FOLEY – Local officials, business leaders and residents are looking at the creation of an entertainment district as a way to increase business and improve nightlife in downtown Foley.
Many cities in Alabama, including Orange Beach, Mobile, Birmingham, Huntsville and Montgomery have entertainment districts where restaurants and bars can remain open later than in other areas and entertainment options such as outside music performances are offered.
Darrelyn Dunmore, executive director of Foley Main Street, said creating an entertainment district has improved downtown business in many communities in the region. She said crime rates have not gone up in those areas.
“The truth of the matter is the law is still the law,” Dunmore said. “People will have to abide by the law even in an entertainment district.”.
Mayor Ralph Hellmich said Foley already has an entertainment district at the OWA Park and Resort. He said the district has been good for business and has not had a problem with increased crime rates. He said Orange Beach’s entertainment district at TheWharf has also gone well.
“They’re not unknown here in Baldwin County,” Hellmich said. “This is not so much as to create a party place but more so to create a vibrant downtown at night. And I think that’s what we need.”
He said that before the city approves an entertainment district, officials, residents and downtown business owners would have to create a plan for the project.
“We need a group of people that can come up with an idea,” Hellmich said. “I would like our public safety folks to be part of it. The questions of what you can do, when you could do it and how long you can do it need to be upfront so that people can see that.”
He said a downtown Foley district would have some locations where bars and restaurants might be open later than they are now, but he did not see the area becoming something like locations in Mobile or New Orleans.
“I don’t see this turning into a Dauphin Street. It’s not going to be that,” Hellmich said. “It’s sure not going to be a Bourbon Street. I don’t think we have to worry about.”
He said project supporters want to increase opportunities for entertainment, but also want to preserve the nature of the downtown area.
He said traffic and parking are also issues that planners considering the future of downtown Foley will also have to consider.
“The bigger problem we’ve got is to make sure that we can modify the traffic, the 10 million cars that go through Foley every year,” Hellmich said. “So that’s a bigger problem.”
Under Alabama law, an entertainment district can include 160 acres, one quarter of a square mile, Dunmore said. A previous proposal for a Foley district included the area along McKenzie Street between about Rose Avenue and Myrtle Avenue and along Laurel Avenue from Chicago Street west to Pine Street.