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The Lodge at Gulf State Park is back

Brandon Moseley

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The Lodge at Gulf State Park reopened in November after a 14-year absence.

The old lodge was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Governor Kay Ivey opened the much larger new lodge in November. The new lodge is 350 rooms and is managed by Hilton Hotels.

The Alabama Political Reporter toured the new facility on January 11 to 13 as part of Governor Kay Ivey’s Gulf Coast Inaugural Celebration.

The hotel sits on a white sand beach facing the Gulf of Mexico and is immediately across the street from Lake Shelby. Alabama’s Gulf State Park is 6,150 acres of beaches, lake, wetlands, brush, and forest. The lodge is connected to 25 miles of walking trails throughout the park. The state fishing pier is a short walk away.

The Lodge is four buildings: a spacious lobby building, a five-story hotel building with pool and fitness room, a restaurant building, and a conference center with parking underneath and adjacent to the conference center.

Most of the building are built on piers so that a future storm surge can go under the buildings, hopefully minimizing the damage and making the facility more survivable than was the previous lodge (1974-2004).

The lodge charges guests $5 to park in the parking lot. There is a ten dollar a night option for valet parking. The walk from the parking through the four buildings including two elevator rides back and forth between the hotel room and the parking lot means that paying the extra $5 for the valet is worth it. Rooms are $264 to $473 a night during peak times of the year. The Alabama Political Reporter paid only $105 a January is the offseason for beach hotels.

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The Alabama Political Reporter sampled the cuisine at the Foodcraft restaurant. Fish and chips cost $26. The fish was good quality and heavily breaded. The French fries were narrow cut in the McDonalds style. For breakfast, there was a full-service breakfast bar for $22. The Alabama Political Reporter ordered eggs, two biscuits with gravy, and potatoes for $10. Quality was good and portion size was high. The Perch is the more expensive fine dining restaurant at the lodge.

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The Lodge has both two bed and single bed options. Every room faces either Lake Shelby or the Gulf of Mexico. The Alabama Political Reporter stayed in a fifth-floor room overlooking Lake Shelby. Each room comes with a desk and a flat-screen TV. The room had a walk-in shower; but no bathtub. It also had a refrigerator, microwave, and free Wi-Fi.

Touring the fishing pier costs $3. Fishing at the fishing pier costs $9 a day. Fishing from the lake is just $2 a day. Birds, particularly pelicans, are everywhere.

The completely reimagined Lodge was designed by LakeFlato and Rabun Architects with a native landscape by Sasaki Associates. The building is just 200-225 feet from the gulf. The buildings are positioned to take advantage of gulf breezes for natural ventilation. While that likely is pleasant in summer months, going in and out of the four buildings periodically meant windy conditions during my stay. The interiors were designed by Dallas based interior design firm, Looney & Associates. The Lodge at Gulf State Park includes offers over 40,000 square feet of flexible indoor and outdoor meeting space. The Gulf view Ballroom is the largest beach-view ballroom in the region and can accommodate indoor events up to 1,000 guests. There were over 800 guests at Governor Kay Ivey’s Gulf Coast Inaugural Celebration and the facility easily handled that crowd. Every meeting room has direct views and patios and/or terraces overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

The Roasted Oak Coffee and Wine Bar is in the main lobby. The Dragonfly Pool Bar & Grill is next to the pool; though it only operates in the spring and summer months.
Condensation from the HVAC system is collected and recycled to replace water in the pool. Rainwater is collected and directed to a restored wetland on site rather than being diverted to storm sewers. The hotel parking lot is permeable using TrueGrid technology so rainwater drains into the ground.

The Lodge shares space with endangered species. All lighting is shielded away from turtle nesting areas and pointed away from the beach. Baby sea turtles hatch and walk toward lights. For a hundred million years the light on the horizon was the ocean. Today many baby turtles instead walk into traffic or buildings. Lights on the beachside of the property are warmer to be less confusing to wildlife and floor to ceiling glass windows in the main lobby have bird friendly safety measures. Sand dunes are protected as habitat for endangered Alabama Beach Mouse. Landscaping uses native species that can thrive without irrigation, chemical pesticides or fertilizers.

Economic Developer Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “The Lodge at Gulf State Park is appealing to both business and leisure travelers. The partnership with Hilton Hotels and Valor Hospitality establishes a world-class environment that guests can count on, which should generate repeat visits to a beautiful area of our state.”

Nicole Jones shared, “On a more sentimental note, Gulf State Park is part of a tradition many of us grew up with. Now that The Lodge is up and running again, new generations will be able to create memories similar to the ones we all hold dear.”

The state spent $150 million to improve the Gulf State Park and replace the storm-ravaged old lodge. Much of that money came from BP oil spill penalties.

The Lodge at Gulf State Park is part of Hilton Honors guest-loyalty program for Hilton’s 15 distinct hotel brands.

For nearly 100 years, Hilton Hotels & Resorts has been a leader in the hospitality industry. Hilton Honors members who book directly through preferred Hilton channels have access to instant benefits. Hilton (NYSE: HLT) is a leading global hospitality company with a portfolio of 15 brands comprising more than 5,500 properties with nearly 895,000 rooms, in 109 countries and territories.

To learn more about Gulf State Park, visit their website.

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