Jones Park and harbor rebuilding an 'enormous undertaking'

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - By Steve Phillips – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport's mayor calls it the "front yard" to the State of Mississippi.

Jones Park also happens to be the largest public park on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. And that very prominent public location is in the midst of a major makeover.

Ground was broken for this project just over a year ago. The initial work involved laying the ground work for the improvements; things like re-locating utilities.

But now, if you look closely, you can see phase one beginning to take shape.

Jones Park is definitely a 'hard hat' area these days. Heavy equipment and construction workers are transforming this familiar spot into something quite different.

"This project is huge for the city of Gulfport. We made a promise many years ago that this park would always remain public and available to the public. And that's what we're going to do. We're enhancing it. Improving it. And it's going to be something we can all be proud of," said Ryan LaFontaine, spokesman for the City of Gulfport.

Some improvements are already evident on the northeast corner.

A children's play area, a covered pavilion and a soon-to-be finished CTA comfort station are all signs of phase one progress in the park.

"It's going to include a children's splash pad, which we hope will be ready to open sometime in the spring. It's going to include an amphitheater style pavilion for concerts and events. We hope to have many parts of the park and harbor open and available by Memorial Day," said LaFontaine.

At the same time park plans are taking shape. Work is also well underway rebuilding the adjoining small craft harbor.

The new Gulfport Small Craft Harbor will be much improved over the one Katrina destroyed five years ago. It will be larger, stronger and higher.

"Those pilings are so far in the ground; they're so huge that I don't guess they'll ever come up. 319 boat slips, it's much bigger, more amenities," said LaFontaine.

Like phase one of the park, work on the harbor should be finished by sometime next summer.

"We all wish we could snap our fingers and have this thing ready to go. But you know, this is no small undertaking. This is a huge overhaul of these two properties. And we're going to be patient. We've been patient. We just have to be patient a little longer. But that patience will pay off," said the city spokesman.

A major road improvement is also a part of the Jones Park-Gulfport Harbor project. 20th Avenue, which runs along the eastern edge of the property, is being rebuilt. The road will be widened and new parking areas will be built.

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