Thursday turned out to be a great day for Gulfport residents who fought to protect Jones Park.
Federal Judge Dan Russell released an order that said Gulfport didn't violate its deed. Therefore the Jones family has no right to reclaim the waterfront property it gave the city in 1935.
"The City has not, so far, acted in a manner which would call for a reversion of the property to the plaintiffs," Judge Russell said in his dismissal.
When the Jones family deeded the park to Gulfport 67 years ago, it said the area had to be used for a playground, a boat harbor, and other recreational purposes. According to the ruling, that's how Gulfport used the park.
In the 1935 deed that gave the property to Gulfport, it stipulated that the waterfront property could be used solely by the city for the construction and maintenance of playground and recreation facilities.
In court papers filed against the city, the Jones family cited 20 instances when they felt Gulfport violated the Jones Park deed by making money off the property. The extension of Highway 49 into the park, as well as car shows, stereo sales and gem shows were some of the examples family members listed.
The family wanted Jones Park back because the heirs had plans to team up with a developer, and use part of the park for a casino resort. But Federal Judge Dan Russell's ruling said that can't happen. His order concluded that Gulfport didn't do anything wrong. Thus, he wrote, the city continues to hold Jones Park in trust as expressed in the 1935 deed from Mrs. Stewart.
"I think we can do a lot out here as far as making this more of a park setting," Ward 5 Councilman Ricky Dombrowski said. "But I really feel that we have followed the restrictions to the letter."
Gulfport Mayor Ken Combs considered the ruling "great news." The mayor called from Jackson to say the city can now "get on with development of the harbor and forget about any commercial activities."
Councilman Dombrowski said improving the park should be a top priority.
"I think we can also do a better job of making this more of a park setting, making this to where the grass is something that you would want to come out here and throw a blanket down and have a picnic and do things like that," he said.
Tom Vaughn is the attorney representing the Jones family. He was at a funeral in Eupora when the decision was released, so he didn't read the dismissal order. But he did tell WLOX news that he was surprised the case never made it to trial. He added that he wasn't sure if the family would appeal the judge's Jones Park decision.
By Brad Kessie
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