Gulf Shores borrowing $197 million to finance 10-year improvement plan

Third southbound lane on Alabama 59, pedestrian bridge over Intracoastal among projects

By Guy Busby, Government Editor, guy@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 3/23/22

GULF SHORES — A series of capital improvement projects costing almost $200 million will help prepare Gulf Shores for future growth, city officials said.

The Gulf Shores City Council voted Monday, March 14 to approve two 20-year loans for a total of $197 million.

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Gulf Shores borrowing $197 million to finance 10-year improvement plan

Third southbound lane on Alabama 59, pedestrian bridge over Intracoastal among projects

Posted

GULF SHORES — A series of capital improvement projects costing almost $200 million will help prepare Gulf Shores for future growth, city officials said.

The Gulf Shores City Council voted Monday, March 14 to approve two 20-year loans for a total of $197 million.

Mayor Robert Craft said the money is needed to keep up with growth, particularly in the northern area of Gulf Shores.

"What is happening in our city, we all know that it has grown significantly, and it has grown primarily north of the Intracoastal," Craft said. "Most of our subdivisions and home growth has been north of the Intracoastal and we don't have the services up there that we need, the fire stations, the parks and creation opportunities are pretty non-existent north of the Intracoastal."

Craft said the 2020 Census showed that Gulf Shores' population grew by 5,000 in the last 10 years.

"Part of this plan was focused on delivering what we need that we don't have," Craft said. "We haven't been able to keep up with it. We just didn't anticipate that much growth that rapidly. I think I know I was stunned at the census where we're the fastest-growing city in the state of Alabama."

Administrator Steve Griffin said the loans will finance a series of planned improvements.

"Since last year, Gulf Shores has experienced an extraordinary amount of growth in the tourist as well as permanent
population and with that comes a strain on our existing transportation networks, public safety resources and just overall quality of life for our residents," Griffin said. "Our attempt in adopting the 10-year capital improvement program is to better foster all that and make for a better place to visit and better place to live, we believe and keep up with what is growing."

Projects include expanding Waterway East Boulevard to create a new connection from Alabama 59 south of the airport to Cotton Creek Drive. The project also includes a new entrance to Gulf Shores International Airport.

East Canal Road will be realigned to avoid the 90-degree turn at Old Highway 59 and Canal Road, Griffin said.

Craft said a $21.7-million grant from the RESTORE program will also pay some of the coast of the road projects.

Griffin said another project will add a third southbound lane to Alabama 59 from Coastal Gateway Boulevard to Fort Morgan Road.
He said the new southbound lane will eliminate the shoulder on the Dr. W.C. Holmes Bridge over Alabama 59.

"Since we're putting a third southbound lane on Highway 59, there's a need to accommodate the pedestrians that are already using that and what we're planning to do with this Bill Grant is put a new pedestrian bridge that spans the Intracoastal Canal near Lulu's and connecting near Tacky Jacks," he said. "These funds will be doing that over the next three to four years."

Other projects include widening Baldwin County 6 West to add turn lanes, new walkways and bicycle lanes. A connector will also be added on Baldwin County 6 East.

Improvements on Waterway West Boulevard will eliminate a hairpin turn near Plash Island and elevate the road to reduce flooding.

The city also plans improvements to the Beach Walking District, Griffin said.

"We hope to stimulate economic development in a way that has more shops, more restaurants and where a tourist when they park their car is able to keep it there and basically walk to the Gulf Shores shops and restaurants that we're creating with this network, but more importantly providing more on-street parking spaces to accommodate the traffic that's down there," Griffin said.

Another improvement will be a new justice center to replace the 38-year-old police station and a new fire station in the northwest quadrant of Gulf Shores.

New parks are also planned with a Coastal Gateway Community Park on 120 acres of city property and a Laguna Cove Park on 53 acres on Little Lagoon that will provide additional parkland and public beach access, Griffin said.

The city approved a $150-million loan from Truist Bank at 2.34% interest, while the interest rate from a $47-million SouthState Bank loan is 2.4%. Craft said interest rates are expected to increase and a 1% hike would cost the city another $24.4 million over the life of the loans.

"The interest rate is creeping up and we thought it wise to lock that in for a 20-year period, both of those," Craft said.

Griffin said upcoming lodging tax increases should pay much of the coast of the loan payments. The council previously approved a 2% increase effective that will be effective this fall. An additional 1% increase will go into effect in 2023.

"So, those added revenues together with other revenue sources we have already in place and sales and property taxes, we feel very confident that we can pay for the ultimate $13.5 million debt service that comes with this," Griffin said.

Craft said city officials also plan to meet with residents to discuss what improvements are needed in Gulf Shores. He said a Residents' Town Hall meeting will be held April 19 at 6 p.m. at the Erie Meyer Civic Center.

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