OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - What was once home to a boat shed and restaurant is about to transform into a waterfront park for the public to enjoy. On Friday, the city of Ocean Springs joined various agencies in breaking ground on the new Harbor Green. The green space is dedicated to a man who worked hard to make the harbor beautiful and functional.
Against a backdrop of a large oak tree and land covered with dirt, a small crowd gathered to celebrate the launch of a big landscaping project. The 1.7 acre property next to the Ocean Springs Small Craft Harbor is now home to the new "Harbor Green".
"It will feature open green space, with beautiful native plants and shrubs, landscaping on the periphery," said Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran.
It will also have lighting, electrical hook-ups and picnic tables for family gatherings and special public events like fishing rodeos and Smokin' the Sound. The planning for the space started more than a year ago. The DMR owns the property. The city is in charge of the landscaping and maintenance, and Jackson County will cut the grass.
"It will be an asset to the harbor. It's something of the beauty for the harbor of Ocean Springs, somewhere people can sit and enjoy this harbor," said Jackson County Supervisor Troy Ross.
The park is named in honor of the late Dr. Thomas McIlwain, a marine biologist who worked for the Gulf Coast Research Lab for most of his career. He was also known for his leadership in the aquaculture industry at Cedar Point.
"If we can get the rest of this harbor, with all of our improvements, live up to his expectations, we're going to have the best from Texas all the way down to the Keys," said Ocean Springs Harbor Master Danny Jalanivich.
"He was always working to make this harbor a functional, but beautiful place that we can all enjoy. He was an avid seaman, boats man, but always very kind and very modest is how I always remember him," said Mayor Moran.
Members of the McIlwain family expressed their appreciation for the tribute.
"We're humbled for this honor and thank you so much for everybody who put so much time into this. My dad loved this harbor. He spent a lot of time here," said his daughter, Stacey McIlwain Randall.
"He's here. He's here watching," said his wife Janet McIlwain. "He's probably proud and surprised."
Janet McIlwain said her husband would have been proud of the joint effort to turn the vacant lot into a beautiful, useful space. It's the first phase of a larger improvement plan for the harbor that includes widening Harbor Road, installing nautical street lighting, more sidewalks and trailer parking.
The city is using $50,000 in Tidelands funding to pay for the project. Work will start next week and it should take about three weeks.