Mayor sees Gulfport's past becoming a thriving part of city's future

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Outgoing mayor Brent Warr has less than two months to cement his vision for the Gulfport VA property.

The 92 acre waterfront lot became the city's property earlier this year, when it was conveyed to Gulfport by the federal government.  Warr has spent a good portion of his time since then working on a development strategy that turns a hurricane damaged military hospital into a thriving component of Gulfport's future.

"How nice would it be to have a dinner theater type situation here," the mayor pondered as he stood in the center of the old VA chapel.

He can see the day when anybody in Gulfport who wants to get married reserves a date at the VA chapel.  He envisions a time in the not too distant future when a restaurant serves tasty dishes in a two story building at the southeast corner of the property.  He predicts that a developer will turn building number 57 on the southwest corner into a three story hotel.

When you listen to Warr talk about the property's possibilities, you immediately sense his passion for this massive restoration project.

"I kind of look at it as a future for our city that has a whole lot to do with our past," he said.

The past is hidden in the nine VA buildings the federal government conveyed back to Gulfport.  Every roof tile being secured on the buildings reminds the mayor of what Gulfport was in the early 1900s.  The restoration work around the 92 acre property scrapes away storm damage, and asbestos covered tiles.

Original walls are being revealed.  And 1,100 doors and windows are being replaced.

"What we hope that it will be is something along the lines of a resort conference center," the mayor said, "where you can come to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and stay in a place that is very southern, very nice, that's affordable, but quite fine."

Over the next few years, Mayor Warr predicts the old VA will become the cornerstone of Gulfport's revival.  However, because he didn't run for re-election, Warr won't be the mayor whenever the property reopens to the public.  Consequently, his job right now is to simply map out a blueprint for the VA that future mayors can follow.

So far, he likes what he sees.

"We've been through so much.  We need to have something like this here," he said.

The federal government is paying almost $36 million to salvage the VA buildings.

Mayor Warr said the decision to return the property from the federal government's control to Gulfport was the largest conveyance of land in U.S. history.

©2009 WLOX. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.