EDITOR’S NOTE: The Mayor of Foley was misidentified in the print edition of this story. We regret the error.
Baldwin County is growing by leaps and bounds, with new subdivisions sprouting around Fairhope and Daphne, apartment complexes in Foley and new condo high rises and townhome developments on the drawing board at the beach.
In Foley, it goes hand in hand with a retail market that has exploded in the past few years and shows no signs of slowing down. A new Publix is underway now on State Route 59 next to a new shopping center with a Ross Dress for Less and an Academy Sports.
“The Publix is big for us, then Marshall’s is coming, Five Below discount store, Buffalo Wild Wings is coming,” Mayor John Koniar said. “Any number of retail is coming in that development next to Academy Sports. [Phillip] Burton is the developer and he’s been very successful in getting that area filled out.”
Other new retail heading to Foley includes Ulta Cosmetics, TJ Maxx Home Goods and Trattoria Pizza & Italian, just opened at OWA. In recent years, besides Ross and Academy, Shoe Station, Hobby Lobby, Panda Express and Whataburger have been added, among others.
“Whataburger, I think we were the second- or third-biggest opening they’ve had in their 700-store chain,” Koniar said. “I remember Whataburger — the lines were so long. A deputy sheriff got off at 2 o’clock in the morning went by there and there was still a line. Whataburger’s been a big hit. Panda Express, on the opening day they ran out of food.”
The growth, Koniar said, is a double-edged sword.
“I was speaking to the Foley Women’s Club and told them I had good news and bad news,” Koniar said. “The good news is we’re growing. The bad news is we’re growing. It’s puts a lot of pressure on infrastructure and so on. There are pluses and minuses to that. It’s a better problem to have than the latter, or to not have anything going on.”
A big plus is the financial side, with sales tax collection up 30 percent in the city in the past few years and increasing every year, Koniar said.
“It’s been very good for us and we’re generating $25 million or $26 million in sales taxes annually now,” Konair said. “Our budget is about $41 million or $42 million, so you can see it’s a pretty big contributor to the overall budget.”
A downside is not having enough housing, but that is expanding as well. At least three apartment complexes currently are under construction in Foley. In fiscal year 2016-17, 267 homes, duplexes or multifamily housing units were permitted in Foley. The city has permitted 683 topped by 410 new apartment units in fiscal year 2017-18.
Koniar said he expects the growth to continue and that all the activity is the culmination of years of work cultivating relationships with new retailers at trade shows. Three big factors have come together to spawn the retail boom.
“It’s been a one-two-three punch: OWA, Tanger and sports tourism,” he said. “ … that puts heads in beds with the lodging tax. It also generates restaurant business with sales tax. Tanger benefits from it also because the ballfields are literally almost across the street from Tanger.”
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