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Kroc Center set to open

The Salvation Army’s state-of-the-art facility opens in Biloxi in September

The Salvation Army has been a viable social force on the Mississippi Gulf Coast since 1907, continually serving Harrison, Jackson, Hancock, Stone and Pearl River counties. Its mission will take a giant step forward this fall with the opening of the $16.9-million Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center. The state-of-the-art facility is located in downtown Biloxi at the historic Yankie Stadium.

“The late Joan Kroc, widow of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, left a $1.5-billion gift to The Salvation Army in 2003. This gracious gift is being used to construct 25 Kroc Centers throughout the nation and partially endows our operations,” says Sidney Massey, project manager.

The center has 52,000 square feet, which includes a chapel, indoor water slide, recreation and lap swimming pools, gymnasium, fitness center, performing arts stage, meeting rooms, party rooms and track and field area. Biloxi architect Frank Genzer of Genzer-WHLC Architecture designed the building. It is being built by Johnson Kreis Construction Company of Birmingham, Ala.

“This company has a reputation for completing buildings on time and under budget for The Salvation Army,” Massey said. “They’ve built other Kroc Centers and they’re all beautiful.”

Bill Kreis, one of the company’s owners, says the company built Kroc Centers in Memphis, Birmingham and Nashville. “It’s been a great project to do. Knowing what The Salvation Army does and the impact they have on people’s lives makes it great,” he said. “It’s a tremendous organization. We get to do a lot of projects in construction but not always with people we enjoy working with like this one. It makes it a whole lot better.”

He says the project is on schedule to be completed by the end of summer. Some bad weather has been the only challenge. He is complimentary of the good local subcontractors and trades who’ve been involved.

The center’s grand opening is scheduled for the weekend of Sept. 16-18. “It will be a three-day event,” Massey said. “The event will kick off with an open house on the 16th and conclude with our chapel dedication and holiness service on Sunday, the 18th. Opportunities for family fun and entertainment will be available for Mississippi Gulf Coast residents throughout the weekend.”

The Kroc Center is a complete campus and includes Yankie Stadium, which will have home and visitor bleachers, a track and field when renovations are complete. The Salvation Army acquired the city-owned stadium in a swap of property with Biloxi four days prior to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. For the most part, the stadium withstood Katrina but had some façade damage, according to Massey.

“We will soon begin the process of bringing the historic stadium up to code and repairing the remaining hurricane damage,” she said. “We can’t wait for the stadium renovations to be complete. To celebrate we plan to invite former local football players to unite in a Biloxi All-Stars Bowl.”

The Kroc Center will be a recreation facility offering a family-friendly atmosphere with activities for the entire family and all ages, she said. “The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Biloxi aims to expose children and families of the Coast to a variety of people, activities and arts to build character, stabilize families and restore a sense of community lost after Katrina,” she said.

Noting The Salvation Army’s mission to save souls, grow saints and serve suffering humanity, area commander Major Alan Hill says all we have to do is watch television on any night or look around our communities to see suffering humanity. “I believe we need Christians with their sleeves rolled up and that is exactly what we plan to do with this new facility,” he said. “This facility will give The Salvation Army along the Mississippi Gulf Coast a larger and more diversified group of individuals than ever before to reach for Christ.

“Our faith-based programs will reach people from all walks of life. Many who have never experienced The Salvation Army will in this expanded roll. We look forward to the possibilities that await.”

The Salvation Army also anticipates building a new transitional housing facility in Gulfport, upgrading its emergency shelter in Pascagoula and opening a family store system to serve all six counties with affordable clothing and home furnishings.


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