During the busy Fourth of July week, people streamed up and down State Route 59 for blocks, schlepping chairs and umbrellas and coolers because they were unable to find parking closer to the beach to spend a day on the sand.
Nearby residents and business owners say this is their main concern about the coming Embassy Suites hotel and the peak week around the holiday magnified parking problems, they say.
“If you live down here, this weekend especially, it was just crazy as far as people trying to find a place to park,” nearby resident Joy McCombs said.
Gulf Shores is partnering with Embassy Suites to build a 229-room hotel on a city-owned lot on the north side of Alabama’s Coastal Connection, just west of State Route 59 behind an Alvin’s Island beach supply store. Part of the deal includes $6.5 million in tax incentives from the city for the developers, DD Partners, to include 11,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 7,800-square-foot ballroom.
McCombs said an amusement park sat on the lot for years, but was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and the city bought the property with one purpose in mind.
“When the property was originally purchased by the city, the stated use for it was parking,” McCombs said. “They’ve changed that and are going to let something be built there and where is all that parking going? That’s my opposition to the whole project. I’m not real clear on how they could have traded the citizens’ property because that’s basically what it is for, this development.”
Rosemary Steele, co-owner of the iconic De Soto’s Seafood Kitchen with husband Chris will soon be looking up at a gleaming 10-story hotel looming from across the street. Her parking lot stays full to overflowing in the busy season and nearby public parking is used up by beachgoers.
“My main concern is parking, which the city says will be taken care of,” Steele said.
Part of the agreement between Gulf Shores and DD Partners calls for the group to give $1.2 million to add 150 public parking spaces in the beach district.
McCombs is concerned that still may not be enough. The recent Gulf Place Revitalization cut into the total in the area.
“They did away with even more parking when they did this nice beach development and made less parking available,” McCombs said.
During the third phase of the revitalization project, the city developed Gulf-front property east of the Pink Pony Pub and put in parking, shades, restrooms, a boardwalk and public safety building.
In May, Embassy Suites developers asked for a change in the start and completion dates on the project. They asked and the city approved them to start in January 2020 rather the original July 1 start date. Plans are now to open the hotel in March 2022 just ahead of spring break.
Other amenities will include a rooftop pool and bar overlooking the Gulf and restaurants and retail at the street level.
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