All posts by BHM BIZ

Cool Spaces

Written by Rosalind Fournier

Photography by Edward Badham

Yann Cowart, vice president of GMC Sports, a division of the architecture and engineering firm Goodwyn Mills and Cawood, Inc., knows it doesn’t take much creativity to create a functional, indoor sports complex. But when tasked by the City of Hoover with designing the Finley Center—the new, 154,000-square-foot, flex-use facility at the Hoover Met Complex—he and his team wanted to give the client more than function. They wanted to create a space full of energy, excitement and light.

“A lot of projects like these are very utilitarian,” Cowart says. “They can just be basic warehouses, if they’re oriented towards just providing an open space for court play. So we were very conscious about trying to make the facility very dynamic and energetic. We didn’t just create a box. We tried to make the architecture reflect the energy of what was going on inside and make it exciting and youthful.”

With ample court space for volleyball, basketball and other sports, the Finley Center is not only the perfect indoor addition to the popular outdoor complex—which includes the Hoover Met Stadium, soccer fields, tennis courts and an RV park—but is designed to host major exhibits, banquets, and trade shows as well.

“It’s a relatively new concept but one that’s been tried and tested out well in other locales,” Cowart says, noting that GMC visited comparable facilities—including the Champions Center at LakePoint Sporting Community in Emerson, Ga., Rocky Top Sports World in Gatlinburg, Tenn., and even the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando—to get ideas and see what would work best here.

For starters, it took a lot just to stand out among the existing facilities at the Hoover Met Complex, so instead of competing, GMC sought to complement what is already there. While natural light is often sparse in big indoor sports facilities, the designers made every effort to maximize it so that people inside the building would feel connected to sporting events outdoors and vice versa.

“These are high-volume spaces, and it’s hard to get a lot of light into them,” Cowart says. “We tried to open it up and get as much light into the body of the building as possible, so when you drive up you can see some of the activity going on inside. And when you’re inside, you feel like even though you’re playing an indoor sport you can see what’s going on outside. You have connectivity.”

The Finley Center’s food court stands out as a welcome meeting spot for people participating in events throughout the complex. With floor-to-ceiling windows, including both clear panes and KalWall translucent panes that help diffuse the light and reduce glare, visitors can see out to the baseball and soccer fields. Monitors placed here and throughout the building, including the gyms, can be used as scoreboards, show game play, or feature rotational advertisement.

Other design highlights include a giant bench in the lobby, named “The Nova” by Green Furniture Concept, the company that makes it. “As opposed to just a typical bench that’s straight and not very organic, we tried to come up with a natural product that wasn’t made of metal,” Cowart says. “That’s why we introduced the wood and also the serpentine curve of it. That gets back to to the idea of trying to put energy in everything we designed, to where it didn’t feel like it could be just anywhere. It felt like it was made for that space.

“You’re not necessarily spending a whole lot more money, if any, to be very conscious of what the ultimate environment’s going to be when you’re complete,” he adds.

Monty Jones, Jr., general manager of the Hoover Metropolitan Complex, says the public has responded enthusiastically to the new building. “People are loving the space,” he says. “You think initially of the Finley Center as strictly a sports mecca, but then the way they designed it, it’s made not to be just sports-centric. We’re able to do conventions, banquets, trade shows, and a lot of different things. So it doesn’t set us up to work with a cookie-cutter space—we’re able to expand the horizon on the type of things we’re able to host.” Jones adds that the flexibility and fluidity of the building has made his team’s job easier, too, with the ability to transform a basketball court into a trade-show space even while other sports are still going on.

He also points to the signage panels out front that can be changed out for different events, creating extra publicity for whatever’s happening at the complex and elevating the level of excitement around events. The default panels read simply HOOVER, but they can also be changed out with panels representing all the teams playing in the SEC baseball team, for instance, or just about anything else. “We can change it based upon the event, and it’s very economical to make those changes,” Jones says. “So that’s an additional marketing avenue we can utilize.”

Both Jones and Cowart note that the new building shows something as simple as an elevated walking/jogging track can be reinvented to improve upon user experience. “When I was there yesterday, there were 10 or 12 ladies using the elevated track, and that made me proud that they felt like it’s a facility for them as well,” Cowart says.

Jones points out that the track offers a great view of the action on the gym floor below. “If something’s going on,” he says, “you’re able to exercise but also be part of the action.” Additional plans include a climbing wall set to be installed in the center by the first quarter of next year. “It’s so many activities that can simultaneously be going on for the whole family.

“It’s amazing because the Finley Center is just one piece of the Hoover Met Complex,” Jones continues. “All in all, once the whole complex is fully complete, it’s going to be one of a kind here in the Southeast and able to rival anything that’s out there. If you can think of it, we’ll do our best to try and make it happen.”



Architecture/Engineering: Goodwin Mills and Cawood, Inc. (GMC)

Construction manager: Brasfield & Gorrie

Construction Services: Dunn Building Company, Rabren General Contractors, M.J. Harris, Inc., CS Beatty Construction, Diversified US.

Open since: June 16, 2017

Named for: Bob Finley, longtime head football coach at Hoover’s former Berry High School


Frequent Flyer

Billy Harbert, BL Harbert International

Constructing the new, luxury Vesta Apartment complex on Highland Avenue here in Birmingham is a different animal than building an $18.5 million manufacturing facility for GE Aviation in Asheville, NC, or a new performing arts center at Auburn University—a tiny sampling of projects at different stages of completion for Birmingham-based BL Harbert International.

But for as many varied domestic projects for which the company’s services are sought, the differences in scope, expertise and sensitivity to location are nothing compared to what’s required for the projects Harbert is entrusted with around the world. These include renovation of U.S. diplomatic offices in Helsinki; construction of a U.S. Embassy office annex in Abuja, Nigeria; and design and construction of a new U.S. Embassay office annex in Amman, Jordan.

Billy Harbert, who has been chairman and CEO of BL Harbert International since its inception in 2000, provides leadership and direction of all BL Harbert projects in more than 42 countries. Building on the legacy of his father and uncle, Bill and John Harbert, along with Ed Dixon, who orginally founded Harbert Construction Company in 1949, Harbert fully embraces the company’s commitment to provide high-quality work that meets U.S. specifications regardless of the location.

He also sees the company’s presence in locations around the world as an opportunity and obligation to act as a good global citizen and build relationships in unique ways.

“We make every effort to immerse ourselves in local cultures and contribute to the welfare of local communities,” Harbert says. “We also hire workers from the local workforce and, by training them and refining their abilities, provide them with a life skill that they will be able to use long after we have gone. Our goal is to leave behind not only a world-class building, but also a local population that has a new positive view of the United States.” says Harbert.

“Many of our international jobsites are located in underdeveloped countries, where many of the things we take for granted are not available,” he adds. “Our team members spend their personal time building kitchens, playgrounds and fostering lasting relationships in these remote communities.

“We understand that our reputation depends on serving the communities in which we build.  Whether it’s providing basic food and shelter for those in need internationally or investing our time and resources in local organizations and nonprofits at home, we take pride in giving back. It is our duty to help, so we make philanthropy part of who we are.

“Overall, we feel it is our duty to help, and strive to make philanthropic efforts a natural choice for all of our employees near and far,” Harbert says.

At the core of their success is a  decentralized decision-making and management operating philosophy. This has led to the formation of two distinct operating groups: the U.S. Group and the International Group.

From offices in Birmingham, Houston, Nashville, Greenville, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., the company’s U.S. Group serves four distinct market sectors: Industrial, Federal, Commercial and Healthcare. Within its international group, BL Harbert provides clients with secure, professional construction in every corner of the world. Since 2000, they have performed in excess of $5 billion worth of new construction in over 42 countries; all of the work built to U.S. specifications and standards. The company has a proven track record of delivering first class facilities in some of the most remote places on earth.

Sustainable construction is also a high priority for the company, with the goal of reducing impact on the environment while remaining fiscally responsible. The company is the 28th ranked green contractor in the U.S. according to Engineering News Record (ENR) and is ranked the number one contractor for green government office buildings. With over 45 LEED Accredited Professionals, they have completed over $4 billion in green construction.

BL Harbert International has annual revenue in excess of $1.25 billion and 7,000 employees working all over the globe.

 Written by Joe O’Donnell


Coffee With . . . . Chad Martin


Chad Martin joined Louis Nequette in July of 2005 before establishing his own boutique design shop, The G Brand in 2007 and currently has over twenty years of experience in the design field. His range of experience stretches from a singular 5,000 square foot retail space to a full multifamily development or student community.

His role is to create unique brands and pursue client relationships with like minded values. Chad’s passion lies in the built environment, working closely with architects and interior designers to create memorable spaces. From inception to delivery, branding has always been his main focus.

In helping shape the project style and feel he coordinates design efforts alongside brand direction that results in what he calls Interior Branding. This approach embraces many design disciplines including graphic design, architecture, industrial design and portions of landscape architecture. Communicating project identity with information design shapes the project experience.

Chad received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design with a minor in Communication from Auburn University at Montgomery.

How would you describe the connection between The G Brand and Nequette Architecture & Design?

The G Brand is a division of Nequette Architecture & Design but it functions on its own island with separate clients, separate invoices and its own mix of unique design projects. All the while, working in a parallel direction with the same design philosophies, culture and values. The G Brand is a small design arm that’s easily adaptable to take on smaller jobs that most days aren’t a fit for Nequette Architecture & Design’s studios.

What is the process you follow in putting together a branding plan for a client?

A branding plan, that sounds so exact and finite. My world doesn’t quite work that way most days. Creativity is a tough thing to plan. It’s more of a fluid process, my clients mostly fall into two categories: real estate developers or small business owners. They each move at a different pace. Creating a brand for a small business owner requires a few layers of questions, to discover what they want, what they need and what they can afford. Next, I must get educated on their business, how it all works and where the new branding can assist. Soon after, we begin the dream phase at the 10,000-foot level and convert those dreams into ideas, then into concrete design work. The process begins with setting the right expectations, be it physical deliverables, design ideas, budget or deadlines.

My developer clients on the other hand are motivated by metrics, they want their projects to perform so I provide property branding services. There are many phases to their projects and you must be involved in all aspects to maintain brand continuity. Weaving the brand experience throughout every phase is key, especially if you want the project to stay true to the initial design direction. On many projects, my client is building in a new city and is working with a new architectural design team. This facet has allowed me to evolve my services past just the branding efforts. I call it being a “design coach” in a sense. I work to communicate design expectations and targets, then help manage and review progress to ensure the target is hit. The earlier I can be involved on a project, the more effective my efforts are. If I broke it down into three phases it would be the inspiration and discovery phase then the design development phase, working together with the whole design team as one fabric and the last phase would be construction observation and review. If we commit to that type process, we end up with a product that was developed together instead of in segregated efforts that feel forced.

What do you view as the biggest challenges for your business?

A project’s budget has to be the single largest challenge I run into most frequently but it only stirs my curiosity. Most days a little creativity can go a long way but budget, that’s more of a hurdle than a challenge.

What do you view as the biggest opportunities for your business?

The largest opportunity I have is to impact people’s lives through design. I get to influence the project’s design on multiple layers.  Each layer alone may be weak, but they weave together to create an overall experience that is strong.



Kulture Change


Drs. Julian Maha and Michele Kong at KultureBall 2016

As with many things of value, the genesis of KultureCity arose from a personal challenge.

Dr. Julian Maha, CEO of KultureCity, and his wife, Dr. Michele Kong, were faced with that challenge when their son, Abram, was diagnosed with autism. Their response has led to the growth of a new kind of nonprofit, one that is making waves across the country and having an impact by making life better for people living with disabilities and their families.

The couple founded KultureCity to make a difference. In the process, Maha has envisioned a new kind of nonprofit that is structured more like a business.

Dr. Julian Maha speaking at Sloss Tech 2017 photo by Kenslie McGuire with Telegraph Creative.

“Coming from my background in medicine and being actively involved in startups in the medical field, I really want to approach a nonprofit from a different angle,” he explains. “Not knowing much about nonprofits when I came in, I felt there were a couple of obvious weaknesses. More often than not the scope of the typical nonprofit is pretty small. So for instance if you wanted to start a nonprofit to help feed the homeless, you would follow your mission statement which negates you from doing anything but that. So the first thing we did with KultureCity was create a mission statement that was very broad and would help us generate the most impact and continuously innovate within the sector.”

Dr. Maha with KultureCity Sensory Team Mallory Pritchard and Lara Dean.

“The second thing was to form KultureCity like a startup. When you look at the difference between a startup and a regular business, a business is going to generate revenue but it is always going to have more local impact in its scope. Whereas a startup normally tackles a problem that is transformative, that has potential for national and international impact on a problem that needs to be solved. We took the approach of a nonprofit acting as a startup. We wanted to tackle an issue that could be transformative not only on the local level but that could then be scaled to the national level.”

Accessibility became the issue KultureCity would tackle, breaking down the physical, familial and community barriers.

Sensory Inclusive Boo at the Zoo 2016.

“The third thing was to put together a really good team. We could not provide equity, obviously, but we could provide something called impact equity. People became involved primarily because they believed in what we were trying to do and they were passionate about us. They would not only volunteer their time, but be invested in it from an impact standpoint.

“So those were the three big things that allowed us create our organization,” Maha says.

In Maha’s view the nonprofit industry has almost been pigeonholed by the problems they want to tackle. “A fifth of the population of the United States have a disability. And of that 20 percent, only 18 percent have visible disabilities, so accessability for them is an issue. But accessibility goes way beyond that and must touch the 82 percent of people who do not have visible disabilities, children with autism or veterans with PTSD or people with Parkinson’s or stroke or early onset dementia. Those are the populations that we as a community sometimes leave out when we plan our cities, plan our venues and plan our social impact. That is really where we want to have an impact that can be magnified many times over,” Maha says.

“The big vision for us going forward is that we want to be the accessibility nonprofit startup. Looking at our sensory initiative, when you go into public venues like Urban Cookhouse you will find our KultureCity sign that tells you this is a sensory inclusive location—also the Birmingham Zoo and McWane Science Center. We want to take that and transfer it to the rest of the world. Right now our sensory inclusion symbol is in nine NBA arenas, two football stadiums, three NHL arenas, multiple zoos across the country, a couple of museums,and it is growing on a daily basis.”

Maha has looked at the nonprofit sector with fresh eyes. “We wanted to think big and innovate within the sector. Almost like launching a brand. We knew to effect change we had to get big and we had to get big fast. So we scaled our initiatives,” he says.

After working on some grassroots initiatives, Maha says they wanted to create an initiative that could actually save lives, be trackable and also engage the public. “That was our lifeBOKS initiative that involved a bluetooth tracking bracelet and other things that we give to families with children with autism to prevent wandering. Because for kids with autism under the age of eight, drowning is the leading cause of death. We shipped out about 4,500 kits in the past year and prevented 33 deaths. So that was trackable data. It also enabled us to engage the general public because if you don’t care about autism, you still care about saving a child’s life. That community engagement led to our sensory inclusion initiative which allowed us to work on a whole new level educating people on the guest experience for individuals with non visible disabilities.

KultureCity’s next initiative coming in October is an all-inclusive app that is designed to tie the disability community together. “So if you or a family member has a disability, you download our app and it will give you resources based on what the disability is and plug you into a community of families in your area that you can interact with. It will give, for example, sensory inclusion locations in your area,” Maha says.

“If you have a loved one with a disability or a food allergy and you’re traveling to, let’s say, Birmingham, the first thing you have to do is Google search what places will be accommodating to your loved one’s needs,” Maha said. “But there is always the question on the reliability of the information, and the need to verify it.” The KultureCity app will aim to cut through all the noise on Google and make sure the information you find is reliable. The app will use GPS data to show you spaces inclusive to people with disabilities and restaurants friendly to people with food allergies. Many children, especially those with autism, have food sensitivities, which makes eating out while traveling difficult.

Maha announced the new app at the annual KultureBALL in July. At the event, Scott Simpson, senior partner at Simpson, McMahan, Glick & Burford (SMGB) in Birmingham, announced the firm would commit $50,000 to the nonprofit’s Sensory Inclusion Initiative over the course of five years. Kulture City has gained national acclaim for its efforts. It was one of just 52 non-profits—the only one in Alabama—to receive funding from Tom’s of Maine, through its Good Matters program. It twice was named best-reviewed special needs nonprofit by And in 2015, KultureCity was one of just 10 nonprofits nationwide supported by Microsoft for its Windows 10 Upgrade Your World initiative. Maha was just nominated for a humanitarian award by the NASCAR Foundation.

Screenshots of the new KultureCity app.

“We want to be a household name,” Maha says. “We want to be the new symbol of accessibility and continually innovate. For lack of a better word, we want to market disability so that the general public wants to be engaged and wants to help. This is not a small issue. It is a big issue that affects one in five people. We as a community need to step up because, bottom line, it speaks to who we are as a community.”

Live and Local

Jox, WJOX sports talk

Cumulus Radio’s David Walls looks at it as a simple equation. Live radio with a local orientation and commitment equals success. That’s not written down in an algebra book, but, as far as Walls is concerned, it plays out every day over the airwaves of Birmingham.

“I’ve lived here my whole life,” he says, “and I can’t think of any station that has been able to cover the city 100 percent of the time, and that is what we are trying to do. We have had people come in at midnight when something big breaks in the news.

“Live and local is the key,” Walls continues. “We just keep pounding on that. We want to be able to cover something that breaks in Trussville. We can be there in 20 minutes and report on it in our newsroom.


“Our goal is twofold: to dominate the spoken word in the city with Jox  94.5 and Talk 99.5. The other is to provide an excellent choice to reach the African-American community in Hot 107.7, a station that does that very well.”

Approximately 245 million people  are reached each week through Cumulus’ 447 owned-and-operated stations broadcasting in 90 U.S. media markets (including eight of the top 10), 8,000 broadcast radio stations affiliated with its Westwood One network and numerous digital channels. Together, the Cumulus/Westwood One platforms make Cumulus Media one of the few media companies that can provide advertisers with national reach and local impact. Cumulus/Westwood One is the exclusive radio broadcast partner to some of the largest brands in sports, entertainment, news, and talk, including the NFL, the NCAA, the Masters, the Olympics, the GRAMMYs, the Academy of Country Music Awards, the American Music Awards, the Billboard Music Awards, Westwood One News, and more.

WZRR, Talk 99.5 FM

Additionally, it is the nation’s leading provider of country music and lifestyle content through its NASH brand, which serves country fans nationwide through radio programming, exclusive digital content, and live events.

“I am honored and grateful to have the opportunity to work for a company that combines great stations with great people,” Walls says. “I look forward to building on the success and the tremendous work already happening in the building. Together, we can win big and have fun getting it done.



  • Core Demo – Men 25-54
  • Format – sports talk
  • The station is 75% male
  •  25% female
  • 31% of their audience has HHI of $100,000+
  • 45% has a college degree or higher

WUHT FM Hot 107.7

  • Core Demo – Women 25-54
  • Format – Urban Adult Contemporary
  • The station is 60% female and 40% male
  • 56% has some college or a college degree

WZRR, Talk 99.5 FM

  • Format – news talk
  • Live personalities from 6 a.m  to 7 p.m.
  • Core demo – Adults 25-54
  • 44% of the audience is in the 35-44 age range
  • The station is 55% male and
  • 45% female
  • 33% of their audience has HHI of $100,000 +
  • 31% has a college degree or higher

Every Picture Tells a Story

With Portraits, Inc.’s dynamic ownership, a nationwide network of sales associates, and its roster of the world’s foremost portrait painters and sculptors, there is a particularly bright future for this unique American company based here in Birmingham.

Art has been a part of Beverly McNeil’s life for as long as she can remember. The president of Portraits, Inc., as well as the Beverly McNeil Gallery, she has steered a traditional company through changing times, making a classic product relevant for today. There are two other owners in addition to McNeil, Julia Boffman of Ohio and Ruth Reeves of North Carolina.

“Portraiture has such a strong tradition,” McNeil says. “It is a fun process, too. But without help, it can be very overwhelming. We know the artists and what they are like, and how they interact with subjects. Portraits, Inc. is part of the process with clients from beginning to end, down to the framing and hanging on the wall.”

At 75 years old, Portraits, Inc. is the oldest company of its kind in the country. Essentially an agency that connects artists and portrait subjects, Portraits, Inc. works with 165 portrait artists all over the U.S. Fifty-five associates work for the company and are located in various regions of the country. Portraits, Inc. serves as the central source, connecting customers and artists.

Prior to purchasing Portraits, Inc., McNeil owned Portrait Brokers, which she merged into the new company back in 1997. From the time Portraits, Inc. was started in 1942, the goal has been to help clients find the ideal artist to create the fine art portraits they desire. Sales associates, located in communities across the country, have been trained as experts in fine portraiture.

Portraits, Inc., was founded in 1942 by Lois Shaw, an art and antiques dealer and socialite. In the early 1940s, Shaw partnered with the USO to give weekly studio parties in her Park Avenue gallery that often centered on portraiture. She contacted a number of portrait artists and asked them to contribute their services by doing life drawings of the military men and women in uniform who attended the parties. These fine portraits were then nicely matted and mailed as gifts to the families of the subjects. Mrs. Shaw received a special citation for her efforts from the U.S. government.

As she was hosting these events, Shaw quickly realized that portrait artists really had no special gallery to exhibit their work. Dedicating a room in her gallery exclusively to fine portraiture, she announced a new service called “The Portrait Painters’ Clearing House.” That marked the official launch of Portraits, Inc.

A true pioneer in the exclusive representation of fine portrait artists, Portraits, Inc., firmly established its position as the world’s most esteemed portrait company in the ensuing decades. With a roster that includes virtually every major portrait painter and portrait sculptor in the world, the company’s mission from the outset has been to restore fine portraiture to its historic position in the fine arts. For more than 70 years, clientele have included the foremost names in the worlds of business, the professions, the arts, academia, and society.

The product itself seems timeless. “We are finding artists who are adjusting styles to meet current appeal. It is very personal, and with the artists we work with we can find something  for any client because of range of styles we represent,” McNeil says.

Prices vary according to the medium and the artist.

“Oil portraits start at $3,500; charcoal starts at $1,200. You can afford a portrait,” she says.

McNeil operated Portrait Brokers of America here in Birmingham prior to the purchase of Portraits, Inc. She was also owner of an art gallery located in Destin for about 15 years. When McNeil moved back to Birmingham, she became excited by the notion of reopening the Beverly McNeil Gallery in the space occupied for decades by the Loretta Goodwin Gallery.

“My goal is to have 10 local, 10 regional and 10 national artists associated with the gallery. There is a lot of physical work to the gallery business. Plus social media is a lot to keep up with. But to me there is nothing like an opening. We do a lot of commissions as well,” McNeil says.

“Art has played a huge part in my life. My mother in law was big art collector. I started collecting 25 years ago. Art is essential. The harder life gets, the more I think we need beauty. The arts round us out. It is one of the most important things that stand the test of time.”

NBA returning to Birmingham for 2018 preseason contest

A Special Sponsored Report from the Alabama News Center


By Michael Tomberlin

The students at Parker High School knew they were gathering in the gym for a pep rally, but it was what they didn’t know that caused them to go wild with excitement.

NBA all-star James Harden made his way onto the court as BBVA Compass and Birmingham Mayor William Bell announced professional basketball will be played in the Magic City next year after more than a decade’s absence.

Harden’s team, the Houston Rockets, will play a preseason game next year against a yet-to-be-named opponent on a yet-to-be-determined date.

While officials want people to get excited about next year’s game, the bearded one was the reason for the enthusiasm at Parker on Aug. 17.

“This is my first time here in Birmingham, Alabama,” Harden told the Parker students. “The energy in this gym is amazing. That’s what I thrive on. Every single day, I wake up with positive energy and so the energy that I’m feeling today, I want to say thank you guys. The love is definitely felt.”

Harden was joined at the announcement by teammate Nenê and Houston Rockets CEO Tad Brown. Harden said he plans to go back to Houston and tell the Rockets that next year’s game in Birmingham will be special.

“The energy that was in that gym today was unbelievable. I’m sure it’s like that around the entire city,” he said. “It’s exciting that you have fans – especially the first time coming here and I know Nenê feels the same way. I’m going to go back and tell my teammates and coaches that we’re excited to come back here next year. It’s going to be fun. We’ve got to put on a show.”

Birmingham Mayor William Bell

Bell said Birmingham has long shown support for the NBA and it’s overdue for having a game played here.

“For the past 10 years, we have not had an NBA game to be played in Birmingham, Alabama,” he said. “You’ve had to go to other cities to see an NBA game and to see some of the top stars.”

Bell said it was BBVA Compass, which is based in Birmingham but has a major presence in Houston, that helped bring the Rockets here.

“One of the commitments that I made a long time ago was to showcase Birmingham as a great sports town,” Bell said. “We love more sports than just – I better not say this, University of Alabama football – but we do. We’re a great sports town. We just need to market it and the opportunity for us to work with the Rockets and BBVA Compass was one that we just couldn’t pass up.”

Brown said Birmingham will get to see some of the best players in professional basketball in person.

“You will see James, Nenê, Chris Paul, all of our players here competing at the highest level at NBA basketball,” Brown said. “It was an opportunity. It made a lot of sense. We’ve got a great partnership with BBVA Compass. We always look for opportunities to go to outer market games that are available to us.”

Brown said the team has played preseason games in China and in Rio Grande Valley where it has a NBA G League Farm team. It was the bank’s relationship with the team that made Birmingham an option.

“The partnership with BBVA Compass and the expression of interest by the mayor and the city is really what led us to the opportunity to bring the game,” he said.

Brown said shortly after training camp, the Rockets should be able to announce the team Houston will play in Birmingham next year.

BBVA Compass had been working with Birmingham students through its Summer of Opportunity initiative and the Parker kids thought the assembly was part of that until Harden raised the roof with his presence.

Harden said that’s what it’s all about.

“Kids are everything. They’re the future,” he said. “I’m obviously blessed to be in the position that I am today, but these kids are what drives us. It’s what makes me happy.”

That’s why Harden was the last one to leave the gym and head into a planned press conference – instead taking time to go into the bleachers and celebrate with the students.

“When I get an opportunity to be in a position like that with all of those kids in that one gym, I’m going to take full advantage of it,” he said.


Gold-medal winning

A Special Sponsored Report from the Alabama News Center

By Donna Cope

Chef Brian Duffett, 19

Brian Duffett knows that practice makes perfect.

His continuous efforts to be the best – along with his spot-on culinary skills – recently won Duffett the top honors in the National SkillsUSA culinary competition.

In June, Duffett showcased his skills against 26 other state champions to take home the gold medal and bragging rights as the nation’s top culinary student. He is the only Alabama college student to have ever won the culinary competition. Even more important to Duffett, he won a $50,000 culinary scholarship to the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.

At the tender age of 19, Duffett not only has inner confidence but a solid determination to become one of the nation’s best chefs. While the Jefferson State Community College Culinary student admitted he was well-prepared, Duffett said the 3-hour culinary competition was an experience he’ll never forget.

“I’ve done roasted chicken probably 40 times, so the chicken was no longer fun for me to eat,” said Duffett, who is studying to be savory chef, specializing in the “hot” side of a restaurant. “It was exciting, but nerve-wracking.

“I did a four-course meal: a couscous salad with citrus vinaigrette, lentil soup infused with roasted red bell pepper, braised beef cheek with gnocchetti and the chicken,” he said. “Most people do a basic salad, but I did a compound salad with a cookie – a tuile – on top. I probably practiced the salad nine times.”

Duffett’s classic cookie was “paper-thin,” made with walnuts, lemon zest and apples.

“I like doing the tuile because it gives the salad a crunch and more texture, besides doing the expected croutons,” he said.

If other competitors weren’t nervous about Duffett’s precision execution of the fine-dining experience, they were perhaps a little apprehensive about his sheer size. Towering at 6-ft. 5-in. tall, Duffett easily dominated the kitchen — and the competition.

Duffett, a sophomore at Jefferson State, went from serving as an apprentice chef at Todd English Pub at the Westin Hotel in Birmingham to working as a cook at the city’s new Elyton Hotel. Haller Magee, former executive chef at Satterfield’s Restaurant in Cahaba Heights and Sky Castle, is charge of the kitchens for The Yard, Elyton’s restaurant offering Southern progressive cuisine.

Duffett also serves as an apprentice chef, with his work documented for class during his final semester of college. After he completes the fall semester, Duffett will continue his studies at the Culinary Institute of America.

Gold medal chef’s training began at home

Many young chefs get their start in a professional kitchen. Duffett’s cooking chops were honed at home, under the tutelage of his Dad.

“My Dad always cook at home for us,” Duffett said. “One day he announced that I would go to the store and buy the food for a meal, and each of us – my brother and sister – would cook a meal. I have a meatball sub that I like to fix. We have a family recipe, and it’s the thing my Dad likes to eat.”

In 2015, during his senior year at Hewitt-Trussville High School, Duffett enrolled in the culinary program.

“That’s where I met chef Anna Hallman,” Duffett said. “She really encouraged me in this career, to work hard.” Before taking the culinary teaching position in Trussville, Hallman served as a sous chef for 10 years at Kathy G and Co. in Birmingham.

Hallman advised Duffett to learn at several professional kitchens. He has since served under chef John Rolen at Bottega Restaurant in Birmingham, owned by noted Southern chef Frank Stitt. For nine consecutive years, Stitt’s Highlands Bar and Grill has been nominated for Outstanding Restaurant in America by the James Beard Foundation.

“Going to work in Bottega, I realized I liked a fine-dining type of kitchen,” Duffett said. “My specialty is sautéing, the stovetop is where I like to work. I like to work at a kitchen, which we call staging, that lets me learn and be exposed to new techniques and cuisines. I like to learn the ways of the cook.”

This winter, Duffett looks forward to starting at the Culinary Institute of America, a private college and culinary school that, for more than 70 years, has set the standard for excellence in culinary, baking, and pastry arts education.


Reaching for the high mark of success

Joe Mitchell, program director of the Culinary and Hospitality Institute at Jefferson State Community College, said that Duffett has what it takes to excel as a chef.

“Brian has the skills to be successful,” said Mitchell, who was a chef at the Opryland Hotel and at Mario’s Ristorante in Nashville, Tennessee. “At this point, he will grow and become a professional chef – we expect him to do well.

“You’ve got to be talented, persevere and put the work in,” Mitchell said. “Brian has all of that. You have to strive to be the best.”

Mitchell is thrilled that Duffett won the SkillsUSA competition. While he pulled off the big win, Duffett is the second Jefferson State Community College student in two years to receive honors. In 2016, Crystal Rogers took third place in the national event.

Like other Jefferson State culinary students, Duffett has taken his turn working in the college’s Bistro proVare restaurant at the Hoover-Shelby campus on Valleydale Road. Students operate the Bistro, which is open to the public and offers classic fare.

Fresh grilled salmon with rice pilaf, asparagus and beurre blanc, and mascarpone cheesecake are among the student chefs’ offerings.

“It’s a classroom, but the guests never know,” said Mitchell, who has led Jefferson State’s culinary program for 15 years. “The restaurant is an opportunity for students in advanced class to get real-life experience.”

The Bistro is open for lunch Monday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. during the fall and spring semesters.


Magic City’s future ‘Iron Chef’ to train in the Big Apple

Alabama folks are well accustomed to winning national football championships and other sports titles.

Mitchell sees Duffett’s success as a crowning glory, as well, for the state.

“Brian’s win is a jewel for Jefferson State, for Alabama and for the greater Birmingham area,” said Mitchell, who noted that Jefferson State’s program, whose curriculum was accredited in 1991, is the state’s longest running.

“Some culinary programs are three times as expensive, but when you look at our track record and the partnerships, Jefferson State Community College is such a good value,” he said.

After his big gold-medal win, Duffett knows he has no place to go but up.

“I want to have my own kitchen one day,” Duffett said. “I’m excited about starting the Culinary Institute and seeing what the future holds for me.”


and then this happened…

Written by Carolanne Roberts



Raised in Racine, WI, by doctor parents; undergraduate degree St. Olaf College, MN in psychology; M.H.A. and M.B.A. in health care administration and business management respectively, Washington University, St. Louis.



Working with emotionally disturbed children and teens in Tucson; after grad school: Methodist Hospital System, Houston; Hospital Corporation of America, Nashville (President-Eastern Group); HealthSouth, Birmingham (President and CEO)



“I found my career because of a non-degree class in health care administration I took while I was, in a sense, searching after I’d graduated. It was taught by Professor Johnson who took an interest and motivated me.”



That same professor was “very prescient, in my opinion—he told me the health care industry was moving at a very fast rate toward being more business-oriented than not-for-profit. This was in the ’70s and was huge to consider.”



“I was involved in social movements in the late ’60s and early ’70s and wanted a career where I could make a difference in society, where I could make a difference with my life—and I did what I set out to do.”



“Starting at HealthSouth immediately following the 2003 discovery of fraud; clean-up and repositioning of the company as its first CEO after the headlines.”



“I came with a high degree of confidence that we could be successful in keeping the company from bankruptcy and position it for ultimate growth. I did not believe that the Medicare system or the Department of Justice wanted to see HealthSouth disappear.”



The Grinneys travel for fly fishing in fresh water (Argentina/Kamchatka, Russia, where Melanie landed a 27-inch rainbow trout) and salt water (Bahamas/coastal Yucatan); he shoots quail, pheasant, partridges and more in South Georgia, South Dakota and Oregon. Add golf to the list too.



After leaving HealthSouth in December 2016, next step is role as non-executive chairman of the merging American Medical Response (largest ambulance company in the U.S.) and Air Medical Group Holdings.



Met and married wife Melanie. And fell in love with

Birmingham. “My most positive first impression was the great people here.”



Between jobs just out of college, the future CEO received food stamps for a short period. “It helped me appreciate that hard times can happen to anyone and that we should never take anything for granted.”


FOR THE FIRST TIME “I feel at home. I’ve lived in a lot of other cities and never felt the way I do here. Birmingham is home.”

Cool Spaces . . . . Open work space


Photography by Daniel Breland

For Birmingham general contractor Stewart Perry, environmental responsibility is no longer an option. It’s a mission. That sense of shared responsibility flows from their work projects straight through to their corporate home.

When it was time to relocate Stewart Perry’s corporate campus, they found a special place to build. Located on Overton Road in Birmingham, just off interstate 459, the campus is heavily wooded and home to a lake. The Stewart Perry team was awarded U.S. Green Building Council LEED accreditation, Silver status, for the project. HKW served as architect for the project.

Because of its proximity to coal mines, the building site had seen some abuse. The lake was tested and found to have been polluted in a way that was toxic to the area’s wildlife, so it needed to be rebuilt and restocked. The excavated coal tailings previously dumped there were used to construct a parking area for a nearby church.

Reuse and respect for the land is woven throughout the campus. The doors and ceilings are made from red cypress salvaged from one of the company’s building projects. The oak for the floors and siding came from a demolished tobacco warehouse in Virginia.

The campus is ever evolving. Today, it includes a woodworking barn and year-round vegetable garden. For Stewart Perry, these are constant reminders of who they are, how they think, and what can be accomplished when we respect everything around us.

The garden on the campus, for example, started with a small tomato patch and within a short time had expanded so much that the space needed a gardener. The area is now maintained by Katherine Murray and Matthew Smith of Magic City Gardening. They bring fresh produce into the office a few times a week, and the SP office team takes what they need for their families. Excess produce is shared with others, including customers or local shelters.

The polished concrete floors in the lobby and the quilt woven from willow branches from the property convey a warm welcoming experience. The table was crafted by Stewart Perry employees from maple salvaged from a job, and the stools were fashioned by Thom Moser of Auburn, Maine. Company Founder and President Merrill Stewart shares a special relationship with this craftsman, as he spent a week at their facility as a customer in residence.

In the design process, planners discussed everything from no walls for individual offices to three-sided offices. The resulting design includes 12 offices in the space, all similar and fronted by a large panel of glass to create an open feeling and offering some privacy when needed.

The wood ceilings and doors were fashioned from red bald cypress trees, salvaged from a project in Tampa. The oak flooring was repurposed from a tobacco warehouse in Virginia. Quilts sewn by Birmingham artisans are on rotation in the display case depending on usage and season. The large table in the center is made of cast concrete and is a convenient place for ad hoc meetings throughout the day.

The conference room sits in the middle of the lake with natural light and the reflection of the water among its best features. This, coupled with floor-to-ceiling windows, brings in a wash of light and color. The conference table is a square, so no one sits at the head. It was made by Tennessee artisans, Suzie and Tom Church, from the same red bald cypress as the ceiling. The imperfections in the wood were carefully patched instead of being discarded, and now add to the beauty of this one-of-a-kind piece. The two walnut tables were designed to reflect the work of architect Gordon Russell of Cotswold, England, who was instrumental in putting English craftsmen back to work after the war. The walnut came from a company project in Pennsylvania. Out on the deck, rocking chairs are in place for casual meetings, and the handrails are just the right size to balance a cup of coffee. The entire office, including the deck, has Wi-Fi access, allowing employees to sit outside while conducting business.

The kitchen is one of the most loved spaces in the building. In the warmer months, the garage doors are opened for company-wide cookouts out on the patio, beneath the sail shade. In cooler weather, after-work conversations frequently take place beside the fire pit.

The barn on the property isn’t just for storage. It is also a place for carpenters to experiment and make a variety of smaller millwork projects. A wood-burning stove heats the woodworking area in cooler months. Water silos capture about 40,000 gallons of rainwater annually. The exterior barn quilt was painted by the company’s neighbors, the children of Mitchell’s Place and their families.



Big Daddy Sauces knows how to pour it on

A Special Sponsored Report from the Alabama News Center

By Michael Tomberlin


Dwayne Thompson

His New Orleans roots gave Dwayne Thompson a keen sense for food, but it was his cooking in Alabama that birthed his business.

The Katrina refugee settled in Alabaster, where he catered for friends’ events to earn some extra money. His homemade barbecue sauce started getting noticed and person after person told him he should bottle the stuff.

So, in 2015, Thompson formed Big Daddy Sauces LLC and went through the licensing and other requirements to bring his sauce to market. His signature sauce is Big Daddy Bomb BBQ Sauce.

“It is a definite across-the-board sauce that’s just not stuck at just waiting until you put out your grill,” Thompson said. His family puts it one everything from chicken fingers to fish to pasta.

“I believe that this particular sauce is great,” he said. “I believe, just like Colonel Sanders believed, that I just happened to blend the right herbs and spices at the right blend to make it perfectly robust and very tasty.”

Others seem to agree. Sales of the sauce have taken Big Daddy from a commercial kitchen in Helena to Kyleigh Farm co-packing plant in Chancellor near Enterprise.

While the sauce can be found in Piggly Wiggly and other stores, Thompson still remembers and honors the beginning. 

“We started out at Tannehill Trade Days, so each third week of the month you can find me there because my start was there,” he said.

Thompson would like to offer his own take on mustard-based and white barbecue sauces as well as rubs and spice blends. But he also has hopes of helping others who, like him, are making a great sauce at home with friends telling them they should bottle the stuff.

“My endeavor is to hopefully someday be able to help someone else who might have a sauce and couldn’t get it out there,” he said. “I didn’t just want to have Big Daddy Bomb BBQ and leave it there.”


Big Daddy Sauces, Birmingham

The Maker: Dwayne Thompson

the Product:

Big Daddy Bomb BBQ sauce available in 10-ounce bottles and gallon jugs. Prices vary.

Take home:

Big Daddy Bomb BBQ sauce in a 10-ounce bottle to use on everything from chicken fingers to pulled pork.

the details:

or on Facebook at

328 16th Street North, Birmingham, AL 35203,