Another Hurdle Appears As Demolition Begins On Downtown Gulfport Building

"Hello Judge Russell. We got some ribs for ya'll," said Ernest Ulrich, as he greeted another group of guests Monday.

Ernest Ulrich owns Port City Cafe in downtown Gulfport. He has no trouble filling up his restaurant with customers. He says the only problem he's been dealing with for the last 23 months is his dilapidated neighbor next door.

"It's an eyesore. An eyesore," Ulrich says. "And we get visitors that come by and the last thing we want is, we want the hurricane to go away."

Then last week, Ulrich noticed boards going up, and work going on inside the 14th Street building.

"We were excited about it," Ulrich said. "Even the customers were commenting about how things looked like they were moving over there."

But days later, that sign of progress came to a halt.

"Then we see a sign on the back entrance, and it says 'asbestos,'" Ulrich said. "So immediately we're saying, 'Asbestos! Oh Lord, here we go again.' It's another hurdle that I'm sure has to be crossed."

The owner of the building, attorney Virgil Gillespie, declined an on-camera interview. He would only say that the city had planned to use FEMA funding to tear down the destroyed property. But Gillespie says since the city has been dragging its feet, he decided to hire his own contractor to get the job done.

Ulrich hopes this latest setback won't delay the demolition much longer.

"We're throwing our hands up in the air and say, 'What's next? What's going to be the hold up next?' We're not sure if this plywood is going to be on the sidewalk for six months."

Ulrich then pointed to the plywood boards and said, "We're thinking possibly of going ahead and painting it and putting "Port City Cafe" on it. Advertise on it. We would like to see it go away. Let's make some progress with downtown."

The Director of Gulfport Main Street, Lisa Bradley, said the group applied and received FEMA funding for the demolition project. But she said the contractor backed-out right before the deadline. Bradley said the group has re-applied for funding, but has not received an answer from FEMA.

When WLOX News told her that the property owner has already hired a company to do the job, Bradley said she has not yet talked to him about it.