Some people would say a gopher tortoise moves faster than the much talked about J.L. Scott Marine Education expansion project. In the past, Dr. Sharon Walker would have been at the top of that list. But not anymore. "I'm ready for it," the Scott aquarium director said. "But I believe the community is also ready for it."
Dr. Walker is on an eight member committee that's considering how to revamp USM's educational facility. "I don't think we would have persevered and been here today and me having this conversation with you if there weren't a lot of people committed to this project moving forward," she said.
The key players in J.L. Scott's future are USM , the Secretary of State, the city of Biloxi and the Isle of Capri Casino. They all control or lease a piece of the Point Cadet property. A year ago, they stood right in front of the aquarium and agreed to work together to build something special on the public trust tidelands.
Dr. Walker was asked if she was excited and optimistic. Or if she was still unsure of her facility's future, because of how many times she heard about expansion plans, and then had her hopes dashed. "That's a fair question," she said. "I'm excited. And I'm optimistic."
Since last year's agreement, the key players' committee has held four meetings. The Isle's Bill Kilduff is on that committee. "We're taking some additional time," he said, "and we want to make sure that we're doing the best thing for the point, because once we do it, it's done."
Because of the progress made in the committee meetings, Dr. Walker thinks fish could be swimming in a new state-of-the-art aquarium in three years.
The Jackson architectural firm Dale and Associates is supposed to design a master plan for the Point Cadet Gateway to the Gulf project. Dr. Walker expects the master plan to be finished by the middle of next year.