After starting as a utopian society in 1894, Fairhope, Ala., has since become a must-see city for artists and nature lovers. Located along Mobile Bay, the locals strive to keep the city clean and attractive for years to come.
“It’s a small town with a strong beautification program,” said Mayor Sherry Sullivan. “What our brand is, to a degree, is the floral displays that we provide throughout our downtown and throughout the city. Those are changed out four times a year. And that’s kind of what brings people back.”
The beautification program has been in effect since 1981 when a tree planting program was started in the downtown area. It wasn’t until 1985 that the city began growing and designing the annual flower beds.
“The beautification program has really become our brand. That’s what people again come to Fairhope for, not only for the arts but to look at our floral displays,” said Sullivan. “We were one of the first municipalities in the Southeast to hire a horticulturist … we’ve had city horticultural staff for a number of years to be able to maintain that beautification program.”
Sullivan describes the floral displays as a type of “instant magic.” The displays are switched out and replanted during the evening or early morning hours. When tourists and residents wake up for the day, they are often greeted by a new display.
Every street corner in downtown Fairhope has its own unique flower bed. The city even has trash cans with floral displays on top of them. In addition, there is a working floral clock.
When guests aren’t admiring the many floral displays, they can enjoy the bustling arts community the city offers.
The city is home to the Eastern Shore Art Center. The center holds multiple galleries with rotating exhibits. In addition, the center hosts many events around the town, including First Friday Art Walks.
Fairhope’s main attraction when it comes to the arts is the annual Fairhope Arts and Crafts Festival.
“Each year on the third weekend of March, thousands of visitors come to downtown Fairhope for one of the most prestigious juried art shows in the southeast,” said Paige Crawford, tourism and special events manager.
On a normal year, this festival brings over 300 artists and 100,000 tourists to Fairhope. Due to COVID-19 precautions, the festival will be a little bit smaller for its 69th year and will consist of an Alabama-only artist show.
Fairhope is currently looking at restoring and improving one of its main attractions — the Fairhope Municipal Pier.
“We’re one of the only public access areas on the eastern shore, and it’s the largest access area on the eastern shore,” said Sullivan. “People really, really love coming down to the pier and being able to walk out on it.”
This location is known as the town square and is home to the 1,448-foot pier, a rose garden, a fountain and a beach area.
“Like so many other communities on the coast, the city of Fairhope suffered economic injuries as a result of the 2010 BP oil spill, and the awarding of the RESTORE funding for our working waterfront project was contingent on economic development, resiliency and sustainability,” said Crawford. “The scope of work for this project, as defined in the approved grant application, entails all project work related to improvements to the shoreline and bluffs along the eastern shore of Mobile Bay in Fairhope.”
The project, Working Waterfront and Greenspace Project — Fairhope Municipal Pier and South Beach Park Improvements, includes stabilization of the steep bluff. This will allow for a majority of the bluff to become a usable park area with a new beach. In addition, new restrooms, pavilions and a gallery-style seating area will be constructed. The project also includes storm protection and the rehabilitation of existing features, such as the parking lot.
“It’s been probably 50 years since we’ve done a major overhaul of that area, other than just doing some upgrades when we have storms,” said Sullivan.
This project is set to begin this year and will take up to 18 months to complete. The hope is to keep at least some of the pier accessible during the majority of the construction so people can still enjoy everything Fairhope has to offer.
And people really do seem to be enjoying Fairhope more and more as time passes.
According to the Baldwin County Alabama Economic Development Alliance, the city of Fairhope has seen a 20% growth in population over the last five years.
Mayor Sullivan attributes a lot of this growth to the town’s dedication to beautification.
“I’m so proud of what we’ve done here. The people wanting to move here and the growth that we’ve seen is a testament to the leaders who came before me and their vision for what Fairhope could be,” said Sullivan. “Growing up here and knowing how things were 25 years ago, to me, I’m amazed every day at the community that we’ve created and how beautiful it is, and the wonderful people who lived here, and I hope that we can continue just making improvements that continue maintaining our quality of life and that small-town feel, so for generations, it’s the best place.”