Plans for a major Blue Collar Destinations entertainment project that kicked off this summer in Foley have sparked hopes for a tourism boost in south Baldwin County.
A mix of rides reminiscent of a country fair, an interactive Nascar museum, celebrity restaurants, hotels, a Class A RV park and plenty of entertainment in the style of Blue Collar headliners Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy are planned for the development that’s slated to open in 2015, says Jeff Rouzie, Foley’s director of economic development.
Foley, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach — reeling from a loss of tourist dollars after the BP oil spill in 2010 — started searching for something that was more reliable even than the beach for drawing visitors.
Sports tourism was the answer, they decided, and Foley launched plans for a 100, 000-square-foot indoor facility to host sports like volleyball and basketball, coupled with 14 or more all-purpose ball fields.
“But we needed hotel rooms, ” says Rouzie, “and they’re all on the beach.” To support youth sports tourism, he says, the city calculated it would need 300 hotel rooms in town.
Meanwhile, Blue Collar Destinations wanted a suitable beach venue. First the company looked at The Wharf, which was for sale at the time, but they didn’t complete a deal.
Foley heard about the developers’ interest and contacted them, but learned that the company preferred remodeling existing facilities, rather than greenfield projects, because it tapped into more accessible funding. But city officials met with developers and began talking anyway.
Foley had ATRIP funding for roads, which would improve access; Foley needed a flood control facility and had its eye on land for a $7 million retention pond. The Blue Collar group wanted the same property, where the water from a retention pond would be a big plus.
Blue Collar closed on 528 acres in late spring.
The development team — including singer Tony Orlando, developer Glen Bilbo and Bill Killian, owner of Killco Construction, a Missouri firm that built much of Branson Landing — are ready to start site work, and “the city of Foley is very excited to be able to follow through with the sports adjacent to major hotels, ” says Rouzie.
The project will be “a cross between Branson and Sevierville, but it’s something our area lacks. We’ve got beaches and retail, but we don’t have the entertainment element. That’s what these developers saw, as well.”
And it allows Foley to pursue its sports tourism plans.
“We want to be the Number One destination for youth sports tourism in the country, ” says Rouzie, “to diversify from the beach and build year-round traffic with good family stuff.”
This project, he believes, will help it happen.
Text by Nedra Bloom