After 5 delays, construction of Embassy Suites set to begin June 30
City to introduce options for 4th St. West Bridge and Windmill Rd. pedestrian safety
By John Mullen
The long-awaited partnership between Gulf Shores and Embassy Suites is finally moving forward after DD Partners pays its final $200,000. A preliminary plan for the site was to be approved by the Planning Commission on January 25.
“We know they paid all their money to move forward,” said
City spokesman Grant Brown. “They are now non-refundable on the $400,000 commitment to the city. They have now started their schedule and they must begin construction by June 30.
The start and completion dates for the project have been moved five times due to investors nervous about COVID-19 and the purchase of a hotel with 11,000 square feet of meeting space. DD Partners had until December 31 to commit to the project or withdraw and recover $200,000 already paid to the city.
After that deadline passed, the developer had until January 15 to give up an additional $200,000 for a total of $400,000.
In May 2019, the first agreed start date of July 1 was changed to January 1, with an eye to opening on March 1, 2022. On December 2, 2019, the board again voted for a delay with the developers . considering a start date of July 2020. At this meeting of October 26, 2020, the board extended the deadline for the start of work until April 30, 2021.
The new start date is June 30 with the target completion date of September 30, 2024.
Brown said the appearance before the Planning Commission is a typical site plan review, as with any new building in Gulf Shores. They will review it and send a recommendation to City Council who will also review the site plan.
The original flyers for the meeting stated that the planning commission meeting and the February 14 council meeting would be held at the Erie Meyer Civic Center, but all town meetings were moved back to the council chambers after s to be reunited in a larger space due to COVID-19 concerns.
Between Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, there are more than 17,000 vacation rental accommodations, from condos to beach houses and hotels. The new Embassy Suites will add approximately 254 rooms to this inventory in addition to a 7,800 square foot ballroom.
During one of the expansions, the project was scaled back somewhat, but retained the 11,000 square feet of meeting space, including the 7,800 square foot ballroom from the original design.
Gulf Shores offered a tax incentive to developers to recoup money from the additional cost of including the meeting space in the original design. The city will give Embassy Suites a tax abatement of 42% in the first three years of operation and 35% each year thereafter until $6.5 million is reached, the base cost of inclusion of meeting space in the plan.
Changes at the time included lowering the building from 10 stories to eight and reducing the area of the outdoor swimming pool originally planned for the roof from approximately 23,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet. Reducing this number has increased the total number of rooms from 229 to 254. The agenda of the Gulf Shores Planning Commission is filled with new housing projects as well as the Embassy Suites site plan.
West Fourth Street Bridge
The city plans to get citizen input on what can be done with the closed West Fourth Street Bridge and to increase safety for pedestrians and cyclists on Wind Mill Ridge Road.
“In 2020, the city engaged Skipper Consulting, a transportation engineering firm, to assess existing and proposed traffic and pedestrian needs for West Fourth Street and Windmill Ridge Road,” Brown said. “Skipper has provided the city with multiple recommendations and options that are currently being rendered by professionals, so that they can be presented at a future public engagement meeting for citizen feedback. Two of the main topics will be future plans for the West Fourth Street Bridge and improving pedestrian safety on Windmill Ridge Road. We plan to hold the public participation meeting in the first quarter of 2022.”
City Engineer Mark Acreman said he and Community Development Manager Lee Jones and Skipper staff are reviewing those results to gather information to present at the public meeting.
“We kind of compiled this information and prepared the renders to present in a public forum for community feedback,” Acreman said at the Jan. 10 board meeting. “We are about to be done with this product, we hope. In the next 60 days or so, we will be able to hold a public engagement meeting to get citizen input on this bridge as well as on Windmill Ridge Road and the improvements we are planning for it in the near future.
Brown said there are many options on the table and the city will present them to the public after all are evaluated and concepts are put on paper.
“Pedestrian access, of course, is important, but whether it’s something that becomes a vehicular bridge again or not, that’s the kind of stuff we have to take a look at and then assess the public to have his opinion,” Brown mentioned. “We don’t want the public to think we’re going one way or the other without them having a chance to tell their side of the story.”
In 2014, the city paid Lucido Engineering $26,500 to redesign the West Fourth Street Bridge and the same resolution accepted a grant from the Alabama Department of Transportation to replace the bridge as part of the rehabilitation program and improving Alabama’s transportation. The bridge was later discovered to be a few feet longer than the eligibility criteria to receive the grant and the plan was scuttled.
Since then, the bridge has been closed to vehicular traffic, and the city has considered rehabilitating the bridge for other public uses, including adding a pocket park to the area.
During the session, the council:
• Voted to make its annual donation of $17,500 to the Safe Harbor Animal Coalition for supplies at the group’s surgical facility on County Road 12. The group operates a trap, neuter, and return program for pets. ownerless cats in Gulf Shores who sterilize wild cats captured in the city. The group has similar operations in Orange Beach and Foley.
• Approval of a liquor license for Bywater Beachside operating a restaurant on the pier at Gulf State Park after a public hearing
• Approval of a contract with EMS Billing Services to manage billing for the city’s new ambulance service.
• Approval of an assembly permit for the Sweetheart half-marathon, 5 km and 1 mile races on February 12th.
• Donation of Sportsplex hammer and disc cage to Elberta High School. Athletics equipment was damaged in Hurricane Sally.