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Flashback: America’s Riviera

Rebranding a region is not that easy, Altus Bank discovered in 1987. Nor is discounting non-performing condo loans, it also realized. Illustration by Chuck Aherns, 1987

Rebranding a region is not that easy, Altus Bank discovered in 1987. Nor is discounting non-performing condo loans, it also realized. Illustration by Chuck Aherns, 1987

In the Benchmarks section in the front of this issue, there’s a piece about a new entertainment development called Blue Collar Country, planned for Foley, on the Alabama Gulf Coast.

Foley is the birthplace of football’s bad old boy Kenny Stabler. It’s not far from the honkytonk FloraBama, where they still throw mullet for sport. It’s the entrance to Gulf Shores, via the Foley Beach Express, brainchild of sons of a former Auburn football standout, former governor, who got rich making barbells. And Gulf Shores is still the playground of feral Cracker kids, as it was for writer Fannie Flagg when she was young and barefoot.

Associations like these at some point culminated in the moniker “Redneck Riviera,” and the ambitions of the Blue Collar developers embrace the image with a big old hug. But time once was, Business Alabama’s July, 1987 issue reported, when some folks tried to change all that.

In the summer of that year, Mobile-based ad agency Modern Communications Group, backed by Altus Bank, launched a $1 million campaign to stamp the coast the “American Riviera.”

“If there’s anything American, it’s the northern Gulf Coast,” said Modern’s president, Art Forward. “There is something for everybody. You don’t have to be rich to go there. You can find a little 16-foot fishing boat tied up to a dock alongside a 40-foot Bertram. We can show you where the pirates scraped the barnacles off their boats, where the Indians threw their oyster shells from their feasts.”

It still sounds like a pretty good pitch. But it didn’t take, in spite of the yearlong marketing campaign paid for by Mobile-based Altus Bank.

In 1987, Altus was bleeding heavily from nonperforming construction loans for Gulf Coast condominium towers. It had ridden well past the crest of one of the first great waves of irrational exuberance. Altus failed in 1991 and went into receivership. In 1994 it merged, with federal financial assistance, into Magnolia Federal Bank for Savings, which merged in 1997 into Union Planters Bank, which in 2005 merged into Regions Bank. 

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