Orange Beach Seafood Festival By John Mullen
February 27, 2018 – Orange Beach, AL (OBA®) – The Orange Beach Seafood Festival and Car Show has come a long way since it's modest start in 1992.
“This is the 26th year so we’ve gone from having it under the Perdido Pass bridge where we caught our own fish to sell to what it is today,” Robert Stuart said. Stuart is the vice president of the Orange Beach Sports Association, has been a long-time member of the group including serving several years as president.
The annual festival raises money for sports leagues in Orange Beach buying equipment and helping kids who can’t quite afford to pay the fees still get a chance to compete.
On Feb. 24 at The Wharf, it was an all-timer. City officials estimate there were 25,000-30,000 attendees looking at cars, browsing through the arts and crafts booths and lining up for seafood either from the vendors or restaurants on site.
“It was one for the record books,” Stuart said. “I know that all arts and crafts vendors had their best festival ever and most of the food vendors ran out of food. We had a record number of cars for the car show.”
Stuart said the partnership with the city has been a big help.
“The sports association is grateful for the city’s participation,” Stuart said. “We couldn’t do it without the city’s help.”
The record numbers weren’t without headaches. Parking was at a premium and some attendees felt there should have been more vendors selling the namesake seafood.
“We had more food vendors than we did last year and we actually had more arts and crafts vendors,” Stuart said. “Sometimes it’s better to run out of food than to have too much. That’s going to be something we look at next year. We have room to expand the food vendors.”
Out on Canal Road, traffic was a bear, too, during the heaviest times of the festival.
“This was the best festival we have ever had and it's unfortunate that traffic did jam up during the peak time due to such a beautiful weather day,” City Administrator Ken Grimes said. “The Wharf had plenty of parking around the site but just a pure amount of traffic with spring starting up and a weekend with great weather.”
If there was a gap in the amount of seafood available, Grimes said, restaurants at The Wharf stepped up their game to fill in any gaps. And were quite busy doing so.
“Just about every restaurant had waiting times today per several I have heard from,” Grimes said. “This shows a pure increase in visitors all over town not just for the festival. ‘Perfect storm’ with perfect weather and pent-up demand. I'll take it every day in February.”
Grimes said the same problems could surface again in 2019 of all the conditions of the perfect storm repeat.
“There’s not much we can do,” Grimes said. “We will take all input into account as we debrief from the event. If the same circumstances all hit the same day we will hopefully have another big crowd. Police will review traffic plans and in two years we hope to have the additional eastbound Canal Road lane completed by ALDOT. That will help.”
Bobby Graves of the Intracoastal restaurant at The Wharf said the huge crowd swamped his staff but his business enjoyed a banner day.
“I said years ago that we need to get that as a small version of the Shrimp Festival and grow it and that’s what’s happened, that’s what it turned into,” Graves said. “We just didn’t have enough employees for it. It was almost double and triple in size as it was last year.”