Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon wants to make his resort town a sanctuary city, but when he says that, the mayor’s talking about inebriation, not immigration.
“We’re a sanctuary city for families during spring break and that’s caught on,” Kennon said. “I think people understand that’s who we are and we’re not going to compromise that.”
In 2016, unruly spring break crowds invaded both Orange Beach and Gulf Shores fleeing a crackdown on debauchery from Panama City leaders following a tumultuous 2015 spring break. In South Baldwin County this led to an alcohol ban in Gulf Shores and hundreds of arrests in both cities.
At that time, both police departments in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach issued stern warnings to spring breakers planning to come to Alabama’s beaches to party hard. It’s one they have repeated every year since.
“No MTV crowd,” Kennon said. “We are not going to be Panama City and we took steps to initiate that mantra. What has paid off for us is letting folks know there are no mulligans, there’s no do-overs or no pour-outs. You come to Orange Beach and break the law during spring break, you’re going to jail. It’s that simple.”
It has been working, too, with arrest levels dropping more than 75 percent for the 2019 season versus the raucous 2016 season.
“The word got out,” Kennon said. “We had 800 arrests the first spring break and less than 200 this year. And 80 percent of those were minors in possession of alcohol.”
For Gulf Shores, the police department believes the ban is working and arrest numbers there were 335 in 2018 but down to 202 this year.
“We are happy and spring break seemed to be an all-around success,” Command Sgt. Jason Woodruff said. “Our arrest numbers were down and that’s a good thing. The people I talked to around town seemed to be enjoying their vacation. We offer a unique environment that families can really take advantage of.”
At first, local business owners were concerned restrictions on Gulf Shores’ beaches would hurt business, but that hasn’t been the case. Tourism numbers have continued on a steady rise with record-breaking years annually since 2011. The alcohol ban did nothing to slow that down.
Herb Malone of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach tourism said 2019 is already 13.5 percent ahead of the numbers for 2018. His group tracks retail sales and lodging taxes to gauge tourism, among other things.
“One of the programs we have tells us what’s on the books for the next six months,” Malone said. “As of the first of April, it is about 8 percent ahead of what it was last year. Put 8 percent on top of a 93-percent occupancy rate in July, well, stay tuned.”
And, Malone says the beaches are attracting the type of crowds they want to vacation here.
“We seem to be getting back to the core, which is our families,” Malone said. “We continue to welcome all guests, including college students, to come down and enjoy the beach in a safe and family-friendly manner.”
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