A private tour company is planning to take control of Fort Conde and turn it into a new attraction downtown.
Scott Tindle, a co-owner of Gulf Coast Ducks, Inc., said the company is in discussions with the History Museum of Mobile over a contract to rent out the space for an interactive museum that would showcase the various cultures that influenced early Mobile. The Gulf Coast Ducks’ ownership group consists of Tindle, as well as Grant and Matt Zarzour.
Tindle told the Mobile City Council on Tuesday the museum would rotate quarterly between representing a Spanish, French, British and American fort. In an interview with Lagniappe, he added that staff would wear authentic colonial dress.
“We want to make it vibrant and fun,” Tindle said. “It will be Mobile’s colonial fort.”
The fort will also charge admission when the new attraction is opened, Tindle said.
The announcement of the future use of Fort Conde came amid concerns from long-time volunteers and members of the tourism industry over the future of the welcome center located inside the building.
The welcome center has been under the control of both Visit Mobile and the history museum in recent years. During budget negotiations in September, the city told councilors it would take over its management, in a deal that cut $200,000 from its budget to supplement a level funding of $600,000 for the Visit Mobile.
Ronald Hunt, a Mobile resident, told councilors that he and other volunteers are still unclear about what will happen to the space going forward.
“The visitor center has been a shell game for five years,” Hunt said.
He went on to tell councilors the center would benefit from a full-time manager before asking each of them to offer $5,000 from their discretionary accounts for the next five years to help cover the cost.
Councilman Fred Richardson said Hunt’s request couldn’t happen because the Zoghby Act — the law that set up the city’s current form of government — would not allow it.
“I don’t think the issue is money,” Richardson said. “I don’t know what the issue is, but I don’t think it’s money.”
Council President Gina Gregory told Hunt that Mayor Sandy Stimpson had mentioned it would be his personal preference to move the center out of Fort Conde to another location. She said one of the places he mentioned was inside the Arthur R. Outlaw Convention Center, where the offices of Visit Mobile are located.
“Wherever you put it in the city, it needs a manager,” Hunt said. “It needs somebody dedicated to its mission.”
Owners of two other local tour companies also spoke on behalf of the center’s volunteers, in addition to advocating for a greater focus on tourism in general. Arthur Clevenger, of Gulf Coast Tours, told councilors that while he loves Mobile and what it has to offer, he’s noticed a dip in enthusiasm from members of the local tourism industry.
As reasons for the decline in enthusiasm, Clevenger mentioned the failure of GulfQuest, the lack of free visitor parking and adequate signage, as well as the recent logo dispute between the administration and council.
He told councilors the city needs a better tourism plan for the future.
“We have so much to offer,” he said. “We can become a tourism destination, but we need your support.”
Ross Peterson, of Bay City Convention and Tours, told councilors he could not stress the importance of the welcome center enough.
Future plans for the welcome center are unknown at this time, and Tindle only commented to say deciding that future would be up to the administration.
In other business, the council unanimously approved a $288,519 contract with Constantine Engineering for program management services related to a number of 2017 capital improvement projects.
According to Architectural Engineering Director Kimberly Harden, the contract will allow the engineering firm manage 56 projects that are currently beyond the capacity of the city’s staff. Harden said the money for the contract was built into each individual project, and the contract included projects in each of Mobile’s seven council districts.