Florala park going back to city

Published 1:20 am Tuesday, October 13, 2015

People who winter at Lake Jackson’s RV park have already begun arriving.

People who winter at Lake Jackson’s RV park have already begun arriving.

Officials say motel more likely under terms

When Gov. Robert Bentley announced in September the Florala State Park would be one of five state parks closing due to budget cuts, it appeared to be a bad thing for the city.

Now officials say it could be just the break Florala needed, all along.

Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, confirmed Monday that the park will revert back to the city, and said that puts the city in the proverbial catbird seat.

“With the exception of a few campers, this has always been a day park,” Jones said. “We have tried numerous times to negotiate with prospects for hotels. Every time we got close, the state would make mention of closing parks and essentially end the talks.”

Jones said many scenarios had been floated, including attempts for the city to lease the almost brand new event facility built on the lake.

“We’ve also talked about allowing us to have so many days within the year of control over the meeting facility, to help negotiate with the hotel, to give them some comfort that they could locate reunions and other events there,” Jones aid. “But basically to create a destination location as opposed to a day trip location.”

Many things – some of them small – prevented that from happening, he said.

“We were already aware of reversion language (in the deed),” he said.

In a letter to Gov. Robert Bentley and Greg Lein, director of Alabama State Parks, Florala city attorney Wes Laird said the land area of the park was designated as such by private owners in the early 1900s.

“The City of Florala’s source of title dates back to that time and those plats, Laird wrote.

He also wrote that a replacement warranty deed dated March 8, 1971, conveyed the park land to the state, but included a reversion clause.

“After completion of the park area, should the grantee abandon the park area or fail to maintain some as a park area, the premises herein conveyed shall revert to grantor.”

Laird wrote that it is his conclusion that upon the state’s closing of Florala State Park, the land comprising it will revert to the City of Florala.

“At that time, unless there is a change of the state’s plans, the City of Florala intends to assume ownership and maintain and continue to run the park,” he wrote. “It is the city’s hope that such a transition can be made seamlessly.”

“This letter is not meant to be contentious or litigious in any way,” he wrote. “We are simply looking for the best solution to this grave situation and desire that our park on ‘Beautiful Lake Jackson’ not cease to operate.”

Jones said that, consequently, this might be a very good thing for the city of Florala.

“They will have complete control of the asset, including a nice, new building with an amphitheater,” he said. “The campgrounds are part of park and the parks is in best shape it’s been in in a long time.”

The park and facility revert to the city debt free,

“This gives all of the negotiating back to city of Florala,” he said. “It is a huge positive for city, in the short term and long term.”

Florala Mayor Robert Williamson told the town council Monday night that he has asked that state stop using the word “closed” when referring to the park. Already, there are people in the campground who winter there each year, and they have friends planning to join them.

Some of those temporary residents were at Monday’s council meeting, seeking input what might happen, and expressing concerns that the state plans to remove washers and dryers from the laundry facility, and to move a portable building used as an office at the campground.

One of the campers said many who winter here would volunteer to help manage the campground.

“We are camped there right now,” he said. “Our intent is to winter there as we have for the past 20 years. We are here (tonight) to find out how we can help you and you can help us.”

Williamson, who has previously expressed frustration with the state, said Monday night he does think it’s advantageous for the city to get it back, but said he is frustrated with the process.

Terry Holley, who also attended Monday’s meeting, said, “Rep. Jones and Sen. Holley have been very supportive. They are helping, and we appreciate the job they do for us.”