Parking crunch will displace RV City during Mardi Gras, complicate Carnival balls

Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 6:01 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - A convergence of circumstances is going to displace a Mardi Gras staple known as RV City and make Carnival balls more difficult to attend.

The changes are the result of the resumption of cruises and the redevelopment of the Mobile Civic Center.

Perhaps the most significant change is that the coming Mardi Gras season will displace RV City, which for years has offered a home to campers who set up underneath the Interstate 10 overpass. The city is setting aside space for 225 cars there to supplement the 500 at the Mobile Alabama Cruise Terminal.

“RV City was not a function of the city,” Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson told FOX10 News. “You know, we just helped them secure that property, let’s say from the state, because it was state-controlled. And so it’s really up to them if they can find another location. If we can work with them to do that, you know, we will help them.”

In the past, the Civic Center has been used for overflow cruise parking. But that parking lot is now a construction site. Workers are laying the foundation for a new regional headquarters for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That has cut parking from 1,200 spaces to 650, according to ASM Global, the company that manages the Civic Center.

And soon, work will begin on a city-built parking deck that temporarily will reduce parking to between 150 and 200.

As a result, the city searched for an alternative location to accommodate overflow parking for the Carnival Spirit begins operating in October. An agreement between the city and the Alabama Department of Transportation, which owns the land where RV City was located, allows Mobile to use the area for cruise parking from October until April. The rest of the property will be used to store construction equipment that will be part of a new Interstate 10 bridge.

Wayne Dean, who for more than three decades has portrayed Chief Slacabamorinico during Mardi Gras, said losing RV City will be unfortunate.

“You know, that was kind of one of the neat things about Mobile Carnival, Mardi Gras – that you had this place for people that could take their RVs and park,” he said.

Kendall Wall, ASM Global’s general manager over the Civic Center, said discussions are under way about how to accommodate revelers. One idea is to run a shuttle service, he said. But he added that nothing has been decided.

“It is going to be a challenge going forward,” he said. “You know, when you have construction, that’s part of it.”

And not just for Mardi Gras, Wall said. He said when the parking drops to 200 or fewer spaces, it will be difficult for people attending all sorts of events.

“A lot of this stuff has been on the books for a while,” he said. “So this is gonna be an execution situation of how do we handle this for the public?”

Wall said the Civic Center has alerted Ticketmaster and is changing its website in order to alert people to the lack of parking.

“This is gonna be moving,” he said. “It’s gonna be flowing. Every time, it’s gonna be a little bit different.”

The Civic Center long has been a popular venue for Mardi Gras balls. Stimpson said there is space available in a county-owned parking garage next to the Admiral Hotel on Government Street and a city-owned facility on Water Street. But Dean questioned how well that would work for the balls.

“Parking is gonna be the real crucial thing, because people are gonna be looking for those spaces, especially those that are coming to the balls,” he said. “Because a lady is going to be at her ball gown and she’s not going to want to track 10 blocks to where she parks.”

Dean added that it also likely will take longer for people to get inside the building.

“I’ve stood there and watched those lines sometimes even without the parking problem, and they get pretty long,” he said.

RV city’s disbursement may be permanent. ALDOT spokesman James Gordon said the spot where it traditionally has been located will used by the new I-10 bridge. It is unclear of RV City could be reconstituted somewhere else. Dean suggested the city-owned park on Texas Street, not far from the Civic Center. City spokesman Jason Johnson said that is an option that has been floated.

The Army Corps of Engineers building is part of a major redevelopment of the aging Civic Center. Stimpson said Populous Architects, the firm hired by the city to oversee that effort, is getting input from two different management companies.

The mayor said the city hopes to select one of those companies in the next 60 days. He added it may take up to six months to get 30 percent of the engineering design completed, which will give the city an idea of cost.

“So we’re coming up to a threshold here, a couple of hurdles that we’ve got to cross,” he said.