The Birmingham City Council unanimously voted on Tuesday to enter a $4.5 million funding agreement with PNC Bank to provide for improvements to the historic baseball stadium Rickwood Field.

However, a source in the Alabama Legislature suggested the contract could potentially conflict with a new law prohibiting governmental entities in the state from entering into contracts with companies that use ideological metrics to discriminate in business practices.

PNC is based in Pittsburgh but maintains a significant presence in Birmingham. It is one of the largest banks in the United States. Like many other large banks, it continues to defend controversial environmental, social, governance (ESG) investing.

ESG evaluates how a corporation aligns itself with social goals beyond earning a profit for its shareholders. These goals often pertain to environmental sustainability, advocacy for specific social movements and commitment to "diversity, equity and inclusion" (DEI).

Organizations, such as MSCI, award ESG scores to corporations supposedly based on their adherence to ESG values. Some large asset management groups and banks use ESG ratings to choose where to direct capital.

Conservative critics have called ESG investing a "wokeness report card" and compared it to China's social credit score system

According to Investopedia, ESG investing is often referred to as sustainable investing, responsible investing, impact investing or socially responsible investing. PNC also admits these terms refer to the same thing.

"PNC's commitment to corporate responsibility is demonstrated by its [ESG] efforts – helping to eliminate systemic racism, the economic empowerment of Black and low- to moderate-income (LMI) communities, support for quality early childhood education and financing the transition to a Net Zero greenhouse gas economy," reads a December 2021 post on PNC's website. "Making progress in these areas requires deep integration of ESG into business practices, and PNC has been able to achieve this by serving clients through its Sustainable Finance Practice."

According to another page on PNC's website, the bank incorporates "aspects of sustainable finance into existing products, adhering to generally accepted best practices."

In January, PNC announced its commitment to facilitate $30 billion in ESG investments over the next five years. 

1819 News reached out to the bank on Tuesday to ask if individuals who invest money through PNC have a choice as to whether the bank uses ESG criteria to choose where to direct their money, but did not receive a response. 

Spurred by the outrage surrounding the widespread use of ESG investing, Gov. Kay Ivey signed a law last spring prohibiting government entities from requiring businesses to engage in economic boycotts and barring companies that engage in economic boycotts to further social or political agendas from entering into contracts with the state. 

According to Alabama Code Title 11, a "governmental entity" is "Any incorporated municipality, any county, and any department, agency, board, or commission of any municipality or county, municipal or county public corporations, and any such instrumentality or instrumentalities acting jointly."

Under the new funding agreement, the City of Birmingham will pay the principal and interest on a revenue bond not exceeding $4.5 million. The city will then use the bond to pay for capital improvements to Rickwood. 

1819 News contacted a source close to the Alabama Legislature on Tuesday afternoon to ask if the new law pertains to local and state governments. The source chose not to comment but confirmed the law applies to local governments.

Rickwood Field is the oldest professional baseball field in the United States. It is the former home field of the Birmingham Black Barons, a Negro League baseball team that existed from 1920 to 1960, and the Birmingham Barons, Birmingham's Minor League Baseball team, which now plays at Regions Field. Currently, the Barons are an affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.

In July, Major League Baseball (MLB) announced a special regular season matchup between the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals at Rickwood on June 20, 2024. The game will commemorate the Negro Leagues and baseball legend Willie Mays, who joined the Black Barons in 1948 and led the team to the Negro World Series. 

Two days before the Major League game, the Barons will face the Montgomery Biscuits in a Minor League matchup. 

In August, the Birmingham City Council approved $150,000 in annual funding to maintain the field over the next three years. 

According to reports, workers will renovate the playing surface, walls and dugouts. They will also install new lights, a broadcast compound, media rooms and batting tunnels and plant new sod next spring. 

The field will officially close for construction on October 15, and workers will begin to make improvements to the field later that month. 

Councilwoman Carol Clarke, whose district includes Rickwood Field, suggested that inflation more than doubled the cost of construction necessary to ready the stadium for the game. Nevertheless, she said she hopes the investment the council already approved will pay for the debt service.

The new funding agreement passed unanimously. The council also unanimously passed a license agreement with the MLB for the exclusive use of Rickwood Field from May 1 to July 14, 2024.

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