Spectacular Lodge at Gulf State Park throws open its doors
By Fran Thompson
The pride among the assembled dignitaries, including Gov. Kay Ivey, was palpable when the ribbon was finally slashed and the $140 million RESTORE Act funded Lodge at Gulf State Park was officially opened for business on Nov. 2.
Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft talked about how his mother used to take him to GSP when he was a child and the responsibility he and other elected officials have as stewards of Pleasure Island’s beautiful beaches.
Vigor grad Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon mentioned childhood family vacations to GSP and waking his father before dawn so he and his brother could fish at Lake Shelby and the GSP Pier.
“It was always torture when the drawbridge was up and we had to wait,’’ he said. “Now I get to live here and raise my family here.”
U.S. Congressman Bradley Byrne and Dept. of Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship, South Alabama natives both, also referenced childhood memories when speaking to the large gathering.
Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, raised “in the redneck cotton fields’’ of North Alabama, said one of his favorite memories as a parent was taking his children to Gulf State Park so they could feel the waves wash over their toes.
“Now we want to make sure people from North Alabama can get here and not sit on Hwy. 65 for several hours,’’ he said.
It was Herb Malone, president of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism, who provided the best reference to Gulf State Park’s connection to so many in Alabama, relaying how his father, as part of the W.P.A., worked at Gulf State Park “gathering up alligators” ahead of construction crews amidst the mosquitos along the original Powerline Rd. in the 1930s.
Originally established in 1974, the hotel at GSP served as a hub of community activity for 30 years before being irreparably damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
The new lodge was rebuilt as a model of resilient, environmentally-friendly coastal development with a focus on sustainable tourism. It is designed to be an international benchmark for environmental and economic sustainability with facilities earmarked for outdoor recreation, education, and hospitable accommodations.
To demonstrate its commitment to protecting the environment, Lodge architects targeted three of the most rigorous sustainability goals in the hospitality industry.
The Lodge will be the only hotel in the world with all three of those highly sought after certifications in energy efficiency and fortified construction, said John Koshivos, Hilton’s vice president for franchise development.
Guests of the 350-room (20 of them suites), beachfront hotel will enjoy stunning views of the Gulf of Mexico or Lake Shelby with direct access to the emerald green waters of the Gulf and over 6,150 acres of trails and activities within the Park. Rooms will rent for somewhere in the $200 range, depending on the season.
Offering a wide array of indoor and outdoor event space, the lodge is designed for conferences, special occasions and gatherings of any size.
“This is not just a premium hotel on the beach,” said Gary Ellis, GSP’s director of Community Relations. “The entire entity of Gulf State Park – including The Lodge, Living Campus, the Interpretive Center, the new trails – will be a game-changer for the state. The new lodge should draw not only from Alabama but all over the United States. We’ll also be appealing to international visitation. The work and strategic thinking that have gone into this will put us in a different playing field other than just a resort hotel on the beach.”
Under the management of Valor Hospitality Partners, the new Lodge operates with a focused commitment to the sustainability and preservation of the coastline, environment, wildlife and fauna of the Park and the region.
Hilton will handle The Lodge booking.
The Lodge will accommodate up to 1,000 people for conferences and conventions. The beach-view ballroom is 12,160 square feet with an adjacent 7,500-square-foot outdoor terrace. Several other smaller meeting and conference rooms are available.
A Gulf-front pool will have a pool bar and grill, while a Gulf-front restaurant will have terrace seating and a private dining room that will serve house-prepared dishes sourced from regional suppliers, including fresh Alabama Gulf Seafood.
Sensitively designed by LakeFlato and Rabun Architects with a native landscape by Sasaki Associates. the building footprint was reduced by nearly one-third. It sits back 200-225 feet from the Gulf to allow for greater dune restoration and natural dune movement. The buildings are positioned to take advantage of gulf breezes and natural lighting. This design reduces energy use by 32 percent and interior water use by 35 percent.
The interior design, inspired by the hotel’s surrounding environment and its local history, incorporates color, texture, and contrast to create comforting spaces that seamlessly transition from outdoor to indoor while maintaining high levels of energy efficiency and environmental sustainability.
“We look forward to welcoming guests to our unique property where nature is at your doorstep at every turn,” said Bill Bennett, general manager.
“There is not a more beautiful place than our Gulf Coast, with its white sands and sparkling waters,’’ Gov. Ivey added. “This facility is our way to show a piece of Alabama to the world.’’
The project was financed first with $29 million from early BP oil spill settlement funds under former Gov. Robert Bentley, with approval from the NRDA trustees. The remaining building funds came from Alabama’s cut of the RESTORE Act pushed through by Alabama’s legislators.
As part of a settlements with the New Orleans based Gulf Restoration Network, Alabama will spend $65.1 million over 15 years to maintain public amenities at GSP.
40,000 square feet of flexible indoor and outdoor meeting space; direct Gulf of Mexico views from every room; regionally inspired menus curated from locally sourced purveyors; Fifteen percent of building materials are recycled materials and 70–75 percent of construction waste was recycled; Condensation from the HVAC system is collected and recycled to replace water in the pool; rainwater is collected and directed to a restored wetland on site; lighting is designed with local wildlife in mind; air conditioning units include sensors that cut off the unit if balcony doors or windows are left open or ajar; native species landscaping; a commitment to recycling trash and cooking oil.