GULF SHORES, Ala. (WALA) - Alabama Governor Robert Bentley paid a visit to Gulf Shores Tuesday, May 14 to sign a bill that is not only important to south Alabama, but the entire state.
Governor Bentley said the project is long overdue.
"I'm the sixth governor to try to do this, but let me tell you, it wasn't me. It was all of you who worked so hard. And these people back here who worked so hard, and we stayed up until 12 o'clock the other night," Bentley said.
Lee Sentell, the director of Alabama Tourism, said the state has lost major conferences in the past, because there was no place to put them in Gulf Shores.
"When it comes to the big conventions, whether it's the lawyers, the doctors, or real estate people, they want to have a beach convention, but they have several thousand members. And we've not had the facility in the state large enough. The industries have grown much faster than our facilities," Sentell said.
The old Gulf State Lodge was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. So even with beautiful beaches, and the addition of Gulf State Park pier in 2009 there's still a need for a lodge and meeting facility in Gulf Shores.
The money to pay for the projects comes from an early settlement with BP over the 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil spill.
Senator Trip Pittman said the settlement money and the Gulf State Park project is major step forward for the gulf coast and the state.
"It clears the path to use the BP money to be able to rebuild the lodge and the conference center on the Gulf State Park on that portion of land that had previously been occupied near the pier. It will be a great economic enhancer for the coast. Not only is the money there for the facility, but also to enhance the rest of the state park. It will be a very good thing, and we're excited about it," Pittman said.
President and CEO of the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau Herb Malone agrees - what's good for Gulf Shores and Orange beach tourism is good for Alabama.
"Important for the entire state. The proposed property will give us opportunity to draw people here who wouldn't be here otherwise, accommodate conventions and groups we can't physically accommodate today," Malone said.
There is about $85 million allocated for Gulf State Park enhancements. Critics of the Bill have said BP money should not be spent to rebuild a lodge that wasn't even there when the oil spill happened in 2010. But, the governor argues the money was based on "loss of use" which happened to the Gulf State Park and the entire beach due to the oil spill.
According to Bentley, the money cannot be used for the environment so that's why it was allocated for a new lodge.
Bentley would not give a date on when the project will actually get underway. He said right now it's still in the conceptual stage.
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