Progress Report On Rebuilding Gulfport Small Craft Harbor

The only sound you hear these days is the choppy water. And the only signs of life are birds and ducks. Twenty months after Katrina, work has still not started to rebuild the battered Gulfport Small Craft Harbor.

"A lot of people, I know, have been dissatisfied with the fact that we haven't seen progress down there, and I'm among them," Frank Wilem said. "It's very frustrating. It's very slow."

Wilem is a volunteer who is heading up the Gulfport Harbor Rebuilding Executive Committee. He told the Gulfport Business Club on Tuesday, that there's been a lot of work behind the scenes to build a new, $32 million harbor. The design includes relocating the harbor master office, adding retail shops, and high-end and casual dining.

"The intent there is to be more of a laid back type scenario where Jimmy Buffet style restaurants and bars, and that sort of thing," Wilem said. "People could come on their boats and tie up and go get a hamburger. There will be an area that will be for high end retail or white table cloth type restaurants."

Other changes include moving the boat ramps to the east side of 20th Avenue, and adding close to 1,000 parking spaces for cars, boat trailers, and slip owners.

Last month, the city received permits for the project. The next obstacle is funding. FEMA has allocated $12 million to replace the docks, piers, and harbor master station. The City of Gulfport will chip in $3.5 million, and another $3 million will come from the Department of Marine Resources. The city is waiting to find out if FEMA and CDBG funds will help cover the rest of the costs.

If all goes well, the harbor could open sometime in 2009.

"This will make the Gulfport Harbor area what it could have been, and should have always been, and give us something that will be a tourist destination end point," Wilem said. "Everybody wants slips back. Everybody wants to use Jones Harbor. Everybody wants to launch their boats there. We have the opportunity to really realize the potential that has always been there."

You can expect to see signs of progress at the harbor. In June, the city will start the bidding process to build 3,000 feet of bulkhead. The work could start this summer.