On the Alabama coast, mess surfaces over airport name
“What’s in a name?” William Shakespeare reflected centuries ago in the classic history of families in conflict in “Romeo and Juliet”.
In coastal Alabama, where two beach towns recently fought over bridges and festivals, the answer seems to be a lot.
Orange Beach city officials are about to vote against a $ 75,000 loan to the Gulf Shores Airport Authority. The reason is that the name of their city was excluded from the name change of the airport, which was unveiled last month. The name of the airport has been changed from “Jack Edwards National Airport” to “Gulf Shores International Airport, Jack Edwards Field”.
“I’m going to be honest with you,” Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon said. “When they had a little vision of calling it Gulf Shores International Airport, I personally washed my hands of it. I wanted something bigger and something truly regional. This, to me, is a little ball. It was somewhat insulting in my mind.
The issue was raised at an Orange Beach city council meeting on Tuesday. Kennon, in a brief discussion, said the city “won’t send them more money” and “not everything that is an international airport needs our support.”
Scott Fuller, the airport manager, said he was unaware of Kennon’s comments and Orange Beach’s position, but admitted there had been “underlying” to the the city’s dissatisfaction with the rebranding.
“It won’t have a very negative impact on us,” Fuller said of the $ 75,000. “Their money was directed to airlines and (airport) marketing, not operations. It was put in place for the airlines and it hurts a bit. It hurts me even more, but we will survive. But I don’t think that’s fair.
Kennon said he believed the airport should have been renamed as Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, which is located 18 miles north of Panama City. This airport, opened to commercial flights more than ten years ago, was originally called the Northwest Florida-Panama City International Airport. But the airport authority, with a 3-2 vote in 2009, decided to remove “Panama City” from the brand in favor of a more regional appellation.
“They don’t call it Destiny International, they call it Northwest Florida,” Kennon said. “We could have come up with something more innovative. “Coastal Alabama” or “Beaches of Alabama International. “
He added: “Some people will see him as mean on my side. But I don’t. It’s a big deal. If you are spending something to mark (the airport), why would you call it Gulf Shores International Airport? I do not know.
Fuller said he thought Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport would have been better off including a city name. He said the current name “does not define” the airport or its location.
“Gulf Shores is a recognizable name… that we talk about with the airlines,” Fuller said. “The biggest problem we’ve encountered in marketing is, ‘Where’s Jack Edwards? “What state are you in?” When we say we’re in Alabama and we’re on the coast, we hear, “Alabama is on the coast?” “
Kennon also provided another, more local example to Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism – the convention and visitor arm of the Alabama beach region.
“They do their best to be fair and get it right in the middle,” Kennon said of the tour group. “We have equal representation at the table. “
But the tourist organization is funded by the lodging taxes of the two cities, while the airport authority does not have a designated source of revenue from the city of Orange Beach.
The airport has been within the municipal limits of Gulf Shores since it was originally Canal Field in the 1940s. The city has also invested nearly $ 20 million in the facility, Fuller said.
“He’s an authority on Gulf Shores,” said Orange Beach city councilor Jerry Johnson, who is the council’s representative to the airport authority. “It’s always in Orange Beach’s best interests to be there. Much of the business that goes through the airport goes to Orange Beach.
Indeed, a large portion of the private and charter airlines that serve the airport are to Orange Beach, Fuller said. Orange Beach has more resorts and oceanfront condominium towers than Gulf Shores and other areas of Pleasure Island which are often destinations for pilots and passengers to Gulf Shores.
Fuller said the name change was the result of a multi-month airport rebranding process overseen by Aqua Marketing & Communications of St. Petersburg, Florida. The company has screened more than 4,000 people who “represent potential passengers who will come to our region,” according to company president and CEO David Di Maggio last month.
The name change was unveiled at a press conference on November 10 at the same time the airport authority also unveiled a new, $ 6.1 million, 95-foot-tall air traffic control tower. and announced plans to move forward with the construction of a two-door terminal that will offer flights via low cost airline services.
Fuller said the new name had been “silent” before the press conference, and few officials knew before the unveiling.
He said Orange Beach had been omitted from the name because it needed to be narrowed down and because the name “Jack Edwards” had to stay. The airport was named in 1981 in honor of the late United States Representative Jack Edwards, who served the Gulf Coast region of Alabama in Congress from 1965 to 1985.
“Gulf Shores-Orange Beach Jack Edwards International Airport was too heavy to transport,” Fuller said. “We were going to keep ‘Jack Edwards’. It was one thing. We were going to add “International”. It had nothing to do with Gulf Shores or Orange Beach. We still market Orange Beach and it’s disappointing that they were hurt about it. Hope we will sort it out later. But it’s a city airport.
Fuller said neither Gulf Shores City Council members nor Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft chose the new name. He said the decision came from the airport authority, whose members are representatives from both cities.
“It was not a decision by the city of Gulf Shores,” Fuller said. “There was a lot of pressure (on the rebranding effort). It was about “guys, we have too many names”. We’ll have a hard time getting this thing to market. I had nothing to do with the city versus Orange Beach.
Grant Brown, spokesperson for the city of Gulf Shores, declined to comment on the kerfuffle name. He said, “The City of Gulf Shores recognizes that this airport is an asset to the cities of Gulf Shores, Foley, Orange Beach, Fort Morgan and Perdido, and we look forward to seeing it grow in the future.
Orange Beach City Councilor Jerry Johnson, who is the Orange Beach council representative in the authority, said he hoped the city would remain involved in the airport because “a lot of business that go through the airport go to Orange Beach.
‘Represent Orange Beach’
Johnson has said he would likely vote to support the $ 75,000 credit, but he doesn’t think the majority of his colleagues will. “I don’t think the votes are for that right now,” Johnson said. “Maybe in a year to see him again.”
Johnson is also unsure whether the city will decide to step down from authority as the group moves forward with building a terminal. The airport’s goal is to attract more tourists to the Alabama coast through commercial air services. Of the nearly 7 million people who visit beaches, nearly all make it to the Alabama coast: a whopping 92% of visitors to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach in the summer of 2018 and 2019 arrived by car .
The purpose of the new terminal, according to Gulf Shores officials, is also to help alleviate some of the beachside traffic jams that occur along Alabama State Route 59 and elsewhere during travel season. summer.
Johnson added: “The mayor is worried, and I knew he would be. It’s time to move on and do all we can to build the terminal. I think we’ll see a lot more air traffic coming from Birmingham, Nashville, and Atlanta and you might see people branching out further north to come here faster.
The airport naming the dust follows several other high-profile disputes between the two cities. The most pronounced concerns a difference between Gulf Shores and Orange Beach in the future of the projects of duel bridges on the Intercoastal Waterway. Gulf Shores is supporting the construction of a new bridge leading to Canal Road, which once had the support of the Alabama Department of Transportation. But ALDOT has since suspended bids for the project, allowing Orange Beach and operators of the private Foley Beach Express bridge near The Wharf entertainment complex to strike a deal to add lanes and lower tolls for local residents.
In October, after the National Shrimp Festival in Gulf Shores was canceled due to increased cases of COVID-19, Kennon announced a “Freedom Fest” at The Wharf. He said the festival would likely coincide in the coming years alongside the Shrimp Fest.
“Every family has a fight from time to time,” Kennon said. “It’s like Thanksgiving, you throw punches at the lunch table and watch football together afterwards. But we will represent Orange Beach and that’s what I do. Orange Beach is what I do, end of story.