SCAPE, Volkert, Moffatt & Nichol, and Thompson Engineering have developed a master plan that will transform a 98-acre swath of waterfront land abutting Mobile Bay in Alabama. Brookley by the Bay, the forthcoming park project, will restore the site’s biodiverse ecosystem and create a new gathering place for the city.
In 2020 the City of Mobile, the State of Alabama, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation purchased the waterfront site, east of the Mobile Aeroplex at the mouth of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, for $33 million. Surrounded by protected wetlands to its north and south, the area is defined by several shoreline types, an open field, forested wetlands, and a “bay beach.”
SCAPE, Volkert, Moffatt & Nichol, and Thompson Engineering worked with the City of Mobile from August 2022 to February 2023 on this master plan for Brookley by the Bay. To inform the vision the design team received feedback from over 300 community members, local organizations, and project partners.
Five key goals for the project are outlined in the vision: establishing a connected site, drawing people to the water’s edge, creating a gathering place, enhancing habitat resiliency, and designing public space that will continue to be resilient, accessible, and equitable.
The master plan for Brookley by the Bay envisions three distinct regions: a beach and amphitheater will occupy the northern part of the park, an interactive shoreline will be situated at the east, and a heavily programmed shoreline to the south offers beach access.
According to the master plan: “The collective vision for a new waterfront park at Brookley by the Bay presents an opportunity for people to reconnect with the water’s edge and immerse themselves within the rich, biodiverse ecosystems that once defined and sustained the region—its tidal flats, marshes, forested wetlands, and shallow lagoons. This vision seeks to carefully weave programmed areas that support waterfront access and recreation through the site’s incredible tree canopies, open fields, and varied shoreline and create new areas that enhance habitat resilience, enrich the understory, and allow coastal ecosystems to emerge and thrive.”
As proposed, Brookley by the Bay will feature a number of new public amenities, among these a performance pavilion for hosting events that would be oriented to frame views of the waterfront and city skyline in the distance. The theater space would accommodate 300 seats within its structure. Adjacent grassy patches will allow over 700 more to watch events.
Beyond this shelter, a kayak launch, playgrounds, and a fenced dog run are also planned. At the center of the park, a large lawn creates an informal gathering place where the public can congregate to picnic, play games, or just take in the natural surroundings.
Hiking trails and walking loops wind through the site and extend from the entrance points along Old Bay Front Drive down to the shoreline.
While creating destinations and activities within the new park is a key component of the vision, considering the site’s resiliency is another. Given the site’s close proximity to the waterfront, erosion, sea level rise, flooding, and drainage must be considered. Stabilization efforts will need to continue directly along the shoreline, where the land will be bolstered by dredged material. At the shoreline, the collection of driftwood could be assembled and purposed as seating.
The paths running through the park stand to provide an educational opportunity to inform the public about the site’s ecosystem and concepts such as plant and wildlife biodiversity, stormwater management, and sea-level rise.
A line of trees will form a buffer on the street-facing edge of the park, creating separation from the adjacent industrial site. Multimodal paths are slated to connect Brookley by the Bay to the nearby neighborhoods and will meet up with nearby roadways. A series of shared pathways along Old Bay Front Drive will separate different traffic types along the park’s edge and at its entrance points.
Following its master plan development phase, the project will now enter the engineering and design phase led by Volkert, a planning and environmental services firm. Shonnda Smith, deputy director of public works and Mobile’s parks and recreation director, estimates Brookley by the Bay will cost $25 million, a figure to be confirmed when engineering work completes. Money for the project will likely come from grants and city funding.