FAIRHOPE — A $2.5 million grant will allow Fairhope to develop the K-1 Center building as a business resource hub for technology entrepreneurs, city officials announced.On Wednesday, July 6, …
FAIRHOPE — A $2.5 million grant will allow Fairhope to develop the K-1 Center building as a business resource hub for technology entrepreneurs, city officials announced.
On Wednesday, July 6, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo announced the department's Economic Development Administration will give the money to Fairhope. The city and Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance are working together on the project, which will involve renovating the 97-year-old school building into a shared office and co-working space, as part of Hatch Fairhope, an entrepreneurial development center managed by the Baldwin Community and Economic Development Foundation.
The city of Fairhope bought the K-1 Center from the Baldwin County Public School System in 2019. The school building was built in 1925.
"We're just really excited about being able to do something with the building, and I think once it is complete that people will see what an asset it is going to be to our community, and, and just again, to be able to save that building is I think going to be something that there's so many people in our community have to look forward to," Mayor Sherry Sullivan said Friday.
Not everyone is happy about the project. Karin Wilson, who was mayor when Fairhope bought the K-1 Center, said allowing a private group to use a building purchased with public money violates the intention of the purchase. She said the city bought the center to provide spaces for the entire community.
"I, for one, was sick and tired of our city not wanting our input for our taxpaid assets. When I took office, I promised it would not happen again. Special interest groups were not going to monopolize sweetheart deals with council anymore," Wilson said of the purchase plan. "When I first saw the proposal from Baldwin County Economic Alliance about an hour before the council meeting it was to be proposed, I argued during the open meeting that this plan — with complete architectural drawings — was done in a planned attempt to leave the community and I out of the conversation. Council stated that we didn't need community input because citizens voted them into office to make all the decisions for them. It's absurd, I know. But 100% true."
Wilson said plans for the center included environmental stewardship, arts and culture, civic and education. She said the Hatch proposal does not fit residents' intentions for the site.
Sullivan said Hatch will lease the front area of the K-1 Center and that most of the building will remain in city hands.
"Basically, they're going to renovate the façade and some of the front offices in the hallway," Sullivan said. "It's not the whole building that they're renovating, and then once they do that, we'll come back and look at the rest of the campus or the building for the possibility of building a performing arts center just behind it is what I think our plan is going to be."
She said city officials are discussing uses for the K-1 Center and she expects Fairhope to develop a master plan for the facility in 2023.
Sullivan said the grant is for economic development and that the city would not have been eligible for the funding without the involvement of the Economic Development Alliance.
"I'm glad that the grant became available now because that building is getting in disrepair, and that's what we did not want to have happen," Sullivan said. "Hatch or Baldwin County EDA is the reason we got this grant because it was an EDA grant. So, all the improvements that are done to that campus, ultimately the city will own, whether we do a long-term lease with Hatch or it's a shorter-term lease or whatever it might be. Those improvements are going to belong to the city, which is huge."
The city will be required to contribute 20% of the cost of the project, bringing the total investment to about $3.13 million. Most of the city match will be paid with $750,000 earmarked by U.S. Rep. Jerry Carl, R-Alabama.
"Our country was built on hardworking entrepreneurs starting businesses and creating good paying jobs, so today's announcement is exciting news and will ensure Fairhope continues to grow and lead for years to come," Carl said in a statement.
The renovations are intended to provide space for members of the business community and workforce to meet and plan new projects. Services will include risk evaluation and development model tools, IP and technology review and collaboration processes, high-speed internet and workspace opportunities, corporate partnering for marketing, research and manufacturing and national talent and resources, according to project reports.
"Growing entrepreneurial companies has always been a part of our strategy, and Hatch now provides the place to implement and deliver on that strategy," Baldwin County EDA President Lee Lawson said. "Hatch Fairhope creates an environment where new tech companies can network, thrive and create local, high-paying jobs. We are proud to partner with the city of Fairhope on their commitment to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem and network in Baldwin County that will attract investments from across the country."
Hatch is now located in the PNC Bank building in downtown Fairhope.
Reconstruction to the K-1 Center and Hatch Fairhope will begin this fall with a target completion date in 2024.