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Flashback: Gulf Real Estate Legend

Gene Brett at The Phoenix II in 1986.

Photo by Leigh Jordan Brown


The Alabama Gulf resort market was smoothing its fledgling feathers when Business Alabama visited in the May issue of 1986, our first year of publication. An early ’80s condo binge had hit a sobering slump, with more than 1,100 unsold units stalling development loans.

“A lot of the talk of overbuilding is coming from bankers who don’t know what entrepreneurship or capitalism really is,” said Gene Brett, the lead spokesman partner of Brett/Robinson Inc., the leading condo developer on the Alabama coast.

Brett attributed recent failures to prospectors “who read in their newspaper, the Atlanta Constitution, about the buying frenzy at Gulf Shores, about developers selling out before they broke ground.”

Brett/Robinson, a Saraland-based general contractor, began its resort work in 1980, the first year of recovery construction after Hurricane Frederic. By 1986, the company had completed four condo projects and was working on a fifth, their third high-rise in a series called Phoenix, of which there are now 19.

“In 90 days we sold out the first phase of the Phoenix,” said Brett, recalling the 1982 seller’s market. “That’s a freak. Gulf Shores is still a good market, except that one time it just went crazy.”

The majority of buyers in 1986 were still the small investors, said Brett. “They are the persons who would buy the condo as a second home if they could afford it,” said Brett, “but they end up using it only part of the year and renting it out a majority of the time.”

And the key to success in that market, said Brett, is a skillful rental management program.

“There is no way to overbuild Gulf Shores, Alabama,” said Brett with a look of astonishment at the suggestion. “Out of the 33 miles of beachfront, about 13 miles are occupied by state parks and wildlife preserves, leaving only about 20 miles. Of that 20 miles, much of it is deed-restricted for single-family use, leaving only about 13 miles that can be used for condominium development.”

Chris McFadyen is the editorial director of Business Alabama.

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