GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The $93 million Mississippi Aquarium is starting to take shape.
As construction workers continue making progress, Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes said the projected open date is ahead of schedule. According to Hewes, the fish could be in the tanks and the doors ready to open by the end of 2019.
“They’re hoping for a soft opening around Thanksgiving, around this time of year between Thanksgiving and the first of the year, maybe to give us a first peak,” Hewes said.
Just down the street from the construction site is one of the Coast’s oldest operating businesses Triplett Day Drugs. Jim Day opened his store in 1955, and he believes the aquarium could turn downtown into a bustling area like it was years ago.
“We lost all our retail years back, and anything that can bring some people down here will help all of us,” Day said.
The biggest bonus Day sees from the aquarium is its potential to bring people to downtown Gulfport from out of town.
“I think what I call the weekend tourists from Hattiesburg, Jackson and New Orleans, they’ll be parking, eating and everything else in this shopping area here,” Day said.
The promise of those extra visitors is the driving factor for Hewes' excitement leading up to the opening of the aquarium.
“I will tell you, in my lifetime I’ve never seen people as excited about anything as they are about this aquarium,” Hewes said.
The mayor also shed some light on another Gulfport development, Centennial Plaza. He said the first hotel on the site could be ready to open in the spring.