We met up at a sidewalk table at Red Cat in Pepper Place for this issue’s conversation.
After a 35-year career with the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce and its successor organization, the Birmingham Business Alliance, Tom Cosby took on a new challenge in 2013 to restore the vaudeville-era Lyric Theatre to its former place as the premier live performance theater in the city.
More than $7 million was raised in a mere nine months under the auspices of Birmingham Landmarks, Inc. (owner of both The Alabama and The Lyric) to restore the theatre to its 1920s-era grandeur. The Lyric offers a wider stage and closer audience—best suited for performing arts such as concerts, the symphony, ballet, opera, and theatre. A restored Lyric Theatre, once the finest performing arts theatre in the city, has become that once again with top-name artists coming to town to perform in the old Vaudeville house.
For Cosby, the effort to restore The Lyric was in many ways a culmination of a life’s work of pulling out all the stops for Birmingham. From bringing back Rickwood Field, the nation’s oldest ballpark, to Vulcan’s restoration to extending the official Appalachian Trail to near Birmingham, Cosby has been the fundraising guru behind all of these efforts, operating with the sure belief that this city deserves the best.
Jeff Rodgers is president of AGC Alabama Construction Industry Services, Inc., which manages CompTRUST AGC, the self-insured workers compensation program for the members of the Alabama Associated General Contractors.
Founded in 1982, CompTRUST AGC has assets in excess of $80 million and carries a rating with A.M. Best. Designed by contractors for contractors, CompTRUST AGC provides its fund members with financial strength as well as the resources needed to manage their risk while positively impacting their bottom line.
What is your biggest opportunity?
Rodgers: I think the biggest opportunity for CompTRUST is to develop other lines of products and services that manage our members’ risk and ultimately impact our members’ bottom line by making our contractors more profitable and competitive.
Cosby: For 25 years, I’ve been involved with the dream of bringing the world famous Appalachian Trail to Alabama. Perhaps our time has finally come. There is now an active Alabama Trails Commission that has prioritized Alabama’s famed Pinhoti Trail as the No. 1 trail in Alabama along with the goal of connecting to the Appalachian Trail with Flagg Mountain, just outside Sylacauga. There is growing support now for Flagg Mountain to be designated as the Appalachians’ southernmost mountain and therefore rightful gateway to the Appalachian Trail. My job will be to raise money to build National Park worthy trail signs, bridges, and shelters all along the Pinhoti.
What’s your biggest challenge?
Rodgers: The biggest challenge we face is the evolving workforce. The construction industry is challenged with an aging workforce. AGC and many of its members are investing a lot of time and money in attracting new employees to the industry. Our focus should be on training this new workforce to work in a professional, safe, and efficient manner.
Cosby: As a professional fundraiser, I can tell you that there is no end to great pro-Birmingham projects that desperately need volunteer fundraisers to step up and help out.
Personally, my biggest challenge is not to commit to too many projects. In my one non-volunteer “real” fundraising job with Birmingham Landmarks, they are presently counting on me raising the necessary $503,000 needed to replace the Alabama Theatre’s 1953 air conditioning system.
Meanwhile, I’m highly involved with Rickwood Field and the Veterans Day Parade and nibbling at the edges of many other wonderful fundraising projects like the exciting (and critically important) return of UAB football and the Sidewalk Moving Picture festival project to build an arthouse cinema in downtown Birmingham.