Orange Beach bought a beach. Who knew the City of Orange Beach didn’t own any public beach, but after several years of searching, it’s a reality.
On Wednesday, June 23, 2021, following months of negotiations and due diligence, the City of Orange Beach finalized the historic purchase of over 4 acres of beachfront property for city residents. This move is part of a public-private collaboration between the City and Orange Beach Land Company, LLC (OBLC), which is owned by Flora-Bama co-owners John McInnis and Cameron Price.
As part of the agreement, OBLC purchased an adjacent 400 feet of beachfront property for its proposed CoastAL restaurant development. The entire 8.7-acre site with 800 feet of beachfront, which was owned by GCOF Orange Beach Gulf Front LLC (Nathan Cox), is located across from Publix at The Shoppes at Palm Pointe. The purchase price for the city’s parcel plus the improvements to be made by OBLC was $13 million in total, with the city paying just under $10 million up front and the additional $3 million to be paid later when the improvements are completed.
“This is a watershed moment and a historic investment,” Mayor Tony Kennon said. “We’ve been waiting a very long time for this. Honestly, I never thought it would happen in my lifetime, but the City of Orange Beach now has its own city beach. Beachfront land is a finite resource and nowadays it is extremely limited.”
As part of the collaboration, the CoastAL-branded development will consist of three single-level buildings including a 20,000-square-foot restaurant, a 5,000-square-foot retail building and a 3,000-square-foot outdoor bar. The buildings all surround a 15,000-square-foot open air promenade and green space, and the parking lot will have a shared-use arrangement with the City. An area of parking spaces will be designated for only residents during daytime or peak beach-going hours, as determined by the City, and will include roughly 107 spaces. An additional 56 spaces will be for the exclusive use of residents as well for up to 30 days per year, as designated by the City. Additional parking spaces will generally be shared between restaurant patrons and resident beach-goers, although OBLC has the right to allow others to use some of the parking and charge a fee.
The prime beachfront property was once slated for two condo towers that were set to heights of 37 and 36 stories with a combined 276 units. Now, this property will be the first city-owned beach and the 400 feet of shoreline at the base of Orange Beach Boulevard/Highway 161 will be preserved for Orange Beach residents to enjoy for generations to come.
“This is prime Gulf-front property that beachgoers see first when driving south,” Mayor Kennon said. “Instead of high-rise development, we’ll have this family-friendly beachfront to welcome visitors with a first-class, low-rise restaurant with lots of open space, and also have a city beach for our residents, who sacrifice a lot each summer. This public-private partnership is in line with this City Council’s goal of reducing density, where appropriate. The developers call Orange Beach home and they love our community just as much as we do. It’s all about finding a positive balance for our residents and for our tourism-based economy. This accomplishes both in one project. We’re excited about it.”
On Dec. 1, 2020, the City Council approved the rezoning of the proposed CoastAL Beach Development property from BR-2 - Beach Resort High Density - to PUD - Planned Unit Development. The council approval followed the City Planning Commission's unanimous favorable recommendation for the rezoning November 30. The rezoning was contingent on Island Entertainment LLC (an affiliate of OBLC) being able to close on the property.
Taking into account the high visibility of the property, an approximate 40-foot-tall landmark tower will be constructed at the base of Orange Beach Boulevard and tied into pedestrian-friendly paths on the property.
In a statement, McInnis and Price said, “We are excited to begin turning our vision into a reality. We love the fact that the general public will have access to over 800 feet of beachfront and that Orange Beach residents will finally have free priority parking on the Gulf. What Gulf Shores has in public space on the beach is wonderful and now residents of Orange Beach will have something very comparable. Combined with the State of Alabama property at Cotton Bayou, this gives Orange Beach over 1,000 feet of public beachfront in the center of our city. We believe this development will be a destination for all and make Orange Beach even more of a COASTAL beach town. We would like to thank everyone for their support and belief in this project, and we look forward to breaking ground this fall with parking and beachfront available by next spring for our residents to enjoy!”
The CoastAL restaurant’s design is rooted in coastal Alabama architecture with its broad overhangs, wrap-around covered porch and marque tower.
Details on how parking will work are still being worked out and will be shared at a later date. As part of the agreement, the developers will construct all of the improvements on the City property, such as paving the parking lot, lighting, constructing a restroom and area for lifeguards, a boardwalk and dune walk-overs to the beach, and then the City will take possession of the improvements.