Eastern Shore cities making improvements

By GUY BUSBY
Government Editor
guy@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 1/25/23

DAPHNE — More recreation activities, major water and sewer upgrades and road projects are among the improvements planned in Eastern Shore cities in upcoming months, local mayors said.Daphne …

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Eastern Shore cities making improvements

Posted

DAPHNE — More recreation activities, major water and sewer upgrades and road projects are among the improvements planned in Eastern Shore cities in upcoming months, local mayors said.

Daphne Mayor Robin LeJeune, Fairhope Mayor Sherry Sullivan and Spanish Fort Mayor Mike McMillan addressed members of the Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Jan. 18. The meeting was part of the chamber's "Eggs and Issues" discussion series.

LeJeune said Daphne and the rest of the Eastern Shore are doing well in the current economy.

"We've got a ton of things going on in the city," LeJeune said. "We're just very fortunate to be as prosperous as we've been on the Eastern Shore. We live in our little bubble. No matter what's going on outside in the rest of the country, we seem to be very blessed here and continue to be."

Daphne

Daphne has started a $3-million project to improve Bayfront Park. The road to the park is closed while the work is going on, LeJeune said.

"We'll have on-street parking, pavers, underground utilities, so we're very excited about that. It will drive business there," LeJeune said.

The city will also be working on May Day pier to repair damage and improve drainage.

Other recreation projects planned in 2023 include new turf at the city sports complex. The city received a $1.6-million grant to pay for the project, LeJeune said.

"We're very excited about that grant and what that can do for us with our sports tourism," he said.

LeJeune said the city is also working on infrastructure improvements, including $2 million in stormwater repair. He said road projects include improvements on Pollard Road, repaving and widening Baldwin County 64 and adding a traffic light at the justice center.

The city is also working to expand the justice center on U.S. 98.

"We've really outgrown that, so we're expanding that building and including a courtroom," LeJeune said. "I know our judge will be really excited about that. If you go up there on a Tuesday night, it's packed."

The city also recently approved $500,000 to build sidewalks from the apartments on U.S. 98 to the shopping center to the south.

"We're trying to make it safer for those people who walk to Publix and the shopping center there," LeJeune said. "That is a huge plus for the city to add an accessibility for the city. That has been one of the main goals for the city."

Fairhope

Sullivan said Fairhope began the fiscal year with a new budget approved sooner than past financial plans.

"We passed a $130-million budget this year and we passed that in record time," she said. This is the first time in over 10 years that we passed a budget in September."

She said the budget allows city staff members to prepare for upcoming projects and place orders as soon as possible during times when supply-chain issues are slowing some efforts. The budget also includes 37 new positions.
Utility improvements will be one of the major efforts for Fairhope this year. The city has $43 million in upgrades included in the budget for the current year.

She said the city plans to complete the upgrades to electrical substations this year.

"It's going to improve our electrical system, but also allow us some redundancy in that system by being able to switch loads to different substations," Sullivan said. "We're excited about that."

She said the $14 million project is being funded without any debt to the city through a pay as you go program.

The city is also working to add more underground utilities downtown and will spend $23 million in wastewater program improvements.

Sullivan said Fairhope recently completed a stormwater and utility project that had closed parts of Church Street for several months. The city also added turn lanes at Twin Beech Road last year and just completed a turn lane on Gayfer Avenue and U.S. 98.

The city will also start work on a roundabout near the flower clock at Section Street and Veterans Drive.

"We're going to continue to have these traffic improvement projects as long as our communities continue to grow," Sullivan said.

She said Fairhope is also working on recreation projects including four new baseball fields, six pickleball courts and a disc golf course.

One major recreation project now underway is the creation of a nature park and education facility at the property known as the Triangle.

"We did get a GOMESA grant for almost $1 million and we're starting to put trails, outdoor classrooms and other amenities on that property," Sullivan said. "So, you'll start seeing that by the end of the year also."

Sullivan said city staff members, elected officials and others on the Eastern Shore continue to work together on improvements in Fairhope and the surrounding community.

"We could not do this without the people we lean on every day," Sullivan said. "That would be our employees, the city council, the other elected officials. We really do all work well together and it really helps us push projects forward and just troubleshoot things we're not sure about."

Spanish Fort

Spanish Fort Mayor Mike McMillan said his city is also dealing with growth but is continuing to make progress.

"We're so blessed in a lot of ways in Baldwin County to get these obvious challenges we all have, the growth and everything. We all know that. It's coming. We're fighting that every day. Both mayors have talked about that," McMillan said. "We face the same challenges. We're not as big as our two neighbors to the south, but we all face the same challenges."

He said one major project planned for this year is the start of the Honor Park nature park site on Alabama 225. Spanish Fort received an $8.5-million state grant through the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, known as GOMESA, to buy the 144-acre site in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta near Bay Minette Creek.

"We're going to develop a plan to make that a family-friendly venue, picnic areas, walking trails, kayak rentals, those kinds of things," McMillan said. "No ball parks none of those things just family-friendly parks."

The city will also start a $15-million "Focus for the Future" improvement program, McMillan said.

"We're going to build a new fire station, Fire Station No. 1 which will be catty-corner from city hall," McMillan said. "We'll finally have places for 24-7 for them to lay their heads down instead of sleeping on cots and those kinds of things. If you've priced a fire station lately, it's pretty major to move forward. We're also going to go through a phase 2 of Integrity Park, which will add more soccer fields. It also will add more baseball fields, additional parking and drainage that goes with it."

He said other recreation improvements in the plan will also include $5 million for renovation of the 16-year-old Spirit Park.

The city will also start work on a new recreation facility at the Town Center site. Property near the container park was donated to the city by Cypress Equities.

"The city is going to take over the Splash Pad, the pavilion area with the rest rooms and the playground and we're going to build pickleball courts in that area," McMillan said. "That will help that whole complex and it's a great investment by the city to build those, but to do that on property that was given to us makes it even better."

McMillan said the city's revenue increased 11% in the last fiscal year. Expenses were down, but much of the reduction was due to projects not being able to move forward because supplies were not available.

In the last year, Spanish Fort also completed a merger bringing employees and equipment of the Spanish Fort Fire Rescue Department into the city. McMillan said the move increased the number of municipal employees from fewer than 50 to 85.

The mayor said the Alabama Department of Transportation completed the widening of U.S. 31 in the city in the last year. He said city officials hope to have LED lighting installed along the expanded highway in the next year.

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