What residents want for the VA property

By Elise Roberts - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - What to do with the former Veterans Administration property and Clower-Thornton Park was the subject of a Gulfport community meeting Monday evening.

"If they get me a theatre, I'll be satisfied," Geraldine Jones said.

Jones is one of many people who live near the old VA property. Like her neighbors attending Monday night's community meeting, she wanted to offer her input on changes that are in the works for the 90 acre property.

"We don't need a lot of lights. We got enough lights. I'm right behind the center and we've got plenty of lights," Jones said.

She's talking about the city moving lights to a proposed recreation site.

City Engineer Kris Riemann came up with a plan that will turn vacant land on the northern section of the VA property into soccer or recreational fields.

"We are taking advantage of an opportunity for very little cost," Riemann said. "We don't have a lot of money invested in this."

Riemann said lighting currently being used by St. John High School will be moved to the fields. While many agree that the fields are needed, others fear the city may be duplicating what it already has.

"We have other facilities for soccer and baseball. And I know there's a lot of people who don't believe it but outside of NASCAR and football that anything exists, but people do have other interests," Linda Hall said.

Hall lives between the VA property and Clower-Thornton Park, another area that will soon undergo some major renovations.

The City of Gulfport is partnering with a number of organizations and the Seabees to clean up the park and possibly add a botanical garden. However, as the plans unfold for both the park and the VA property, city leaders say residents don't have to worry - the land belongs to the citizens of Gulfport.

"Regardless of what's done with it, we want to make sure it stays the people's property," Mayor George Schloegel said.

The mayor said he would like to see a chapel, a hotel and convention center and a theatre.

Those attending the meeting suggested a natatorium, miniature golf and a equestrian center. All are ideas Mayor Schleogel said could be possible for the VA property.

"This may be wishful thinking, but we are going to explore the possibilities," the mayor said. "Only our imagination stops us."

Mayor Schloegel told the crowd of nearly 100 people that he envisions restaurants and shopping on the site. The mayor said the VA property will become the host of Cruisin the Coast and the annual Heart Walk.

The mayor also discussed plans for the 50,000 square foot building that was a laundry facility. The federal government was going to tear it down, but the city convinced them to leave it with hopes of using it for conventions, a storm shelter and a community center. Those renovations would cost about $6 million.

While the work will take time, there are already other signs of progress to the site. Chief  Administrative Officer Dr. John Kelly said the ten buildings left on the property will have new Italian-tiled roofs by the end of the month. Dr. Kelly said the front three buildings will get a fresh coat of paint. All of the windows and doors have also been replaced.

The Gulfport Redevelopment Commission is spearheading the plans for the VA property. Commission member E.J. Roberts is pleased with the feedback from residents.

"There's a lot of great things that can come from that if we take our time and give some good input that will impact the city years into the future," said Roberts.

The GRC will meet with council members Tuesday afternoon to take a tour of the VA property.

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