Top Mobile mayoral candidates talk tourism concerns at hospitality forum

Mayor Sandy Stimpson and Former Mayor Sam Jones. (WALA)

MOBILE, AL (WALA) –

The two leading candidates in the race for Mobile mayor addressed a number of hot button topics Thursday, August 10.

The event was sponsored by the Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality Association, with about a hundred different local restaurant owners and hotel managers gathered to hear what former Mayor Sam Jones and incumbent, Mayor Sandy Stimpson, had to say about several issues concerning tourism and the local economy.

They spoke separately, but addressed the same pressing concerns in the city, like GulfQuest and the outdated Civic Center.

Built back in the 1960s, the Mobile Civic Center remains a concern hanging over the head of local restaurant and hotel owners, who depend on a strong economy and tourism to keep their businesses booming.

Mayor Stimpson said it’s a tough issue, because Mardi Gras associations depend on the facility for their annual balls.

"There was concern, and I created that concern, about taking the civic center down. But, a change of thought is that when people go to look at that property, it’s a very emotional asset that the city owns. Because of all the parties of Mardi Gras, so if anything is going to go in its place, we have to take care of all the Mardi Gras functions that we have to have. The city right now and does not have the money to go do anything until we pay some more debt down," said Stimpson. "So we’ve got to figure out what we will do long term at the Civic Center, but we don’t have that plan right now."

In contrast, Jones said, when he was in office, he had found the means to make renovation possible.

"We found a way that it could be financed and we wouldn’t have to pay for it, so we worked on that for about three years, and unfortunately I wasn’t there in the fourth year, so we didn’t do much with that… it was a complete renovation of the building, inside and out, and actually adding some amenities to the building, and adding three levels of parking… So it can be done," said Jones.

Another pressing topic for Thursday’s crowd, the GulfQuest Maritime Museum.

Jones blames bad management in the facility’s early stages for GulfQuest’s lack of success.

"The problem was is that, when they got to the point of operations, in my judgment, the estimates on people who would come were really very, very optimistic. I think that the operational plan was not very good," said Jones. "I think that it can still be successful."

Jones said he thinks more promotional dollars should be spent on the tourism assets the city currently has, and more attractions should be built, a comment Stimpson rebutted.

"I was amused when Mayor Jones said that we needed more attractions downtown, he built one about $60 million worth, and nobody went. Right? Mobilians did not support it, and you know why you didn’t support it, because you were sick and tired of the cost increases, the delays, and how long it took. So I would say, ‘mayor if you hadn’t have spent the $60 million there, you could’ve had money to spend elsewhere, and we could have more attractions downtown,’" said Stimpson.

However, Stimpson didn’t offer any solutions to fixing the problem at hand with the failing museum.

Another issue discussed was the proposed I-10 bridge over Mobile Bay. Stimpson admitted there is still no funding set aside for the bridge to be built, but that he has a commitment from the governor to make the project a priority.

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