Spotlight on Baldwin County: Community Development

Baldwin County and its communities are improving downtown areas, developing parks and supporting local schools

A rendering of the Baldwin Preparatory Academy, currently under construction.

Baldwin County

The county’s population has grown substantially, and projects underway reflect that. The Baldwin County Commission is partnering with the cities of Silverhill, Summerdale and Loxley, along with the Perdido Bay Water district, on water infrastructure projects, says Roger Rendleman, county administrator. The projects will use $4.1 million in American Rescue Plan funds.

The county also is using ARPA and county funds for more than half a dozen stormwater projects totaling more than $8 million, he says.

Baldwin County also is spending $96.5 million on its justice system — expanding the detention center, enhancing security, adding space for three new judges and adding a new district attorney’s building.

The county also is using $43 million in grants for projects ranging from storm preparedness to infrastructure rehab to housing rehabilitation, Rendleman says.

The Baldwin County School System, which has 32,000 students, is getting ready to open the Baldwin Preparatory Academy, Alabama’s first stand-alone technical high school. The school in Loxley will be open to students from throughout the district. Students will be able to earn high school and college credits at the same time, and some may be able to graduate from high school with an associate degree or certification, officials say. The curriculum will be a blended learning platform that will be project-based and career-related.

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Programs developed and led by business and industry stakeholders will emphasize advanced manufacturing, automotive engine repair, diesel repair, construction, welding, aviation, HVAC, mechatronics engineering, health sciences, cybersecurity, graphic design, culinary arts, cosmetology, a teacher cadet academy and more. The $100 million academy also will offer business and industry partnerships for internships, cooperatives and apprenticeships to build a strong pipeline of talent for the future.

Officials plan a facility where students are encouraged to collaborate and work together in teams to solve issues commonly found in today’s business and industry settings. Day-to-day operations will simulate a workplace with students required to clock-in, attend team meetings, conduct business/safety meetings, wear industry recognized uniforms and work toward industry credentials.

College and adult courses will be offered in the evenings, and industry partners can use facilities to train employees.

The system, the fastest growing in the state, has several capital projects to meet demand. “Our capital projects are huge and monumental,” says Eddie Tyler, superintendent. “Never in our school system’s existence have we had this much under way in our history. I’ve been in the system 41 years and I have never seen anything like this.”

While the new technical school will be paid for with a long-term bond, the system has numerous other projects, from additions to renovations, that are being paid for with the system’s “Pay as You Go” program that uses cash and short-term loans rather than long-term bonds and new taxes.

The district has already built and paid for four new schools, a cost of $350 million, and anticipates three more schools plus a ninth-grade academy and upgrades of athletic and music facilities.

“We work hard to have adequate numbers of teachers, small classes, and going over and above on existing requirements,” says John Wilson, the district’s CSFO who developed the program. “We pay for 250 more teachers than the state pays for. We also have at least one school resource officer in each school.”

Bay Minette

Bay Minette, the county seat, serves as the northern gateway to the gulf. Residents and visitors enjoy small-town living, with easy access to entertainment, outdoor recreation, higher education and a wide range of employment opportunities.

The city, already home to many major industries, is adding another as Novelis is constructing its multi-billion-dollar facility at the South Alabama Mega Site. “It is changing the face of Bay Minette and North Baldwin County dramatically,” says Mayor Robert Wills. “Bay Minette is growing, and our city government is aggressively pursuing new businesses and industries as well as promoting residential development.”

Bay Minette is located near the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, a haven for ecotourism offering hunting, fishing, kayaking and boating.

The city also is home to multiple baseball and softball fields, tennis, basketball, pickleball and sand volleyball courts, and more than a dozen parks and playgrounds, as well as a splash pad water park, dog park, municipal pool, arena and golf course.

Bay Minette Municipal Airport is a city-owned public-use airport with a refurbished runway, charters, 30 T-hangars and more.

“Our best asset is our people,” Wills says. “You would be hard-pressed to find any friendlier, sincere or more down-home folks than right here in Bay Minette.”


Daphne is a growing city with projects in progress to handle growth and improve amenities.

The city has completed the first phase of its Bayfront Park improvement project, adding parking and undergrounding utilities. Phase two, to be complete in 2027, will include a 2,500-seat green space amphitheater made possible by a $7.2 million grant from the state, and another parking lot. Future plans include a pier extension and boardwalk that connects the park to the D’Olive Bay Boat Launch.

The city also is building a new animal shelter, set to open later this year.

Several road projects are underway, from repaving to intersection improvements.


The city has been busy with new projects and infrastructure improvements, and handling growth is a priority.

Mayor Sherry Sullivan notes that 3.5 miles of road resurfacing, a new water well and line, draining improvements and Gaston Plaza downtown have been completed.

The city also finished pickleball courts at Quail Creek, added four new baseball fields at Volanta Park, opened a Fairhope Police Department substation and installed an EV super charging station. It also opened an 18-hole disc golf course at Colony Nature Park and new equipment for its sanitation and utilities.

In 2023, 2,289 building permits were issued with a value topping $294 million.

More improvements are coming this year. Those include $2.3 million in resurfacing and drainage, along with $3 million in sidewalks and a roundabout at Veterans Drive and Triangle Drive.

The city plans to spend $6.1 million on its parks, including development of the Fly Creek Nature Preserve with passive parks and an outdoor classroom; new pickleball and tennis courts at Mike Ford Tennis Center, a master plan for recreation property at Highway 13 and a regulation track at Founders Park.

Other projects include renovating the former K-1 Center for the Hatch Fairhope, a business resource hub for technology-based entrepreneurs in the county. Also planned are an Arts Alley and renovating the Fairhope Public Library.

A rendering of the City of Foley public works building under construction.


The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama listed the city of Foley as the fastest-growing city in the Mobile Bay area. The city population increased 14.47% between 2020 and 2022. Foley’s population is now about 25,000.

Mayor Ralph Hellmich says services are expanding as Foley grows. “That challenge with growth that we have as the leaders of Foley is to address growth, get good growth, and provide for the infrastructure,” he says.

Opportunities created by growth include the expansion of the South Baldwin Regional Medical Center, he says. “Without the growth there would not be the new hospital built in Foley. So sometimes there are benefits having new facilities and expanded facilities in the medical field helps support our citizens.” The hospital is undergoing a $250 million expansion that increases its capacity to 140 beds.

The city also established a Medical Overlay District near the hospital in 2023 to facilitate development of medical services. The first project, a 12-acre medical park, was recently approved by the Foley Planning Commission.

Projects underway include street and sidewalk improvements, Hellmich says, as well as acquisition of the former National Guard armory site behind City Hall in 2023 with plans to convert it into municipal offices and recreation space. Foley also plans to expand the Civic Center.

Foley is also building a $17 million public works campus to update work space and add a mechanic shop for the city’s 400-plus vehicles.

Foley is adding a 2,500-square-foot commercial kitchen to the Coastal Alabama Farmers and Fishermens Market to help local food entrepreneurs expand their businesses. And pickleball courts are under construction near the market.

Architectural design is underway for a new indoor aquatics center that will replace the old outdoor swimming pool.

With about 8 million tourists annually in South Baldwin County, Owa announced plans for a 200-plus room resort hotel and two other hotels also are under construction. Foley is known for sports tournaments that bring many families, so these additions will help, officials say.

The city received $5 million in GOMESA funding to expand Graham Creek Nature Reserve beyond its current 660 acres.

And in December, the National Park Service named Foley an American World War II Heritage City. One community in each state or territory receives the designation, which recognizes communities that made contributions to the war effort and that continue to recognize the sacrifices made by veterans and those on the home front during World War II. The city is working on a display at the Foley Depot Museum to commemorate the recognition.

Gulf Shores

The city has experienced a 54% increase in population since the 2010 census, says Grant Brown, recreational and cultural affairs director and public information officer for Gulf Shores.

That growth has required many changes. “We are working to improve the transportation issues that come with the growth we have,” Brown says. Current major projects include a new bridge under construction over the Intracoastal Waterway that should be completed in 2026, he says. The city is widening Highway 59 southbound in some areas and adding landscaping and more.

Gulf Shores International Airport was chosen as one of 144 airports nationwide to receive federal funding for a new commercial terminal. Road improvements are slated near the airport.

An Embassy Suites hotel across from the beach should be complete by 2025, and the city is almost finished with the new Gulf Coast Center for Ecotourism and Sustainability, located between Gulf State Park and the Gulf Shores City Schools campus. “The goal is to become what Huntsville has with its Space Camp with our Eco Camp,” Brown says.

A new Waterway Village Pedestrian Bridge, a component of the BUILD Grant project, connects the north and south sides of the Waterway District, spanning from the new Medical Village area to East 20th Avenue. Construction should be completed in fall 2026.

Other projects include the Little Lagoon restoration project that provides grants for residents on septic tanks to convert to sewer service. At the far west end of the lagoon, a 48-acre tract will become a park, Laguna Cove, Brown says. The property, purchased with help from the state Department of Natural Resources, will have a boardwalk, kayak launch and much more.

Growth has meant more housing, and there are new developments coming, Brown says. The city will get its second Publix across from City Hall, in the former Winn-Dixie location.

The city’s anticipated $1.2 million fire department training facility is on 80 acres, and the city is in the design stage of the new City of Gulf Shores Justice Center, combining the police department, jail and municipal courts under one roof. The $30.8 million center should be complete by 2025.

Legendary Marine, based in Destin, is building a 700-boat dry storage facility on Intracoastal Boulevard that should be ready by fall 2024. And the police department received a grant to purchase a patrol vessel, and next year a marine division will be added.

The Coastal Gateway Community Park is in the design stages as well. The city accepted about 40 acres of donated land on Coastal Gateway Boulevard, with plans for a park, school, fire and police facilities and utility improvements.

Gulf Shores City Schools plan a new high school, a $131 million project. The current high school can handle a little over 500 students, but the new one is planned for 1,500 students.

The district’s football team won the 5A state championship, and more than 75% of the student body plays a sport or participates in fine arts, so new facilities reflect those needs, says Matt Akin, superintendent.

Gulf Shores schools offer several college and career academies that collaborate with business and industry. The school system is very involved in the community as well, with students participating in Gulf Shores Gives Back, a community-wide service day where the entire system participates in volunteer projects and more.

New Mako Baseball Field at Orange Beach Sportsplex.

Orange Beach

With more than 6 million people visiting Alabama’s beaches each year, the city of Orange Beach is always working to provide a clean and safe environment for visitors and residents, officials say.

Road work has been a constant for the city over the past six years with improvements along the beach highway and nearby roads to improve traffic flow. Additional road improvements are on the agenda.

The Pass Park at Alabama Point, a popular spot for sightseeing and fishing, is open. The area was heavily damaged during Hurricane Sally in 2020. City funding opened the first two phases and state money for phase three finished the project. The area now features a complete boardwalk from The Gulf restaurant to the north side of Perdido Pass bridge. Amenities at the park include benches and bait-prep stations.

Other city projects include renovations to numerous city buildings, including the addition of a finance wing to Orange Beach City Hall.

At the Orange Beach Sportsplex, numerous improvements have been taking place over the past two years, including the artificial turfing of the Mako Softball and Baseball fields and the football/soccer championship field.

On the Recreation Center campus, the city is aiming to break ground this year on 16 pickleball courts. The center already has indoor pickleball, aquatics, tennis and fitness facilities.

The Orange Beach Performing Arts Center opened in September 2021 and the city’s Expect Excellence Theatre puts on performances all year in addition to the school theater program’s plays.

On the retail and business side, The Wharf continues to expand with the construction of Portside on Main with new retail/office space and a courtyard with a stage, all of which is scheduled to open in late summer, weather permitting. Culver’s is under construction just east of The Wharf on Canal Road. In March, The Orange Beach Store opened its new store at the foot of State Highway 161 at the beach highway. The CoastAL restaurant on the beach has been open for over a year with beach views. Boutique stores and locally owned restaurants continue to thrive in Orange Beach as well.

Orange Beach city schools, opened in 2021, already has earned several accolades in academics and sports. The campus includes an elementary school currently serving 598 students in grades K4-6. On campus is The Sea, Sand and Stars facility featuring a 5,800-gallon saltwater aquarium, 1,500-gallon marine life touch tank, a nature boardwalk with outdoor classrooms, a planetarium, microscope lab, library and gift shop. The facility hosts field trips and serves the district’s elementary students during the school year.

Orange Beach Middle High School opened in 2020 and serves 635 students in grades 7-12. In addition to academics and arts, it offers 18 varsity and junior varsity sports.

In fall 2025, the district will open a new $46 million athletic complex, including a gymnasium, multi-sport pavilion, kinesiology and exercise science building, track, soccer/football fields and more.


Robertsdale is working on several infrastructure projects that include $14 million in sewer improvements, says Mayor Charles Murphy.

The city also received $2 million in GOMESA funds to build a $2.5 million amphitheater, Murphy says. Construction should begin later this year.

And since purchasing former Baldwin County Coliseum facilities from the county, the city has made $350,000 in improvements, with more to come.

Spanish Fort

Spanish Fort, which recently celebrated its 30th year as a municipality, has secured about 144 acres of undeveloped waterfront property and, with a $8.5 million GOMESA grant, plans to develop a comprehensive plan with citizen input to determine the best use for the property, says Mayor Michael McMillan.

A popular city for families, there are continuous improvements and additions to city parks, McMillan says. For example, the city has remodeled Spirit Park baseball fields, is adding more soccer fields, outdoor basketball courts and lights at Integrity Park, has plans to develop Valor Park adjacent to the U.S.S. Alabama, and its popular container park allows small restaurant owners to incubate their businesses, he says. The city is also developing a dog park, to be named Loyalty Park.

The city has closed on a property close to Spanish Fort’s Town Center, he says. A splash pad, playground, exercise area and pavilion are already there, but the property will be used for pickleball courts, he says.

The city is building a new fire station No. 1 near city hall and will use the former building for a public works building, he says. And the city’s fire station No. 4 will have a training center.

This article appears in the May 2024 issue of Business Alabama.

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