The stately Greek Revival mansion atop University Boulevard and Queen City Avenue is an unofficial demarcation line.

Go west, and you are immediately in downtown Tuscaloosa. Go east, and you are on "the strip," the famous entertainment district frequented by University of Alabama students and visitors.

The University Club has been closed since the COVID pandemic of 2020, three years sitting unused. Now, it is undergoing a $17 million makeover. It is slated for reopening in May 2024, the 80th anniversary of its acquisition by the University of Alabama. It will also be the 190th anniversary of the building.

A steamship operator of the Tuscaloosa-to-Mobile river route built it. Captain James Dearing built it in 1834 and lived there until his death.

It was the Alabama Governor's mansion, as Tuscaloosa was the state capital from 1828 to 1848. It is still locally called "the Governor's Mansion" to this day. Gov. Arthur Bagby lived there during his term, 1837-1841. Bagby left for the U.S. Senate and then as Minister to Russia.

Historic marker. Alabama News
Photo: University of Alabama

It was then a private residence until 1944, when it was acquired by the University of Alabama. UA has used it as a venue for faculty, alumni and visitor events. It also had paid members with dining privileges.

The newest chapter in the history of the mansion will begin in mid-2024. There will be multiple uses of the renovated facility:

  • The hospitality management degree program at UA will use it as a training ground for students to get hands-on experience. Graduates of the program will have on-the-job references on their resumes.

  • A membership club will be operated by INVITED, the largest operator of private membership clubs with 202 clubs across the United States.

  • It will serve as a staging area for members going to football games at Bryant-Denny Stadium, with parking on-site and a trolley shuffling members back and forth. Lunch and tailgate to-go boxes will be available. Not to mention a nice place to sit and restrooms. A place for members to headquarter on game day. "Meet us at the University Club."

"We're bringing back to life The University Club," Dr. Stuart Bell, president of the University of Alabama, said.

Dr. Bell is an engineer by education and academics. He was once head of the Mechanical Engineering Department at Alabama. Don't you know that Dr. Bell is poring over the details of the $17 million in renovations to the 180-year-old treasure?

Jim Zeigler is a former Alabama Public Service Commissioner and State Auditor. You can reach him for comments at [email protected].

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