Fairhope discusses waterfront improvements


FAIRHOPE – Proposed changes at the Fairhope Pier and South Beach Park are intended to improve, not damage, one of Baldwin County’s most iconic locations, project supporters said Friday.

The city of Fairhope is working on a $6.2 million project to stabilize the bluffs over South Beach and make other improves on the pier and park area, designers and city officials said Friday at a discussion of the work.

At a project meeting at Fairhope City Hall, architect Christian Preus said the site is one of the most admired in Fairhope and the Eastern Shore, but some changes are needed.

“Obviously, we know and love this site. I’m a Fairhope resident and frequently visit the waterfront with my family,” Preus said. “Looking at this as a design professional, we do see a lot of positives here. It’s not like we’re taking a site that is derelict or not beautiful and transforming it into a beautiful public space. This is already a beautiful public space and we’re just trying to improve it.”

One change proposed is to add terraces along the South Beach bluffs to create areas where visitors can view Mobile Bay and sunsets, Scott Hutchinson, an engineer with GMC of Daphne, said. He said that while some people have expressed concerns that the bluffs will be damaged by the work, the hillside will not be dug out.

“The misconception that was out there was that we were cutting the top of the bluff and dropping the slope and we’re not doing that at all,” Hutchinson said pointing to a plan for the work. “You can see the walkways out here are not into the top of the bluff, so the goal is to leave the top like it is.”

He said one area about 40 feet long and eight feet wide will be dug down about one foot to allow a sidewalk to be built from the top of the bluff to the bay shore. The proposed terraces and viewing areas would be created by adding material to the bluffs, not by digging out the slope.

Hutchinson said the design plans do not call for any terraces or other major work on the north bluffs.

Hutchinson, also a Fairhope resident, said designers do not want to change popular features in the park.

“Our goal is not to put some Disney World feature out there,” he said. “We want to do something that the entire city is proud of. We know we have some beautiful areas, so we need to improve it and fix some things that people don’t notice.”

Preus said the plan also calls for parking spots to be moved from the circle around the flag, fountain and rose garden. The new parking area would be about 100 feet to the north. The garden, flagpole and fountain would also be moved a short distance to allow all the features to line up with the pier as visitors look over the bay.

“So that when you drive into the park, you have this full on view of green space with the backdrop of the waterfront as opposed to five or six rows of parking surrounding a rose garden,” Preus said. “So, the idea is to emphasize this formal space, rose garden with a reimagined fountain in the center with a corrected axis to where the terminus is the fountain with the pier in the backdrop and the flagpole on a continuous access and it really cleans up the organization of the space that it currently doesn’t have.”

Richard Johnson, public works director, said that while the park is popular and attractive, some features need repair, such as the wooden bulkheads south of the pier and the fountain.

“We have infrastructure there that’s 50 years old,” Johnson said. “If you go on the south shoreline, you don’t have to be an engineer to know this is not supposed to be leaning out to sea and woods not supposed to be falling off of this bulkhead. It is failing.”

The plan calls for a beach area to be created south of the pier.

Mayor Karin Wilson was not at the Friday meeting, but said earlier in the week that the project would be paid for for with money from the Resources and Ecosystem Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economy, RESTORE, Act that distribute funds from the BP oil spill. She said the city will receive $18 million for the pier and park work as well as other projects, including sewer system improvements.

“This is the very best plan to serve our community and protect this iconic park for generations to come,” Wilson said. “The money funding for projects totaling $18 million is not coming from the city, utilities or the taxpayers.”