“I love the turnout,” Mobile official Shonnda Smith said on the evening of Sept. 13 at a public meeting on the future of the property known colloquially as Brookley by the Bay. “This is the biggest turnout for a community engagement for a park.”
Smith, deputy director of public works and the city’s parks and recreation director, was facing an audience of dozens of people, probably adding up to well over 100 as visitors came and went during the two-hour session at the Harmon-Thomas Community Center on Belfast St. near Williamson High School. The big turnout made sense, given that Brookley by the Bay presents not just a big opportunity but a generational one.
A deal announced in December 2020 laid out a plan for the city to purchase about 300 acres owned by the University of South Alabama Foundation. The plan calls for some of the land to be developed as an industrial park supporting the adjacent Brookley Aeroplex; some to be held as waterfront and wetlands conservation areas; and some to be developed as a public park.
A bayfront park spanning more than 90 acres, including open grassy areas, wooded areas and a shoreline with “pocket beaches” and other shore features, all flanked by conservation zones along the shoreline, clearly could be a game-changing amenity for Mobilians and even a draw for visitors. But its great potential also presents a challenge in clarifying what can and will be done with it.
The overarching message of Tuesday’s session was that this was the very beginning of the process, to be followed by more opportunities for public input.