GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Residents of Mississippi's second largest city are celebrating a year of accomplishments and looking forward to what's coming.
Gulfport mayor Billy Hewes gave his annual state of the city and business address to a sold out Chamber of Commerce crowd at the Island View Casino Resort.
The theme of his message was 'Concept to Reality'.
The first order of business for mayor Billy Hewes was acknowledging the huge military presence on the coast. He noted, "It's the 75th anniversary of the Seabees, the 75th anniversary of Keesler Air Force base being established."
Major makeovers on Dedeaux Road and Courthouse Road will make a great difference in the city, according to the mayor, who said, "They're going to be really well done. Boulevards, bike paths, pedestrian access."
Hewes also made sure to bring up the new $40 million Gulfport high school. "It's going to make a huge difference and will put us on the map again as the standard of excellence for education in south Mississippi," he stated.
That goes hand in hand with a multi-million dollar casino expansion in downtown. "It's a huge investment in that, in the expansion of the Island View. Thank you Rick for your commitment to this community," lauded Hewes.
There are many more projects in the future for Gulfport, including the expansion of the Sportsplex and the creation of a new dog park on 34th Street.
"I'll tell you what. People love their furry critters and we've had people come out to that. They were using it before it officially opened," he explained. "I thought there might be a need or desire for it, and there certainly is, so it's a happy place to be."
In the mayor's eyes, the biggest economic game changer will be the $95 million dollar Mississippi Aquarium. He proudly stated, "People still ask, is it going to be reality. Absolutely, it's going to be reality."
The most important thing is getting the word out about what the Gulf Coast has to offer. "We have to earn our credibility and tell our story every day and make sure people understand," he said. "The key is getting them here, as you know. Most people, when they come, say they had no idea how wonderful it is and how great the people are."
As part of today's program, the police officer, firefighter, and AMR first responders of the year were also honored.