Gulfport Club Owner Says City Hall Is Keeping Him Out Of Business

The owner of Club Illusions says he is the victim of a personal vendetta that leads straight to Gulfport City Hall.

Club owner George Bush wants to reopen his nightclub on the Gulfport beach front. The woman who owns the land where the club would be located was notified last month, her building permit has been turned down. City officials say Mary Williams-Wood missed the deadline.

With some of the materials and all the architectural plans, Mary Williams-Wood thought she was on her way to rebuilding her commercial property destroyed in Katrina.

"We've already started to put this project back shortly after the hurricane, from having flood elevation certificates back in 2005 to having the excavation and the removal in April of 2006," Williams-Wood said.

Then the city denied her building permit.

"They had a one year window period to rebuild, a one year window to build a non-conforming structure and the applicant missed the one year period," Gulfport's Urban Planning Director Larry Jones said.

Jones said the city council passed an ordinance on July 18th giving commercial businesses until August 29, 2006 to submit plans to build back as they were. After that, businesses would have to follow all the new zoning rules. Williams-Woods says she didn't know about the grandfather clause or the deadline when she submitted her application on September 19th.

"It took them over 90 days. And if I missed the deadline prior to applying, why did they wait 90 days? I've never been informed of any deadline or ordinance to be aware of. Why am I just finding this out in December of 2006?" Williams-Wood asked.

The city cites staffing shortages for the delay. But George Bush, Williams-Wood's long time tenant and owner of Club Illusions, says the permit issue is just an excuse. Before Katrina, the club was controversial.

As far back as 2004, neighboring property owners asked the city council to shut down the club. One of them was Gulfport businessman Gene Warr, the mayor's father.

"I went over to his place of business before Katrina to talk to him, and he said there was no conversation. My club did not fit the neighborhood and he would do everything he could to make sure my club didn't exist. And now his son is the mayor and I guess that's what they're trying to do," Bush said.

But the mayor's father isn't the only neighbor who doesn't want the club to return. His name and 50 others are on a petition asking city leaders not to allow Club Illusions back in the neighborhood. Children's Museum Director Betsy Grant and the Lynn Meadows board members also signed the petition.

"Neighbors have been quite opposed to the return of Club Illusions because there has been quite a lot of loud noise down there," Grant said. "Evidently the police were called on a regular basis. It really disrupted the neighborhood."

Grant said homeowners in the area have been meeting at the museum regularly since Katrina, hoping to recreate the historic charm of Mississippi City. George Bush says he wants to bring back his business - no matter what the obstacles

"For them to take away my livelihood, my way of living just because they choose to, I have a problem with that. And I will do everything in my power to get my club back here," Bush said.

WLOX News called Mayor Brent Warr for a comment on this story, but did not receive a call back in time for our broadcast.

Urban Planning Director Larry Jones said if the owner re-designs the building to meet current standards on setbacks and parking, there is a possibility a permit would be approved.