About a year ago, Patrick Lawler decided it was time to move home.
The Guntersville native had been in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in Texas in 1984, forging a career in real estate development in one of the largest markets in the country.
But a decade ago, Lawler started visiting friends in his hometown, developing properties such as the Reserve at Lake Guntersville, the Landing at Snug Harbor and the Creek Path residential area.
“I just looked around and saw a lot of opportunity,” says Lawler, president and CEO of P. Lawler Enterprises. “And a year ago last May, my family moved back here and just went all-in on North Alabama.”
That’s about the time that Lawler’s latest venture, the more than $50 million development City Harbor, opened, bringing lodging, food, drinks, retail and more to its prime spot on Lake Guntersville.
The development has become a focal point in Guntersville, is already financial-ly successful, and there are more North Alabama developments on the way, Lawler says.
“Five years ago, if you had asked if I would ever be back, I would have said, ‘No,’” Lawler says. “Not because I didn’t love it. I just didn’t think there would be enough opportunities here. But as I started doing more and more and more here, I’m like, ‘Wow!’ It’s absolutely great to be home.”
A lot has changed in Guntersville since Lawler left a couple of years after “barely graduating” from high school. “It was a challenge,” he says with a chuckle.
But he started an automobile buying and selling business while he was in school, continuing to operate it while he built his real estate career in Texas.
“I started buying property out there when I was in my early 20s,” Lawler says. “It was baby steps, and over time it just kept growing.”
Now, he’s growing his business in Guntersville, part of a “tremendous opportunity fueled by Huntsville’s growth.”
Once an 88-room under-construction Home 2 Suites by Hilton is completed, City Harbor will be 134,000 square feet of restaurants, retail and hospitality. The development includes a bar on the boardwalk, Levi’s on the Lake, that’s named after Lawler’s grandson.
“It’s been just insanely successful,” Lawler says.
He’s referring specifically to Levi’s, but that also applies to City Harbor itself, which not only draws tourists who come to Guntersville for fishing and other recreational activities, but locals as well.
“If you’re here on the weekend and you look at the tags, there are people from all over, not just the county we live in,” Lawler says. “They’re coming from all over the place.”
Part of it is City Harbor’s prime location. “When you’re coming into Guntersville, when you come over the bridge, it’s there, like on the 50-yard-line in a football stadium,” Lawler says. “It’s at the absolute best spot.”
But the main draw is Guntersville itself, Lawler says.
“Everybody talks about the fishing, which is great, but there’s a lot of opportunity here,” he says. “I’ve been a lot of places, and this is one of the prettiest places in America. I really believe that.”
Lawler plans similar waterfront developments in other Alabama cities. Decatur’s Ingalls Harbor is up next, with other as yet undisclosed locations to follow.
“It has got to be on the waterfront or I’m not interested,” Lawler says. “I’m just continuing to search for opportunities.”
Alec Harvey is executive editor of Business Alabama, working from the Birmingham office. Jeff White is a Huntsville-based freelance contributor.
This article appears in the November 2023 issue of Business Alabama.