Shelby said he did not seek a ruling from the Senate Ethics Committee on whether his earmarks presented a conflict.
“I don’t need one. I’m not a beneficiary of that. If I am, it is so remote, it’s incidental,” he said. “Anything they do is not going to help my property. I fix my own property.”
Shelby bought the building in 1989 for $175,000 and spent an additional $180,000 on renovations, including a new sidewalk, his spokesman said.
Once the renewal plan was underway, the senator spent $116,000 in 2006 to purchase land next to his building and then paved and fenced it for a parking lot. He spent about $358,000 on that and other renovations, a spokesman said.
Shelby said he bought the parking lot because he did not want employees and customers at his building using the new public garage. “That was part of the urban renewal for the merchants,” he said. “I didn’t want my people parking there.”
In 2006, he valued his office building at between $250,001 and $500,000. He valued the property between $500,001 and $1 million on his 2010 financial disclosure form. That year, he reported earning up to $100,000 in rental income from the building and reported receiving $100,001 to $1 million in income from his title company.
Shelby said his building’s value has increased because of the money he has spent on the property. “I put a lot of money into it,” he said.
Locally, the project was controversial because it forced the removal of several businesses.
Consultants in 2004 logged and photographed, block by block and building by building, the condition of more than 100 structures in a 16-block area. They classified Shelby’s block as one of the three with the most blight. Of 17 buildings on Shelby’s block, the report said, all needed moderate to major repairs or were dilapidated — except the senator’s.
The next year, when the city unveiled the urban-renewal plan, Shelby’s block was not among those to be bought out or condemned and razed.
“How did that block manage to stay there when our block was taken?” asked Ed Barton, whose 70-year-old family business, Tuscaloosa Furniture, was forced out to make way for the parking garage. “I felt like it could have been done more fairly for the people that had invested their lives downtown.”
Shelby said he was not involved in the decisions about which buildings to condemn. He said he thinks part of the reason city officials left his block was because the Baptist church owns much of it and had talked of revitalizing it privately.
In interviews, top city officials said the decision was strategic on which buildings to clear and which ones to leave. Shelby’s block sat just outside the area that presented the best locations for the parking garage, the park and the new federal courthouse.
City officials said the renewal plan included public meetings and required final City Council approval. Officials said they met or spoke with Shelby occasionally to discuss the progress, but he did not direct planning.
“It wasn’t like Senator Shelby said, ‘I want this here, here and here,’ ” City Clerk Tracy Croom said. “The improvements that we have made to the downtown area are not for Senator Shelby. They are for the 90,000 residents of Tuscaloosa.”
Barton said his family learned from a newspaper report that the renewal project jeopardized their location, which included two buildings they leased and one they owned. They were forced to close their 125,000 square feet of furniture showroom space in 2006.
“We had probably spent more hours there at that building, my parents had, during the course of the past 30 or 40 years on the planet than we ever spent home or anywhere else,” Barton said. “So that was home to us. We didn’t want to leave home, but we didn’t have a choice.”
Researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this article.