GULF SHORES, Ala. (WPMI) Plans are moving forward to build a new hotel and conference center at Gulf State Park. The House Economic Development and Tourism Committee approved a bill to allow construction.
The hotel, as planned, would have more than 300 rooms and meeting space for up to 2,000 people.
It's a project that has been in the works for years. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan destroyed the lodge that was originally there. Lawmakers have delayed the bill that would make this happen. But the governor is making a big push for it wanting to take advantage of money from the BP oil spill litigation to build it. Alabama's governor wants to seize the opportunity for a public-private partnership to bring it all back.
Jim Meadlock, owner of the Perdido Beach Resort in Orange Beach, manages more than 30,000 square feet of convention space and says the governor's venture amounts to government putting private enterprise out of business. "I think it's wrong for government to take free land that's been donated for a purpose and divert it to something else to compete with private business," said Meadlock.
Opponents say the idea that a new conference center will attract meetings that now go to Florida or Mississippi is flawed. "There's no way that will happen if you look at the airport system. It's an hour and half from Mobile,” said Meadlock.
Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon understands the opposition, but he says the new convention and hotel plan for the Gulf State Park is about saving the park system itself. "State parks may be closed if we don't do something," said Kennon. Lawmakers are still debating the issue citing other public-private partnerships like the upcoming zip line at the State Park as an example of what needs to be done to make the park profitable.