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Alabama renovates abandoned governor's mansion with BP money

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Alabama is using BP grant money left over from the 2010 Gulf oil spill to finally repair and renovate a beachfront governor's mansion that has been abandoned for nearly two decades.

Work began earlier this month near Gulf Shores to rehabilitate the two-story, 7,500-square-foot gubernatorial mansion that wasn't fixed after Hurricane Danny in 1997. The project should be done by late May, a spokeswoman for Gov. Robert Bentley, Jennifer Ardis, said Monday.

Ardis said taxpayer money isn't going into the project. Instead, she said grant money provided by BP and left over from the 2010 oil spill is being used to cover the cost, estimated at $1.5 million to $1.8 million.

While environmentalists filed suit over the state's plan to use BP restoration money to construct a hotel on the beachfront, Ardis said the state is "comfortable" using money remaining from a separate BP grant to pay contractor Phil Harris Construction Inc. to fix the mansion.

Baldwin County tax records list the house and property as being worth about $1 million, but the cinder-block building has been gutted for years and has boarded-up windows, peeling paint and a torn tarp covering the roof.

Once work is done in late May, the state will use the house mainly as a tool for economic development, but Bentley may visit on occasion, Ardis said. Industrial recruiters in Baldwin and Mobile counties will use it primarily to lodge and entertain business executives considering the state for projects.

Neighbors have complained about the dilapidated condition of the mansion, which dates back to the 1960s.

"The governor doesn't want this property to be an embarrassment any longer," Ardis said.

Located in a subdivision on the Fort Morgan Peninsula, the house was built on property that was donated for a governor's mansion in 1962. Governors beginning with George C. Wallace used the six-bedroom, four-bath house off and on until Danny.

After the hurricane, governors were unwilling to take on the politically risky task of renovating a mansion that most Alabamians couldn't afford. Bentley, who owned beach property near the mansion, visited the house and heard complaints from neighbors who wanted the eyesore repaired.

Architects began assessing the abandoned mansion in the spring. The repair work includes installing a new roof and replacing plumbing, electrical, and heating and air conditioning systems as required, Ardis said. Weather-battered exterior wood and stucco will be fixed, and much of the interior will be redone.

Originally, the house had little security aside from a room used by state troopers and a fence that blocked the view from the road, so Ardis said some of the renovation will include adding features to improve security.

"It will have to be brought up to the standard of a governor's residence," she said.

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