GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Good news for amusement park lovers spread quickly on Thursday.
In a 7-2 vote, the Gulfport Planning Commission gave the go-ahead for developers to bring FunTime USA back to Gulfport.
Part of his family's legacy, and Rafe O'Neal's dream is close to becoming a reality.
"I'm a little bit numb. This has been a long, long road to go," said O'Neal. "I think it'll probably hit me tomorrow, once I finally go to sleep tonight. But, I'm very excited."
O'Neal has spent a lot of time defending his dream to concerned commissioners, and angry residents who live near the development.
"I am thrilled to see development on the beach, and family oriented place on the beach," said Commissioner Colette Towles. "But this is also the main corridor into our Coast."
Mike Marshall, who lives near the proposed development at the corner of U.S 90 and Hwy. 605, challenged members of the commission to put themselves in his place.
"So, when you go home tonight, and you go outside to your outdoor fire pit or on your front porch swing, I want you to think about how quiet that is and how secure you feel; and put yourself in Georgia Place," noted Marshall during the meeting.
Marshall says it was fine when FunTime was on the other side of the highway.
"They were across the street. You could hear that faint action going on and you knew it was ok because we're a tourist city, and we need that," said Marshall. "But it wasn't on top of you and in your windows at night, with the lights and the tour buses right across the fence."
Developers initially planned to break ground in January, but construction was delayed because of a zoning challenge.
O'Neal and his partners changed plans to accommodate concerns of residents including noise levels and aesthetics.
"It's not going to look like a carnival on an asphalt slab," O'Neal said to commissioners. "I would be embarrassed. This is my family's legacy and I'm not going to tarnish that."
Real estate broker David Comstock attacked the notion the development would be poor.
"For some reason, everybody thinks that FunTime is putting a junkyard down there on the beach," Comstock said. "They're not paying $5 million for property and then put a junkyard down there. It's going to be a nice park."
None of the residents opposing the development would comment after the meeting, nor would they say if they would appeal the decision to the Gulfport City Council.
O'Neal says he hopes to have the front part of the property developed by the end of August.