While designing a condominium complex in coastal Alabama to become more resilient to the impacts of severe wind events, local developers embraced the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety’s (IBHS) FORTIFIED Commercial™ construction standards. As a result, the new Colonial Inn Condominiums, built on the site of the early 20th century Colonial Inn Hotel overlooking Mobile Bay, has earned the first-ever FORTIFIED Commercial™–Hurricane Gold.
Following more than 20 years of scientific research and real-world testing, IBHS developed a set of building guidelines and standards designed to provide additional protection from extreme weather events such as hurricane-force winds, rain and hail. The standards, known as FORTIFIED, are designed to be an effective and cost-efficient method for mitigating avoidable property casualty losses.
FORTIFIED Commercial Gold creates a strong continuous load path, which ties an entire structure together — enabling it to better stand firm against extreme winds during hurricanes. It also includes on-site power backup for important utilities. It is the highest level of resiliency certification offered by IBHS.
“IBHS worked closely with the developers of the Colonial Inn Condominiums to incorporate specially designed FORTIFIED Commercial standards and best building practices to ensure this residential complex can better mitigate the risks of property damage caused by hurricanes and other wind-driven weather events that impact coastal communities,” says Chuck Miccolis, vice president, commercial lines, IBHS.
“The concept for this project began more than decade ago, but our plans were interrupted by hurricanes Ivan and Katrina,” says Carlton Niemeyer, who developed the project along with native Fairhopians Ed and Wes Overton. The Overton brothers literally grew up at the Colonial Inn that their parents managed until 1992, when the majestic seaside hotel was destroyed by a fire.
“Our initial plans were to use wood frame construction for all of the condo’s buildings, but high insurance premiums and scarce and expensive building materials sent us in another direction,” Niemeyer says. “After evaluating all our options, it became obvious to us that based on insurance savings, as well as cost and time to complete the basic structure, that insulating concrete form (ICF) and FORTIFIED construction was our best choice for the condominiums. We also decided to pursue IBHS’ FORTIFIED Gold level certification, ensuring the buildings met the highest standards for resiliency.”
The project consists of five units, each containing approximately 2,500 square feet of living space and a two-car garage. In total, there are three buildings on the site. Buildings one (four residential units) and two (one unit) are two-story ICF FORTIFIED construction. Building three is single-story, frame construction and only contains garages.
The Colonial Inn Condominium’s development team are all Fairhope-based businesses. This includes Clay Adams, of Walcott Adams Verneuille Architects, who developed the architectural plans; Martin Pitts, of J. Martin Pitts PE LLC, who created the structural plans; and Matt Hammond, of Hammond Construction LLC, who was the project’s general contractor.
“It is an honor to be the first project in the U.S. to achieve the FORTIFIED Commercial – Gold designation and it has been without a doubt the best decision we could have made,” Niemeyer said.
“Over the past five years, IBHS has approved more than 7,000 FORTIFIED Homes™ in Alabama, which leads the nation in FORTIFIED construction,” Miccolis says. “With the Colonial Inn Condominiums project, in addition to the new Gulf State Park project in Gulf Shores, AL, we have now established how commercial structures in Alabama can also be built stronger to withstand severe weather events.”
“While no structure is fully immune to nature’s most extreme weather, IBHS research continues to validate that mitigation and strong building codes are the best ways to prepare communities for natural disasters,” Miccolis concludes.
Gulf State Park In Alabama FORTIFIED Against The Elements
While creating new buildings at Alabama’s Gulf State Park that are more resilient from the impacts of severe wind events, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has embraced the IBHS FORTIFIED Commercial™ construction standards. As a result, The Lodge at Gulf State Park, A Hilton Hotel, and The Interpretive Center at Gulf State Park, earned IBHS’ first-ever FORTIFIED Commercial™–Hurricane Bronze Level. FORTIFIED Bronze construction strengthens a typical roof, enabling it to better withstand strong winds during hurricanes and tropical storms.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held in early November 2018 at The Lodge at Gulf State Park, A Hilton Hotel. The new Lodge features 350 rooms and suites, as well as 40,000 square feet of meeting space in its convention center. It replaces the original Lodge, which was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
The Interpretive Center at Gulf State Park, located on a pristine beach along the shore of the Gulf of Mexico, is a gateway to the 6,150-acre park and a hub of education and connection with nature. It features interactive exhibits that introduce visitors to the diverse ecosystems throughout the park.
“IBHS worked closely with state and local leaders, as well as the project’s developers, on ensuring these new structures at Gulf State Park were built to incorporate specially designed FORTIFIED Commercial standards and best building practices so they are more resilient from the risks of property damage caused by hurricanes and other wind-driven severe weather events,” says Miccolis of IBHS.
“We are proud that two of Gulf State Park’s new enhancements, the Interpretive Center and The Lodge, are the first buildings in the world to receive designations as FORTIFIED Commercial structures,” says Chris Blankenship, commissioner, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “These designations represent the park’s commitment to be an international benchmark of environmental and economic sustainability through responsible design and construction. These beautiful facilities go beyond basic building code requirements to ensure that it will welcome and educate visitors to Alabama’s Gulf Coast for years to come.”
Miccolis says, “With the Gulf State Park project, we have now established how commercial structures in Alabama can also be built stronger to withstand severe weather events.”
At this time, IBHS is only providing FORTIFIED Commercial designations in coastal Alabama. There are plans to expand designations to other states in the future. If you are outside of Alabama, IBHS recommends following the FORTIFIED Commercial standards and using the forms provided on our website to document the design and construction of the building, so a future designation may be possible if the requirements are met.