Monday, July 31, 2006


New commuter terminal proposed
Published By Mobile Press Register
Monday, July 31, 2006
Staff Reporter

GULF SHORES -- As south Baldwin County's beach cities grow, so too must the airport that serves them. That's what airport officials are saying after plans for a commuter terminal were rolled out last week.

Within five years, connecting flights by commercial airlines could be using Jack Edwards Airport to go to and from major cities like Atlanta, if the recommendations made by a private engineering firm are approved by airport and city officials.

The airport, which has two runways and is on 830 acres east of Alabama 59, now provides service for private air travel only. Nearly $38 million in construction projects to be completed in three stages during the next 20 years have been proposed in a report commissioned by Gulf Shores to determine the area's aviation needs by 2025, according to consultants with Barge Waggoner Sumner and Cannon Inc.

The engineering, architectural and surveying firm tapped to conduct the study has 12 locations throughout Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Ohio.

The first stage of the plan includes a 32,000-square-foot commuter terminal with waiting areas and ticketing and baggage services accommodating commercial flights to and from the airport.

"The entire south Baldwin County coastal community is in a phenomenal growth period. It's going to continue to grow," said Airport Authority Manager Russ Kilgore. "And the airport needs to grow with it."

Airport officials have not met with any commercial airlines yet, Kilgore said.

"We haven't knocked on any doors and will not do that until we further study the economics and demographics of the area," he said. "It stands to reason, though, that with the millions of visitors we have every year, commercial services are going to look to expand to this area."

About 80,000 takeoffs and landings were fielded at the airport last year -- a figure that could double by 2025, according to the report.

For two years the airfield has been operating in
Direct commuter flights between Gulf Shores and major cities across the nation would broaden the ability of beachfront condominiums and other resort businesses to market Gulf Shores and Orange Beach as a viable destination, said Mark Berson, president of the Alabama Area Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce.

For example, four-day golf packages that include air travel and a beachfront condominium may lure vacationers from as far away as Detroit, Berson said.

"A lot of people don't know about Gulf Shores and Orange Beach in the rest of the country," he said. "They know about Florida and the beaches along the Panhandle but not us necessarily,"

The commercial jets that may route through Gulf Shores would include airplanes, such as the Boeing 737-300, a short, narrow-body airliner with less than 150 seats that is typically used for short hauls, Kilgore said.

Other airport improvements suggested in the study include:

A taxiway north of runway 9/27 to service the new commuter terminal.

600 short- and long-term parking spaces.

A new access road from Cotton Creek Drive.

Doubling in size the existing general aviation terminal.

An aircraft rescue and firefighting building on the northwest side of the airport.
An air traffic control tower on the south side of the airport.

The more than $37 million price tag required to finance all of the suggested improvements would largely come from federal and private funding, with local and state funds picking up about $2.5 million of the overall bill, according to the report.

The first stage would cost more than $20 million and take five years to complete, said Mark S. Counts, a firm representative who presented the study last week.

Funding sources would be identified as plans are finalized and individual improvements are approved, Kilgore said.

"Whether or not we obtain funding will determine if we do a project or hold back on a project," he said.

If airport services expand to include larger aircraft, noise could pose a hazard for Faulkner State Community College to the west of the airport and residential neighborhoods to the east, said Jennifer Stone, a planner who helped conduct the study. The airport would be required to provide a solution, such as funding any affected structures to be sound-proofed, Stone said.

About 40 homeowners living just outside airport grounds attended the public workshop held last week, with most residents seeming to favor plans to build a commuter terminal at the airfield.

Kenneth Fletcher, an ex-pilot who flew a Piper Comanche out of Jack Edwards for 10 years, lives north of the airport in the Craft Farms community.

"I think this plan is long overdue," Fletcher said.

Jerry Crompton, who also lives north of the airport in the Cotton Bay subdivision, said he paid extra for his home so that he can watch from his back yard as the planes take off and land.

"I may have to build a tower, so I can watch the airplanes again," joked Crompton, referring to the airport's proposed improvements.

Two copies of the full study are available for review at the Gulf Shores Library. Residents can send written comments, complaints or suggestions to the Airport Authority, Gulf Shores City Hall, P.O. Box 299, Gulf Shores 36547-0299. Friday is the deadline for receiving all suggestions. Final adoption of the study is scheduled for Aug. 28.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Orange Beach May Purchase Wolf Bay Tract

Land would be used for southern landing of proposed span
Thursday, July 20, 2006
Staff Reporter

ORANGE BEACH -- Mayor Pete Blalock has been given the go-ahead to negotiate a purchase of about 2½ acres near the terminus of Alabama 161, property that would be the southern landing of a long-sought bridge over Wolf Bay.

No price parameters were set by the City Council when members voted unanimously Tuesday to allow the mayor to go after the tract. Instead, Blalock said, an appraisal of the waterfront property will be ordered and negotiations with the sellers -- out-of-town investors -- will begin from there.

Baldwin County Probate Court records indicate that the land owner is Baldwin County Development LLC and that the company bought the property in April 2004 for $3.5 million.

City Administrator Jeff Moon said that another man has a contract to buy the property and that is who the mayor will negotiate with, not the firm. Once the mayor and seller agree to a price, the council would then have to vote to approve the deal.

"The council can say, if it's too high, We can't afford it,'" he said.

Plans for a bridge over the western point of Wolf Bay landing at Sapling Point were first developed by the state in the mid-1990s, but the Alabama Department of Transportation backed off what was then estimated as a $40 million project when the Foley Beach Express toll bridge opened in 2000 and provided a span into the city.

Since then city officials have sought federal funding and explored public-private partnerships to build the bridge, which would link water-surrounded Orange Beach to vast tracts of undeveloped land to the north.

The landing property, currently vacant, was once slated to be developed with condominiums, but those plans have expired, Blalock said. Should the city obtain the tract, the mayor said, the waterfront area beneath the planned bridge would be used as a public boat launch and parking area.

The property is comprised of five lots that sit behind Doc's Seafood Shack & Oyster Bar restaurant.

"We would still have to address Doc's, which we will," Blalock said.

In the meantime, Figg Engineering, a firm hired by the city in February, is continuing its study of such a bridge's economic feasibility and environmental impact as well as updating the decades-old plans and working on the various permits the city will need, Blalock said.

Among the questions being pondered by the engineering firm is how far north the route to the bridge would have to reach -- to U.S. 98, Interstate-10 or I-65 -- to attract enough users, the mayor said. Also, the firm is researching funding options and studying whether making it a toll bridge could help pay for it, Blalock said.

Moon said that he anticipates the Figg report sometime later this year.

Figg will likely build the span, Blalock said, but the city is still interested in a private sector partner to help finance the project. Prior to Blalock taking over as mayor in January, former Mayor Steve Russo had talked to representatives of various firms, including the Australian company, Macquarie Bank, which bought the Foley Beach Express toll bridge earlier this year.

Blalock said talks with Macquarie are still "preliminary" but because of the Australian investment giant's partnership on the Foley Beach Express span, "They have shown a willingness to work with us on that project."

Sunday, July 02, 2006


Do-it-yourself developers
Sunday, July 02, 2006
Real Estate Editor

The members of the Gulf Shores Golf Club figured the best way to pay for $5 million in renovations to the 42-year-old golf course was to build condominiums on the course.

And, to do it themselves, according to Palmer Dent, president of the club's board of directors.

So the 280-member group hired an engineering firm, architects and are talking with contractors to build 168 units on the club's 10.7 acres off Clubhouse Drive in downtown Gulf Shores.

So far, 59 of the 80 units in the first phase are reserved, according to Cham Johnston of Realty South in Orange Beach. Forty of those units are reserved by existing club members.

The units will be priced at $300 per square foot, he said. The units will range from 1,100 square feet to 3,300 square feet.

"The condos will be way below the cost of gulffront condos," Johnston said.

A Gulf-front, two-bedroom, two-bath condo unit that is in good condition and in a good location sells for an average $550,000 to $625,000, according to agents. A 1,100-square-foot unit at the golf club would average $330,000.

Construction could start by early fall, depending on presales, according to Dent.

There were "some naysayers" among the membership about building the condos themselves, said Dent, a resident of Fort Morgan. Many of the members are retirees, over 60, and some were cautious about developing condos, according to Dent.

"But it became apparent to everyone that we had to do something and had to do it quickly," he said.
The reconstruction of the golf course started last January and was under way when a developer who had planned to build the condo units dropped out of the project, Dent said. The contract "was done in good faith," he said. "Then along came a couple more storms, the market went to hell and the developer got cold feet."

"It was a mutual parting of the ways," said Phil Martin, a real estate developer based on Ono Island. "They may have done me a favor the way the market is now. I'd be sitting there nervous with another 18 months of construction left on the condos."

The golf course reconstruction cost about $5 million, but a new clubhouse and main entrance brought the total investment to about $8 million, according to Rea Schuessler, head pro and club manager.

The golf course will reopen in November as a private course, and the entire community will be gated, he said. The new clubhouse will feature a fitness center, new locker rooms, steam and sauna facilities and a new pool.

The father-son golf course design team of Jay and Carter Morrish of Dallas renovated the course. Jay Morrish worked on Jack Nicklaus' design team for 10 years and later with Tom Weiskopf before starting his own business.

"It needed a face lift," said Carter Morrish.

The course will have a new drainage system, new cart paths and all the lakes were redone. The greens will be planted with Miniverde, an ultra dwarf bermuda grass that is popular on putting surfaces, according to Carter Morrish. Gulf Shores Golf Club will be the only course in the area with Miniverde greens, he said.

The last greens renovations were done in 1992, according to Rea Schuessler, but those were not major. "The Morrish name was renowned in golf design," he said. "Everybody that has toured the golf course has been very complimentary."

The course lost 300 trees in Hurricane Ivan in September 2004, but there were no flooding problems from Ivan or Hurricane Katrina last August, Schuessler said.

The course construction work is being done by Eagle View of Montgomery, Texas, which has worked with the Morrish team on numerous golf courses.
WHL Architecture & Interiors in Fairhope designed the four, six-story condo buildings with parking on the ground level that feature views of the greens.

"The response has been unbelievable," Johnston said. "The people who want to live here love golf. It's on a champion-caliber golf course and less than 10 minutes from the beach."

The club hopes to sell memberships to most of the condo buyers and could accommodate as many as 600 members, Schuessler said.

Longtime Gulf Shores Golf Club member Patrick Daily is rooting for the project to succeed.

"It comes down to commitments versus hard contracts," said Daily, owner of REMAX of Orange Beach. "They will end up with a beautiful golf course and a couple of buildings to sell as the market needs them.

Daily said he was comfortable with the fact that some of the members are experienced developers and attorneys who helped put the condo package together.

"Do I think owners should get into development?" he said. "My answer is no."

The board talked to several developers and the city about possibly buying the property before deciding to develop it on their own, Dent said.

"We think we have a unique product and that our golf course community will be the pearl of the Gulf Coast," Dent said.

Ralph Holliman, a club member since 1993, was touring the new course this past week. "I will be 82 soon, and if I was 30 years younger, I'd buy a condo as an investment," he said.

This architect's rendering shows the planned 168-unit condominium project on 10.7 acres of the Gulf Shores Golf Club in downtown Gulf Shores. Club members are acting as their own developers.


Closings on Gulf-front condo projects are being closely watched
Sunday, July 02, 2006
Real Estate Editor

The buyers of the 251 condominium units at The Lighthouse in Gulf Shores started closing on their units two weeks ago, and everybody's watching.

In today's sluggish condo market, how many will buy and how many will bail?

The project presold within 24 hours in August 2003 at prices from $215,000 to $485,000. Some units flipped, or were sold several times at ever-increasing prices, with totals reaching the high $600,000s and into $700,000s, according to agents.

So far, 50 units have closed, according to Rick Phillips, one of the developers of The Lighthouse.

"We're overwhelmed with our buyers trying to come to close," he said, noting that scheduling the 251 closings is difficult since so many owners want to use their units this summer.

"We have not had a single person say they are not going to close," Phillips said. "We've had a couple of buyers say they would not like to close, but they plan to close unless they find a buyer."

Phillips said he gets calls from investors looking for a good deal on a unit, and puts them on a list. So far, he added, he hasn't had to use it.

Watching the Lighthouse and other preconstruction projects close "gives me a whole lot of optimism that everything will close," said Paul Wesch of The Mitchell Company. "Most of the people are buying the unit, will furnish it and not flip it."

"The flippers have gone away," said Frank Malone of ERA in Gulf Shores. "It was a fun game, though. But we have to remember that flipping is not real estate, that's securities. We're in the real estate business."

Real estate sales at the Gulf have been sluggish since Hurricane Katrina hit last August, though this summer is finally seeing more tourists at the beach, according to agents.

Realtors are hoping buyers will follow and knock out some of the inventory. There were 3,488 condo units listed for sale in Baldwin County as of June 1, according to the Baldwin County Association of Realtors. The average sales prices was $453,312.

"It's difficult selling existing inventory when there are good deals on preconstruction projects that are closing out," said Patrick Daily of REMAX of Orange Beach. "There are seven or more projects closing out their units, and investors are getting some awesome deals. They are picking units up at prices of two to three years ago. You can't build condos at those prices."

A two-bedroom, two-bath unit directly on the Gulf that is in good condition used to sell for $650,000 to $750,000, he said. Today, it's $550,000 to $625,000, according to agents.

Other condo projects scheduled to close this summer or by the end of the year include Caribe Resort's phase 3 in Orange Beach, 200 units; Bella Luna, 132 units on Old River in Perdido Key; and Crystal Tower, 170 units, and San Carlos, 150 units, both in Gulf Shores.

'Buyer's market'

"The people that had been priced out of the market are now coming back," said Chuck Norwood of REMAX of Gulf Shores. "They see it as a buyer's market."

Sales have picked up a bit, Norwood said. "But most of the people want to see us go through a season without a big hurricane."

"I can remember 10 or 11 years ago you would put something on the market and it would take eight or 10 months to sell," Norwood said. "In the last three years we've gotten very spoiled. The time on the market was short and it was a huge seller's market."

This market always creates its own opportunities, Daily said. "Now it's picking up a deal because of excess inventory."

Overpriced inventory

At least half of the current inventory is overpriced, according to Phillips.

"There are sellers that have their units priced at what was going on a year ago," he said. "We aren't there. It's giving a distorted view of what's truly available for sale. Those that want to sell are meeting the prices that buyers want."

/cut/2/cJOHN DAVID MERCER/ Staff PhotographerConstruction proceeds on the Mustique Condos on West beach in Gulf Shores. Real estate sales at the Gulf have been sluggish since Hurricane Katrina hit last August, though agents say more tourists are showing up at the beach this summer, fueling hopes that buyers will follow and knock out some of the inventory.