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Move over Gulf Shores and Orange Beach? Mobile officials advancing new beach projects

A rendering of the future Bayfront Park along the Mobile Bay in Coden, Ala.

Posted on January 16, 2023

Sugar-white sand beaches. A breeze coming off waterfronts. Families flocking for surf, sun, and fun.

For most in coastal Alabama, it sounds like picture-perfect day in Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, or Dauphin Island.

But it’s also a future coveted along the western shorefront of Mobile Bay where public beaches are non-existent.

Two projects – Brookley by the Bay, south of downtown Mobile; and Bayfront Park, adjacent to Alabama State Route 193 near Coden – are in development and will, for the first time, provide a new beach experience in areas without one.

Of the two projects, a nearly $8.5 million reconstruction of Bayfront Park is the most advanced.

The little-known pocket park has been under county ownership since 1921, with few improvements. But thanks to an injection of funding through a portion of the 2016 BP oil spill settlement, a 10-acre beach and adjoining park is on track to be open sometime next year.

“We do have beaches at Dauphin Island, Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Fairhope, and it’s important for communities to have access to the water,” said Chris Blankenship, the commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources who has played an instrumental role in securing funding for the Bayfront Park project.

“In South Mobile County, Coden and the Fowl River area, this park will offer great access for the citizens to get out and enjoy the Bay and the outdoors,” Blankenship said. “It’s the same for Mobile. It’s a good (distance) from Gulf Shores and Orange Beach so with the waterfront at Brookley, to get projects like that … it’s what makes living along here on the coast so special.”

Funding approval

The county is not spending general fund money on Bayfront Park.

However, Mobile County Commissioners on Monday advanced the Bayfront Park project by endorsing an additional $3.9 million of money allocated through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process. The money is in addition to $4.6 million in NRDA money that was originally allocated for the project in 2020.

The project was approved a few years ago by a group of trustees that include Blankenship who are charged with assessing and evaluating restoration projects to natural resources that suffered from losses because of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and subsequent oil spill.

Tina Sanchez, environmental services director with Mobile County, said the NRDA money was designed to remedy the harm caused by the oil spill by creating additional public access to the waterfront.

For Bayfront Park, though, the costs to build a new beach and adjacent park amenities has soared as general construction costs have risen amid inflation and a struggle to ship supplies to the region.

Sanchez said the first phase of the project – the beach – came in about $1.5 million over budget.

“We have a beach,” said Sanchez, referring to approximately 25,000 dry tons of sand that was hauled to Bayfront Park last year and constructed in front of existing riprap. “We need to have all the amenities in the park to meet its intended purposes.”

The additional NRDA funds are set up to pay for those amenities that include, among other things, a new boardwalk, pavilions, restroom and park office, and a parking area.

Chris Blankenship, Commissioner, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources speaks at the opening. Buck’s Pocket State Park opens the renovated campground and new ORV Trail today.

Blankenship said the boardwalk will also include interactive learning exhibits that will be added during the next phase.

Although the beach could open without the park features, “I think it would be (lacking),” said Blankenship. “If we are doing these projects, we need to do them right where we can all be proud of them. It’s going to be there for decades to come.”

Blankenship said his fellow NRDA trustees – which include representatives from federal agencies like the Department of Interior, Department of Agriculture, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – agreed it was important to “make good improvements to the park” by not cutting back on the overall project.

“We didn’t want to cut the project elements out,” Blankenship said.

County officials believe the result will be a project that could become a beach destination north of the more touristy destination of Dauphin Island.

“It’s going to be an awesome park,” said Mobile County Commissioner Randall Dueitt. “People talk about Baldwin County and if you’ve ever been to The Grand Hotel (in Point Clear) you will see they have a similar pocket park. I’m proud to say that we have the nicest pocket beach on Mobile Bay now.”


For now, Bayfront Park remains closed. It has been closed since last March when construction on the new beach began.

Sanchez said she is unsure when it might reopen but estimates sometime in 2024. She said that bids on the construction of the park’s amenities will go out sometime in the coming weeks. Once a contractor is hired, she said a timeline for the park’s completion will be announced.

“We’ll rush it along and see how quickly we can get the work done,” she said.

The project is likely to be completed before Brookley by the Bay, which is the City of Mobile’s beach project.

Related: Brookley by the Bay: Mobile begins collecting dreams for park property

The 98-acre park along the western shore of Mobile Bay, just east of Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley, is planned to be focal point of a city-owned and operated beach. It will be in close proximity to the new Mobile International Airport once it opens sometime in 2025.

A master plan for the city beach project is expected to be released next month.

“I see multiple jurisdictions working toward the same purpose in Mobile County and that is with increasing the public access to the enjoyment of water near our homes,” Sanchez said.


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