Sunday, July 22, 2007

Gulf Shores - Record Spending Reported at the Beach

This article was published by the Mobile Press Register. It looks to me like this could be an indication that the real estate market is ready to make a positive change.

Record spending reported at beach
Saturday, July 21, 2007
By DAVID FERRARAStaff Reporter

Visitor spending along the Baldwin coast reached all-time highs this year, surpassing records set in the spring before Hurricane Ivan devastated beachfront communities.
While the occupancy level slipped below 2004, the year of the storm, retail sales in 2007 topped the pre-storm spring figure by more than $40 million in Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, according to the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"Not only are we back, we're back in a bigger way than we were even before Ivan," said the bureau's president, Herb Malone. "We're back on our growth curve, and the future is as bright as I've ever seen it. We have regained our strong position as one of the premiere beach destinations on the entire Gulf of Mexico."
Taxable retail sales in the two beachfront towns hit $176.7 million this spring, according to the bureau. That's an increase of only about $3.6 million from 2006, but Malone said figures from that year were swayed heavily by the sales of building materials.
This spring's sales revenue is about a 33 percent jump from the $132.8 million pulled in during the same time frame along the beach before the hurricane of 2004. In 2005, spring sales were at $143.7 million, according to the convention bureau.
This year's robust March-through-April sales also stretched as far north as Foley, according to figures released this week, as earnings jumped about 13 percent there this spring.
Tourists "sleep in Orange Beach, play golf in Gulf Shores and shop in Foley," Malone said, pointing out that beachgoers are often drawn to Foley's Tanger Outlet Mall. "We have a true regional economy from Foley south."
Malone expects sales to continue climbing through the summer, typically south Baldwin's hottest months -- according to the thermometer and the cash register.
"If we just keep good weather up the growth should continue," he said. "And I'm literally knocking on wood."
Before Ivan struck, the summer of 2004 was busier than it had ever been on Baldwin's coast.

Throughout 2005 and 2006, much of the sales revenue for Baldwin's coast came from building materials used to restore the area after Hurricane Ivan. After a summer without a major storm, more and more developments popped up, and money began to pour in.
Hotel occupancy rates fell to 68.4 percent this spring, about a 5 percent drop from 2004's 73.7 percent. But Malone said that's because more rooms are now available.
Malone attributed much of the sales revenue increase to new big-box retailers, like a new Target store along Alabama 59 in Gulf Shores, and The Wharf -- the new mixed-use development along the Intracoastal Waterway in Orange Beach.
The Wharf, which sits on 220 acres, is expected to one day include more than 1 million square feet of retail space and about 1,000 hotel rooms and condo units. Several boutique-style retailers and restaurants opened last year and were joined by another batch this summer.
The property also sports a marina, 15-screen movie theater, 112-foot-tall Ferris wheel and a 10,200-seat amphitheater that has hosted sell-out performances featuring the likes of Hank Williams Jr., Poison and Widespread Panic.
"The entertainment value that they brought has been a great addition to our mix," Malone said of The Wharf.
The spring funds will help pay for upkeep of roads and other infrastructure in Orange Beach, said Mayor Pete Blalock.
"We're back growing in the right direction," Blalock said.
Gulf Shores Mayor G.W. "Billy" Duke III said the increase in sales will help officials budget for projects like a new sports complex, another fire station and more personnel at City Hall.
"It enables us to get out of a storm-recovery mode into things that help our residents," Duke said.
Looking toward the summer ahead, Duke said, "I think it's going to be a record-breaker."


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