GULFPORT — There are ambitious plans for the redevelopment of Gulfport’s small craft harbor and Jones Park. The plan’s implementation could lead the way to revitalization of the city’s downtown area and be a strong tourist magnet. The area has been considered under utilized prime property and groups were meeting to determine the best use of the land before Hurricane Katrina destroyed all the facilities.
In the past year, the city contracted with the planning service, Wallace, Roberts and Todd to propose a master plan with input from boat owners, harbor users and the city council. A plan was recently presented to the city council that will accommodate the needs of a marina and provide potential development and revenue enhancement opportunities.
Mayor Brent Warr said there was no opposition to the plan and only minor changes made by council members. “There was no disagreement on the council. We will look over the final draft and go forward,” he said. “Funding is already in place for the first phase.”
With funding from the city, FEMA and some private sources, Warr says he expects work to begin in late spring of 2007. The first of numerous permit applications has been filed and is being processed. “We’re in the slow part right now,” he said.
The Bert Jones Small Craft Harbor is about 40 acres and the park has 26 acres. The plan includes over 99,000 square feet of dock area, 337 boat slips and an enlarged public boat launch. It takes user needs, such as slip and channel size, fueling dock location and harbormaster location into consideration. A fisherman’s village is proposed for the northeast corner of the harbor that will include shops, restaurants, space for the Ship Island Ferry, a pedestrian walkway and plenty of on-site parking.
“It will be a dramatic shot in the arm from a lease perspective for the city with positive cash flow,” the mayor said, “and it will attract investment north of Highway 90 for the downtown area.”
He said there is a line that defines where commercial entities can be located as set forth by the Jones family when land was deeded to the city for public use in 1935. “The legalities are settled about Jones Park and there are no plans to generate commerce in the park,” he said.
An entertainment district that the mayor hopes will include quality casinos will be located in a parking area of the State Port, just west of Jones Park and the small craft harbor. That area is not part of this plan.
“Wallace, Roberts and Todd did an excellent job designing a plan that improves the overall functioning of the harbor while expanding harbor access to park and beach users,” Warr said. “Our goal from the beginning has been to create one of the finest harbors in the South, an area that is attractive to boaters and fishermen, inviting to local residents and a must-see for South Mississippi visitors. I think this plan will do just that.”
Libby Roland, councilwoman for Ward 2 that includes the harbor, is excited about the plan. “We are eager to begin construction and create a first-class harbor that will serve as an additional incentive for development here in Gulfport,” she said. “The harbor was always loved by power boaters and sailors alike. This plan will give us more boat slips and room to tweak it and make it better.”
She also looks forward to a park that will be much prettier with promenades, fountains and an amphitheater with the harbor as a background. Live performances will be held in the amphitheater.
“More families will use the park. It’s started rolling and will be one big snowball effect,” Roland said. “There has been talk of another oceanarium coming in where Marine Life was located. Everything will work together and flow, and will be the key to downtown development.”
Harbor Master D.J. Ziegler also sees a lot of potential for developing Gulfport. “It’s not just for recreation,” he said. “The retail area will compliment the downtown area. I look at it like the fireworks celebration at the end of the Fourth of July. Some of these projects can get going before downtown projects start and that will help the overall development.”
Ziegler noted the tremendous amount of input from boat owners, vendors and others to the plan. “There were at least 60 people on committees,” he said. “We’ve had the benefit of committees over the years and a lot of brain power involved.
Once Katrina took everything, then we could start from scratch and implement a plan.”
Frank Wilem was one of those citizens who volunteered time and chaired the committee for harbor rebuilding. He feels the plan meets the needs of boaters.
“It’s an excellent plan,” he said. “It’s designed to be very boater friendly and avoids problems we had in the past. This area should be the centerpiece of Gulfport. It was far from that before Katrina. We want it to be a magnet for tourists and park users.”
Warr said that he too is ready to begin work on the multi-million dollar project and to see this true symbol of Gulfport’s character reopen and return to normal.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.