Alabama’s Crown Jewel Opens at the Gulf

Designed with respect to Mother Nature, the Lodge at Gulf State Park is built to be environmentally friendly, energy positive and strong in the face of wind and waves.

With much fanfare, the $140 million Lodge at Gulf State Park opened with an accompanying 350-room Hilton Hotel, replacing the original Lodge built in 1974 and destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

Financed in large part by Alabama’s earliest settlements from the BP oil spill through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process, the lodge and conference center uses sustainable and resilient materials. With concrete and a dense, hardened material that cuts and paints like natural wood, the facility is strong enough to withstand hurricane-force winds and is well above flood level, earning the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety’s first-ever FORTIFIED Commercial™ Hurricane Bronze Level.

Nestled in the 6,150-acre state park in Gulf Shores, the Lodge offers 40,000 square feet of conference center space, including a 12,160-square-foot ballroom with a 7,100-square-foot terrace. The banquet hall can serve 1,200 people banquet-style or 2,500 in buffet dining. Its banquet kitchen will use sustainably sourced food from seven Southern states to ensure freshness, minimize transport and help local farmers.

Sustainability is integrated throughout the Lodge, from automatic shut-off faucets and low energy lighting to recycling and filtered exterior lighting to minimize light pollution and impact on the local fauna.

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As part of a three-phase project made up by the Lodge, the Interpretive Center and the Learning Campus, the Gulf State Park project is also in the process of earning the LEED Gold, SITES Platinum and Living Building Challenge certificates.

Leon Barkan, senior vice president, program/construction management for Volkert Inc., says, “The project was incredibly important to us.” Volkert designed the original lodge back in the 1970s and served as construction manager on the newest Lodge, Interpretive Center and Learning Campus. “We were going to do everything in our power to understand our client’s goals and to achieve those goals,” he says.

Barkan says that the Living Building Challenge was one of the tougher aspects of the project because to be recognized, the structure — in this case the Interpretive Center which opened in late May — must be a “net positive” facility, meaning it must produce its own power, water and waste treatment facilities and give back to the energy grid. In addition, every product used within the facilities must be environmentally friendly.

Barkan added that all of the companies involved in the design and construction of the project worked extremely well together to make the project a success.

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