County commissioners are working on stormwater drainage projects with hopes of using federal COVID-19 relief funds.
Baldwin County Schools are in the process of opening a comprehensive career technical high school in the central part of the district, offering technical programs, required core classes and college courses under one roof. The new high school will be open to students from all Baldwin County high schools.
The proposed facility will have more of a college atmosphere 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, conduct business and safety meetings, and wear suitable uniforms. Industry credentials will be offered, as well as high school credit.
In addition to an industry-modeled physical building design, the campus will also focus on dual enrollment college credit so students can work on high school requirements and college courses at the same time.
A ninth-grade academy is in the works at Daphne High School as are two new elementary schools, funded by the district’s Pay-As-You-Go plan.
The Baldwin County Library Cooperative has moved to a new location in Loxley, and plans are to build a larger facility east of Baldwin Beach Express near I-10.
Bay Minette, an Alabama Community of Excellence, is the county seat and is the northern gateway of the county. It’s located on the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, the second largest delta in the U.S. and a National Natural Landmark.
Bay Minette residents enjoy amenities from parks, playgrounds, ballfields and pool to a dog park, senior center, golf and event arena.
Bay Minette also is an arts community, with a series of giant birdhouses and free little libraries, replicas of some of the city’s most iconic and historic structures including the library and post office. They’re painted by area artists and are stocked with books.
Coastal Alabama Community College offers more than 100 programs of study, as well as academic and career tech dual enrollment, adult education and professional development opportunities.
Bay Minette Municipal Airport has new features and services, including a refurbished 55,000-square-foot runway, charters and T-hangars. Baldwin Aviation serves as the fixed-base operator and offers full-service fuel and ground services. With grant assistance from the FAA and the Alabama Department of Transportation Aeronautics Bureau, the airport has also installed the Automated Weather Observing System for real-time weather information.
The city is currently holding public hearings as it updates its land use plan.
Daphne is working to manage growth and provide more amenities to its residents. It has a downtown redevelopment authority, and a new mayor, Robin LeJeune, former Daphne City Council president.
The city is working on its Envision Daphne 2042 plan. Public input will help the city identify opportunities and assets while discussing the future of the growing community.
Some projects will be underway soon. City officials are working on Bayfront Park improvements. The park is the closest bay side park to Interstate 10, and it is well used. Revitalization plans include sidewalks that extend to Main Street, a traffic roundabout at the park, landscaping, an amphitheater and extending the park’s pier into Mobile Bay for more access to fishing. This could eventually lead to an entertainment district, officials say.
And the Daphne Sports Complex is a popular sports tourism venue, with baseball and softball fields, batting cages and hiking trails.
Fairhope continues to grow rapidly, almost doubling its population in 10 years. “While growth can be good for places like Fairhope, it also creates the challenge of protecting the small-town charm and natural resources that draw people to the city,” says Mayor Sherry Sullivan.
Fairhope is moving forward on several projects funded by $18 million in Deepwater Horizon oil spill funds, Sullivan says. One of those projects, the first RESTORE project awarded in the state, is the Working Waterfront/Greenspace Project at the municipal pier, considered the unofficial town center. Improvements, which started in 2019, include pier lighting and handrails, bulkhead stabilization and more. The other RESTORE projects include an upgrade to the city’s sewer system and updating the comprehensive plan.
Fairhope also was recently awarded almost $1 million in a GOMESA grant to improve the property known as the Triangle. This green space serves as an entryway into the city and will include trails, restrooms, parking, signage and a tunnel to connect the north and south pieces of the property.
Other city parks are also slated for upgrades.
Sullivan adds that the city also is improving its downtown parking garage and transit hub. It will also feature art pieces funded by the Fairhope Single Tax Corp. and created by local artist Bruce Larsen. The city is making improvements to water, sewer and stormwater on Church Street in the heart of downtown, as well as a major upgrade to its electrical substations.
“Fairhope has so much to be treasured — the natural beauty of our area, Mobile Bay, our park land and the quality of life we have created for our residents,” Sullivan says. “We have to protect these things while continuing to embrace and manage growth, so generations to come can experience all that our founders intended for Fairhope to be.”
Foley, a Main Street Community, is quickly adding residents, and the housing market has followed suit, says Mayor Ralph Hellmich. “We have grown from about 12,000 residents to 24,000 residents in 10 years,” he says.
Downtown Foley has undergone beautification, and the city plans to build a larger library that will also serve as a community center, Hellmich says. The city has outgrown its own facilities, so the vacated library, next to city hall, will be used for meeting rooms and expansions.
Foley delights shoppers with its Tanger Outlet Center and related retail. And it entertains visitors with the award-winning OWA Parks & Resort, a development of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. OWA continues to expand and add attractions. Newest is Tropic Falls, a 23-ride theme park, outdoor wave pool and the region’s largest indoor water park. Just outside the park is Downtown OWA, a pedestrian area with dining, shopping and entertainment.
Foley has more than 7 million visitors each year, so the city created a 10-year road plan, starting with an upgrade to the Foley Beach Express.
Foley is also a favorite destination for sports tourism and attracts volleyball, soccer, basketball, pickleball and archery. The city’s Graham Creek Nature Preserve has added 80 acres and is one of the largest municipal nature preserves in the state. It’s now at 560 acres.
The city is part of Baldwin County schools, and two of the schools — Foley Elementary and Foley Middle — were named Lighthouse Schools for their Leader In Me programs.
The city of Gulf Shores is growing fast. Mayor Robert Craft and other city officials are addressing transportation issues, school system growth, public safety needs and growth north of the city.
Current projects include more than 40 miles of newly built bike paths and pedestrian lanes, a new pedestrian bridge, traffic flow improvements, a new Intracoastal Waterway Bridge and widening highways.
City officials announced in March even more capital improvements that will include expanding existing Gulf Shores City Schools’ facilities and building two new schools. It’s all to help handle growth in the tourism industry and the city’s fast-growing population, and the expected increase in sales taxes as a result. The 10-year capital improvement program also includes transportation infrastructure, a justice center and police department facility, recreation amenities in north Gulf Shores, where more homes are being built, a fire station and training facility.
Gulf Shores has had its own school system for about three years, and officials are making improvements including HVAC, roofs, an elementary school wing and math and science labs. The system also plans to build a new high school to open in fall 2025. The city school system also added a new aviation lab at Gulf Shores International Airport – Jack Edwards Field with partners Tango Flight, Aeropro and the airport to give students the chance to build a Van’s RV-12 in the new lab over two years.
Other city projects being paid for with RESTORE grant funding include the Gulf Coast Center for Ecotourism and Sustainability; two new nature preserves; the Little Lagoon Restoration Project; and the Laguna Cove Restoration Project.
The buzz in Orange Beach is all about expanding citizen beachfront access through a public/private partnership with the owners of the Flora-Bama. A new restaurant and parking development will be built near the main intersection in town at Alabama 161 and Alabama 182. The city has purchased 400 feet of the 800 feet of beachfront on the parcel of land. “It is a great opportunity for us,” says Ken Grimes, city administrator.
The city also is revamping public buildings to have a coastal look, part of its “Creating our Coastal Brand” theme, which started with the coastal design of the new Orange Beach Middle/High School that opened in 2020, Grimes says.
Also new for residents is the city-owned 24/7 adult fitness center. “It is a unique facility that will be paid for with a nominal membership fee,” Grimes says.
The city’s golf cart program will be a new selling point for residents looking to locate in Orange Beach, Grimes says. About 800 golf carts have been registered with the city since a local legislative bill allows golf carts on city streets. “We are not a golf community, but we have people who travel all over in golf carts,” Grimes says.
Among all the projects underway in the city is the recently opened Orange Beach Performing Arts Center, now the second largest theater space in the county, Grimes says. The city donated land and partnered with the schools to fund the project.
Cost of the city’s proposed capital projects — some underway and some for the future — is $52.6 million, Grimes says. The city opened a new public works facility in January 2021, and projects underway include a new fire station, city beach infrastructure, a public shooting range and sportsplex upgrades.
Orange Beach also plans to create its own school district.
The city of Robertsdale has purchased former Baldwin County Coliseum facilities from the county. It also has been working on its wastewater treatment facilities.
Spanish Fort is an Alabama Community of Excellence and continues to attract new retail. Recent developments include a 142-acre parcel south of Bay Minette, which will become a city park and nature center through a $8.5 million GOMESA grant.
This article appeared in the May 2022 issue of Business Alabama.