Spanish Fort Mayor Mike McMillan said the container park entertainment district at the city’s Town Center “has been adequate” since it opened slightly more than four years ago.
But he said it has not boosted the outdoor mall itself.
McMillan said this week that he does not blame the shipping containers that are part of the unique entertainment district along the Eastern Shore of Baldwin County. The venue also serves as a nightlife attraction for residents in and around the city.
He said the challenge is to get people to visit the venue that is part of the Town Center’s park built in 2015.
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“It’s weather related, naturally,” McMillan said about the popularity of the containers that are converted into outdoor dining and drinking establishments. “You get into the summer, it’s not a great place to be. In the wintertime, it’s the opposite.”
The entertainment district, now more than four years old, is called The Fort, and it’s been around since 2018. It’s the first entertainment district in Alabama that is utilizing shipping containers in the place of brick-and-mortar buildings for its bars and eateries.
The trendy attractions are also located in Birmingham and Orange Beach. A similar concept is being weighed by Visit Mobile for Mobile’s riverfront at Cooper Riverside Park.
McMillan said Spanish Fort is hopeful that the addition of pickleball courts will bring more people to the Town Center’s park, where The Fort is located. The park is included within a shopping center that has struggled over the years with high vacancies, though the region’s only Bass Pro Shop anchors it.
McMillan said the city is putting together a $15 million bond that will pay for six pickleball courts and make additional park improvements aimed at getting people to visit it.
“We’re in the middle of putting together the bond issue,” said McMillan, adding that the construction of a new fire station is also included in the plans as well as the expansion of a dog park.
“We are going to make improvements in there as the city takes over some of the Cypress (Equities) property,” said McMillan, referring to the Dallas-based owners of the 230-acre Town Center.
The addition of parks and other attractions in Spanish Fort is what Visit Mobile CEO Dave Clark is envisioning at Mobile’s Cooper Riverside Park.
He said the challenge in Mobile will be to find ways to consistently get people to the riverfront.
“You can have yoga classes in the morning, bands playing throughout the day and local acts five nights a week,” he said, also envisioning a “mini-Mardi Gras parade there every night at 5:30. Something iconic for our residents to enjoy on Friday and Saturday nights. Mini-floats pulled by golf carts with people tossing MoonPies and beads … a quick, 20-minute parade, and people can go eat after that.”
He added, “Those are the things, the little programs and activities that create an experience for our residents and visitors that are memorable.”