Chances are if you boarded the Good Ship 2020 around January last year then you were probably ready to abandon it by December. That voyage was cursed by a pandemic and a sea witch named Sally.
However, skies appear favorable for 2021. The previous year taught us something about ourselves; we are resilient, we are risk takers, and we turn crises into opportunities for growth and development. And our CAP partners proved it.
Going into 2021, we thought it would be good to hear from some of our partners on how they are feeling going into this new year.
Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism
According to Beth Gendler, Chief Operating Officer with Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, 2020 tourism data is still in the works but 2019 figures reveal that tourism supported 54,000 jobs and $1.7 billion in salaries and wages. Approximately 6.9 million visitors left $5.2 billion of their dollars here. “They discovered unexpected things about this area”, she says, “like 26 miles of pathways, Segway tours, sports runs, a wildlife refuge, birding trails, the Gulf State Park, and backwater bays. Eighty percent of those who visit, come back.”
Lodging and RV parks are splitting at the seams. Beth reports that COVID did not keep snowbirds from migrating to the beaches last year. This was their haven, their safe place. She’s optimistic about 2021 and several outside events have been scheduled like the Orange Beach Seafood Festival, art festivals and the Wharf Boat and Yacht Show. “Folks want to be outside doing things and feel safe while doing it. I think we see are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
Downtown Mobile Alliance
Fred Rendfrey, Downtown Mobile Alliance’s Director of Downtown Economic Development, states that the Historic Tax Credit has had a positive impact on Downtown Mobile. This federal tax that has been around since the ‘80’s, and provides a reduction on tax liability when an investment is made in historical property. It’s an incentive to turn old buildings into ones for commercial use. Some of these projects included Wheeler Lofts, The Container Yard, The Cheese Cottage, Old Mobile Antiques and Precision Engineering.
“The low hanging fruit has been developed” Fred said, “but as the market matures it will continue to absorb vacant space and we’ll see new construction. One current project is the reuse of the old Gayfer’s building into apartments. There is an assemblage of buildings there; connecting them makes them reusable. I expect to see great strides made in 2021.”
Emily Gonzales, Vice President, Marketing & Communications with Visit Mobile provided us with an update on the Clotilda related tourism projects. Africatown, a community settled by the survivors after emancipation, is buzzing with energy as new light is being shed on the community’s history with this unprecedented discovery of the original Clotilda ship. Africatown, just north of downtown Mobile, is one of America’s treasured historical communities just waiting to share their story.
Coming this summer a museum exhibit and welcome center will open to the world sharing the experience of the journey to and from Africa, bringing life to the 110 captives, showing artifacts of the burned and sunken shipwreck, and allowing us to reflect on the past emphasizing how strength, optimism, and resilience created a community and country like none other.
Collaborative meetings around the Clotilda projects continue, including discussions about water tours and more.
Dr. William (Bill) Walton, Professor, Fisheries & Aquaculture, Auburn University (Dauphin Island Sea Lab) is an oyster aquaculture extension specialist, providing technical advice on hatcheries, and keeping the public informed of developments regarding oyster aquaculture.
Bill mentioned an article in Seafood Source: “Seafood groups praise passage of COVID-19 relief package”, an important relief package that allows forgivable loan funds to be used for business expenses and receivable debt. The seafood industry was hit with approximately $2.2 billion in outstanding debt since the beginning of the pandemic. Those in the industry who don’t receive relief could go under, Bill said. “This is based on start-up costs versus fisherman continuing business and selling.”
Oyster harvesting has increased substantially. “We probably have over two dozen farms now through coastal areas of the Gulf. It’s exciting to see the industry growing, almost like microbreweries. One brand doesn’t take over the market. Each farm develops their own “tastes”, and the market embraces a variety of the oysters.
“We were in a good place going into 2020. The seafood and oyster aquaculture will continue growth into new markets. I am hopeful” Bill claims. “It’s impressive how the seafood industry has been challenged, yet farmers are producing these amazing oysters and moving forward with them.”
He sums things up by saying “It’s how we do things on the Gulf Coast.” We couldn’t agree more.
As for Coastal Alabama Partnership, we will continue to advocate for regional infrastructure through collaborative efforts with federal, state, and local officials. We aim to keep our finger on the pulse of legislature that affects our coast, and educating the public on all that our area offers.
We may be boarding the new ship 2021 with cautious optimism but we can count on the ever-changing wind and tides. And this year they might just be in our favor.