the city is taking proposals for waterfront dining ideas for The Galley café inside GulfQuest Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico to help buoy sinking attendance.

Attendance has fallen sharply since the city took control of the fledgling museum in November 2016, Executive Director Brent Beall said during a meeting with prospective restaurateurs Monday.
GulfQuest saw some 70,000 visitors during its first year in operation, starting in late September 2015. However, this year, Beall said, attendance dropped to 20,000 paying visitors and another 8,000 attending special events.

The restaurant business might be even worse. Beall said The Galley, which is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and primarily serves sandwiches to school groups on field trips since reopening in February 2017, averages a dismal $10,000 per year in sales. With its catering business added, the restaurant generates another $20,000.

“It’s not a lot,” Beall said. “There are some days, especially recently, where there’s only been about $20 per day.”

Despite and in large part because of these numbers, the city is looking to partner with a local or national vendor to expand The Galley with waterfront and outdoor dining options.

City officials have stated they’d prefer the space be used for a seafood restaurant. The city is also looking for someone with a popular brand and a good eye for marketing to take over the space.

“The whole vision is, this is going to grow,” Chief Procurement Officer Don Rose said. “It might be a phase investment. It’s a shared risk, but we think we have some amazing vendors who can do amazing things down here.”

The seafood restaurant will feature a container bar on the riverfront to showcase Mobile’s history as the birthplace of container shipping, according to a statement from Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s office.

The hope, Beall said, is that the concessionaire would be able to draw visitors to the museum. This venture will be designed to complement not only the museum but also Cooper Riverside Park and the nearby Convention Center, establishing the waterfront as a destination for visitors, downtown residents, workers, and convention and conference attendees.

All proposals are due no later than Dec. 4 with the contract expected to be awarded early next year. The new restaurant will open its doors in the spring.

“We are now setting our sights on creating a vibrant dining experience in one of the most desirable locations in Mobile,” Stimpson said in a statement. “The best is truly yet to come for Mobile’s waterfront experience.”