Monday, October 31, 2005

Gulf Shores Mall Deal with Colonial Headed to Court

Posted on Mon, Oct. 31, 2005

Associated Press

GULF SHORES, Ala. - The legality of a deal between Gulf Shores and Birmingham-based Colonial Properties Trust will be tested in court more than a year after the city council agreed to buy 42 acres for $10 million and lease it back to the developers for a retail center.

A hearing is scheduled for Nov. 21 in Foley on the court filing by Gulf Shores, which is aimed at getting judicial approval of the constitutionality of the deal and showing that public funds are secure.

Under the transaction Colonial Properties, a publicly traded firm, will build a 270,000-square-foot retail center called Colonial Pinnacle at Craft Farms. The center, to be completed in 2007 after a total investment of $49 million, will be anchored by a Target store that is under construction and a 14-screen Cobb Theatre, which opened this summer.

Baldwin County District Attorney David Whetstone said the hearing plan could change because a challenge to Gov. Bob Riley's Gulf State Park redevelopment proposal is set to begin the same day in a Fairhope courtroom.

Information from: Mobile Register,

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Shifting Sands

Wednesday, October 26, 2005
By RYAN DEZEMBER Staff Reporter
ORANGE BEACH -- It will cost nearly $6.7 million to replace more than 1.1 million cubic yards of sand that was brought ashore as part of a $25 million beach renourishment project this summer before being lost in hurricanes Dennis and Katrina.
The good news for Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, which have partnered in the project with the state, is that the Federal Emergency Management Agency and its Alabama counterpart will pick up 85 percent of the cost.
Just as the emergency management agencies would pay for a road, bridge or other engineered structures to be rebuilt after a storm, repairs to the 16 miles of manmade beach have qualified for government funding. FEMA will pay 75 percent of the cost, the state Emergency Management Agency will pick up another 10 percent while the cities and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which oversees Gulf State Park, are responsible for the remaining 15 percent.
In addition, Orange Beach and park management will be responsible for some costs involved in replacing sea oats and sand fencing that were lost in the hurricanes, but those expenses have not yet been tabulated. The flora and fencing had not been placed in Gulf Shores because about two miles along West Beach have yet to receive any sand, so there will be no plant replacement costs for that city.
Gulf Shores Public Works director Chuck Hamilton said the company that is dredging sand from the bottom of the Gulf and pumping it ashore, New Orleans-based Bean-Stuyvesant LLC, is scheduled to resume work this week to finish the beach building along the last two miles of West Beach.
Once that's finished, crews will return to Perdido Key near the Florida line, move underwater pipelines back to a dredge site off Orange Beach's shoreline and beginning filling in the spaces left by Dennis and Katrina, Orange Beach City Administrator Jeff Moon said.
"I think they'll probably set our pipe right before Christmas," said Phillip West, Orange Beach coastal resource manager, who has overseen the project for the city. "It should be finished by Feb. 11."
Orange Beach will get about 709,800 cubic yards of sand to replace that washed away this summer. It will cost a little over $4 million but the city's bill, including a portion of the $625,000 to reset the equipment, is likely to total less than $700,000, according to proposed changes to the contract with Bean-Stuyvesant.
The cost of the sand has risen since the local governments first selected the New Orleans dredging firm last October.
For one, diesel fuel, which powers the dredge boats, pumps and bulldozers, has risen dramatically, Moon said. Secondly, the project design and equipment on site is intended to pump up more than 100 cubic yards of sand per foot of shoreline though it will send far less ashore during the repairs, Moon said.
"There's more losses pumping only 20 or 30 (cubic) yards a foot than there would be pumping 100," West said. "We're just losing that economy of scale."
The Orange Beach City Council approved the contract changes at its Monday evening meeting.
In Gulf Shores, where engineers estimate that 380,000 cubic yards of sand was lost east of Lagoon Pass and 330,000 cubic yards washed away west of the inlet, the City Council also approved the renourishment changes at its Monday meeting.
In a resolution, the council authorized the addition of more than $1.5 million to the agreement with Bean-Stuyvesant, but that amount reflects the costs of finishing West Beach, dredging additional sand, sifting debris-filled sand that was hurriedly returned surfside after Katrina, and taking back sand that was washed onto private property during the storm, said Public Works director Chuck Hamilton.
According to the contract change documents, only 180,000 cubic yards will need to be dredged and pumped ashore to replace the losses in Gulf Shores once measures to reclaim sand from private property are finished.
The Conservation and Natural Resources Department, which is the only body yet to approve the contract changes, will pay about $200,000 for dredged replacement sand and the equipment moves, according to the contract documents.
After rebuilding the shore of Orange Beach, crews will fix the state park beaches before winding up in Gulf Shores. Because of delays caused by this summer's storms and the repair work, Bean-Stuyvesant has until March 31 to complete the project, according to the contract changes.

Early City Marina Designs Unveiled

Mayor says he'll fold suggestions into next version
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
By RYAN DEZEMBER Staff Reporter
ORANGE BEACH -- After an hour-long meeting with planners of the city's proposed marina and about 65 charter fishing captains and residents Monday night, Mayor Steve Russo said he'll bring suggestions he heard about high-tech fueling systems and a possible parking deck into final design talks, as well as continue to pursue the purchase of nearby property for additional parking.
"I think we heard a lot of real good ideas tonight," Russo said. "I was glad to see so many people show up -- it was encouraging."
The meeting was the initial unveiling of what city officials and the designers they hired have proposed for a 5-acre parcel along Terry Cove. Orange Beach acquired the property, the former Walker Marina, in February for $7.6 million in cash and land, envisioning a municipal marina that would be a hub for the area's charter fishing fleet.
With many marinas being redeveloped into private waterfront condo projects and others irreparably damaged by last year's Hurricane Ivan, captains of fishing boats and other fare-carrying vessels are finding increasingly fewer mooring options.
Orange Beach hired MRD Associates of Destin, Fla., for $37,500 to design a public marina that would provide dock space to fare-carrying boats. As part of the contract with the city, MRD was required to run its early plans by those who would likely use the marina and those living nearby.
On Monday night, the firm's president, Mike Dombrowski, presented conceptual designs that would offer 58 boat slips accommodating vessels between about 30 and 62 feet long. Docks within the storm-damaged marina's existing boat basin would be traditional fixed piers, while those that extend into Terry Cove would be floating, Dombrowski said.
Last year's charter fleet listings accounted for 92 boats, most of which were between 30 and 45 feet long, Dombrowski said.
An entrance and exit would be created at the property's north end along Canal Road and about 120 parking spaces would be meandered around the water oaks and magnolias on site, said Robbin Gregory, a landscape architect with Volkert Engineering who is also working on the project.
A dock store, office and restaurant would be located nearer to the boat basin on a small bluff at about the same spot a house once sat on the property, according to the plans shown Monday. A fountain was penciled in between those facilities and the docks.
"By no means is this plan set in stone," Dombrowski said

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Public Input Wanted for Orange Beach Marina Designs

Sunday, October 23, 2005
By RYAN DEZEMBER Staff Reporter
ORANGE BEACH -- Along Terry Cove, nestled between the ornate townhouses of Mess About Marina and the expansive Sportsman Marina, sits a basin of splintered boat slips and 5 acres dotted with live oaks, water oaks and magnolia trees.
Purchased by the city last February, the former Walker Marina will soon undergo a transformation into a municipal marina where charter fishing vessels and small cruise boats -- their current mooring options shrinking due to redevelopment and storm damage -- will await fares.
On Monday night, captains of those boats along with homeowners of Mess About Marina and other residents will have the opportunity to chime in on the designs of the facility. A public meeting will be held at the Community Center on Canal Road beginning at 7 p.m.
In July, the City Council voted to hire MRD Associates, a coastal engineering firm that has blueprinted municipal marinas for Florida cities of Port St. Joe and Fort Pierce, as well as Orange Beach developments The Wharf and Bon Secour Village. The Destin, Fla., firm will be paid $37,500 to provide a plan for the public marina.
Last week, at its Tuesday meeting, the council voted to initiate the second phase of its contract with MRD in which the firm will conduct an archaeological and historical survey of the property as well as map its wetlands for $6,100.
"They have a couple of concept designs that they would basically present (Monday) and we want to get input," said City Administrator Jeff Moon. "There's a two-fold purpose: one, we want to make sure we're good neighbors to the folks at Mess About, and two, to make sure that we're serving the needs of the charter fishing fleet.
"This is both of their chances to have input into the design process."
Letters requesting attendance to the meeting were sent to the more than 100 captains holding licenses to operate fare-carrying vessels in Orange Beach, as well as to the 20 or so property owners at the neighboring development, Moon said. Other city residents are also invited to attend and give their thoughts, he said.
Orange Beach acquired Walker Marina using a combination of $7.6 million cash and property -- a small tract fronting Wolf Bay, valued at $2.1 million -- from an employee of former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy. Scrushy bought the marina and adjacent property along Canal Road in the summer of 2003 for a total of $3.45 million, according to probate court records.
When Scrushy combined the marina parcel with the adjacent Canal Road tract, the property exceeded 5 acres and became eligible for high-density development, which in turn raised the land's value.
With several marinas, including Griffith's, Capt. Trent, Hudson and Sun Harbor, destroyed in Hurricane Ivan or torn down to be redeveloped as condominiums, city official sought the Walker Marina property to ensure Orange Beach's charter fishing fleet would have a place from which to operate.
Moon said city officials anticipate being able to have between 50 and 70 slips at the marina, which opens into Terry Cove and gives captains a straight shot into the open Gulf via Perdido Pass. From the property, the Perdido Pass bridge is in full view, bookended by strips of high- rise buildings that line the beach.
No clear-cutting of the parcel's trees will take place; instead parking will be meandered around the tilted oaks and magnolias, Moon said.

The Woodlands, Popular Gulf Shores Course, Closes for Good

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Most golfers in Alabama who have traveled to play in Gulf Shores know The Woodlands at Craft Farms. On Thursday, this course closed for good after 11 years.

Owner Robert Craft sold the course to Colonial Properties Trust, which plans a multi-use development on the 188-acre property. Viewed from Highway 59, also known as Gulf Shores Parkway, a white picket fence fronted part of the course and it will seem strange to drive into Gulf Shores and not see this landmark.

Craft Farms still includes Cotton Creek and Cypress Bend golf courses, both Arnold Palmer designs. Most staff from The Woodlands will move across Highway 59 to these two facilities, including teaching professional John Baas, who will now operate his golf academy there.

"It's a bittersweet time," Craft said. "This has been a special place with a lot of good times and great memories."

He explained his original purchase in 1994.

"When The Woodlands began, I was afraid of it. ... It was competition. The Japanese ownership group had some hiccups and I was able to justify in my mind buying it from them because it would be one less competitor. Back then there weren't enough golfers visiting to substantiate another course, but it was on a beautiful piece of property, with frontage on 59."

Craft said Colonial came to him informally initially and talks progressed. The deal was finalized Sept. 15. He said Colonial will develop both commercially and residentially on the property, with the existing clubhouse to remain, and become a community center for the development. But no golf holes will remain, as this was one of Craft's stipulations.

There are still many other golf options in Gulf Shores including the two other Craft Farms courses, Kiva Dunes, Peninsula, Glenlakes and Gulf Shores Golf Club, and further inland TimberCreek, Rock Creek and Soldiers Creek. But The Woodlands was enjoyed by many golfers because of its playability and price. Also, Lost Key in nearby Perdido Key is still closed until next spring after a redesign necessitated by Hurricane Ivan, so the golfing options have shrunk just a little.

Gulf Shores remains a popular destination for golfers from across the country, however, as attested by the success of the Gulf Shores Golf Association, a marketing cooperative of area courses and lodging now in its 11th year.