Senior center could spark west Gulfport's revitalization efforts

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport leaders think the Charles Walker Senior Center may become the catalyst that jump starts redevelopment in west Gulfport. On Wednesday, a ribbon cutting officially opened the $1.3 million building.

This is the fourth time Gulfport has rebuilt this complex.  Camille tore it down the first time.  Tornadoes ripped it apart two other times.  And Katrina demolished it in 2005.  The latest reincarnation of the senior center is away from the water.  It was built to blend into its west Gulfport neighborhood.

The new center gives west Gulfport something it's been missing for more than three-and-a-half years. It gives hope to people who live, and socialize in this hurricane battered neighborhood.

Dot Fortner was at the Wednesday ribbon cutting.

"I love it.  I'll be coming back," she said.

Bobbie Gates ran the Charles Walker Senior Center in 2005, before Katrina ripped it apart.

"I'm moved that today we were able to have a center that we could call home again," she said after the dedication ceremony.

City leaders want the senior center to be like the water park across the street.  If it is, it will make the kind of splash that rids west Gulfport of its dreary decay once and for all.

David Andre lives in west Gulfport.  He's part of a civic organization that's been fighting for smart code development regulations.  He called the opening of the senior center "an important marker for us to get beyond Katrina."

Andre's community was the section of Gulfport hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina.  Wind and water damaged homes.  So did container trucks, paper rolls, and frozen chicken from the Port of Gulfport.

The senior center sat along Highway 90, until Katrina knocked it down.  The mayor says relocating it to the back of West Side Park shields it from another direct hit.

"We certainly wanted it to be inexpensive.  And we certainly wanted it to be quick.  But more important than that is that it be right," he said.

Shortly after senior center construction started, Gulfport issued a moratorium.  Nobody else could build in west Gulfport until the city had a development plan in place.  That smart code initiative was adopted in March.  Consequently, barren lots are slowly coming back to life -- just like the oak trees that shade the west side of the city.

"It's very important that the quality of the neighborhoods remain intact," said Andre.

In the coming weeks, a West Side Community Center will open next door to the senior center.

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