BY JOHN MULLEN/Contributing Writer
Photo | Shane Rice

It’ll be a game changer, says longtime Pleasure Island tourism chief Herb Malone. Welcoming the public for the first time on July 21, the OWA entertainment complex in Foley will unveil The Park at OWA, Phases I and II, featuring 21 rides — including the Rollin’ Thunder roller coaster, built by the designer of Coney Island’s famous Thunderbolt thrill ride.

“OWA is adding an entire new dimension to the entertainment offerings of Alabama’s Gulf Coast,” said Malone, president and CEO of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism. “It’s a game changer that’s really going to give us that boost to being a year-round destination for the whole region.”

The 520-acre entertainment complex on the Foley Beach Express and County Road 20 in South Baldwin County is a $500 million Poarch Creek Indian project with a planned five-year build-out. Opening the amusement park is the first step, organizers said.

“Our tribe is excited to offer a family destination near Alabama’s beautiful beaches that will create memories this summer and for years to come,” said Stephanie A. Bryan, Poarch Creek Indians Tribal Chair and CEO.

Also opening on the site by this fall are a 150-room Marriott TownPlace Suites; 154,000 square feet of retail, dining and entertainment space; and a 14-acre lake with island amphitheater and boat house, according to company officials.

But the crown jewel of the July 21 opening will be the 14-acre amusement park with six thrill rides, six family-friendly rides for those aged 11 to 13 and nine kiddie rides. Also available in The Park at OWA will be midway games, family-friendly entertainment and food vendors.

More dining options are expected to open in September to complete the $241 million first two phases. Included among those is Wahlburgers, a gourmet hamburger restaurant chain owned by actors and brothers Donnie and Mark Wahlberg and another brother, Paul.

Other retail and food options coming this fall include Alvin’s Island beach shop, Fairhope Soap Co., Sunglass World, Utopia and Hershey’s Ice Cream Shop.

The park’s companion attraction is the new Foley Sports Tourism Complex connected to the east side of OWA. It includes 16 outdoor fields that opened in May 2016 and are already home to major college tournaments.

“While we initially got our feet wet with smaller tournaments, we’ve already been competing on a national level,” said Don Stanley, executive director. “On the outdoor side we hosted the 2016 Sun Belt Conference Women’s Soccer Championship and we look forward to doing it again this year.”

A 90,000-square-foot indoor events center is part of the sports complex and will host hundreds of gymnasts and their families for the 2017 Alabama Compulsory Championship, Dec. 1-3. The meet is the culmination of Alabama’s youth gymnastics season.

OWA is projected to have a huge economic impact on the South Baldwin County landscape. It is expected to provide a $244 million boost including $78.5 million in payroll, and add an equivalent of 3,462 full-time jobs. An Alabama Department of Commerce report recently announced OWA was the top new job creator in the state.

“We are also proud that OWA is positively impacting families living in Foley and the surrounding region through the job creation generated by this development,” Poarch CEO Bryan said.

And the tribe is not done. Future enhancements planned are a luxury RV resort, four hotels, resort-style condominiums and an outdoor water park.

Starting July 21 The Park at OWA will open at 10 a.m. daily. Admission fees range from $34.99 with special pricing for children, seniors and military personnel. Yearly passes are also available for $89.99. Tickets are available at the gate or online at VisitOWA.com.