If you’re driving south down the Beach Express from Foley, a huge construction project arises where there used to be nothing but empty fields. This is Owa, an amusement park with lodging, dining and shopping, opening in stages this summer.
The amusement park, being built by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, will be on the agenda for beach-goers and youth athletics teams visiting adjacent Foley Sports Tourism Complex. Owa is a Creek word for “big water.”
The $240 million project encompasses 520 acres with a 14-acre lake. When a different project, Blue Collar Country, fell through several years ago, the tribe took over as sole owner and developer.
Outside the park and its 21 rides, Owa will have the more calming feel of a turn-of-the-century Southern town. Visitors can watch a water show or hear live music at a 400-seat amphitheater.
“It will have an impact on new revenue, new growth, ” says Lee Lawson, president of the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance. “There’s a pretty good corridor in the Foley area now. I think it’s going to help others see kind of a concept there for a development corridor.”
Phase One was projected to open Memorial Day but was delayed by rain. The 150-room Marriott TownePlace Suites is newly open, with the amusement park set for mid-July and the shopping and dining areas around August. Mobile-based White-Spunner Construction is the general contractor for Phase One.
Phase Two is “on the drawing board, ” says Marketing Director Kristen Hellmich. Plans include a 150-slot RV park, a hotel with more than 35, 000 square feet of conference space adjacent to the Foley Event Center, a 16-acre expansion of the amusement park, another hotel with an indoor-outdoor water park, and more retail and dining space.
City sales tax collections have risen steadily since 2010 and property taxes are up as well in Foley and the surrounding area, says Jeff Rouzie, the city’s economic development director. The commitment of hotel rooms by Owa was a big factor in the city’s decision to proceed with the sports complex.
Two other hotels outside the Owa project are also coming to Foley, Rouzie says. “Right now we’re looking at 500 rooms in Foley within the next 24 months, and those 500 rooms will be substantial.” The rooms are needed — Foley has twice attracted a national archery tournament that drew 8, 000.
Some of the state economic incentives include a city, county and state sales tax abatement for construction materials. The abatement does not include school taxes, Rouzie says. There also is a property tax abatement.
An economic impact study performed by Keivan Deravi, economist at Auburn University at Montgomery, predicts that the completion of Phase One will increase total tourism spending in the region by 7 percent. Baldwin County’s own economic output is expected to increase by $244 million.
Text by Jane Nicholes