Coast Could Learn A Lesson From Gulf Shores Condos

The beachfront in Gulf Shores is lined with an array of sunbathers and an assortment of condominiums.

Leonard Kaiser has spent the last 25 years working with many of the condo developers.

"It's moving very fast. And it's very explosive right now," he said.

Kaiser is president of Kaiser Realty. His team rents and sells many of the 11,205 condos on Alabama's coastline.

"How much more can happen? I don't know," he admitted. "The area is being discovered everyday by new people all over the southeast, and all over the country really, even outside the country. So we're going to experience some tremendous growth."

Gulf Shores condo growth is pretty easy to see. Hurricane Ivan ripped right through many condo units. But it didn't scare off the investors.

Just look down any waterway in South Alabama, and you notice a construction crane building a new condo tower.

And despite the mess caused by last year's hurricane, the Gulf Shores, Orange Beach condo craze shows no signs of slowing down. The Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau knows about 6,000 new condo units that will pop up along the Gulf between now and 2007.

Jeff Moon is Orange Beach's City Manager.

"For the city, what it's done is provide a revenue base," he said.

Despite years of condo success, his Alabama community is constantly grappling with its condo ordinance.

"Trying to change it, tweak it, how can we improve it," said Moon.

On the beach, Orange Beach just amended its zoning rules. Future condos can be more than 14 stories tall. However, "The footprint will be much smaller," Moon said.

That will give Alabama residents more views of a waterfront that previous projects often blocked.

Thanks in part to the height changes, waterfront properties are disappearing at a rapid rate. So many developers are itching to build condos inland. But that's where Orange Beach has drawn a line in the sand.

"The elected officials have kind of said 'no,'" Moon confirmed.

They don't want condos to be anywhere close to the neighborhoods where 4,000 full time Orange Beach residents call home.

"This is where we live. This is where Orange Beach is. This is the heart of Orange Beach," Moon said.

And in Orange Beach, the heart beats best when condos and sunbathers are on the beach. So the vast majority of new condominium construction will be on the few vacant properties that line the Gulf of Mexico.

This comparison should help you understand Gulf Shores reliance on condos. Right now, the Alabama shoreline has 11,205 condo units, and just 1,584 hotel rooms.

South Mississippi is just the opposite. We have far fewer condos, and 18,000 hotel rooms. However, those numbers will likely change, because condo developers are buying several coast hotels.

According to the Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association, 3,000 local hotel rooms could be torn down the next couple of years, and replaced by condos.