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3 months 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.

11 hours ago

Byrne first to officially declare run vs. Doug Jones – ‘Future is too important to sit on the sidelines’

Just down the street from where he grew up, Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) announced Wednesday evening his candidacy for the United States Senate while surrounded by family, friends and supporters gathered at Wintzell’s Oyster House in beautiful downtown Mobile.

Byrne became the first candidate to officially announce a run against the incumbent from Mountain Brook, Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL). In doing so, Byrne made clear his campaign will focus on his record as a fighter for Alabama’s values, drawing a clear and direct contrast between his traditional Yellowhammer State roots and the “radical policies” being pushed by Jones’ Democratic Party.

In his announcement speech, Byrne emphasized, “The fight for America’s future is too important to sit on the sidelines. I am running for the United States Senate to defend the values important to Alabama.”

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The congressman spoke about the “disconnect” between hardworking, everyday Alabamians and people stuck in the bubble of Washington, D.C.

Byrne urged attendees, “Look in Washington and tell me you don’t see people that have a vision that’s fundamentally at odds with what America is.”

“We need a Senator who will fight with President Trump to defend the Constitution, build the wall, stand up for the unborn, push for lower taxes, make health care more affordable and protect the Second Amendment,” he outlined. “I will fight every day to bring Alabama’s conservative values to Washington.”

Answering questions from reporters following the announcement, Byrne decried the Democratic Party’s embrace of socialism and “[killing] babies as they’re delivered.”

He also warned voters that Democrats should be expected to try and interfere in the Republican primary through “fake news” and  manipulative social media efforts. This comes in the wake of revelations that “Project Birmingham” was orchestrated to aid Jones’ general election candidacy in 2017.

Byrne, a labor-employment attorney by trade, is the former chancellor of the state’s community college system and one-term member of the state senate. He has served southwest Alabama in Congress since January 2014.

The Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in Alabama will be held March 3, 2020, with the general election to follow in November.

You can watch Byrne’s announcement speech and hear him answer questions from reporters afterwards here.

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

12 hours ago

Watch live: Bradley Byrne announces U.S. Senate run against Doug Jones

Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) is set to announce his candidacy for the United States Senate seat held by Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) live at the Wintzell’s Oyster House in downtown Mobile.

Watch live below:

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

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13 hours ago

Heavy rains swamping Deep South

Heavy rains are causing problems in parts of the Deep South.

Police in Huntsville, Alabama, say a half-dozen roads are blocked by downed trees or utility poles plus water from flash floods.

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Flood watches and warnings cover the northern parts of Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia and nearly all of Tennessee is at risk for floods.

Several school systems are delaying classes or closing.

The weather service is predicting as much as eight inches of rain in spots through Saturday, and freezing rain and sleet are possible in western South Carolina.

Forecasters say moisture from the Gulf is mixing with weather systems moving eastward in the Mississippi and Ohio valleys.

As much as one inch of rain an hour is possible, and the weather service says some areas could get more.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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14 hours ago

Ivey announces plan to turn old Jefferson County mine into technology park with $85 million economic impact

Alabama is working again — including in places that have been dormant for decades.

Governor Kay Ivey, the Alabama Department of Labor’s (ADOL) Abandoned Mine Land Program (AML) and United States Steel Corporation (U.S. Steel) announced Wednesday that long-abandoned mine land in Jefferson County will be reclaimed, making way for the new Grand River Technology Park project and relocation of the Southern Museum of Flight.

“This reclamation project has the potential to bring millions of dollars in economic impact, and hundreds of jobs to the Greater Birmingham area,” Ivey said in a press release. “The new Grand River Technology Park will be a regional nexus for research and development, tourism, and light manufacturing. This project will bring positive improvements to the citizens who call this community home.”

This project, which is expected to generate an economic impact of more than $85 million, has been made possible through funds appropriated from the U.S. Treasury through the AML Pilot Program Grant. The funding was secured by the stalwart leadership of Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), the powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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In a statement to Yellowhammer News, Shelby said he is looking “forward to witnessing the impact it will have on the state.”

The senator said, “The Grand River Technology Park project will attract new businesses and promote economic development throughout the Birmingham area. I am proud that the AML Pilot grant funds I worked to secure have helped make this effort possible and look forward to witnessing the impact it will have on the state.”

The project is possible through a collaborative public-private effort and includes participation by ADOL’s AML Program, U. S. Steel, the City of Birmingham, the Southern Museum of Flight, Jefferson County and the City of Leeds.

In 2018, U. S. Steel and its community partners were given approval for a $6 million grant by the ADOL AML Pilot Program toward the development of its Grand River Technology Park.

“We are pleased to see the redevelopment of this land. We are grateful for the partnership of Governor Ivey, [ADOL] Secretary Washington, and the AML staff during this process and thank Senator Shelby for securing AML Pilot grant funds. We look forward to providing quality economic and community development projects that will benefit the Birmingham community,” U. S. Steel President and CEO David B. Burritt commented.

The technology park represents a multiphase opportunity to reclaim and transform approximately 105 acres of undeveloped land surrounding and including several pre-1977 abandoned coal mine lands in east Jefferson County. An initial assessment conservatively estimated that 1,200 new employment opportunities will be created by this project.

Plans for the Grand River Technology Park (Contributed)

Dangerous abandoned mine land features previously reclaimed on the property included many portals (openings to old underground coal mines) and vertical openings (former air shafts associated with underground coal mines) connected with Red Diamond Mines #2 – #5, #7, #9, #11 and #12, as well as the former Tennessee Coal and Iron (TCI) Mine #6, all of which ceased operations in 1948.

After the closure of these underground mines, a major portion of proposed development was strip-mined for coal prior to August 3, 1977, leaving extensive spoil piles (waste rock and soil overburden removed to access the coal seam) on the property and a highwall cut (a hazardous vertical bluff left where mining of the coal seam ceased) adjacent to the current location of the Barber Motor Sports Park. Evidence of the highwall cut and spoil piles still remain on the property today. As part of the redevelopment of the property, extensive reclamation will be performed on these remaining spoil piles.

“Our Abandoned Mine Land Program does a wonderful job in helping to ensure that old, dangerous mines are properly reclaimed, which eliminates safety hazards and allows the land to be redeveloped,” ADOL Secretary Fitzgerald Washington advised. “In addition to cleaning up this site and making it safer, this project will help to improve the lives of many.”

To date, the ADOL AML Program has reclaimed 81.6 miles of dangerous highwalls, eliminated 1,613 dangerous mine openings and completed approximately 661 reclamation projects in the coalfields of Alabama.

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

15 hours ago

Alabama law requires the state and local governments fund The Democrat-Reporter’s racist rants — It is time to stop

Almost every politician in Alabama wanted to get in on condemning, and in some cases calling for the resignation of the editor, publisher and owner of a rag out of Linden, Alabama, with roughly 3,000 subscribers.

The governor, both United States senators, multiple congressmen and congresswomen, the State Senate pro tem, the lieutenant governor and surely countless others went on the record to say this is unacceptable.

It is obviously unacceptable, but now what? You can’t really force a guy who owns a newspaper to quit. Especially when he seems to think he has done nothing wrong.

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All of this is a minor problem. The Democrat-Reporter is a small-town nothing newspaper. If the Auburn Plainsman hadn’t posted the editorial in the form of a photo, no one would have ever known.

This raises another issue. The state of Alabama is providing revenue to this newspaper and other newspapers around the state of Alabama. And it is actually worse than that: Current state law requires government entities in Alabama to advertise legal notices, legislation, constitutional amendments, voter rolls and other public matters in the local print media outlets, which is not cheap.

So, how much does The Democrat-Reporter get from the governments?

Well, the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) alone spends thousands every year.

Maybe these aren’t all required expenditures, but for what other reason would ALDOT be spending this money here?

What have the local governments been required to pay this newspaper? What about average citizens and businesses that have to post foreclosures, abandoned property and other matters in a local newspaper by state law?

Even without the racist overtones of this story, this matter should offend you. There is currently a state law that requires we do business with a series of private entities.

This may have been a necessity decades ago, but it is time for the state legislature to readdress this issue for the 21st century.

@TheDaleJackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN