A century ago, George C. Meyer moved to the area that would become Gulf Shores and began putting together a vision for its future. He set aside public lands for future parks, schools and municipal facilities and laid the blueprint for this bustling town. On April 29, at the civic center named in honor of his wife, the City of Gulf Shores again set out to plan for the future of Gulf Shores.
The 2021 Resident Town Hall meeting was the first in a series of meetings being held to increase the community’s awareness of city projects underway or upcoming and gather input on what residents would like to see in their city. The meeting was well attended and was standing room only by the time Mayor Robert Craft took the stage.
After the BP Oil Spill, the Gulf Shores City Council, mayor and the community started looking at what was needed and wanted in the area. Vision 2025 was the result and set out to address:
* Down economy due to BP Oil Spill
* Inadequate schools
* Insufficient access to health care
* Lacking State Park facility
* Overall quality of life needs
* Insufficient beach district
Gulf Shores preparation in identifying the problems and having projects ready to submit put them in a good position when the BP monies became available. Projects had to be “shovel ready” and Gulf Shores had that thanks to Vision 2025.
“We are similarly situated now. There is another round of RESTORE Grant coming later this year. Mobile and Baldwin County received $750 million and $350 million was distributed in the first round. We have got another $400 million to distribute. We will have an opportunity to submit eligible projects for consideration coming up this year. We need to have a list of what those projects are. We are really going to have to move quickly, or we will not get in the front of the line for funds coming from recovery of the pandemic or the next scheduled round of RESTORE,” Craft said.
Despite the pandemic, Gulf Shores eclipsed its budget by over $2.473 million. That surplus was set in the reserve fund which has a balance of $38 million on a $51 million budget. That is above 70% which is required to keep a bond rating of AA+.
“If we can survive last year and make money, I think our department heads are managing our money really well,” Craft said.
Currently Gulf Shores has received $75 million in grant funding from the RESTORE Grant, BUILD Grant and many others. The city has a financial match obligation of $23 million. The $98 million in funding is allocated to projects in:
* Transportation $66.4 million
* Environmental $30 million
* Fire/Public Safety $1.7 million
Vision 2035 will need to address the city’s biggest challenge and that is growth management. Transportation is overwhelmed and the city facilities are busy, crowded or inadequate. When zoning was put into place in 1984, properties to the north of the Intracoastal Waterway were given the same zoning as properties in the beach zone of 42 units an acre. According to Craft, there are more units available by right to be built in the community than exist today. And in Alabama, it is illegal to take those property rights away.
“Our quality of life, mine included, is threatened by overgrowth. That is not an easy fix. Growth management is an issue, and we cannot just take our pen and fix the problem. We have got to provide either some way to negotiate a better outcome with the developers or we have got to provide the infrastructure to take care of the growth and we are limited in the opportunities for that,” said Craft.
Over the years the city has acquired tracts of land with future growth in mind. During the presentation, Craft outlined several properties on the north side of the Intracoastal Waterway that will be used for future projects to include:
* 32 acres to create a large medical campus and a possible site for a future hospital. The South Baldwin Freestanding Emergency Department is the first step in this plan.
* A property that boarders Coastal Gateway Boulevard that the city plans to use for a future elementary school, fire station and community park.
* 200 acres near the Foley Beach Express that is planned to become an Education Campus with a new high school.
Throughout the civic center, department heads, staff and city council members were in place with presentation boards of upcoming or current projects. Community members in attendance were encouraged to investigate, question and comment on the projects. One board near the entrance wanted to know “What Did We Miss” and encouraged residents to add their ideas.
Details from the meeting will be posted on the City of Gulf Shores website in the coming week and residents that were unable to attend are being encouraged to view the plans and contact the city with questions.
The comprehensive plans include:
$30 million of improvements
* Highway 59 widening from Coastal Gateway Boulevard to Fort Morgan Road
* Additional third southbound lane on Highway 59
*New intersection of Highway 59 to allow access to new Medical Village
* South Baldwin Freestanding Emergency Department located in Gulf Shores opening May 2021
* 32 acres secured to create large medical campus and possible site for future hospital
* New Control Tower operational Fall 2021
* Future terminal and commuter service
* A fifth fire station needed in North Gulf Shores
* New training facility needed
* Site has been identified
Gulf Shores City Schools
* Site identified for future elementary school in North Gulf Shores
* The need to move the middle school to the high school building
* The need to move the elementary to the middle school building due to overcrowding and population growth
* City has 200 acres for future High School Campus
$29 million in grant funding
* Gulf Coast Center for Ecotourism & Sustainability
* Little Lagoon Restoration Project
* Laguna Cove NRDA Project
* Two new Gulf Shores Nature Preserves
The Gulf Shores Police Department has been busting at the seams for years and Craft stated it was his and the city council’s highest priority to have a new justice center built. The current building was built in 1983 when the department had 20 employees. In 2009, an annex was added when the department had 48 employees. Today the Gulf Shores Police Department has 78 employees and 6 volunteers. The building leaks, lacks facilities and space. Due to its location, it is prone to flooding during storms requiring employees and prisoners to be evacuated before storms hit the area. A site has not been selected but Craft hopes it will be located on the north side of the intracoastal on higher grown.
The Gulf Shores City Council heard the community during the last election cycle when they voiced a desire to be kept informed. Craft ended his presentation by saying, “we heard you. We didn’t communicate as well as we should. We are going to wear you out now. We are going to do our part and now you have got to respond.”
The 2021 Town Hall Series continues May 6 with the Gulf Shores City Schools “Next Wave” Community Meeting. There will be two meetings to allow for more residents to attend: 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. The school board will present the Gulf Shores City Schools Master Plan and take input from the community. This community event will take place at the Erie H. Meyer Civic Center.
The final 2021 Town Hall Series will take place June 8 at 6 p.m. The Parks and Recreation Department will present plans for future facilities and parks and take input. This meeting will take place at the Erie H. Meyer Civic Center.