Working Waterfront plans moving forward with deadline

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FAIRHOPE – Plans are moving forward for the Fairhope Working Waterfront project, but the timetable to keep the $6.2-million grant is tight, city officials said.

Fairhope is eligible for a RESTORE Grant to finance improvements on South Beach and the Municipal Pier. The city, however, must have bid-ready documents completed by April 2022, Brandon Bias, a planner with Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood, told City Council members on Monday, April 12.

Those documents will take 12 to 14 months to complete, he said.

Mayor Sherry Sullivan said city officials will continue to listen to public comments on the project, but plans need to move forward.

“We will lose $6.2 million if we don’t move forward in a timely manner and use this money as intended,” Sullivan said.

She said the council could adopt the conceptual plan at its next meeting, but all aspects of the project would still need to be voted on in the future.

“There’s no other time that we’re going to get this amount of money that’s a 100-percent grant. And again, the pier and this area really do need the upgrades. So, I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to move forward at the next meeting,” Sullivan said.

She said that while some residents have said the public has not had a chance to comment, the city has been receiving and studying comments for months.

“We did solicit public input,” Sullivan said. “There are a lot of comments. There are probably close to 400 comments about the Working Waterfront. We know people are passionate about this and they want us to do a good job and be good stewards of the environment and good stewards of the money and that’s what we’re here for tonight.”

She said project priorities include pedestrian safety, the bulkhead and seawall.

The work also includes changes to the rose garden and replacing the fountain.

“There are people who question why we are replacing the fountain,” Sullivan said. “We’re spending about $30,000 a year in upgrades or maintenance to that fountain, pumps and different things, so that’s an ongoing expense.”

She said the new fountain will be about the same size as the current fountain.

The plan also includes upgrades to the pier, she said.

“We need new bathrooms, improved lighting, handrails, the crab piers, the decking,” Sullivan said. “There’s a lot of improvements that the pier needs, and we look forward to being able to use that money to do that.”

Council President Jack Burrell said some public comments have included concerns about a pavilion proposed on South Beach. He said the pavilion will not be more than 30 feet in diameter and not be a site for large public gatherings.

“I like it actually, but there are people that are concerned that it’s going to be a point where you could have a concert in there,” Burrell said.

“I think that there were some local residents that were concerned over that. It’s certainly not going to be a gathering place, only being 30 feet in diameter, for the masses. It’s just something pretty simple and I don’t think it’s blocking any view or anything, no more than a tree is up there,” he added.

Bias said the earlier proposals on the project included work on the bluffs above South Beach. He said those plans have been modified.

“We’ve gone back to the drawing table on this project and reimagined it based on the input that the mayor started to receive back in the fall and the four priorities that we’ve identified,” Bias said. “What you recognize here is a park that has a lot of similarities to what exists now.”

The plans include new stairs on the bluffs and an access ramp for handicapped visitors, but no other changes.

“We do have an additional handicapped access on the south side,” Bias said. “We looked on that full edge to determine where is the most efficient place for that to have the lowest level of impact and that is the place that we feel it does. That is the place that the grades between Utopia Park and South Beach Park are the closest.”

He said the plan also includes changes in parking at the pier, with spaces increased from 126 to 128. Pedestrian crosswalks will be added to make access between the pier area and rose garden safer, Bias said.

“When you have a lot of asphalt like that and you’re asking pedestrians to move around and use that space, it becomes confusing,” Bias said. “They can get disorganized. They put themselves at risk crossing the street.”