Photo | Capt. Mark Robinson

Since the 1970s Joe Gilchrist has had a hand in running perhaps the most famous bar on the northern Gulf Coast, the Flora-Bama Lounge, Oyster Bar and Package Store.

For a lot of those years, he watched as groups visiting his bar were down here for a meeting or event at the Gulf State Park Lodge.

“Having taken over the Flora-Bama over 40 years ago, the old convention center was an important part of the community,” Gilchrist said. “After [Hurricane Ivan] we lost that and it’s been over 15 years. To me, I know how much it helps the community to have a facility so you can do conventions and other things.”

Gilchrist’s comments came in a gleaming ballroom of the new Gulf State Park Lodge as citizens and public officials gathered with Gov. Kay Ivey to kick off her inauguration celebration Saturday, which concluded with a swearing-in ceremony Monday in Montgomery. Trays of hors d’oeuvres were passed around, and there were cash bars inside and music by country music artist Neal McCoy, all with a view of the Gulf.

Local politicians were singing the praises of Ivey and of the lodge, hoping within the next four years Ivey will help with a bevy of projects they feel are necessary for a growing Baldwin County.

“It’s the first time anything like this has happened and it clearly indicates that this administration is dedicated to Baldwin County and coastal Alabama,” State Sen. Chris Elliott said.

Baldwin County Commissioner Skip Gruber said he hopes Ivey choosing the coast for the pre-inauguration fête is a sign of things to come.

“It shows that she’s got some interest in South Alabama,” Gruber said. “We’ve got a great center here and her willing to come down and be part of the inauguration is fantastic.”

Longtime State Rep. Steve McMillan of Gulf Shores said another benefit of having the party at the lodge will be a chance to show off the new facility to the rest of Alabama as well.

“It’s extremely important for the whole state because we’ve got so many groups that claim they were going to Sandestin or wherever because they claimed we didn’t have the facility large enough to handle them,” McMillan said. “Now we’ve got one. This is the largest room with a Gulf view on the whole Gulf of Mexico, so they can have their annual banquets here.”

Ivey, who took over for scandal-plagued former Gov. Robert Bentley in April 2017, won a full term in November and said she was ready to serve.

“We have a lot of hard work ahead of us in the next four years,” she said. “That means we have opportunity. I look forward to working with you to bring quality jobs and quality education and a brighter future for all of us who love this state so much. But tonight, we’re here to party.”