- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 26, 2016

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - A small but unspecified portion of Birmingham-owned A.G. Gaston Motel will be deeded over to the United States for the establishment of a national park.

The Birmingham City Council Tuesday approved an ordinance allowing Mayor William Bell to represent the city and enter into an agreement with the U.S. Department of the Interior and National Park Service for the preservation of the A.G. Gaston Motel.

Under this agreement, a small portion of the 0.89-acre motel parcel, located at 1510 5th Ave. North, will be deeded over to the federal government.

The ordinance was approved without discussion.

According to the Birmingham Mayor’s Office, the property deeded over to the federal government can be as little as 20 feet. The National Park Service requires ownership of, at least, a small portion of the project to allow for federal funding.

The vote occurred two days before a public meeting to allow community members to share comments on the plan for designating the Civil Rights Historic District a national park.

The national park would include: the 16th Street Baptist Church, Bethel Baptist Church, A.G. Gaston Motel, Kelly Ingram Park and Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. It calls for restoring the Gaston Motel to what it looked like during the Civil Rights Movement.

A portion of the motel will be used as archival space for the Civil Rights Institute. The development will also include classrooms, restaurant and retail space.

The national park designation will bring federal funding, park rangers, technical assistance and marketing, Bell said.

The city set aside $10 million for preservation and restoration of the motel. It’s unclear how much money the federal government will contribute to the project.

The public meeting, hosted by the city and U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, is set for Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at 16th Street Baptist Church at 1530 6th Ave. North. Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell and National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis will be in attendance.

“The goal of this event is to bring together key stakeholders from the Obama Administration, city officials, and community leaders, to discuss the importance of incorporating Birmingham’s historic civil rights sites into the National Park Service System,” Sewell said in a meeting announcement. “With this designation, our historic preservation efforts in Birmingham will be enhanced, greater economic revitalization will occur, and it will forever cement the pivotal role Birmingham played in the Civil Rights Movement.”

President Barack Obama is expected to sign a proclamation designating the Civil Rights Historic District before he leaves office.

Bell said the city began looking four or five years ago into restoring the Gaston Motel due to its historical significance. The motel has been empty for a number of years and has fallen into disrepair.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation named the A.G. Gaston Motel one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2015 and a National Treasure in February of this year.

Since that time, the National Trust, in partnership with the city and Sewell, has advocated for the park designation and collected 8,800 petition signatures, the organization said.

According to the National Trust, A.G. Gaston was an entrepreneur in banking, radio and real estate. His motel was built in 1954 and served as the epicenter of Birmingham’s civil rights protests and demonstrations.

In the spring of 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. stayed in room 30 of the motel, which served as a “war room” for the Civil Right Movement’s top leaders.

On May 10, 1963, the press conference announcing an agreement with white business leaders and city officials was held in the Gaston’s courtyard. In response to the agreement, a pair of bombs exploded near King’s room two days later.

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Information from: The Birmingham News, https://www.al.com/birminghamnews

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