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1 month ago

The Lodge at Gulf State Park opens with great fanfare

The fanfare that accompanied last week’s ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open The Lodge at Gulf State Park, a Hilton Hotel, was unprecedented, a fact affirmed by a pair of experts in the field of lodging and hospitality.

With Governor Kay Ivey headlining a long list of dignitaries at the grand opening of the long-awaited facility, the Gulf Shores High School marching band played the National Anthem as Gulf Shores Navy JROTC cadets presented the colors in front of the large crowd that gathered only steps from the white-sand beaches of the Gulf of Mexico.

One of those dignitaries was Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Herb Malone, who was curious if other venues celebrated the opening of similar facilities the way Alabama did last week.

“I asked the head gentleman from Valor Hospitality and the head gentlemen of Hilton Hotels if they had ever been to a ribbon-cutting where there was this much passion, love and energy behind a project,” Malone said. “They both said never, ever have they seen anything like this.”

Malone said he knows of several groups that have scheduled conferences at the new Lodge, including Jon Hand, CEO of Electric Cities of Alabama, a group that represents municipally owned utilities that serve about 1 million customers in the state. Hand jumped at the chance to book a conference at The Lodge.

“To my knowledge, we were the first group to sign a contract with the resort,” said Hand, whose organization is based in Montgomery. “And, we were the first to sign a multi-year contract.

“I grew up in Gulf Shores. We went to the State Park a lot growing up. So, we were really excited about the completion. I think it’s going to be great for Alabama. The location of the resort is great for us. The way the resort looks – it’s beautiful. It’s a great asset to the state. Whenever we can do business in Alabama, we like to do so. Our 35th anniversary will be our first conference at The Lodge.”

Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said the decision was made to forego the typical soft opening that new facilities hold before a general opening.

“Many of us were not sure if this day would ever come,” Blankenship said. “It has been a long journey, and I’m so glad to share this with you as we celebrate the work of so many who made the opening of this lodge a reality. This is truly a spectacular place.

“With the project’s high visibility and excitement in this community for the return of The Lodge, we wanted to open it as soon as possible to give the communities an opportunity to participate in the rebirth of this place. So, we opened the doors at the first possible moment.”

The Lodge will accommodate up to 1,000 people for conferences and conventions with a 350-room hotel that includes 20 suites. The beach-view ballroom is 12,160 square feet with an adjacent 7,500-square-foot outdoor terrace. Several other smaller meeting and conference rooms are available. A Gulf-front infinity pool will have a pool bar and grill. Meanwhile, a Gulf-front restaurant features terrace seating and a private dining room that will serve house-prepared dishes sourced from regional suppliers, including fresh Alabama Gulf Seafood.

The Lodge has been constructed under LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) protocols. The Interpretive Center is pursuing certification under the Living Building Challenge, a designation currently afforded to only 16 buildings in the world.

“We are caretakers of this creation,” Blankenship said. “The sustainable construction and the environmentally friendly management of The Lodge show how serious we are about that responsibility. We are very excited about how we can have this beautiful facility and still protect our environment.”

Most of the dignitaries who spoke at the ceremony were able to share memories of cherished family time spent at previous versions of the Gulf State Park Lodge, including Alabama U.S. Congressman Bradley Byrne, who marveled at the hotel facilities.

“Did you see the suite with the separate room with bunk beds and a TV?” Congressman Byrne asked. “That is perfect for a family. I wish they had had those when we used to stay at the park when my children were small. We definitely would have taken advantage of that.”

State Representative Steve McMillan, R-Bay Minette, who represents the district that includes Gulf State Park, said he is greatly relieved to see the new facilities open because of the numerous hurdles that had to be overcome to rebuild the lodge after Hurricane Ivan destroyed it in 2004.

“It’s just a dream come true,” Rep. McMillan said. “It’s better than I ever envisioned that it might be. And one thing most people don’t realize is that we came within three days of having to shut down construction while we waited on a court ruling. The judge finally ruled in our favor, and here we are today.

“I never had any idea we would have anything like this. It’s just unbelievable.”

Alabama Speaker of the House of Representatives Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, reiterated how the resort facilities at Gulf State Park factor into the economic well-being of the rest of the Alabama State Parks System.

“When the resort was here, and the lodge was up and running it was an economic engine to help all our state parks,” Rep. McCutcheon said. “So, when we lost this facility, it had a huge impact on our parks. When we came for a tour of the construction site, we walked out on the dunes, and I remember my children being there on the edge of the water when they were very, very little. Deb and I made a trip down here, and we stayed at the lodge that was here at the time. That was the first time my children got to feel the sand between their toes and feel the waves wash up on them. We built sandcastles. That was the first time for children who were raised in red land cotton fields to see what it was like to stand on the side of the Gulf of Mexico. That’s a great memory.

“Our best days are ahead of us in Alabama, and this great facility is symbolic of that.”

Governor Ivey echoed the sentiment that the opening of The Lodge has been a study in perseverance.

“I’m thrilled to be here to have this grand opening that we’ve been waiting a long time to have,” said Governor Ivey. “There’s just no more beautiful place than Alabama’s Gulf Coast with the white sand and sparkling waters. That’s why I made it my mission to protect this part of the state and grow it. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan came through and damaged parts of our great state. It also destroyed a very special spot on the Gulf Coast – the lodge. However, in the resilient spirit of Alabama, we find a way to make good out of a bad situation.

“And here we are today. I am proud to be with you for the ribbon-cutting for The Lodge at Gulf State Park. This will be a centerpiece for this area but also for the great state of Alabama. We’re located on the doorstep of the Gulf, and this will be a way to show a piece of Alabama to the world. Creating a new conference center has long been a part of discussions throughout numerous administrations. As Lieutenant Governor, I was a member of the Gulf State Park Committee. Today, I’m proud to take us across the finish line.”

Ivey said The Lodge’s partners, Valor Hospitality and Hilton Hotels, will help make The Lodge at Gulf State Park a world-class destination.

“There is so much to love about this state,” Governor Ivey said. “In this area, it’s our beautiful natural resources, especially our people. I really want to thank the locals in this area, who year-round, continually welcome visitors to our great state.

Governor Ivey said that more than 20 years ago Mercedes became the game-changer for our automotive industry, and she expects the same impact from The Lodge at Gulf State Park.

“Gulf State Park will be a world-class place to visit, and it will be the crown jewel of tourism,” said Governor Ivey, who presented Gulf State Park Project Manager Tye Warren with a certificate of commendation during the ceremonies. “People from around the world will want to come experience what we have in Alabama. I look forward to continued growth in the tourism industry. Thank you for allowing me to join you for this great event. May God continue to bless each of you and the great state of Alabama.”

After he was presented with the certificate from Governor Ivey, Warren’s young daughter jumped into his arms.

“As I hold my daughter, I will tell you there have been a lot of people who helped raise this place,” Warren said. “Thursday night, I listened to Valor Hospitality’s CEO talk to 200 employees, and the feelings I had were closure and complete comfort in what this is going to be. And I hope when my daughter marries that I have the same feeling on that day. I feel great about where this is going.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

1 hour ago

Alabaster Mayor Marty Handlon: A municipal perspective on Alabama’s infrastructure

Alabamians use municipal infrastructure throughout the state to access jobs, schools, grocery stores, hospitals, parks, entertainment venues and church services – making infrastructure a significant and urgent quality of life issue.

The state’s infrastructure needs are at a critical point, especially relative to their impact on our cities.

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Alabaster, a medium-sized municipality, is struggling to provide the road infrastructure to adequately move a population of approximately 34,000 (and growing) in and around our city, as well as accommodate the traffic associated with our economic footprint of over 100,000. Alabaster is not alone in this struggle. Infrastructure challenges will continue to escalate through the trickle-down effect as metro/urban areas understandably remain in the posture of revitalization and attracting additional growth in the surrounding suburb communities. Like many suburbs, Alabaster is appealing to families for the quality of life provided through excellent public safety, great schools, plenty of parks with children’s programs and safe roads to travel.

Motor Fuel Tax Increase – Why this is imperative

The Legislature is considering adopting an additional motor fuel tax to address the rapidly escalating statewide demands of infrastructure maintenance and enhancement. Therefore, it is important for the citizens of Alabaster and our surrounding communities to be knowledgeable about road funding and how it is distributed so they can boldly and confidently express to legislators the need for adequate and equitable funding for all local governments.

Alabama’s demographics have shifted significantly in the last 50 years. Across the state, greater than 4 percent now live in cities or towns. In Shelby County, 148,641 of the total 213,605 population – almost 70 percent of citizens – live in cities and towns, according to the statistical data for 2017. As the largest city in Shelby County, Alabaster encompasses 25.46 square miles, almost 10 percent of the County’s incorporated land area, which includes a combination of state, county and city roadways.

The city currently faces more need in minimum maintenance projects on city streets than the current gas tax allocation supports. For educational purposes, the current annual gasoline tax allocation of approximately $260,000 provides for the resurfacing of three to five residential neighborhood streets each year, depending on distance and the degree of repair necessary. However, when the base of the roadway is severely impaired due to earth movement or sink-hole conditions, repairs must be completed in phases pending availability of funds.

Our city has experienced this multi-phase type project with Alabaster Blvd – approximately one mile of city street repairs (not resurface) with a low bid of more than $600,000 in 2014 to complete all at one time. The total cost of the project increases dramatically when done in phases, due to mobilization and other economic factors. This multi-year project, in progress for the last four years, is still not complete. We are consistently addressing roads in priority order as it relates to safety – and we’re more often reactive instead of preventative.

The major arteries for traffic to move through and around our city belong to either the state or county. In order to address a major congestion issue, the city has to become a willing partner contributing funds in a collaborative effort towards improvements. One example is the widening of State Highway 119, which moves traffic from one end of our city to another into the city of Montevallo. In 2013, Alabaster was awarded a Federal grant of up to $10 million for approximately two miles of roadway widening, with the city participating in a 20 percent match to the 80 percent of federal dollars. Currently, no state funds are allocated to this project. The project was put on hold earlier this year because the estimated cost of $20+ million exceeded the grant funding and ALDOT had no available resources to assist in the completion of the project. After two months of conversations with representatives of the Federal Highway
Administration, we were granted permission to break the project into two phases and move forward utilizing our existing grant funds.

Many times, collaboration between government agencies allows for projects a local government cannot afford to do on its own. However, as it relates to roads, excessive time and additional requirements, as well as other inefficiencies, are the downsides when collaborating with the Federal Highway Administration and the State due to so many other ongoing projects. It is not quite as bad when a municipality partners with a local county government, but the efficiency inhibitors are still present.

Alabama counties and municipalities, as well as the taxpayers statewide, benefit from savings in eliminating red tape and inefficiencies. Future economic and community development projects in the Shelby/Jefferson County areas will be defined by the infrastructure it can offer. The same is true with every region of the state.

Current Motor Fuel Tax Distribution Is Inadequate

The current motor fuel tax distribution formula, which provides 50 percent of funds to the State and 50 percent to local governments with counties receiving 80 percent and municipalities receiving 20 percent, was developed in the 1960s and is no longer equitable to citizens living in municipal jurisdictions to address the growing demands on our municipal infrastructure. Therefore, municipal officials are advocating that the Legislature adopt a 21st Century distribution formula that would provide 50 percent of the funds to the State, 25 percent to counties and 25 percent to municipalities.

Alabaster’s community actively engaged with its legislative delegation on this critical issue as they experienced the dangerous bottleneck contributing to more accidents and lengthy delays on the Shelby County portion of Interstate 65, and even more so after the delay in widening Highway 119 where emergency vehicles can’t get to the scene of an accident due to the congestion. Our delegation listened.

The voices of voters make the difference!

We are proud of the state’s history of fiscally conscientious leaders making Alabama a great and affordable place to live. No one is to blame for the rising cost of goods and services over periods of time; it just costs more to maintain the same in every industry, including government. That being said, Alabama is not the same as it once was – we have grown and developed, shifting from rural areas to bustling suburbs.

I can’t stress enough how important it is for our legislators hear from their constituents about the public safety issues and escalating need in their communities. It would be wonderful if the voice of local government and public safety professionals were enough; however, it is always going to take the voices of the voters to make the difference between crumbling congested roads and safe highways.

State and local leaders cannot afford to sacrifice the public’s safety and quality of life by adhering to inadequate funding formulas of the past. As we have implored people and businesses to invest in our communities and our state for the benefit of our citizens, we owe them the return on their investment of providing the infrastructure needed for safe success in their mobility.

Please contact your legislators and let them know that infrastructure is a priority issue for you as a citizen and for us as a state!

Marty Handlon is a Certified Public Accountant with a Master’s in Business Administration and more than 20 years’ experience in accounting and financial management. She was elected Mayor of Alabaster in October 2012.

3 hours ago

Ben Shapiro to speak at the University of Alabama in the spring

Ben Shapiro, a prominent national conservative commentator and writer, will speak at the University of Alabama during the 2019 spring semester.

In an announcement Tuesday, Young America’s Foundation (YAF) said Shapiro will speak on campus in Tuscaloosa as part of the organization’s Fred Allen Lecture Series. UA will be one of six campuses to host the hot ticket speaker during the spring, on a date yet to be announced.

YAF celebrated a “wildly successful” fall lineup of campuses, adding it was “excited” to unveil the select locations hosting “the #1 requested speaker in the country” this coming spring.

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Formerly an editor-at-large for Breitbart, Shapiro currently serves as the editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire, which he founded in 2015. He has spoken frequently on college campuses across the country in recent years, meeting with controversy along the way, including especially prominent occasions at the University of California at Berkeley and California State University in Los Angeles.

He also hosts his online political podcast, “The Ben Shapiro Show,” which is broadcast every weekday. At age 34, Shapiro’s podcast is downloaded over 1 million times per episode, with an audience that is reportedly 70 percent under the age of 40. The Daily Wire gets approximately 140 million page views per month.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

Alexander Shunnarah gives back to the community with the first annual ‘Shunnarah Seasons of Giving’ initiative

Most people know Alexander Shunnarah for his infamous “Call me Alabama” slogan and the massive trail of billboards commonly spotted by travelers along I-65. However, what many aren’t aware of is Shunnarrah’s heart for giving back to the city he calls home.

To show his love and appreciation for Birmingham, the Alabama lawyer just launched the first ever “Shunnarah’s Seasons of Giving” initiative and is surprising locals in the community with various acts of service throughout the month of December.

Shunnurah described this initiative as a, “…small part in giving back to the community and paying it forward.”

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To begin the month-long program, Shunnarrah stopped by Etheridge Brother and Sister Barber and Beauty Shop in downtown Birmingham last week where he gave locals an opportunity to receive a complimentary haircut.

“It’s been a great initial kickoff in the seasons of giving,” Shunarrah said.

In addition to these pop-up visits, Shunnarah’s law firm is partnering with The Shoe Clinic LLC for the clinic’s third annual ‘Saving One Sole at a Time” Sneaker, Sock and Coat Drive. The drive will take place at The Shoe Clinic LLC on Saturday, December 15th from 12:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Donations are accepted now through December 15th. Both organizations hope to collect 500 sneakers and coats, and 1000 pairs of socks by December 15th.

To donate to the sneaker, sock and coat drive, visit one of the two drop-off locations listed here:

The Shoe Clinic
1801 11th Ave S. Birmingham, AL,

Alexander Shunnarah Law Firm
2900 1st Ave. S. Birmingham, AL.

To see where Alexander Shunurrah visits for the next “Shunnarah’s Seasons of Giving” pop-up, visit his Instagram page at @alexander_shunnarah.

4 hours ago

West Alabama woman points to bullying, race after her nine-year-old daughter’s suicide

A mother in west Alabama is grieving after her nine-year-old daughter, McKenzie Adams, died by suicide.

CBS 42 reported Monday that Jasmine Adams’ daughter was a fourth grader at U.S. Jones elementary school in Demopolis, which is close to the family’s home in Linden.

Following her tragic death on December 3, Adams reportedly advised CBS 42 that McKenzie told her teachers and her assistant principal a number of times that she was being bullied.

“She told me that this one particular child was writing her nasty notes in class. It was just things you wouldn’t think a nine-year-old should know. And my baby, to tell me some of the things they had said to her, I was like where are they learning this from,” Adams shared.

Adams also opined that race played into the bullying, as McKenzie rode to school with a white family friend every day.

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“Part of it could have been because she rode to school with a white family,” Adams outlined. “And a lot of it was race, some of the student bullies would say to her ‘why you riding with white people, you’re black, you’re ugly. You should just die.'”

Alex Brasswell, the Demopolis City Schools attorney, advised that the case is under investigation.

“We are working fully with the Demopolis and Linden police department. They are doing a joint investigation of these allegations. We are cooperating fully and I can’t comment on any of the aspects of the investigation until they conclude it,” Brasswell said.

Adams said that she believes that the school system let her daughter and her family down. She also explained that McKenzie only attended U.S. Jones in Demopolis because she had previously been bullied at the local school in Linden.

“I just felt that our trust was in them that they would do the right thing,” Adams said, “And it feels like to me it wasn’t it wasn’t done.”

“That was my angel, you know. She was a straight ‘A’ student, very smart,” Adams emphasized.

Funeral services for McKenzie are scheduled for Saturday at 11:00 a.m. at U.S. Jones elementary school.

Watch the full report:

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

5 hours ago

7 Things: Nation of Islam is leading Hoover boycott, gas tax may meet some resistance in Alabama, President Trump seeks a new chief of staff and more …

7. More Americans get news from social media than from newspapers

— Somehow, more Americans get their news from social media (20 percent) than print newspapers (16 percent). This is because of a steady decline in newspapers, but both get crushed by the Internet and television.

— American television consumption of news is still the most popular of all mediums at 49 percent, while 43 percent use “either news sites or social media” according to a Pew Research Center study.

6. Protesters were arrested in Washington D.C. for “protesting” for a “Green New Deal

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— The Democrats’ new face, Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has a trillion dollar plan to solve the climate crisis and create “16 million new good-paying jobs.” Ocasio-Cortez supporters in D.C. participated in a “take over”of  the offices of Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA).

— Police arrested protesters for “unlawfully demonstrating in the Cannon and Longworth House Office Buildings,” but Democrats showed support for them with Hoyer tweeting, “I welcome visitors from @sunrisemvmt to my office today, and I’m happy to hear from them about one of the most pressing issues of our time. Speaking out is exactly what our democracy is all about, and I appreciate their passion. The new Dem Majority will #ActonClimate.”

5. Senator Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and soon-to-be Speaker Nancy Pelosi may offer up some border funding

— With the December 21 budget deadline nearing, Democrat leaders say they will offer President Donald Trump $1.3 billion in funding for a border wall, but Trump wants $5 billion.

— Trump lacks leverage here, except a government shutdown. He put out a series of tweets including, “I look forward to my meeting with Chuck Schumer & Nancy Pelosi. In 2006, Democrats voted for a Wall, and they were right to do so. Today, they no longer want Border Security. They will fight it at all cost, and Nancy must get votes for Speaker. But the Wall will get built…”

4. The drama over Hillary Clinton’s emails continues as Judicial Watch does the work the FBI/DOJ should

— U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth called it “one of the gravest modern offenses to government transparency” and ordered the U.S. Departments of State and Justice to determine “(a) whether Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email while Secretary of State was an intentional attempt to evade FOIA; (b) whether the State Department’s attempts to settle this case in late 2014 and early 2015 amounted to bad faith; and (c) whether State has adequately searched for records responsive to Judicial Watch’s requests.”

— While the FBI/DOJ seems to have dropped this case in the Obama-era, one activist group continues to fight for the transparency that the then-secretary of state worked so hard to avoid by creating a homebrew server, bleach bit-ing the hard drives and smashing mobile devices.

3. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie could be the next White House chief of staff even after commenting that President Trump could be criminally exposed

— After Nick Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, turned down the White House job, the speculation machine ramped up and came up with new options for the job, including former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former campaign adviser David Bossi and Representative Mark Meadows (R-NC) for White House chief of staff.

— Christie may be a favorite because Trump reportedly wants “a functioning White House,” but he said on ABC’s “This Week” that the President seems to be in some legal trouble because of Michael Cohen’s issues with the Southern District of New York, citing “[t]he language in the sentencing memo is different from what we’ve heard before”

2. Gas tax increase may be hitting a snag; Gas prices in Alabama are below the national average

— All three of Alabama’s biggest dogs support a new gas tax: Governor Kay Ivey, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh and Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, but local legislators are finding the issue to be a bit of a harder sell to their constituents given the ALGOP/GOP’s anti-tax positioning.

— Currently, Alabama’s average price of gasoline is $2.08 a gallon, which is far below the national average of $2.42 a gallon. Alabama’s price has decreased seven cents in one week and 36 cents in one month.

1. The Nation of Islam is leading the boycotts in Hoover and sees it as a “war” to separate races

— The Birmingham chapter of the Nation of Islam, which Yellowhammer News notes “is deemed an “extremist,” “deeply racist, antisemitic” “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center” is leading a boycott movement in Hoover that has a goal of moving black-owned businesses out of Hoover and in to majority-black areas of Birmingham.

— As the protesters attempt to make Hoover go “broke,” yet another arrest for blocking freeways in Hoover has taken place, bringing the total to three as the city of Hoover appears to have had enough of the protesters.