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Op-Ed: Where It’s Iron Bowl Day Every Day

By Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon

In Orange Beach, our motto is “Life is Better Here.” Why? Because we are home to Alabama’s sugar-white beaches and we are stewards of those beaches. They belong to the people of Alabama. 

We strive to protect our shores and to provide a world-class, family-friendly coastal destination for visitors across our nation, right here in the Yellowhammer State.  From the beaches to the bays, the boardwalks to the ballparks, from world-class dining to off-shore fishing, Orange Beach is entering into a new chapter of growth and achievement.

Construction has begun on a new state-of-the-art middle and high school, transforming us into a multi-generational community with excellence in education. Earlier this month, the long-awaited Lodge at Gulf State Park welcomed its first guests, launching the state park system to new heights and future revenue streams. And this is only the beginning.

Of course, with such significant success come significant challenges. The full-time population of Orange Beach is close to 6,000 residents. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, however, the number of people residing within our city limits skyrockets. During the peak summer months, visitors routinely fill over 10,000 accommodation units, virtually all with multiple bedrooms.  By July, when we reach full capacity, Orange Beach will welcome – and be responsible for – over 100,000 vacationers, day trippers, workers and travelers a day. That is approximately the same number of people who attend the Iron Bowl each year. 

The difference, however, is the duration. The influx of people into Orange Beach each summer does not last a single weekend.  No, the number of visitors steadily remains from mid-May to early August, without interruption, and then the Alabama Gulf Coast is completely full once again for Labor Day.  

100,000 additional people.  Every.  Single.  Day.   

When one considers the population of Tuscaloosa is roughly 100,000—or Hoover pushing 85,000 residents—the issues that face a small town like ours transforming into one of our state’s large cities literally overnight are tremendous. The focus of our city leaders continues to be on the safety and quality of life of all who live in and visit Orange Beach. This includes the essential, overdue transportation improvements that we desperately need, such as the widening of Canal Road and the plans for the new Wolf Bay Bridge. 

These projects will significantly increase our ability to move traffic efficiently and effectively, increasing the day-to-day user experience on our roads while improving hurricane evacuation routes. And it will not cost the people of Alabama one cent. The City of Orange Beach is fully committed to financing the entire cost of the Wolf Bay Bridge directly, without expecting or depending on any state money. It will be a new, welcome route to paradise.

As we protect and support Alabama’s beaches, we remain dedicated to resolving the inevitable issues that come with unprecedented growth before they overwhelm our residents, our visitors, and our coast.  Believe me when I tell you that this is just the beginning. 

Life will continue to get better here.

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