Barber responds to my Google adventure

Posted by Iannucci | 3/27/2009 | 17 comments »
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The following comments were published over at by a confirmed representative of Barber Companies, providing further clarification on the information used in my previous post about the history of Barber Motorsports Park.


Most of your comments are wrong. I know, because I was there.

You are totally wrong in saying that “the city front[ed] the $55 million to build the track.” George Barber financed the $50+ million construction of the Barber Museum and Barber Park by himself. The State of Alabama built a road to the site and Jefferson County helped finance a lake needed for stormwater control. The public incentives for this 501(c)3 non-profit foundation were only a few percent of Mr. Barber’s investment. This is in an era when for-profit companies typically receive major incentives for projects.

The City of Birmingham leased the land to the Barber Museum Foundation in 2000 for $1/year, with an option to buy it. This land was valued at $1 million in 1999. In 2007, Barber purchased this land from the City of Birmingham for $4.3 million – a 430% profit for the City in eight years. Not a bad deal for the City.

Regarding the Sears building, Mr. Barber bought this building after it had sat empty for five years. It was in a very difficult area of downtown. The Mayor wanted something done with it. We worked very hard to lease it, but in the non-government world, one can’t compel businesses to locate in places they do not want to locate. When the MotoGP opportunity came along, it was not possible to do the deal without public help. The State of Alabama and other public entities were supportive, but the Mayor of Birmingham wanted us to give him the Sears building, in return for his support. We declined. We kept working on the deal we had been working on for 18 months at that time, which resulted in the renovation of the building into the beautiful Innovation Depot. See

Regarding our not doing the MotoGP and World Superbike deals: Racing history is full of race series and venues that have collapsed because they lost control of costs and did bad deals. We’re not going to do that. We will do deals for races and motorsports events when it is good for the sport, good for the series and good for the Barber Motorsports Park.

Regarding our keeping contractual promises, Mr. Barber’s core business, the business that has allowed him to contribute tens of millions to the Barber Museum Foundation, is commercial real estate, which is based on leases and contracts.

Regarding our conflicts with the Mayor of Birmingham, the citizens of Birmingham made an evaluation of this mayor’s performance when he ran for re-election in 2007 and received only 8% of the vote.

The non-profit Barber Museum and Barber Park is the largest philanthropic undertaking by an individual in the history of the State of Alabama. It cost government almost nothing, yet it annually generates many millions in tax revenue for the betterment of Birmingham and Alabama.

I won’t question your motives for what you wrote. I will simply say that your research was poor.

Don Erwin
Vice President, Corporate Development
The Barber Companies


  1. Anonymous // March 27, 2009 9:01 AM  

    I have posted comments @ PD & here saying Don should have contacted you first (as opposed to jamming the "Comments" page).

    His retort to you would have looked more professional Almost like other forms of media would have received a different style of defense?

    I was proved correct... you did provide his response with a headline & its own entry. :) :)

  2. pressdog // March 27, 2009 9:21 AM  

    Equal time. That's how it works. I'm glad he responded so we could hear and consider his points.

  3. Johnny // March 27, 2009 9:25 AM  

    The glossing over of the "deals fall through in the racing world all the time" in reference to WSBK and MotoGP is a deliberate understatement of how BMP handled and communicated those circumstances.

  4. The American Mutt // March 27, 2009 9:56 AM  

    No offense Jeff, and commentors, but this was kind of a burn. The notion that the press didn't do it's job and present the "facts" you found could simply be that they did do their job, and knew this before you published your blog. Furthermore, I tend to think your doing the article in the first place indicates a bias against adding another road race. You found the info you wanted to make Barber look bad, and didn't double check. Just sayin'. Don't take offense. I don't mean to denigrate in anyway, I'm just saying even when I read your post it sounded one sided. I also wondered what level of research you'd put into the owner of a new oval were one to be put in. I don't recall a thorough examination of how Rusty Wallace financed Iowa when that race was added. I'm rambling and not getting across my point so I guess I'll stop because this sounds much more like an attack than it's supposed to be--sorry.

    A race there would still probably be boring without an additional thirty feet added to the width of the track though.

  5. Iannucci // March 27, 2009 10:12 AM  


    I made no secret of my concern about the "single groove" comment from Dixon, which was acknowledged by a few other drivers. But that wasn't the impetus for the post.

    If you run some searches regarding BMP you'll see there are a lot of upset Bike fans. I read some of their posts, explored some of the links, looked a little further on my own, and the result is what you see.

    As a fan, I just don't want to see what happened in those situations happen to the IRL, whether there is or isn't an event at BMP. As evidence, note that the conclusion of my original post suggested a course of action towards holding an event there.

  6. Anonymous // March 27, 2009 10:18 AM  

    why can't we just make barber a permanent test track...
    10,000 ppl preseason for a test.
    have versus do a preseason show there that would encourage teams/sponsors to show up and build on area interest. If it keeps up and they build up the track give them a race. If not you end up with an awesome test track that cares. Sounds like a win-win for all.
    now we just need pocono to resurface

  7. The American Mutt // March 27, 2009 10:59 AM  


    Again my post sounded much harsher than I intended. So--to restate--and this goes back to my comment in the previous Barber post. Journalists and bloggers, for the most part, seem to only be adversarial when it fits their agenda, and your original post struck me as that.

    However, your clarification belays that point, so it's now moot. I concur, but I'd like to add that while a lot of bike fans may have been pissed, you're still ultimately looking at one point of view. Imagine drawing a basis for an argument against Iowa based on the comments of Champcarfanatics.

    Again, I'd like to stress that I was attacking no one in particular. As P-Dog so succintly put it--"equal time. That's how it works."

    As you may have noticed. I like playing devils advocate--it's a trait I use to do my best to be pragmatic--except when it comes to Dixon, and I won't go into that. I've detailed my complaints far and wide in this comment section.

  8. The American Mutt // March 27, 2009 11:01 AM  

    On a completely unrelated note--am I the only one who'd rather see RHR in a vision car than at HVM? I think he'd be exactly what the team needs to pull it into winners circle. They're SO VERY CLOSE. Plus it'd give them a good road/street driver, which could only help Ed, who for the life of me I don't know why, but I've grown quite fond of. I think it's because Menards is back in Indy and on his car.

  9. Anonymous // March 27, 2009 12:00 PM  

    Mutt: I've read both of your posts & still have to say you are mixing apples & oranges.

    ESPN (along with many media outlets) were filing articles that was full of happy-happy joy-joy.

    Yes, they mentioned drivers crits of the track, but the overwhelming theme of their articles were (1) BMP's great!!! (2)Birmingham AL was welcoming. (3) WTF is up with the IRL not signing a deal with BMP?

    Jeff just knew of the WSBK issues... The BMP vs. Laguna getting the Moto GP race might be speculation, but it was an angle of the story Jeff covered via Google.... the "pro scribes" DID NOT!!!

  10. Anonymous // March 27, 2009 12:02 PM  

    Mutt: BTW... I agree with you on Vision (see the RHR has a deal post)

  11. Iannucci // March 27, 2009 12:03 PM  

    Point of clarification - the ESPN piece linked was actually a Blog entry and not a actual news item. I don't know how much of a difference that makes but I wanted to make that clear.

    I had a differing opinion with the author based on what I read, but in no way did I mean to portray his words as false or inaccurate.

  12. The American Mutt // March 27, 2009 12:24 PM  


    "Yes, they mentioned drivers crits of the track, but the overwhelming theme of their articles were (1) BMP's great!!! (2)Birmingham AL was welcoming. (3) WTF is up with the IRL not signing a deal with BMP?"

    I don't understand how this criticizes my point that the press isn't as adversarial as I think they should be. True, in many instances (Helios trial) their job is merely to convey the facts as presented, and to an extent that applies to their coverage of BMP. That's as it should be, just as Jeffs post (which at the time seemed to be filling out an agenda, though thanks to stellar clarification I no longer view it as such) fulfilled this role as well. I will give him props for at least being adversarial (I really like that word for some reason) in regards to BMP. He seemed the only party interested in doing so.

    On a somewhat related note, anyone know if Rusty received tax money to help build Iowa?

    On another somewhat related note. Why the Eff aren't they talking about adding any more ovals? Seems to me that if you want a balance you should be looking at all your options.

    Another note: if adding BMP takes away from the possibility that they'll add Cleveland then Eff it. It's frankly criminal that there isn't even talk of getting Cleveland on the schedule.

    OH, and AZ, I'm willing to believe the guy who works for, and clarified, the whole BMP thing simply didn't know the proper way to reply in blogs. It's still a relatively new medium.

  13. Anonymous // March 27, 2009 9:22 PM  

    Bring back Michigan! We (the fans) want a race at MIS!

  14. vitorfan // March 28, 2009 12:32 AM  

    I have to agree. MIS is an awesome track. Even though I no longer live in MI, it was an a great race to see live.

  15. Dale Nixon // March 28, 2009 7:03 AM  

    [i]The non-profit Barber Museum and Barber Park is the largest philanthropic undertaking by an individual in the history of the State of Alabama. It cost government almost nothing, yet it annually generates many millions in tax revenue for the betterment of Birmingham and Alabama.[/i]

    what constitutes "almost nothing" and exactly how much tax revenue does a non-profit like this generate?

    I know Yale University owns a great deal of the city of New Haven, but their property tax as a non-profit is donated at their own discretion and not subject to the same taxes the rest of businesses in the city pay. Same with Harvard and Cambridge, Dartmouth and Hanover NH, etc.

    also, I'm not sure the My Name is IRL article was intended to be negative, just cautionary as another "sure thing" in the world of motorsports (ask Gene Simmons how that Turks and Caicos Grand Prix is coming along)

  16. Anonymous // March 29, 2009 8:38 AM  

    "If you run some searches regarding BMP you'll see there are a lot of upset Bike fans."

    Bike fans, like Indycar/open wheel fans, get upset over everything.

  17. AZZO45 // March 29, 2009 1:51 PM  

    Hey Anonymous:

    Ever heard of the expression "The Customer is ALWAYS Right..." ???

    If some one is B*TCHIN' & MOANIN'... some might not come back & spend their $$$.