beaming Gov. Kay Ivey welcomed a host of local dignitaries and media on Nov. 2 at the grand opening of The Lodge at Gulf State Park, a $140 million facility dubbed “Alabama’s front porch on the Gulf.”

“It makes you feel relaxed,” Ivey said. “This is a beautiful facility, very practical and provides every convenience known to man. It’s impressive. It’s just real special for the people of Alabama. It’s a win-win for everybody.”

The Hilton-run 350-room hotel hosted its first guests Nov. 1 and rooms are expected to average about $200 a night depending on the season. It will also have meeting space for groups up to 1,000, a pool and restaurant facing the Gulf, and a 5,500-square-foot terrace, also with Gulf views.

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Beth Gendler said the additional space will help her group attract more meetings and conferences. Gendler is vice president for sales for the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Sports Commission, which works to bring sporting events as well as business meetings to the Gulf.

“We have been lacking meeting space within our destination and, absolutely, the lodge does add to our inventory and help the situation,” Gendler said. “We anticipate seeing brand-new business that has never met in our destination with the addition of the lodge. The lodge adds 40,000 square feet of flexible indoor and outdoor meeting space.”

This new venue will be complemented by the Embassy Suites planned for the corner of Beach Road and First Street West in Gulf Shores, Gendler said.

“The Embassy Suites does plan to have meeting space — about 10,000 square feet. It will be a great fit for meetings, sports groups and leisure guests,” Gendler said. The new hotel is expected to be completed in about two years and will add 229 hotel rooms to the city.

Mayor Tony Kennon came away impressed with the new lodge and its stout construction.

“I think they did a first-class job,” Kennon said. “It’s a unique design but it’s also built in such a way to be fortified to withstand storms and survive. So, I’m very proud of it.”

The BP oil spill and the influx of money to help restore the coast jump-started this project, Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft said.

‘Because of that, we got this,” Craft said. “It’s just an amazing feeling and a testament to the resiliency of this community and the people that live here; we will not give up.”

But it didn’t go up without a fight. The Gulf Restoration Network out of New Orleans sued the state and project developers in 2014 over the use of Natural Resource Damage Assessment funds to build the lodge and hotel. The suit was settled in October 2017 when the state agreed to spend $65 million over a 15-year period to maintain and improve the public’s access to Gulf State Park.

The original lodge and hotel were built in 1974 but destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.