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Grounds land deal could ease traffic jams at fair site

Posted Aug 2, 2017

By Lawrence Specker | | Originally posted to here

The Grounds, home of Mobile's Greater Gulf State Fair and other events, has announced a land deal that gives it room to grow - and a new entrance that could be a game-changer when it comes to traffic congestion at the site.

Josh Woods, executive director of The Grounds, said Wednesday afternoon that the Grounds board had just that morning finalized the purchase of an adjacent 65-acre parcel that had been the home of Overlook Nurseries. It has not been in use for several years.

Most of the acreage consists of an undeveloped block on the west side of The Grounds. It does not continue far enough west to provide direct access to Schillinger Road, but the purchase also includes a spur that reaches northward to Howells Ferry Road, where fair personnel put up signs on Wednesday declaring it to be a future entrance to The Grounds. The access point is a short distance west of the Mobile County Animal Shelter.

Currently, event traffic enters The Grounds on its south side, along Ziegler Boulevard, west of the intersection of Zeigler Boulevard and Cody Road. At peak times - for example, when thousands of people try to arrive at once for the start of a concert-style event such as Funk Fest -- lengthy backups can occur along every route in.

Having a second way in, off Howells Ferry, should provide substantial relief, Woods said. "We're going to work with the city, work with the county, to come up with a new traffic pattern," he said.

Woods said The Grounds was taking on some debt to make the purchase, but was paying the majority of the cost out of pocket. He declined to reveal specifics about the purchase price.

The new acreage takes The Grounds from just under 100 acres to more than 150. Woods said it may take a year or two to come up with a development plan, let alone construct new features - but he said it's a safe bet that it'll include new parking areas as well as a new entrance. Future developments could include things like an outdoor concert amphitheater.

"This is going to offer a lot of different possibilities for us," he said.

Woods said, however, that The Grounds leadership intends to be "good neighbors" when it comes to the residential properties around the perimeter of the new territory.

Woods said he hopes The Grounds' investment shows that it is committed to west Mobile. "West Mobile's booming and we have a lot of business partners" in the area, he said.

Woods said he hopes the community will provide input about what type of events and features people would like to see at The Grounds, which is a project of the Mobile Jaycees.

The next major entertainment event at The Grounds is the 2017 Greater Gulf State Fair, which opens Oct. 27. Other upcoming events include a gun show Aug. 5-6 and Vintage Market Days of Mobile, Aug. 25-27.

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