Real Estate

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Living, Working, and Playing on the Eastern Shore

story by Jim Hannaford

, Real Estate

Look around, and you will see the Eastern Shore booming.New houses and businesses are going up at a lively pace in many areas, and other buildings and properties are being transformed into new and exciting ventures. Fairhope and neighboring Daphne are continuing to see huge gains in population, each rising more than quarter in the last decade as Baldwin County leads the state in population growth. Real estate prices are the highest in the state,too,but that doesn’t stop folks from moving here. Far from it. Houses and apartments are being built steadily to accommodate these new residents, and existing homes–which average out as the most expensive in the state–don’t stay on the market very long. Many in the real estate industry expect the growth to continue for some time, while others say it maybe leveling off.
The Numbers are Big
 
In 2018, there were just over 1,400 building permits issued in Fairhope, Daphne, Spanish Fort and Loxley, according to the Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization.Countywide, there are a reported 6,600 homes and apartments in the works, though many are being built in smaller phases. In Fairhope, the Planning Commission saw plans for 1,200 new residential lots in 17 different subdivisions. In Daphne, there were 191 building permits issued and plans for 683 residential lots in 16 different subdivisions while in unincorporated areas of the county, there were 693 building permits for single-family dwellings and four for multiple-family dwellings. On the eastern edge of Fairhope and Daphne, Highway 181 is being widened. A new elementary school is being built on County Road 64 just east of 181 in the Belforest area, not far from several new subdivisions.
Why the Eastern Shore?

The Mobile Bay is a big factor. People want to live near the water, but not necessarily on the Gulf of Mexico itself, which poses a greater hurricane threat and has more tourists. “It checks a lot of boxes,” says Realtor Randy Niemeyer of the Ashurst & Niemeyer agency. “Low crime rates, good schools, and a warm climate as well as incredible arts and music. And property taxes are much lower than in other parts of the country. ”According to federal Housing and Urban Development numbers provided by the Alabama Center for Real Estate, Baldwin County saw 1,710 building permits in 2018 (for the months January through October), a 12 percent increase over the previous year. Other statistics for 2018 showed 6,845 residential sales in the county, up 4.3 percent from the previous year. The median sale price was up a bit, to $239,278, making Baldwin County the most expensive market in the state. And for good reason, says Sondra Blackwell of Blackwell Realty. “While most people think of our area as a vacation destination, there is so much more going on,” she says. “The Eastern Shore is alive and bustling, providing job opportunities, but it feels like a super-cool small town. People are not only moving here from all over the country, but from all over the world.”

Sondra’s husband, Bo, and their son and daughter-in-law work for the company along with six associates. “Our goal,” Sondra said, “is to create a hometown family atmosphere at work, which is the way we feel about our community.”The number of residential listings in Baldwin County increased 4.4 percent from 2,782 in 2017 to 2,904 in 2018. This is where Baldwin County is very different from other Alabama markets, which have seen significant inventory shortages throughout 2018, according to the ACRE’s Stuart Norton. Once on the market, homes in Baldwin County sold much faster, with an average of 91 days on the market. New homes accounted for 21 percent of the 6,845 total residential sales during 2018. That percentage is well above the statewide average of 13 percent. “We’re rocking and rolling right now,” says Mike McQuillen, owner of McQuillen Custom Homes & Remodeling. He has 20 years of experience in the area, and has seen the business weather its ups and downs, including the BP oil spill in 2010. “Eventually something will happen that will make things start to slow down, but I don’t see anything right now that should make us worry.”
While many of the new comers to the Eastern Shore are retirees from the Midwest, others arrive from much farther away. Mary Courtney Cane of Courtney & Morris Real Estate says she helped a family from Toulouse, Francefind a home here.“ The market in Fairhope is extremely strong,” says Cane. “Demand is high and inventory is low, making it a seller’s market.” Joe Courtney and Skeeter Morris started the company in 1974, Cane joined in 2005. She now heads up the residential division along with Joe Courtney Jr. and their brother Frank. They have 15 agents with offices in Mobile, Daphne, and Fairhope. One exciting high-end development in the works is Van Antwerp Park, being developed on eleven acres of previously unused land that includes a dry creek bed near the bay. Fifteen home sites along Pensacola Avenue will overlook a private arboretum and park featuring walking trails, fire pits, exercise paths, and gardens. Walcott Adams Verneuille Architects will design the hilltop homes, which will be in the “mountain cottage” style and offer a treehouse view of the arboretum and park below, she says.
Judges Square to Revive Site of Judge Roy Bean’s

For almost six decades, this triangular piece of property in the Montrose area was often swarming with people, but not since the iconic Judge Roy Bean’s watering hole burned down 13 years ago. The site’s new owners and developers hope to change that with an ambitious mix of commercial and residential development. Their vision is for Judge’s Square to become a new social hub. “Our hope is that it will be a gathering place, a destination that people will look forward to visiting,” says Ameri’ca Tickle, an accomplished artist who is half of the husband-and-wife team of developers known as Tickle Creative. Her husband and business partner, Jason Tickle, is a second-generation real estate developer who has come to embrace environmentally conscious New Urbanism practices.

Architect Jeffrey Dungan and landscape architect Kevin Campion also collaborated on this mixed-use development that combines six retail shops, a restaurant, inviting outdoor spaces, and 17 residential units that will range in price from$335,000 to $1,175,000. Their plans embrace the concepts of sustainability and “biophilic design,” a term coined by naturalist E. O. Wilson that means to intentionally integrate nature into a built environment. Plans call for landscape designs throughout the ground to include ponds, boardwalks, casual seating and gathering spaces, pathways, and a pavilion for community events. You can also expect public art pieces, including metal sculptures.
The property has a storied past as the home of the Embassy Lounge starting in 1946 until the late Jack West transformed it into the rustic and whimsical Judge Roy Bean’s in 1976. It was known for its volleyball matches and a free-wandering resident goat as well as for hosting big-time musical acts that included Jimmy Buffett, Emmylou Harris, and Wet Willie. A fire destroyed it in 2005.The Tickles are embracing the site’s storied past and its legacy. For instance, Judges Square’s mythical Sea Goat logo pays homage to its Billy the Goat mascot as well as the charismatic former owner’s love of fishing. “We see it as the perfect place for a neighborhood center,” JasonTickle says. “People are starved for that – a place where they can go and bump into people they know.”
The Fort at Spanish Fort Offers New Mix of Food and Beverage Options

A formation of shipping containers is a hip new attraction of casual restaurants and shops in Spanish Fort, and the operators say they hope it will keep folks on this side of the bay. The Fort opened recently at the top of the hill as the first “container park” in the area. There, purposed shipping containers now house the kitchens, prep areas, and a restroom for a funky mix of businesses. They include Beakers Coffee Shop/Sno Biz, Bleus Burger, Deuce Coop Chicken and Waffles, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, Dragonfly Taco Bar, Happy Pizza, Soul Bowlz and Tap Station. Guests can gather in a comfortable common area with picnic tables. The hilltop setting offers nice sunset views toward Mobile Bay.

“It’s new and fun and will have a lot of local flavor,” says Mark Maguire, one of the managers of the property whose particular enterprise is the Tap Station, which offers a selection of craft beers, cocktails, and wine. Maguire is the brother of Cypress Equities CEO Chris Maguire, who also developed the larger Spanish Fort Town Center, a 230-acre complex which includes the surrounding retail stores, a hotel, a bank, and an apartment complex. The Fort is located just north of Bass Pro Shops and east of J. C. Penney, right next to the Town Center Park. The bright blue containers are arranged in a semi-circle with a common open-air space with the colorfully painted tables and a small stage for live music. The city of Spanish Fort designated the area as an entertainment district to allow customers 21 and over to openly carry alcoholic beverages in the outdoor setting.
Maguire, who has run restaurants in Dallas and Atlanta, noticed that many of the area’s eateries shut down fairly early. So The Fort, while designed as a family-friendly destination, will cater to after-hours crowds – to a point. “Late night, but not toolate night,” he said. Stacey Key, manager of Tap Station, said they will feature brews from the Terrapin Beer Co. microbrewery, based in Athens, Georgia. Doug and Brie Kerr, owners of the well-known Dragonfly Foodbar & Flybar in downtown Fairhope, have expanded their culinary expertise to The Fort Container Park. “After 8 years in Fairhope, the chance to open a new Dragonfly concept –Dragonfly Taco Bar – allows us to offer the northern top of the Eastern Shore the opportunity to enjoy our famous tacos,” said Brie Kerr. While voted Best Taco two years in a row by Buzzfeed, Deuce Coups is their newest culinary creation – gourmet chicken and waffles – putting a global flair on a southern staple.The Taco Bar has one of the two full liquor licenses on site.
Former Windmill Market has New Focus as ‘The Mill’
A sign outside The Mill – formerly Windmill Market – sums it up: “A Place for Family & Friends to Smile, Eat, Drink & Play!” New owners Elizabeth and Wells Hammock (a pediatric dentist) want it to be fun for children, and adults too. There is an assortment of outdoor games like bocce, corn hole, and ping pong for kids, and inside there are three restaurants, an ice cream counter, and a brew pub. They took over recently from previous owners Mac and Gina Walcott, who redeveloped the property back in 2009 on the former site of a car dealership. “We wanted to do something community-driven, ”says Elizabeth. “We knew the Walcotts and knew they were looking to sell. We thought we could do something special with the property, and here we are.”
The 6,500-square-feet “market” was once divided into separate kiosks where artisans and craftsmen sold their wares alongside a small farmer’s market. Now the space is bright, open, and airy. The existing Ox Kitchen continues to operate along with mainstay Mary Ann’s Deli. Newcomer businesses are Cereal Killer, Sundae School, and Taps at the Mill. The iconic three-blade windmill (which provides a portion of electricity for the business) remains on the site, at the corner of Bancroft and Equality in downtown Fairhope. Elizabeth, whose background is in investment and finance, says the new name pays homage to the previous incarnation as well as her own heritage – she grew up in New Hampshire, and her parents were from a town in Massachusetts that had a textile mill.
Mixed-Use Projects Continue to be Popular
Mixed-use developments, which combine different types of uses, such as a mix of commercial and residential, are a reaction to the suburban movement, or moving residences away from business centers. The trend toward mixed-use development is evident on the Eastern Shore, with several high-profile projects in the works.
 At a Glance
A small, boutique hotel planned for the northeast corner of Section Street and Fairhope Avenue, on the lot with the iconic clock. Matt Bowers of Covington, Louisiana plans to build a 10,500-square-foot hotel with nine to twelve rooms and retail space on the ground floor. He recently decided to delay the project to address some concerns from the public.
A mixed-used development called Portico (coincidentally named, but with no connection to this magazine). Developer Chris Haley broke ground last summer on a mixed-used project at 521 Fairhope Avenue, which is next door to the post office, taking the place of rental storage units.Portico will include a two-story building housing a bank and four additional businesses as well as 10 condominiums.
The former Fairhope Hardware Store building, at Summit Street and Fairhope Avenue, is being restored and renovated. This historic building, which was the Single Tax Colony’s original general store, will have commercial spaces on the ground floor with a mix of office and residential space above.
Bryant Bank
Bryant Bank was founded in 2005 to see every Alabamian experience a financially stable future and live in a thriving community. To accomplish this, we put care into action to help individuals, families, businesses, and communities invest in their full potential. We are entirely dedicated to serving Alabamians and have a wealth of local knowledge and experience within our Baldwin County team. But at the end of the day, it’s not the knowledge or the experience that sets us apart… it’s our bankers. Bryant Bankers care about you and the success of our communities. We are collaborative partners for the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay and appreciate every opportunity that we are given to empower someone’s residential, investment or commercial real estate needs.
The DesignGallery by Swift Supply
The DesignGallery is a one-of-a-kind showroom to help families build or renovate their next dream home through a one-of-a-kind customer experience. Included are kitchen,  bath, doors, and windows with working displays to visualize the perfect space. The process leaves clients feeling inspired. As a sixth-generation company with reach into Baldwin, Escambia, and Monroe counties, Swift Supply is committed to creating new growth opportunities. Says president Ida Ross Hicks: “The DesignGallery is a result of a dream of ours to create opportunities for our neighbors to see their dreams come to life. This is your home and family—you deserve the best we have to offer.”
Local Property, Inc.
Local property is that fresh new wave of excitement you feel when you step into a new adventure. Want a quick tour of waterfront property by boat? Hop in and see why the “Local” team calls Baldwin County home, and why they want to call you their neighbor. With a committed team of full-time agents who want to show you the back roads, the hangouts, the watering holes, and the local favorites, the buying process becomes a joy. Real estate is not a transaction, it is a lifelong relationship. Local Property is so proud of this coastal community and the long list of friends and neighbors ready to make you feel at home. As owner/broker Hollie MacKellar says, “Shop Local and Become Local.”

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