ROBERTSDALE – The city of Robertsdale has taken over operation of the Baldwin County Coliseum after ending the lease of the Baldwin County Cattle and Fair Association, Mayor Charles Murphy said Monday, Oct. 11.
The Cattle and Fair Association leased the facility since the Coliseum opened in 2009. The Coliseum was constructed the Coliseum as a hurricane shelter as well as an events center.
Robertsdale bought the site from the county for $2.2 million in 2021. At the time of the sale, the Cattle and Fair Association’s lease did not expire until September 2022.
Murphy said the Robertsdale City Council decided not to renew the lease and will operate the center as a municipal facility. He said the Cattle and Fair Association will continue to hold the annual Baldwin County Fair at the site.
We’re talking to them right now,” Murphy said. “We should have everything worked out in the next week or two. We had a great partnership with them when they were at Garrett Park, and we want to continue that out there and I think it's going to work out really well.”
The association held the fair at Garrett Park in Robertsdale before the Coliseum opened. Murphy said city officials have discussed the change with Sonny Hankins, director of the Cattle and Fair Association.
"This will allow Baldwin County Cattle and Fair Association to continue with their annual fair and to give them whatever space they need out there to do the fair, and on a continuous basis,” Murphy said.
Hankins said the association will move its offices to a new location near the Coliseum.
“They just wrote me a letter and told me that they were going to take over the lease of the building and asked us to move,” Hankins said. “We own the property on both sides. We just going to move over to our property and build a new building. Then we’re just going to do what we normally do. I don't know where they'll do.”
Murphy said city officials are also working on plans for improvements at the Coliseum site on Fairgrounds Road east of Robertsdale High School. He said the city will start with small improvements, such as lighting. Other proposed changes include moving part of the security fence.
He said the security fencing will remain around the fairgrounds area and buildings, but barriers could be removed around some other areas of the property.
The city is also working on plans to improve parking west of the Coliseum building.
“I don't know yet if we’re going to go back in with something like a hard surface parking lot,” Murphy said. “We might go in and with something more natural, like crushed stone out there, especially to help with some of the drainage on the side and that's another piece we've got to look at is to go out there and looking look at the runoff on the total piece of property, so we don't enhance any drainage issues upstream or downstream.”
Murphy said that while the city is taking over operations of the Coliseum, the change will not affect the building’s primary purpose as a county hurricane evacuation shelter.
“In the sales contract when we purchased it that was defined in it that the first priority for that facility is the shelter.” Murphy said. “Whoever with the city, in any administration, when something should happen to where it has to be activated, they will have to honor that. That's what it was built for.”
The Coliseum opened in 2009, according to reports. It was built at a cost of about $10 million. A $7.5-million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency paid most of the construction cost. The facility was designed as a storm shelter that can house up to 1,900 evacuees and withstand wind gusts of up to 200 miles an hour.
Murphy said the arena behind the Coliseum building can also be used as a shelter for animals during a storm.
“The federal government paid about 85% of the cost out there to make sure that you had an adequate shelter not only for humans, but also that was one of the reasons for the arena area was actually for all animals,” Murphy said.