Competition with casinos and the lottery: Topgolf’s regional draw is a selling point in Mobile

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The closest Topgolf operation to Mobile is in Baton Rouge, nearly 200 miles away. Birmingham, also home to Topgolf, is 210 miles away.

In other words, there are no Topgolf golf entertainment venues within easy driving distance of Alabama’s largest coastal city.

Related content: Topgolf in Mobile: $22 million project, 60 strike positions, 150 jobs and $2.5 million in economic incentives

The achievement is a major selling point for Mobile City officials as they consider approving a project deal that requires a $1.25 million incentive to bring Topgolf to the McGowin Park mall.

Council members at Tuesday’s meeting repeatedly expressed the regional appeal of bringing Topgolf to Mobile, while other nearby cities — primarily Pensacola, Florida and Biloxi, Mississippi — do not. .

“It’s time for Mobile to get the money back from Mississippi and Florida,” Council Chairman CJ Small said. “People go to Florida to play the lottery or to Mississippi to play in the casinos. I really believe this will attract people not only from the Mobile area but also from Mississippi and Florida and North Mobile County.

Other board members echoed Small’s comments.

“For so long, tourism dollars have left Mobile and gone elsewhere, whether it’s the casinos in Mississippi, the lottery in Florida or the beaches and stuff,” Councilman Ben Reynolds said. “Here’s a chance for us to recoup some of that and bring people to our house to enjoy Topgolf.”

Indeed, the prospects of attracting visitors from the Florida Panhandle and the Mississippi Gulf Coast weigh heavily on the board’s vote next week on its part of the Topgolf project deal.

The vote will take place after the Mobile Council Commission, in a 2-1 vote on Monday, approves its part of the project deal that includes a separate $1.25 million incentive.

Incentive support

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson said discussions with Topgolf have taken place over the past five years, and he acknowledged the city is “courting” the company to come to town.

“Everybody would love to have Topgolf,” Stimpson said.

He said that at the time Huntsville and Birmingham brought a Topgolf site to their towns, the company was not yet a “proven entity”.

Topgolf established entertainment hubs in Huntsville and Birmingham in 2017, and neither city paid any direct incentive to the company.

“They had something to prove in those cities,” Stimpson said. “They have proven what they can do for a community and how it improves entertainment and quality of life.”

He added: “It’s a competitive process now. Our sister cities didn’t have to push it, but I don’t see us in that position.

Councilor Joel Daves said in the past he had been reluctant to support direct incentives to support retail projects. But he said Topgolf is different from other companies already on Mobile.

“A lot of times you’re helping a business compete with existing businesses,” Daves said, referring to cities that offer retailer incentives. “That is not the case with this project. I think it’s an appropriate use of incentive dollars to bring Topgolf to mobile. I don’t see it competing with our existing businesses. It is a proven concept.

According to Britton Bonner, the city’s counsel on economic development projects, “most people will characterize this as a retail project, but it is a retail and entertainment project. We consider this to be off the charts and not your typical project. »

An analysis of the project does not include a projection of how many people Topgolf in Mobile will attract, or whether a significant portion of its visitors will travel from outside Mobile.

Mobile Chamber Vice President of Economic Development David Rodgers speaks in favor of a public grant to attract Topgolf to McGowin Park Mall during the Mobile County Commission meeting Monday, August 22, 2022, in Government Plaza in Mobile, Ala. (John Sharp/[email protected]).

David Rodgers, Mobile Chamber’s vice president of economic development, said the $22 million site will attract enough sales and property tax revenue to generate a public return on investment within “2.3 years.” its opening. The site could be open by the end of next year.

The mobile site, if the board supports the incentive, could be under construction by the fall. It will contain many trendy features associated with similar Topgolf sites, with a popular golf game with electronically tracked golf balls and auto-rated drivers.

The mobile site is proposed to be a two-story structure with 60 hitting bays, mini-golf and an outdoor patio. It will be built on 9-1/2 acres where a multiplex movie theater now stands abandoned.

Todd Waldo, a representative for Topgolf, told the board that the $1.25 million incentive was “essential” to whether they would build in Mobile.

“I feel like we picked the right property,” Waldo told board members during their pre-conference meeting. “(The project agreement) brings us a little closer to making this a reality.”

Questioning of wages

The biggest question mark seems to be what kind of salary the company will offer in Mobile.

Councilman Cory Penn asked Waldo for a breakdown of wages for full-time and part-time workers. Waldo declined to provide specifics except to say the top-end salary range is around $100,000 for the venue’s general manager.

“We’re a year and a half away from opening our doors,” Waldo said. “It’s an exciting place for students to work and (Topgolf offers) competitive salaries and a fun work environment.”

On Monday, Mobile County Commissioner Merceria Ludgood – the commission’s only “no” vote on their part of the project agreement – said she had not received answers to her questions about wages, which is one of the reasons she voted against the deal.

The project agreement requires that 150 jobs be achieved by June 30, 2024. If site operations do not begin by then, $250,000 will be paid to the county and city by July 31, 2024 An additional $250,000 will be owed to both the city and county for each subsequent year through 2028, if the project is not completed and staffed.

Waldo told county commissioners on Monday that a range of “40 to 60” positions will be full-time, with the rest being temporary jobs.

Fifty percent of new hires must be “local residents,” except for “certain back-office operations that require relocation of staff,” according to the agreement.

The company has been criticized for questionable labor practices in other markets and has been sued in some cases. In March, Topgolf settled a class action lawsuit over allegations that it instigated managers at its U.S. locations to pay employees less than the federal minimum wage for untipped labor.

James Barber, Stimpson’s chief of staff, said he thought questions about Topgolf’s average salaries elsewhere were “unfair”. He said the business needed to be “competitive” in the market it operates in, and he said he was confident that Topgolf’s salaries in Mobile will be competitive.

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