Tourism: It’s what propels the economy of Gulf Coast destination resorts. From sandy white beaches to shopping outlets and restaurants, tourism in South Alabama is paramount for businesses of all kinds to succeed.
And soon, another Gulf Coast city will introduce a new entertainment destination that not only will benefit local and nearby residents but also the entire country. That place is OWA.
OWA will put Foley, Ala., on the map as a vacation destination and attract tourists from around the country looking to experience a little Southern charm.
“From the beginning, we wanted to be a part of something big in Baldwin County,” CIEDA President and CEO Tim Martin said. “After a few discussions, it came to light that many things were lacking for those tourists who come for sports tournaments, such as retail, dining and entertainment options close to the venue.
“That’s when we saw the continued value of this development and said we’re going to get fully involved and take it to a higher level by creating a mega sports and entertainment destination.”
CIEDA’s concept for the project is to create a family-friendly retail, dining and entertainment destination, targeting individuals of all ages. This complements the City of Foley’s sports tourism goals: Adventure with a difference. OWA is set to attract visitors from a 400-mile driving radius who will choose to stay either overnight or plan a day trip.
The development sits on more than 400+ acres at the intersection of the Foley Beach Express and Baldwin County Road 20. Martin describes the project as spectacular, reiterating that the Tribe knows the value in producing top-quality developments.
“Look at what we’ve done in the past,” Martin said. “It will be that level of quality.”
Tourism and entertainment growth positive for OWA destination
Proving the existing tourism market is viable is very easy. Numbers don’t lie. In the past year alone, Foley/Gulf Shores visitor spending reached $3.5 billion. Multiple feasibility studies performed by nationally known firms show the average visitor to the area has a high income and will spend accordingly. All six give the same results: 6.1 million people visit the Foley/Gulf Shores area every year, and that number is projected to continue to grow.
Alabama has gained national and international attention as the place to vacation. However, even though tourism numbers continue to grow exponentially, the retail, dining and entertainment (RDE) opportunities for this region has not. The Foley/Gulf Shores area is currently an underserved market for family entertainment when compared to similar destinations.
Based on the positive results, OWA swiftly began to go vertical, beginning with a master plan design for the entire 400+ acre campus that would fully integrate the City’s sports assets.
Putting South Alabama on the map
The main draw for most vacationers to the area is the beaches of South Alabama. Although the beach brings in a vast of economic boom, very few other options exist to entice guests to spend time and money in the area.
Tanger Outlets is also a huge draw for local and regional visitors. But again, the closest waterpark or theme park is Waterville USA in Gulf Shores and The Track in Destin, Fla. Therefore, OWA will be the only entertainment park of its size in the region, which further validates that this project will be successful. Guests can easily recognize the elevated family entertainment experience as a result of the sheer volume of rides and quality of options offered. Feasibility studies show the development will be affordable and in current ranges of competition sites, such as Pigeon Forge or Six Flags.
Keeping locals at home base
“OWA is thoughtfully and carefully planned,” CIEDA Chief Financial Officer Chad Klinck said. “It is not intended to compete with the beaches for tourism but actually to complement that market. We aren’t trying to get people from going to the beach. We are trying to include a range of options for people who spend a good amount of time down here. Right now, people come to the beach and travel elsewhere for entertainment. We want them to stay locally in the region to occupy their time and keep them busy.
“When you look at places like Myrtle Beach or Destin, the people who go to these vacation spots look for more than just laying out on the beach all day, every day,” he said. “They want good food, good shopping and good entertainment, to go along with a good few days at the beach. That’s what we are providing here in Foley.”
The resort also will keep locals local. Visitors considered as “regional locals” include those within a two-hour driving distance.
“These people currently have to drive a considerable distance to experience anything of this magnitude,” Martin said. “We want to be the place people come to from Pensacola, Mobile, Fairhope, Brewton and all points in between. We want to put a big star for South Alabama on the map and provide guests with an experience they’ll love and want to come back to again and again.”