Big plans in the works for downtown Gulfport

Big plans in the works for downtown Gulfport

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport has $320 million on its planning board. City leaders believe new investments will enhance an already great waterfront.

Let's take a closer look at the four projects Gulfport suddenly has on the table that can transform the downtown business district.

The newest development is the casino proposed by Robert Lubin and his Mississippi Coast Entertainment company. That $140 million investment will sit on a little more than 10 acres south of Highway 90.

Two of the properties are privately owned. The old Misco Marine property in front of the Gulfport Yacht Club and the old Marine Life location next to the Coast Guard building are both tied to this casino. So is 4.3 acres of city property adjacent to Jones Park.

A representative with the Gulfport Redevelopment Commission said Lubin has until October to line up his financing and negotiate a lease with the city. If that can be accomplished, the casino could open in 2017.

GRC chairperson Carole Lynn Meadows is aware there are skeptics who wonder if the Lubin casino proposal will end up like Rotate Black, a company that had the city's backing but never had money, and consequently, never made their gamble materialize. Meadows says Lubin is not Rotate Black.

"They actually have a very good track record," Meadows said. "They already have a gaming license in Mississippi."

Across the street is project number two. Gulfport is in the early stages of developing a world class aquarium on land that extends from 23rd Avenue to the old Gulfport library location.

Meadows said the city has contracts with owners of the Masonic building, a church and Mike's Speak Easy to buy those sites and include them in the aquarium project.

Phase one of this development will cost an estimated $60 million, and the current timeline is to open the aquarium's doors by the end of 2018.

Project number three is the restoration of the Markham building. When Lubin shared his plans for a Gulfport casino, he also announced he purchased the Markham.

That storm damaged complex sits across the street from the aquarium location. Lubin's plan is to transform the Markham into apartments and office spaces.

Specific information about how much he'll invest in the restoration work or when it will be completed was not released. The GRC has been told Lubin's casino venture will be built before any work starts on the Markham building.

The final piece of Gulfport's transformation sits just east of downtown. The city still has ambitious plans for Centennial Plaza.

City leaders are aware people keep asking questions about whether that site will ever be developed.  They contend it will.

Gulfport still has an agreement with the Juneau family to invest as much as $120 million into a four phase project.

Phase one is the Holiday Inn hotel pitched in 2014. Phase two is a festival marketplace. Phase three is an entertainment pier south of Centennial Plaza, and phase four includes the development of other buildings on the 49 acre site.

Over the next three months, the state legislature will be asked to approve historic tax credits to help offset some of the Juneau's development costs. Mayor Billy Hewes has said in the past those credits are essential to bring Centennial Plaza to life.

The city has been told Lubin also has an interest in developing a portion of Centennial Plaza. Meadows believes Lubin's interest will bring construction equipment to the old VA site with or without the tax credits.

To link these four projects together, the GRC has a pledge from Coast Transit Authority to dedicate trolley service between the casino, the aquarium, the downtown area and Centennial Plaza.

Copyright 2016 WLOX. All rights reserved.