its past. The difference between now and then is the feeling of hope and promise rippling out from the city. The key to this change is a force that the state of Alabama is all too familiar with: football. To be more specific, the first-ever Raycom Camellia Bowl. And from the look of it, it won’t be the last: signs line the highways leading into Alabama’s capital city, and every commercial on its local TV stations seem to be advertising the game. Some are going so far as to call this the biggest event in Montgomery’s history. There may be a little exaggeration at play when describing the Camellia Bowl to that extent – given the city’s past – but one cannot discount the passion the citizens of this state have for the game of football, even when it doesn’t involve the their favorite teams from Tuscaloosa and Auburn. Today, December 20, 2014, at 9:15 p.m. Eastern time, a new chapter will begin in Montgomery’s storied history. But this change did not happen overnight; the road to Montgomery had to be paved. Millions upon millions of dollars have been spent to revitalize the city and its downtown. The city invested in a downtown baseball stadium, the Riverwalk and its accompanying amphitheater, luxury hotels, convention centers, restaurants, nightlife and more. Three years ago, the city turned its eyes to football and the 25,000-seat Cramton Bowl stadium. And it never looked back. Originally created to give the Sun Belt and Mid-American conferences an additional post-season game, the Camellia Bowl ended up bringing a new purpose to Montgomery–and lots of attention with it. ESPN estimates that 2.2 million people will tune-in to watch South Alabama take on Bowling Green in the inaugural match-up. Additionally, the game is expected to generate $5 to $7 million in economic impact for the city. But from Montgomery mayor Todd Strange’s perspective, the financial impact of the bowl is not its main purpose. “It’s about community pride,” said Mayor Todd Strange to the New York Times. Pride is indeed a common theme in this new Montgomery, a city that decided a decade ago to reverse its course and write its own history. It’s about the city that has spent millions of dollars and tens of thousands of hours growing this community into one that could host an event for an entire nation. And it’s a city that will show the world a Montgomery it has never seen before.