A short drive north of Alabama’s premier vacation destination – Gulf Shores/Orange Beach – is Summerdale, a community that provides the only access to the beaches with the two major highways leading south. An enviable location indeed.
Yet Summerdale is much more than a stopover on the way to the beaches. Summerdale recently participated in DesignAlabama’s DesignPlace to make improvements to its commercial core. The Baldwin County community is called a “virtual blank canvas for future development” and according to the Summerdale Economic Development Division is projected to grow over 60 percent in the next 10 years and evolve from a “town” to a “city” in the next three years.
The design team met in August for a three-day charette that included two community workshops. Following the workshop, the design team refined what came out of the workshop and compiled a report, which was presented to Summerdale leaders in November 2020.
Among the primary issues addressed at DesignPlace was the town’s underutilized downtown corridor, notes Lea Ann Macknally of Birmingham-based Macknally Land Design who facilitated Summerdale DesignPlace. The design team looked at the historic downtown and Pioneer Park, which consists of a sitting area around the town clock and a one-mile walking trail.
This area includes a number of vacant buildings and disconnected community amenities, Macknally observes. The design team proposed investing in the development of the Town Green Corridor by building on community assets. This would include forming a committee that would focus on attracting and promoting local entrepreneurship and public spaces to encourage visitors.
Listed on the historic register and central to the downtown corridor is the Tobacco Warehouse that has been vacant for several years and offers opportunities for infill development. Establishing a development committee that can identify the most suitable infill from a community amenity and economic standpoint would be the first step, says Macknally. The team provided ways in which the Tobacco Warehouse could be used such as commercial/event space and a boutique hotel.
Identity and wayfinding were also addressed. The town lacks cohesive signage and wayfinding to attract visitors from the busy I-59 corridor to the downtown. So, the team explored concepts for a new branding element that can be integrated into the city workings, as well as signage and wayfinding. The team came up with a gateway and wayfinding concept to illustrate opportunities for signage and connectivity.
The plan takes into account the town’s prime location, being close to the beaches and offering the only access. Numerous elements of the of the plan capitalize on opportunities to promote housing and commercial development in ways that preserves the town’s peaceful character.
“The community of Summerdale is extremely welcoming and committed to enhancing the quality of life for all residents and visitors,” Macknally says.
Summerdale has a good base framework for zoning and comprehensive planning, Macknally says, so the Summerdale DesignPlace plan recommends that the city take the next step in setting the bar that will guide future development.
Summerdale is in a growth phase, says Economic Development Coordinator Shannon Carlson, and efforts will focus on enhancing its historic downtown. The design team agreed that this area has much potential.
“We have a great resource that is being underutilized, and their expertise helped us gather everyone’s ideas so that we could start implementing items – events, activities, businesses and recreation – that are needed and desired by our community. They helped us bring the community’s voices together, physically gathered that data, and included it in a plan that we can start implementing immediately and include in our future planning.”
The design team helped the community recognize its goals, focusing on its story, legacy, values and how to preserve them, adds Carlson. While identifying assets that can most easily and quickly bring value to the area.
“(DesignPlace) brought us together as a community. It was in August 2020 and the community was able to safely gather and provide input as to the direction of where they would like to see Summerdale go, especially in our downtown area. That was beneficial for everyone.”
*Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of Macknally Land Design, Marshall Anderson and DesignAlabama