Construction begins for $9.7 million Gulf Coast Center for Ecotourism and Sustainability Mayor says this could be start of city’s emergence as center for Gulf research, education

Construction begins for $9.7 million Gulf Coast Center for Ecotourism and Sustainability
Mayor says this could be start of city’s emergence as center for Gulf research, education

By Fran Thompson
It may seem like a stretch to compare the Gulf Coast Eco Center coming soon to Gulf Shores with the space program that transformed small town Huntsville into the largest city in Alabama.
But Jean-Michel Cousteau is onboard, and the son of the famed oceanographer and underwater filmmaker, Jacque Cousteau, was in Gulf Shores to help Mayor Robert Craft and other city officinals break ground for the Gulf Coast Center for Ecotourism and Sustainability (GCCES) to be located on a 12 acre building site located between the city’s school complex and Gulf State Park. The build site is contiguous with 100 acres of mostly wetlands owned by the city. Mayor Craft said that just like the Rocket City is synonymous with NASA and its space program, Gulf Shores could be the center of research and education for all thing concerning the Gulf of Mexico.
“We’ve got a NASA Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville. I want us to have a comparable position – an ocean center for lack of a better term,” Craft said. “I know we’ve got the Gulf, not an ocean, but space and ocean. I think we can do that in Alabama, and this is how we start.’’
Cousteau’s innovative education program, Ambassadors of the Environment, will be at the forefront of the Center For EcoTourism.
“I’m emotionally involved because everything I’ve attempted to do, my father attempted to do, my team has attempted to do is happening, happening, happening,’’ Costeau said. “The future decision makers – young people – are making better decisions already.’’
Ambassadors to the Environment connects participants with their natural and cultural environment through overnight camps focused on active, hands-on outdoor experiences with a curriculum developed for students in grades 4-12.
Construction of the Eco Center will begin in early 2022 and completion is scheduled by March of 2023. The $9.7 million Restore Act-funded project will be a center for programs promoting sustainable tourism, environmental awareness, and stewardship of natural resources. The theory is that what’s good for the Gulf of Mexico is good for a tourist economy that is centered around the Gulf.
The city’s total Restore Act funding generated from a settlement with BP following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill is $41.8 million, including $4.4 million to extend the Fort Morgan Trail, $5.9 million for the Little Lagoon Restoration project and $21.7 million for traffic capacity improvements, including Canal Road.
The Eco Center will include a great hall, a dining area, offices, classrooms, outdoor learning spaces, gardens, greenhouses, laboratories, instructor housing and team-building areas. The build-out will utilize the latest technology in sustainable building design.
The Eco Center staff and Cousteau will produce programs in cooperation with the nearby Gulf State Park Learning Campus and utilize GSP’s backcountry trails, lakes, beaches and buildings as part of its curriculum.
Other partners include Valor Hospitality, Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, Gulf Shores City Schools, with cooperation from numerous environmental and ecotourism entities.
Research universities, environmental education groups and businesses are potential partners. Regional school districts will also have access to the programs.

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