Bay Harbor project births unexpected benefit

BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - The $20 million harbor marina now under construction in Bay St. Louis will bring with it an unexpected bonus: It's given city leaders a chance to create a new outdoor venue to attract more tourists.

Officials say the natural design of the marina and the nearby seawall will allow them to create an un-planned amphitheater on the beach front.

A large area of the harbor that protrudes out into the Bay will eventually be covered with concrete. It's normal function will be a loading dock for boaters. But city leaders have identified an additional use.

"It will be utilizable as an events deck," said Bay St. Louis Mayor Les Fillingame.

The nearby seawall, built for shoreline protection, will also serve a dual purpose.

"The seawall, just by it's nature, is going to a very natural amphitheater type seating area. And the way that they constructed the seawall like a stadium step, it's got a 2 foot tread and a one foot step, will make it very functional for seating for those who want to come into the harbor area for events, and have the main acts on the events stage facing inland, " explained Fillingame.

The mayor said the area will be able to seat more than 2,000 people. An extra benefit from the harbor project, he said, will help grow the economy.

"The events deck is going to be a very functional place for major events to happen. Major music events, major festival type events."

Some downtown merchants are excited about the idea.

"The more things that we can have going on in Hancock County, the better it is for everybody - businesses, hotels, restaurants," said Jeremy Burke, the owner of Bay Books.

Other merchants aren't so sure.

"I grew up in New England and most towns up there have harbors. So I fully support the harbor concept and having a harbor," said merchant Laurianne Anne Manchester, who owns a Travel Agency as well as Fiesta Gift Shop on Main Street.

"I think the only concern as a merchant is if all the events are held in the harbor, how will we remain inclusive? How this area of Main Street will remain viable and a place people will come up to during the events? It could be a problem we would have to work together as a community to solve."

But the mayor said anything that brings more people in will bring more dollars in.

The Harbor Marina is expected to be finished in May of next year, but could open a little sooner because right now the project is running ahead of scheduled.

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