By the time the final bullets have hit the ground in the minutes following the stroke of midnight New Year’s Eve, we must begin looking forward.
Even as the last strains of “Macho Man” have echoed down the concrete canyons of downtown, the future will be upon us.
As the electronic MoonPie is hoisted back up the side of its skyscraper where it will perch until next year when another over-the-hill band picks up its instruments … never mind. You get the idea.
The year ahead stands as a big one for our fair burg. Yes, I say that every year, but some years I mean it more than others. I really, really mean it this year. (Fingers uncrossed.)
If nothing else, by the time Fred Richardson gets puffed up like a peacock again over the MoonPie Drop, this city should be producing passenger jets. Yes, that’s this year! I know it seems like just yesterday it was announced Mobile would be building Airbusesesses, but we’re within shouting distance of that coming to fruition. If all goes as expected, the wrenches will be turning and rivet guns riveting in time for someone to be cracking a cold bottle of malt liquor across the nose of one of those bad boys in early 2016.
There has to be some kind of swelling of civic pride — really any kind of civic swelling is welcome — to think little ol’ Mobile is making jetliners. Alongside the cool ships they’re building at Austal — the ones that look like Darth Vader’s idea of a yacht — we’ve got a couple of things to brag about.
I’m not knocking any other industries around here, it just doesn’t blow up too many people’s skirts to say we produce lots of lumber, chemicals or smartass newspapers. It sounds like it takes really smart people to put airplanes together, almost like we’re building spaceships. At least I like to think so when I’m at 40,000 feet trying to see how many beers you can drink before Delta cuts you off. That’s when you really like to think, “I bet some smart s.o.b. bolted this thing together. And made that beverage cart too.”
So in 2015 we’ll be one of the few cities in the world building passenger jets.
While the jets are Mobile’s fancy new haircut, so to speak, there are other things in the works that, even if they aren’t completed in 2015, should show progress.
Perhaps the biggest of those is GulfQuest National Maritime Museum. We were already supposed to have seen the “soft opening” for GulfQuest by now, but at least one board member says it’s a lot more likely to be March for the soft opening and very late spring before its grand opening. Still, for a project that would be just about three years late if it does open around June, any opening has to be a positive.
It’s often difficult to discover exactly why there’ve been so many delays at GulfQuest. At this time last year we were told it would be summer of 2014. In October 2013 it was just a “few months” away. In April of 2014 we were told it would be opening fairly soon.
While tens of millions in taxpayer dollars have been sunk into the project, it is organized as a non-profit 501 C3 and head honcho Tony Zodrow gets pretty butch when you start asking too many questions about what’s up. We wanted to get a look at where things are currently, but he shut us out, so it’s tough to get a real bead on why there seems to be a new delay every six months.
I’ll go along with the latest info and say 2015 is the year GulfQuest will finally open, although I’m not going to bet any favorite organs that will happen. If it does, though, we’ll finally start to get an idea of what the maritime museum is going to mean to the city, specifically downtown.
We’ve long been told GQ should draw 350,000 annually, which would make it by far the largest attraction in Mobile and would also provide a terrific shot in the arm for downtown in general and nearby businesses and attractions specifically. Whether those numbers are achievable — will a family of four be willing to shell out $68 to see what’s there? — can only start being answered once the doors open.
If organizers are right, GQ could really start to provide a big boost in the second half of 2015.
Another major project that will still only be in the drawing board-phases in 2015 is Mobile Housing Authority’s move to totally change public housing along Michigan Avenue near I-10. It’s going to take several years for this project to reach fulfillment, but the plans will be drawn out this year and at roughly $750 million, it’s going to be a major undertaking.
Along the same lines, the I-10 bridge over the Mobile River should also see movement towards getting started. It’s another project whose total will come in close to $1 billion and should create a serious economic impact during the multi-year construction.
Other less high-profile projects we’ll be looking at in 2015 include County Commissioner Connie Hudson’s much-talked-about efforts to build a $40 million soccer/natatorium/water park near the junction of Interstates 10 and 65. The plan has the community split, but by the end of this year we should probably have a good idea whether it’s going to happen or not.
We’ll also see the city’s first skateboard park moving towards reality this year, so go ahead and dye your mohawk and ink your forearms. It’s time.
On top of that the city is working plans up for a market place in Mardi Gras Park near Government Plaza downtown. Hopes there are to eventually foster the type of market so many people enjoy in New Orleans.
And who knows, 2015 might even be the year someone figures out what to do with our empty cruise terminal.
Like I said, there’s a lot on tap. The Village People may not even recognize us when they come back next year.
THE GADFLY BY LAURA RASMUSSEN
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