Planned Gulf Coast train to be named after Mardi Gras, tourism official says

Published: Aug. 28, 2023 at 7:32 PM CDT
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POINT CLEAR, Ala. (WALA) - The working name of the long-awaited Amtrak train planned for the Gulf Coast is Mardi Gras Service, Visit Mobile President and CEO David Clark confirmed Monday.

The name has been a topic of discussion at a tourism conference at the Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa. Clark said nothing is official and that more information would be available next week at the Southern Rail Commission meeting, also planned for the Grand Hotel.

Marc Magliari, a spokesman for Amtrak, referred questions to that commission.

The service still has no start date. That is contingent on the negotiation of a ground lease that would allow the construction of a switch and spur where the train would rest overnight. Officials have said talks have been positive, but the details have not been finalized.

Tourism officials hope passenger service will add to the Gulf Coast’s already-large share of the tourism industry.

According to the Alabama Department of Tourism, Mobile and Baldwin counties welcomed 11.6 million visitors last year – 40.5 percent of all visitors to the entire state. Last year, state lodging tax revenue in the two counties was almost $48 million. That’s 43.6 percent of the total statewide.

“The Gulf Coast is definitely a major player in the economy,” Gov. Kay Ivey told reporters after addressing the Governor’s Conference on Tourism on Monday. “We saw how saw how vital it is when we had the Gulf oil spill and later the pandemic. The Gulf Coast is very important to tourism.”

Ivey addressed a couple of other topics. She said she is pleased that a planned bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway in Gulf Shores is back on after an Alabama Supreme Court ruling last week.

“Great for Baldwin County and for the state as a whole,” she said. “I’m real proud that the government in Alabama can get back to building roads and bridges, and the courts can stay in their lane.”

The governor said she also supports shrimpers in Bayou La Batre, who have complained about foreign shrimp flooding the local market.

“I wish we could do more,” she said. “It’d be nice to have a tariff, but only the United States Department of Commerce can issue a tariff. So I’ve been in touch with our federal delegation.”

In her remarks to the conference, Ivey touted the record $22.4 billion – “that’s billion with a ‘B’ – spent on tourism in Alabama.

“Tourism is big business here in Alabama,” she said. “When we frequently talk about the success of Alabama’s economy, including record growth and business investment, folks think of new factories and office parks. But that’s not the whole picture. Tourism leaves and enormous economic footprint.”

The governor said the industry “shows no sign of slowing down,” with a quarter of a million jobs tied to visitors.

“That’s nearly five times as many as our growing automotive industry,” she said.

Lee Sentell, the state’s director of tourism, said it is not just the beaches – although, he added they undoubtedly are a big draw.

“The great thing is Alabama has so many different great assets, from Muscle Shoals in the north to Mobile Bay in the south, and then all the way over to Dothan,” he said. “We have what people want. … So this area certainly is blessed with all the kinds of assets that people love to drive down Interstate 65 in the Midwest to visit the Gulf Coast.”

Sentell said the only real challenge is a little light-hearted rivalry with the region’s cousins to the west in New Orleans.

“There are no real downsides,” he said. “It’s just reminding people in New Orleans, Mardi Gras started in Mobile.”