Embassy Suites is finally “ready to go’’ after multiple false starts

Embassy Suites is finally “ready to go’’ after multiple false starts
By John Mullen
A flurry of correspondence the past few weeks between Gulf Shores and developers of a planned Embassy Suites Hotel has been part of an effort to start work on the project by the June 30 deadline.
City Council first approved the project for development in 2018, and it was supposed to be completed by now. But the project’s momentum stalled due to financing issues and the pandemic.
“These are the final pieces of information that need to be in place so that we can go to closing,” City Administrator Steve Griffin said at a June 20 council meeting. “Brandan (Franklin, building official) has informed us he’s got full building permits now and footing and foundation permits will be issued by the end of the month as well. I think we’re ready to go.”
A final closing is scheduled before June 30 as developers look to start construction of the Embassy Suites hotel across from the Gulf near the main city public beach.
“In accordance with the project development agreement that we have with DD Partners for the development of the Embassy Suites project they are preparing for closing on or before June 30 as required in the development agreement and to commence the construction of the project,” Economic Development Coordinator Blake Phelps said at the specially called meeting.
The council had a regularly scheduled work session at 4 p.m. and called the special meeting to address some changes in the agreement with the Embassy Suites developers and a conditional use permit for Waterway Wines to move forward at East Second Street and East 22nd Avenue.
Both moved forward on unanimous votes including the ordinance change on the Embassy project. The council suspended the rules by unanimous consent to immediately consider the ordinance and then voted 5-0 for its passage. Councilman Gary Sinak was not present.
Phelps said the change was necessary because an additional partner was added to the combination of DD Partners and Woodbine Development.
“In preparation of closing, DD Partners has elected to sign their interest of the agreement to a new operating entity that they are forming between themselves, Woodbine Development which has been a partner of theirs for a couple of years now and Peachtree Hospitality Group who will be the operating entity of the hotel itself once it’s built and operational,” Phelps said. “They’ve notified the city of their intent to do so and as contemplated in the development agreement. The ordinance will authorize and consent to that assignment to the new operating entity which is PHG Gulf Shores. That will become the company in the development agreement with the city.”
Gulf Shores offered the developers a fifth extension to start work on the project in September of 2021.
“We keep giving extensions because we don’t of anything that would better fit that property in our vision of doing something with a full-service hotel of significance there in Gulf Shores,” Mayor Robert Craft said at the time. “I’m excited that we’re finally moving forward with a project we’ve been working on for years.”
With the extention of the starting date to June 30, 2022, the target completion date is now Sept. 30, 2024.
In 2015 the city sought proposals from parties interested in developing a 1.93-acre parcel owned by the city directly west of the Alvin’s Island beach store at the corner of State Route 59 and State Route 182 or beach road. In March of 2016 a selection committee formed by the city recommended the Embassy Suites project.
During the design phase, the city asked developers to increase the size for meeting space in the hotel to offer another venue to host meetings in Gulf Shores. To make that happen the city offered a tax incentive of a 42 percent tax rebate in the first three years of operation and 35 percent each following year until the $6.5 million to add the meeting space was recouped.
There are still plans for the hotel to include 11,800 square feet of meeting space including a 7,800 square foot ballroom.
Changes to the original design made during one of the extension requests was making the hotel eight instead of 10 stories, scaling the rooftop pool area from 23,000 square feet to 10,000 and upping the number of rooms from 229 to 254, according to city documents.
The original price tag for the project was about $85 million. And that is certainly higher now.
In 2018, Dr. Keivan Deravi of Auburn University at Montgomery said the hotel could have a $65 million economic impact and that direct local tax revenues are expected to be $1.8 million a year and $22.6 million during the first 10 years.
During its June 20 work session, the council also discussed:
• Several board appointments including reappointing Mary Wayne Gilmore to the Beautification Board through June 10, 2025.
• Appointing Holly Howell and Don Lucas to the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee to terms ending on May 8, 2025.
• Appointing Gerald Tipton of LuLu’s to the Gulf Shores Orange Beach Tourism Board through June 28, 2026, replacing the retiring Mac McAleer.
• Surplus of several items including a 2005 Dodge Ram pickup, a 2016 Chevy Colorado pickup, a 2006 Ford F150 pickup and three UTVs. A 2015 Chevy Tahoe was donated to the city of Prichard Police Department. A hammer/discus cage will be donated to Elberta High School and a Kubota RTV will be donated to Gulf Shores schools. The auction at govdeals.gov will be from July 4-18. Due to the volume of items declared as surplus, the city will now have quarterly auctions instead of biannual.
• The presentation of the Life Guard of the Month Award to Mac Hirsh for May and Fire Chief Mark Sealy recognized Alabama Law Enforcement helicopter pilot Brian Hand for his work with the lifeguard crews on Memorial Day weekend.
• Awarding the bid for concessions at various athletic events in the city to Ben E. Keith for a period of one year with an option for a two-year renewal when the first contract expires. Yearly the city budgets about $140,000 for concession purchases and averages about $295,000 in sales each year, according to city documents.
• Awarding the bid for five wayfinding signs for Coastal Gateway Boulevard to Blink Signs. Five bids were opened and Blink Signs had the lowest conforming bid at $120,207. Others to bid were Modern Signs at $160,867, Allied Signage at $157,550 and Color Ad at $235,017. Vulcan Signs’ bid of $29,000 did not include bids on the entire package.
• Authorizing the mayor to sign $90,000 worth of contracts to hire performers for the annual Entertainment Series in January and February.