MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — With the Gulf of Mexico as backdrop, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley signed a law Tuesday that will lead to multiple improvements at Gulf State Park.
The ceremony was held in the parking lot of a former state-owned lodge that was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. The new law provides for improvements at the Gulf Shores park, including a lodge and conference facility that will help attract visitors.
"My vision is for a lodge that everyone can visit and enjoy," Bentley said. "I want more families to come to the Gulf State Park and explore our natural resources."
A project committee will decide the specifics of the building project. A $58 million portion of an $85.5 million award will be used to kickstart the beachfront lodge. Funding for the projects will come from the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Early Restoration process.
More than $27 million is allocated for a series of environmental improvements throughout the park.
Other parts of the park will be enhanced with education projects. They include an environmental research and education facility for Alabama students, trail development and enhancement and dune restoration along the beachfront.
The bill that laid the foundation for the improvements specified that 100 percent of the state's portion of revenues from the lodge and conference center will go to the Department of Conservations and Natural Resources. Some of those revenues will pay for projects in other state parks.
State Sen. Trip Pittman and Rep. Steve McMillan sponsored the legislation that establishes a framework for the lodge and meeting facility.
"I am excited about what this project will mean, not only for the Gulf Coast but also for all of Alabama," Pittman said.
During committee meetings on the bill, Pittman pushed the idea of using revenues from the beachfront recreational facility to add money to the annual budget of the State Parks Department through the State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
That money won't come for a while. Alabama has more than 20 state parks that depend on self-generation of revenues for operation. They are on scaled-back operations now due to declines in park fee collections.
The new facility is in the conceptual stage. A committee selected by the governor will examine options, solicit requests for proposals and submit plans for review.
According to Jeremy King of the governor's staff, it will be designed in an environmentally friendly manner in order to compliment the coast and the surrounding 29 acres. The lodge is expected to include visitor orientation and exhibits to share the history and ecology of Alabama's Gulf Coast.