GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Preparations are underway in Gulfport to make Jones Park one of the region's top family attractions for the holidays. Crews started Tuesday on a first of its kind light display in South Mississippi.
"There's a lot of work to be done," said Rusty Walker, Gulfport City Council President. "What you see is just the tip of the iceberg."
Island View Casino is donating a total of $2.5 million, $500,000 every year over the next five years to start and sustain the project. City leaders are hoping a holiday tradition will start in Jones Park. The work is being done now to create the Winter Festival at Harbor Lights.
"We're expecting this to increase our tourists attractions, bring families here to help our merchants to get more people here to Jones Park and the Mississippi Gulf Coast," said Chris Vignes, Gulfport Public Information Officer.
Greg Fulwood with Universal Concepts has designed light projects all over the country for the past 35 years. He's leading the construction of the light displays in Jones Park.
"I was involved in the beginning of the Gatlinburg Smokey Mountain lights and Pigeon Forge Winterfest," said Fulwood. "What they've done there in the last 25 years has been dramatic and I think the same success can be done here in Gulfport."
More than a mile of lights will be used to illuminate the park. Although the attraction will feature traditional holiday items like Christmas trees that are already being constructed, this display will have unique Coast flare with a nautical theme.
"We'll have dancing whales, big mermaids and lots of different things, treasure chests, sunken ships and sea dragons," said Fulwood.
Lights won't be the only part of Gulfport's first winter festival.
"On each weekend night there will be concerts, bands, choirs, horse drawn carriages and we'll have Ferris wheels," said Rusty Walker. "It's just going to be family fun for Christmas."
The Winter Festival at Harbor Lights will open the day after Thanksgiving and will continue through New Year's. Admission will be charged, $20 per car.
City council members who spoke with WLOX said taxpayers won't have to foot the bill.