FOLEY – A 97-year-old building that survived proposals to tear it down is now the office of the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce after being donated to the organization by the city of Foley.
The chamber held an open house Monday, May 22 to display the renovations made to the 5,600 square-foot building.
The two-story Mission Revival style structure was built on North Alston Street in 1925. It was the Foley Masonic Lodge for about 50 years. In 2002, the city of Foley bought the building.
Tim Russell, who was Foley mayor from 1996 to 2006, said some residents felt at the time that the structure should be demolished.
“When we bought it, a lot of people said we should just tear it down,” Russell said. “The building was old and the lot was too valuable, but we couldn’t do that and lose all of the history that’s in this building.”
The city gave the building to the Chamber of Commerce in 2021.
Donna Watts, chamber president and chief executive officer, said the donation is the first time the organization has owned the building in which it is housed.
“It’s phenomenal. It’s a gift that we can’t begin to be thankful enough for,” Watts said. “It’s given us a permanent home. This organization is 79 years old and never owned a building. So now, we do and that’s a wonderful thing to know every day when we wake up we don’t have to pack boxes and we’re done with that. It’s no fun.”
The chamber has moved several times in the last 10 years as the organization outgrew its offices or rented facilities were sold.
Watts said the new building will be a benefit for the chamber and the community.
“This building is on the state and national historic registry,” Watts said. “Now it’s going to live on and be a vital part of downtown Foley just like it was in 1925 when the building was built and the Masonic Hall was here.”
Watts said Riviera Utilities also helped the chamber in its efforts to find a permanent location. She said the utility company provided financial assistance when the chamber had to leave one location.
“They bought out our lease when we left the Underwood Road building. Those dollars allow us to have the money to do what you see here today,” Watts said.
She said chamber members also worked with the Foley Historical Commission to coordinate renovations in order to maintain the historic integrity of the Masonic Lodge building.
“This was a vital part of Foley long, long ago and now it is again,” she said. “It had a lot of history in between. But I’m glad we’re here.”
Foley City Councilman Charles Ebert III said having the chamber in the building will be a part of the continuing effort to improve the city’s downtown area.
“This building could not be in better hands for somebody who does so much for the community,” Ebert said. “I think it’s very important to sustain our downtown area. It is our heartbeat. It’s our life and soul.”
Sted McCollough, chairman of the chamber Board of Directors, said that after extensive renovations the organization has a permanent home.
“Hopefully this is a place that the South Baldwin Chamber can reside for a long time now. And that’s a pretty big deal because we’ve bounced around,” McCollough said. “It’s good to land and being right here in the heart of the city having a historical building to be a part of is all pretty meaningful.”