Dauphin Island has a lot going for it. Postcard perfect beaches and sunsets. World-class birding and fishing. What it lacks is a commercial core, but that’s about to change.
Approved by the town council in September, the Aloe Bay Town Center Master Plan will give the community a mixed-used district with public facilities that will boost the economy, tourism and opportunities for local residents.
Aloe Bay is a harbor that provides an ideal spot to develop a town center and is a prime gateway to Dauphin Island. Aloe Bay hosts the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo and is among the few remaining working waterfronts.
A few seafood industry operations are still located on Dauphin Island, including two oyster companies that do off-bottom oyster farming that are interested in remaining along Aloe Bay, says Brandon Bias, Regional and Community Planner for Goodwyn Mills Cawood. GMC was hired for the project’s three phases – planning, design and construction administration and in phase 1 are overseeing planning and design.
The plan includes an eco-tourism center, a fish market with a pavilion, public open space with a pavilion, one or more “hook to table” restaurants, and mixed-use areas for retail and lodging. Phase 1, expected to be completed in 2023, focuses on infrastructure and continuous public access along town-owned waterfront property.
Phase 2 should complete the Fishing Village with more retail and restaurants, boat slips and waterfront businesses. In addition, a new breakwater to help with bottom land maintenance and more infill development. Phase 3 includes mixed-use development, increasing public parking and improving neighborhood connectivity.
Town leaders have long seen the need for physical and fiscal sustainability with Hurricane Katrina being the “final trigger” leading to the Dauphin Island Strategic Plan adopted in 2007, Bias explains. As part of that plan, a town center was envisioned along Aloe Bay to include revitalizing a true working waterfront which builds on the past and creates a small mixed-use area with commercial fishing, eco-tourism activities, housing and retail space.
This vision moved forward with the town’s Comprehensive Plan 2030 by including such ideas as a network of boardwalks, observation points, and a marina. Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, the town decided to leverage these ideas as part of a funding request to the Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council, resulting in the town being awarded over $16.5 million for physical improvements to make this vision a reality through the Aloe Bay Town Center Master Plan, Bias adds.
Ensuring that Dauphin Island has physical and fiscal resiliency into the future is a top priority. Over the years, the island has been impacted by many events and disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In 2019/2020 the town of Dauphin Island (which has an annual budget of only $4 million) spent nearly $2 million in excess of disaster assistance funds on infrastructure, clean-up and recovery from multiple storms.
The plan responds to the town of Dauphin Island’s increased vulnerability caused by factors outside of its direct control such as increased storm activity, oil spill risks and rising sea levels. All of which could negatively impact the town’s tourism industry, livability and fiscal health — attributes the town needs to survive.
Because of Dauphin Island’s great need for a town center, Bias is excited that everything is in place to make it happen.
“This overall effort began many years ago, with the seeds planted after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and has arrived at this moment when the town has funding in place to begin carrying out recommendations,” says Bias.
The funded recommendations identified in the plan will provide the infrastructure and framework for other public and private opportunities to create a vibrant working waterfront town center, he adds. Several existing waterfront business operators have expressed interest in the plan and are ready improve their facilities to support the Aloe Bay vision.
Says Dauphin Island Mayor Jeff Collier, an “island native” having lived there his whole life: “The proposed Aloe Bay project will serve to create an attractive and walkable town center while showcasing picturesque views, enhancing the overall Dauphin Island experience and supporting our local economy.”