There's a plan in the works to help ease the parking pinch in downtown Gulfport.
Downtown merchants and their customers have long complained about the need for more spaces. They say the lack of parking is one of the things that's prevented more commercial growth in the area.
Anyone who's driven around and around the block downtown, searching for a space, can certainly relate to the parking pinch. That's nothing new. What is new is an idea to do away with some empty buildings to create more parking.
Workers at Courtyard Cafe prepare pizza and get ready for a brisk midday lunch business.
Owners of the downtown eatry decided to take a chance on a downtown location nearly three years ago.
"Because we do offer a few food items that some other restaurants in downtown Gulfport don't offer. Like pizza. So, we kind of took a chance and thought maybe there are some people in downtown Gulfport that would like a little change in their lunch," said co owner, Tammy Barvie.
Many restaurant customers are nearby office workers who walk to lunch. Those who drive face a familiar challenge.
"We still have an issue with parking in downtown. As everybody in downtown Gulfport knows," she said.
The man whose name is on many of the real estate signs downtown knows the parking problem is serious.
"It is top of the list. Top of the list." said realtor, Lenny Sawyer.
Sawyer represents an owner who plans on tearing down empty buildings on 13th Street to make parking spaces.
"To take these buildings down to the slab and open up all the parking that's behind these buildings. Because we've got a space back there for around 200 or 250 parking places," he said.
While any plans to add new parking should certainly boost the prospects of new businesses locating in the central downtown, there's already something that's driving new development on the east side of downtown.
It's not even open yet, but the new federal courthouse is already a catalyst.
"I don't think most folks yet realize the real impact that the federal courthouse is going to have on downtown. In every place else that federal courthouses have come in, all kinds of things have come with it," said Steve Dickerson, with the City of Gulfport.
New buildings mean more workers which should also bring more pizza business to Courtyard Cafe.
Along with more parking and new businesses, another element of downtown development is residential space. The City of Gulfport has hired a consultant to work on plans to make it easier for building owners to convert unused space downtown into loft apartments.