Orange Beach city officials unhappy with airport name change spend $ 75,000 to support it
Orange Beach city officials on Tuesday decided they would continue to invest in marketing an airport where a name change annoyed them.
By unanimous vote, the board decided to allocate $ 75,000 to the Gulf Shores Airport Authority and to continue to support Gulf Shores International Airport, Jack Edwards Field. This decision also allows the city to continue, at least for the next 12 months, to be represented within the Gulf Shores Airport Authority.
The vote came after a request from City Councilor Jerry Johnson, who is a member of the Orange Beach Airport Authority and urged his fellow council members to allow him to remain on the board at a time when the move was underway to build a new airport terminal to attract commercial airlines. .
“It’s good to have a seat at the table,” Johnson said. “It’s good for the long-term health of our three cities. We’re about to have something that could make a big impact (for the Alabama coast). “
Despite the vote, city officials expressed dismay at the airport’s name change after Gulf Shores. Officials such as Mayor Tony Kennon wanted the name changed to “Coastal Alabama” or something that better reflected the airport’s regional impact.
“This is the city of Orange Beach’s tax dollars,” said City Councilor Joni Blalock. “They didn’t want anything to do with the name of the city of Orange Beach.”
She added: “It gives me heartburn. We always want to talk about regional, regional, regional. I just didn’t sit well.
Orange Beach’s move came a day after officials in the city of Gulf Shores defended the name change. City of Gulf Shores officials noted that the airport has long been within city limits and has received millions of dollars in investment from taxpayers in the city of Gulf Shores over years.
Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft said Orange Beach has contributed, over time, approximately $ 140,000.
“The city has been working on this airport since 1985,” he said. “This is our airport. We maintain it. We had great leadership at the time, with the vision of creating the airport. “
He added, “The name is Gulf Shores and it’s still Gulf Shores.”
Craft and others have said Orange Beach is a beneficiary of the airport, as the majority of private and charter planes that fly through the facility are to the city with the most apartments in India. sea side.
Johnson said: “Over 50% of the people who travel here go to Orange Beach. A lot of them don’t realize the airport is (in Gulf Shores). ”
The airport name change was announced last month when a new $ 6.1 million, 95-foot-tall air traffic control tower was unveiled and plans were announced. course to build a two-door terminal for $ 8-10 million.
The goal, according to airport officials, is to offer commercial flights via low-cost air services.
Johnson said he was disappointed with how the name change came about and called the end result “flawed.” The name change is the result of a multi-month rebranding effort overseen by Aqua Marketing & Communications of St. Petersburg, Florida. The company has screened more than 4,000 people who represented “potential passengers” flying to the Gulf Coast of Alabama, according to company president and CEO David DiMaggio last month.
“They went through an exhaustive process not only interviewing people in Gulf Shores, but also business leaders in Foley and Orange Beach,” said Jason Dyken, city councilor for Gulf Shores. “The airport is 100% based in Gulf Shores. It was the cheapest name to create and the best value for this airport.
Kennon, in an interview with AL.com last week, said he would have preferred a more regional approach to the name change. He said including Gulf Shores in the name of the airport and not extending it to “Coastal Alabama” was a “little ball”.
Kennon, at a council meeting last week, said he did not want to send “more money” to the airport authority. On Tuesday, he recanted his position but said that in the future he hoped other coastal cities – such as Gulf Shores – would be more interested in discussing “regionalism” when it comes to marketing the product. region or work on projects.
“This is something on which the three cities and the county need to have a thorough discussion,” said Kennon, referring to Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, Foley and the Baldwin County Commission.
Defend Jack Edwards
The name dispute also caught the attention of a former congressman. Bradley Byrne, who represented Alabama’s 1st Congressional District until last year, said that even though the issue is a “local decision,” the name “Jack Edwards” should stick.
The airport was named in 1981 in honor of Edwards, who served the Gulf Coast region of Alabama to Congress from 1965 to 1985. Airport officials have said in recent weeks that the Jack Edwards’ name was problematic from a marketing standpoint because people were unsure of his location.
Edwards, who died in 2019 at the age of 91, “was so instrumental in the early development of the airport,” Byrne said. AL.com Tuesday.
Indeed, a memoir by Edwards, written in the 1990s and provided by his family, illustrates the efforts of the former congressman to open the Gulf Shores airport.
Edwards wrote that the airport was isolated land used by the US Navy for ice ax training at Pensacola. But in the 1970s, the Navy hadn’t been using the facility for some time and “being the Navy, they didn’t want to let it go.”
Edwards said he contacted former Congressman Bob Sikes, who represented the Florida Panhandle in the United States House from 1941 to 1979.
“I asked Bob if he knew the commander of Naval Air Station Pensacola and Bob said of course he did, and that he actually helped him get his post as commander there,” Edwards remembers. “I told him what I needed and that it was really important to the people of the Gulf Shores area and he said he would see what he could do.”
Edwards continued, “About three weeks later Bob Sikes called me back and he said, ‘Over to you. “The people of Gulf Shores were so thrilled with it all that they gave the airport my name. Even today people stop me on the street and tell me they didn’t know I had one. airport and I tell them no, but I’m quite proud to have my name on the Gulf Shores airport.
For now, Johnson has said he’s happy Orange Beach remains involved with the airport authority, even though the city’s name isn’t part of the new brand.
He compared the airport’s potential to that of Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, which offers low-cost flights through Allegiant and has grown in popularity over the years. The airport, located 29 km northwest of Panama City, opened in 2010 to commercial flights.
In September, statistics since the start of the year show a 26.8% increase in the number of passengers boarding a plane at the airport between 2019 and 2021. 620,000 shipments in 2019, which would make the airport the third largest in Alabama for commercial services, slightly behind Huntsville International Airport, which had just over 702,000 boardings two years ago before the COVID pandemic- 19.
Coastal officials are hoping that commercial service to Gulf Shores will reduce congestion on Alabama State Route 59 and other routes in the coastal area. Of the nearly 7 million people who visit Alabama beaches each year, nearly all make it to the Alabama coast: a whopping 92% of visitors to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach during the summer 2018 and 2019 arrived by car.
“I have no doubts that… this will be on the same (path) that Destin and Fort Walton Beach took when they opened this airport,” Johnson said. “It increased their visibility by getting people there faster. He removed US 98 cars in this bottleneck between Destin and Fort Walton. And I have no doubts that this airport (in Gulf Shores) has the capacity to pick up cars from 59. ”
But Kennon last week noted that Northwest Florida has a regional name and doesn’t distinguish any particular city. The airport was originally to be called the Northwest Florida-Panama City International Airport, but the airport authority – on a 3-2 vote in 2009 – chose to remove “Panama City” from the brand in favor of a more regional approach. Last name.
Johnson suggested that reconsidering the name of the Gulf Shores airport “might be reconsidered”, but Blalock added: “That will never change.”
Orange Beach City Councilor Jeff Boyd said he felt it was positive for the city to continue to support the airport authority.
“I hear all the negatives and agree with them 100%,” Boyd said. “But I think … it shows the good faith of our participation (with authority).”