Adam Topolnick, Killian Construction photo
Iowa-based Musco Sports Lighting is responsible for supplying all materials for the athletic field lighting. Teams have already begun planning and coordinating efforts at the site. The actual installation of
After a shaky start, a 520-acre entertainment and sports development on Baldwin County 20 in Foley, Ala., is moving forward. The Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority (CEIDA), which oversees economic development for the Atmore-based tribe, assumed control of the more than $200 million project in May 2015, following the departure of the original developer.
Described as a family-oriented district with shows, rides, shopping, hotels, dining and a sports complex featuring more than a dozen multi-purpose athletic fields, the project will eventually include a water park. Chuck Corley, director of operations said choosing a name for the development has been one of the biggest hurdles.
“You only get one chance, and we want to get it right,” Corley said. “We’ve hired a couple of search firms that have been doing demographic analysis of the area, and we’ve had focus groups taking part in the process. It’s difficult, because there are so many different components to what we’re doing. There’s really nothing else like it.”
Originally billed as “Blue Collar Country,” the project has been years in the planning and was in limbo after the change in management.
With new leadership, the project appears to be on the right track.
In August, local media outlets were invited to tour the property, where crews are currently digging a lake.
“It will be the focal point of the development, with about 13 acres,” Corley said. “Next, we’ll prepare the site for the RV park, which should be completed in about a year. We anticipate having the amusement park open around the same time, and the event center should take about 14 months. The pad for it is almost finished.
“The biggest thing is revamping the plan to do different things, based on new ownership,” said Corley, a former attractions manager of Six Flags and part of the initial development team led by Glen Bilbo of Blue Collar Destinations. “The uncertainty of everything and the timeline has been a concern, but we’re definitely moving ahead. CEIDA brings financial stability to the project, and that’s very important.”
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians has taken full control of the entertainment complex, which Corley said will not include a casino or gambling interest. The tribe actually was tied to Blue Collar Country from the start, providing financing for the real estate acquisition. With the tribe’s buyout, Bilbo is no longer involved.
Don Staley, the executive director of the Foley Sports Tourism Complex, said, “Poarch Creek has brought enthusiasm to the project. It’s been a long time coming. Foley will have a mega sports and entertainment destination come 2016, only nine miles from the beautiful white sand beaches of the Alabama Gulf Coast.”
Organizers are hoping for a tourism boost in south Baldwin County, and sports is a big part of the master plan. The Foley Sports Tourism Complex will include a 108,000 sq.-ft. event center, which reportedly can accommodate multiple basketball or volleyball courts, cheerleading and gymnastic competitions, trade and consumer shows, concerts and various conventions.
There are 30 acres for the 16 sports fields.
“Grading is almost finished and they will start the drainage work, sand and sod work, with playability in April of 2016,” said Staley.
Staley said there is a definite need for the fields, which will host sports events that include soccer, lacrosse, rugby and ultimate frisbee.
“There will be an economic impact for Foley through heads in the beds, retail spending and restaurants through sporting events. The day the trucks rolled out to begin dirt work was incredible, because now the project became real.”
Missouri-based Killian Construction Company is serving as the general contractor, currently overseeing work performed by Sam Franklin & Son Inc. of Maryville, Tenn. According to Sam Franklin & Son owner Chester Franklin, “The biggest challenge has been getting to the bottom of the lake. This whole area was covered in mud when we first began, and we had to dig a lot of ditches to drain it, so we could run equipment. When we started on this project, we could hardly walk. We had to take two-and-a-half feet of mud off the top just to get to the good dirt.”
Crews started digging the 17-ft. (5.18 m) deep lake about two months ago and are working to complete the first half. Workers also are trying to finish the 16 sports fields.
“We’ve moved about 600,000 cu. yds. (458,732 cu m) of material on the sports fields,” said Franklin. “We started in May of 2014 until September of last year, then resumed in April 2015.”
Battling the elements hasn’t been easy, said Franklin.
“The weather for all this has not been good. Since April of this year, we’ve lost six weeks due to rain. Last year was also rough. We have to sometimes work seven days a week to catch up.”
Equipment being used on site includes three Cat 631 scrapers, four Cat dozers, five Komatsu trackhoes, a GPS Komatsu dozer, two rubber-tired loaders and two compactors.
Iowa-based Musco Sports Lighting is responsible for supplying all materials for the athletic field lighting. Teams have already begun planning and coordinating efforts at the site. The actual installation of the poles and lights began in September.
“We are using 660 fixtures and 40 poles,” said Jimmy Jumper, Musco Sports Lighting sales representative. “The poles vary in length and height, depending on the size of the field and the setback from the center of each field.
“All the fixtures, wire harnesses, cross-arms and ballast boxes are manufactured in Muscatine, Iowa, and shipped from this location. All the fixtures are factory-aimed, which eliminates the need for aiming each individual fixture in the field. The poles to be used for this project are concrete poles and will come from Baldwin Concrete poles, manufactured in Baldwin, County. Every item shipped is labeled and numbered for the appropriate field, so upon delivery it is sorted by fields.”
There are 660 1500-watt metal halide lamps/fixtures that will be installed by an electrical contractor. The fixtures will be snapped into a bracket on each cross-arm while the poles are on the ground, so that when the poles are erected the fixtures are in place. The actual install should take approximately 90 days, once the site is ready.
One of the main challenges on the project involves making certain all items are coordinated and sized properly with the local utility company. Transformers also must be located in the correct spot, and poles must get placed in the right location.
“Spill lights were critical on this project, as some of the fields have residential housing that adjoin this property. Making sure we controlled the light to keep it on the fields instead of the neighboring housing or in the sky was a challenge Musco could easily control.”
Jumper said rainfall also is a concern.
“The installing contractor needs access for his drill rig to dig the foundation for each pole, he needs a crane to erect the poles and dry weather to do the underground service. Obviously, without dry weather, none of these items can be completed in a timely fashion or without creating unnecessary damage to the site.”
As for the overall development, The Alabama Department of Transportation awarded a more than $10 million road project that extends Pride Drive east from Alabama 59 through the complex to Baldwin County 20. The road will serve as the main thoroughfare. The city was awarded a federal highway grant in 2013 that will cover most of the cost.
In addition, the Foley City Council authorized two city cooperative districts to purchase roughly 89 acres from Blue Collar Destinations LLC for more than $2 million, as part of a revised master development agreement. An earlier plan called for the city to lease the property with an option to buy.
The development will be built in phases, with most of construction taking place in the next two years. For Corley, the project has taken on extra significance.
“This will be the culmination of my career — my last hurrah, so to speak. People are very excited about what we’re doing, and the media is calling all the time for updates. We’re also getting an enormous response from folks wanting to lease retail space.
“Once people are exposed to this development, they’ll come back and want to enjoy vacation time with their families and check out all the attractions. This is the right place at the right time. There will be breezy winds that knock out the humidity, which makes for a much better experience. I believe there really will be something for everyone.”