Demolition work begins on Gulfport aquarium project

Demolition work begins on Gulfport aquarium project

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The former home of Big Mike's Speakeasy is now just a pile of rubble. The downtown Gulfport building was demolished Friday to make room for a new aquarium. (Note: The restaurant's new location is still in downtown Gulfport at 1307 25th Avenue.)

The aquarium project will cover property from 23rd Avenue to the old Gulfport library location. In addition to the old restaurant, a nearby church and Masonic building will be razed to make way for new construction.

The preliminary dirt work contract for the aquarium project was awarded to a familiar name. W.C. "Cotton" Fore won that portion of the work with a $1.1 million bid.

The contractor will demolish two buildings on the property, install drainage, and haul in thousands of loads of dirt.

Tuesday, the Gulfport City Council did add one stipulation to the dirt work.

"Under the condition that the truck route excludes the use of 15th St., and that the exclusion be part of the contract," said Councilman Ricky Dombrowski.

Council members then voted unanimously to approve the $93 million budget for the aquarium project.

"This is a monumental day for us, but there's so many days that are critical to the advancement. We just approved the initial dirt contract. We approved the budget, so we're just moving forward," said Mayor Billy Hewes. "It's been very methodical, and we should see some actual physical change on the property very soon."

A third aquarium-related vote did raise concerns with one council member. That involves using $2.7 million in Community Development Block Grant money, or CDBG, to develop a transition area between the aquarium project and downtown Gulfport.

"I'm told no when I go after it, because it's not the right type of CDBG. So, I need some help in explaining to these folks who are asking for help when they're flooding or their streets haven't been paved," said Councilman R. Lee Flowers. "I'm going to put a big chunk of change down with the aquarium."

"The short answer to that is that this is the last of the Katrina disaster funds. In order to qualify, we had to tie it to an existing project," said Gulfport CEO Dr. John Kelly.

The CDBG money will be spent on a project called "street scape three," a continuation of an ongoing street scape improvement project. This latest plan will provide a transition area between the aquarium campus and the downtown business district.

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