Expansion planned for Fairhope Pier, park

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FAIRHOPE – Residents and visitors could see major changes in the Fairhope Municipal Pier area with a $6.2-million waterfront restoration plan.

The plan includes a new sand beach where bulkheads are now in place south of the pier and moving the parking lot to allow more landscaped waterfront park area at the entrance to the pier.

The project is being paid for with money from the Resources and Ecosystem Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economy, RESTORE, Act that distribute funds from the BP oil spill. In Fairhope, the work is intended to stabilize the bluff overlooking Mobile Bay and the waterfront.

Brandon Bias, a planner working on the project, said the site is a major asset for Fairhope and the region.

“This is a waterfront park and the community here cares deeply about that,” Bias told Fairhope City Council members. “We wanted to look at ways to now use that waterfront and make it active where people can go and enjoy it like they do in so many other places around the region.”

Plans include moving the parking area that surrounds the rose garden and flagpole to property between the pier and North Beach Park, architect Christian Preus said.

“As you look at this site and realize that the amount of infrastructure on arguably one of the most valuable pieces of property on Mobile Bay is dedicated to parking,” Preus said. “It really negates some of the value of what could be a significant green space.”

The plan also includes a sand beach area where bulkheads are now located on South Beach Park. Council President Jack Burrell said he supported the project, but that the beach should designed so that it does not create additional expenses for the city.

“I like it. I really don’t find anything to pick on,” Burrell said. “The beach, I guess, maybe on the south side if the pier, that new sand beach. I don’t know why I kind of hesitate at it a little bit, maybe because now we’ve got all these beaches to maintain. I don’t know about how much we’re going to have to renourish that beach. I do see the jetties, which maybe were intended to mitigate that.”

Engineer Scott Hutchinson said a bayfront beach with a similar design at the Grand Hotel has not needed sand restored or other maintenance.

The plan also includes improvements to the pier, such as an expanded area for waterfront visitors to view the water and a space that could become a docking area if Mobile Bay ferry service is ever restored. The proposal also calls for adding landscaped terraces to the south bluffs to allow more spaces for visitors to look out over Mobile Bay and easier pedestrian access down to the water.

“What this ends up doing is giving citizens a lot of places to really view the sunset, which is what a lot of people go down there for,” Mayor Karin Wilson said. “And you have a lot more interaction with the parks, but the bluff stabilization and the working waterfront, those are things we have to do as part of the proposal to get the money so that’s the core or the heart of the proposal.”

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