When Hurricane Ivan wrecked the small convention center and lodge at Gulf State Park in 2004, officials in Montgomery and Baldwin County began talking about building a convention center there. Gov. Bob Riley put forth a plan to bring in a private developer to take on the project, but the state Supreme Court struck down the scheme and the idea languished.
The promise of lots of money with which a convention center might be built came after the BP oil spill. Seizing the opportunity, representatives from Baldwin County have introduced legislation that would direct some of the BP money to building the center while giving a 99-year lease to a private company to build and operate a hotel on adjacent property.
This page had concerns when this plan was first proposed; those concerns remain.
We agree with former conservation commissioner Charley Grimsley, who earlier raised questions about the cost of a room in what was then to be a five-star hotel. “Alabama’s state parks were built for all of the people to enjoy,” Grimsley said, “not just rich people who can afford to sit on their balconies and drink martinis . . .”
Building a hotel most Alabamians can’t afford at one of the state’s most popular parks is not a good idea. On the other hand, conventioneers are going to want amenities or they will go elsewhere. Can Alabama and a private developer strike this balance?
This page also wonders if the convention center and hotel might limit beach access for those who use the park campsites. And what of smaller convention hotels that are already there? The operation at Gulf State Park could drive them out of business. Is it the proper use of state resources to create competition for private firms? This plan appears to reverse long-standing Republican opposition to the state being engaged in businesses that would hurt individual endeavors.
As for the 99-year lease, there must be a clear escape clause that would allow the state to back out if the developer fails to live up to their part of the bargain.
The owners of Perdido Beach Resort, a convention hotel in Orange Beach, have served notice that they will take the plan to court. So don’t expect anything to happen soon. There is plenty of time for legislators, environmentalists and lawyers to ferret out the legislative problems that may appear.
A convention center and hotel at Gulf State Park can be a good idea. It also can be a bad idea. Going with the good is what we elect politicians to do for Alabama.