Mobile is a unique city with a proud heritage and culture. Famous for Alabama’s deep-water port, Mardi Gras, live oaks, French and Spanish historic ancestry, and an almost sacred dedication to the historic preservation of seven residential districts, Mobile has a unique Southern charm and personality. The USS Alabama and Bellingrath Gardens attract the attention of international visitors. In short, our city has many attributes that encourage optimistic growth in tourism and economic development.
The Tenn-Tom Waterway, Airbus, and Austal USA, ArcelorMittal and Nippon Steel have all been economic dynamos for our region. However, they have not spurred significant increases in tourism.
Obviously, Visit Mobile and the Arthur Outlaw Convention Center have, in fact, enhanced Mobile as a tourism destination. We have made significant strides marketing Mobile as a unique and charming Southern destination. We have much to be proud of; the transformation of downtown after dark into a thriving entertainment district, the reopening of the Battle House Hotel, and the riverside development adding Carnival Cruise Lines have been huge economic gains.
However, in recent years, our downtown museums have not experienced significant increases in attendance. The Colonial Fort at Mobile (Formerly Fort Conde) and the GulfQuest Maritime Museum are not sustaining annual attendance expectations, and the History Museum of Mobile’s admission fee rose from $5 to $10 after its Board was granted autonomy in 2015. Because of inadequate resources, Oakleigh and the Phoenix Fire House Museum have reduced the number of weekly operating days, and our Mardi Gras Park awaits funding for its second phase.
So why are we considering Cordish Companies’ / Mobile Civic Center Redevelopment Partners’ plan to develop an open-air entertainment district that lacks an arena to replace the Civic Center? This option displaces our Mardi Gras societies, the Mobile Ballet, Distinguished Young Women, and many traveling shows such as Shen Yun, circus performances, wrestling, sporting events, and monster truck competitions. Maybe pursuing this plan reduces the city’s maintenance costs, but it does not augment our performance arts needs that nourish our souls. Instead, removing the Civic Center drives a stake into the arts community, so why?
Is conceivably reducing the city’s debt (assuming the new commercial development does not stretch business revenue too thin for our present downtown business enterprises) worth losing the Civic Center and Municipal Auditorium?
Ronald Francis David Hunt
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