By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Monday, June 1, State Auditor Jim “Zig” Zeigler (R) joined the chorus of voices asking why the State of Alabama is borrowing $50 million to build a massive resort on the Gulf of Mexico while it is threatening to close up to 20 state parks due to lack of funds.
Auditor Zeigler said in a written statement, “In Montgomery, the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. While the Governor is claiming we are broke and need a $541 million tax increase, he asks for $50 million to build a luxury facility on the Gulf. It would not be a “Gulf State Lodge” for the people, but a higher-priced center for upscale travelers. Shouldn’t this be done by private investors with their own money on their own land? Should our state government go into the resort business and into $50 million debt?”
The legislature has already diverted $85.5 million of BP settlement money from Gulf restoration efforts to resort lodge construction; but Budget Director Bill Newton said that that is not enough and that Gov. Robert Bentley (R) needs another $50 million in bond raising authority to build his vision.
Sen. Harri Anne Smith (I-Slocumb) said in a statement, “Oh by the way the amount of BP OIL Money that has already been transferred to the Department of Conservation to build the park is 85.5 Million dollars and that is not enough so they want another 50 million on top of that while the Governor runs all over the State telling us that they are going to close our parks…..unreal.”
The Bentley administration has threatened to close up to 20 state parks if the Alabama State legislature does not give them the $541 million in tax increases that they have been demanding.
Zeigler is not the first to object to the extravagant project. Formers Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Charley Grimsley (1993-95) actually sued the Riley Administration to block the proposed resort.
After a hurricane destroyed the enormously profitable Gulf State Park Lodge, former Governor Bob Riley (R) announced that he would not rebuild the very affordable lodge and instead planned to build a luxury hotel and convention center in a partnership between Auburn University and Atlanta-based West Paces Hotel Group in 2009. Grimsley was part of a group that sued to block Bob Riley’s plan to build a luxury hotel and convention center in a partnership between Auburn University and Atlanta-based West Paces Hotel Group in 2009. Grimsley argued that the park was designed for the families of Alabama and not the top 5 percent of business and leisure travelers targeted in the Riley proposal. Grimsley said in a statement then, “Alabama’s State parks were built for all of the people to enjoy, not just rich people who can afford to sit on their balconies and drink martinis and thump their cigar ashes on a beach that belongs to all of the people of Alabama.”
Similarly the environmentalist group, the Gulf Restoration Network, has denounced the hotel and conference project as a “boondoggle” and has sued the state to try to block the use of BP settlement dollars for the project.
Since being inaugurated State Auditor Jim Zeigler has worked to identify places where the State could save tax dollars. Zeigler has proposed using Forever Wild funding for park maintenance. At the time it had not been publicly revealed that the Bentley Administration planned to divert existing tax dollar dedicated to Parks maintenance and use it to guarantee this controversial project.
Director Newton assured Senators that the project will generate enough revenues to pay the debt service on the bonds.
Of course the last State lodge on the site was destroyed by a hurricane so predicting how much revenue the lodge will produce….and for how long the building will remain on that beach is highly speculative.