Grant sought for K-1 Center


FAIRHOPE – City Council members will vote in June to seek a $3.5 million grant to renovate the Fairhope K-1 Center.

The city of Fairhope bought the K-1 Center and surrounding property from the Baldwin County Board of Education in 2019 for $2.5 million. The former school campus was built in 1925 and was closed in 2011.

A grant through the American Rescue Plan could help the city and Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance renovate part of the facility as a center for technology entrepreneurial development, Lee Lawson, EDA director, said.

Lawson said Fairhope had applied for an earlier $7-million grant to buy the property and restore the buildings. That grant was denied.

He said the American Rescue Plan could provide the money needed to renovate the structure. The plan was created to provide economic relief to the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lawson said the federal plan is similar to relief programs created after other disasters, such as a hurricane, but on a nationwide scale.

“The American Rescue Plan put a disaster declaration on the entire country,” Lawson said. “Typically, when we’ve applied for these in past, the disaster declaration has been because of a storm or because of a certain geographic designation for a disaster.”

If approved, the city would have to pay 20 percent of the costs. A $3.5-million grant would require a $700,000 match by Fairhope, Lawson said.

Lawson said federal officials have not yet announced when grant applications can be submitted. He said he expected the application process to start this summer. He asked the council to approve a resolution guaranteeing the matching money so Fairhope could apply as soon as possible.

“This is so that we can be prepared as soon as the notice, so we can be first in line,” Lawson told council members.

Councilman Jimmie Conyers, who chaired the work session, asked Lawson and city officials to prepare a resolution to be considered by the council in June.

“If everybody’s in favor of doing this, we’ve talked this quite a bit. We probably want to get something on an agenda in near future so you can move forward with that as soon they open the process,” Conyers said. “Since it’s first come first serve. When they open it up, we want to be on file.”

The grant would help the EDA expand its Hatch program and locate it at the K-1 Center. Hatch is a technology entrepreneurial development center developed in partnership with the city, Coastal Alabama Community College, the University of Alabama and BBBA Compass Bank.

Lawson said the new grant application would reflect the fact that the Hatch program has grown since the first application was made about two years ago.

“Our application has been updated and modified given current standards and the fact that when we did apply, Hatch was in a feasibility state,” Lawson said. “Now, two years later, we’ve been operating within the BBBA Compass building with engagement of over 27 tech entrepreneurs and what we call a lease agreement with 12 active tech entrepreneurs currently at Hatch that are being incubated and housed there, of course, in a smaller environment.”