Gulfport City Council approves $35 million in bonds for aquarium

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The Gulfport City Council recently passed a $35 million bond to keep the target finish date for the Mississippi Aquarium on schedule.

To keep the dirt moving forward on the project, Mayor Billy Hewes says the bond needed to be passed to make sure the money is on hand if necessary.

"We knew that it was essential for us at this point in the development to continue to not have a hiccup to hit the time lines we have established," Hewes said.

The timeline calls for the aquarium to be up and running in early 2019. The total price tag is estimated at $93 million. According to Hewes, $41 million has been committed by the state and the city has requested much more from the state.

Councilman Rusty Walker says the bond won't cause taxes to be raised, and will enable the complete project to be finished in one phase.

"It only makes sense to build it in one phase because with $300 million of economic impact from a study that USM has done, I think you see it's a very easy decision for us to make," Walker said.

If the state comes through with the additional requested funding, the bond money wouldn't have to be used on the aquarium. But, how the bond would then be used is up for debate.

Councilman R. Lee Flowers says he had quite a few infrastructure projects that it could be used on.

Councilman Walker says it could be used for improvements in the area around the aquarium and Mayor Hewes had a different answer.

"We don't have to leverage the bonds, we don't have to have that debt," Hewes said.

In a news release from the City of Gulfport, Mississippi Aquarium President and CEO David Kimmel said, "We are thrilled that the City Council and Mayor believe in this Aquarium and its vision to bring the sights, sounds, and vibrant wildlife of Mississippi and the Gulf Coast to downtown Gulfport. This decision will help keep the momentum forward to build a world-class facility right here in our own backyard."

A recent study projected the aquarium could create at least 400 jobs and attract 350,000 visitors a year.

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