Gulf Shores, Alabama - Gulf State Park hotel supporters take case to Legislature

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Gulf State Park hotel supporters take case to Legislature

Tuesday, April 28, 2009 By GEORGE ALTMAN Capital Bureau

MONTGOMERY - Backers of a plan, rebuffed by the Alabama Supreme Court, to put a private, luxury hotel on state-owned Gulf Shores beaches are taking their case to the Legislature.

For nearly 90 minutes of a House committee meeting last week, some of the state's most influential figures debated whether an unrelated bill should be changed to block the hotel or to fast-track its approval.

State Revenue Commissioner Tim Russell told the House Government Operations Committee that his department must take in $1 million per hour to keep agencies running, and a beachfront resort would mean big money.

"I'm here to say that, on behalf of the governor and the state, we think we need the state park (hotel) up and running to support the average citizen," Russell said.

Former state Conservation Commissioner Charley Grimsley said that building a high-priced hotel in Gulf State Park would be tantamount to telling average citizens to "ride on the back of the bus."

"I've heard people on this project say, 'Poor folks ought to go across the highway and sit on picnic tables, while rich people sip champagne on the beach,'" he said. "I don't think that's right. The state parks were built for all Alabamians."

The state once had a hotel in the park, but the Gulf State Park Lodge was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and never rebuilt.

Gov. Bob Riley proposed replacing that hotel with a private resort and convention center. His plan called for the state to arrange a long-term lease with Auburn University, which would then sublease the land to Atlanta-based West Paces Hotel Group.

Opponents sued, and the matter was in Alabama courts for four years, until the state's highest court ruled against Riley about a month ago.

Russell sees a bill concerning a separate parcel of Gulf Shores land as a quick way to get around the Supreme Court ruling.

"If we can get this amendment through, than we can move forward this term," Russell said.

But the bill's sponsor, Sen. Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery, said he doesn't want either side to "commandeer" his measure.

"They're talking about what they'll be able to do if they can take this bill, tear it up and give you their substitute," Dixon told the committee, as he ripped a paper copy of his bill in half.

Dixon's proposal would require legislative approval for the sale or long-term lease of state-owned beachfront land located about five miles west of the former Gulf State Park Lodge.

Development of that land could be difficult, as it has been designated a critical habitat for the endangered Perdido Key beach mouse, but Dixon said he wants to make sure the "pristine" beach is protected.

The House committee will again consider whether to alter or pass Dixon's bill on Wednesday.

While Grimsley and Russell argue from opposite ends of the spectrum, the powerful heads of the Alabama Education Association, or AEA, and the Alabama State Employees Association are working for a compromise.

AEA chief Paul Hubbert said he'd favor a new hotel, if state employees ran the convention center and building were limited to the site of the old hotel.

"Alabama obviously needs a convention center on the Gulf Coast," Hubbert said.


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I do wish that the state will come up with a hotel on the beach where everyone could come to stay & not pay an arm & a leg. So many Condo.'s have moved in & have taken over the beaches. At one time there were hotels & priced  right for a family. Now its all changed, if you stay in a condo you stay  & pay alot. Please put up a nice place like our other parks that so many have enjoyed threw the years, a place where we can proud of.    Thank you Rhonda

Oct 07, 2009 05:09 AM #1
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