GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Should a public park have paid sponsors' names on some city owned structures or special event fencing?
Some in Gulfport's administration say doing that in Jones Park is a great way to generate much needed revenue. But others say it smacks of commercialism.
Once Jones Park renovations are complete, the people of Gulfport will have a brand new upgraded harbor and park to enjoy. It will include new rest areas, pavilions, an amphitheater, splash pad and more. Gulfport City Spokesman Ryan Lafontaine says the largest structure will bear a name of a generous donor.
"Jim Barksdale gave the city a million dollars, so that's going to be called the Barksdale Pavilion," Lafontaine said.
And another half million dollar gift inspired the name for a smaller amphitheater.
"The Leo Seal Foundation made another generous donation, and so there is a spot there reserved in his honor as well."
Now the city is considering letting others, including businesses, pay to sponsor structures in Jones Park. For instance, the lighthouse would cost $125,000 to sponsor for five years.
"I think it detracts," Betty Bitner said. "I don't think it's necessary."
Bitner was co-founder of a group to save Jones Park more than a decade ago. Heirs of Captain Jones tried to take the land back, saying the city used it for commercial uses like car shows.
"They can take that park back if there's the slightest hint of commercialism in the park," Bitner warned. "Judge Russell said when he rendered that decision, be very careful. Never let this happen again, because next time you might not win."
The city council wants to learn more, so they tabled the discussion at this week's meeting. But they all realize the city's serious need for revenue.
"Well, you know, the city can always use money. There's never a time that we can't use money and we see a good opportunity here," Lafontaine said.
Bitner responded, "I understand after the city council meeting our need for money. That is certainly a given. But I don't think this is the way to do it."