Gulfport Leaders See "Excitement" In Duany Designs - - The News for South Mississippi

Gulfport Leaders See "Excitement" In Duany Designs

The word unbelievable was used more than once Thursday to describe the new blueprint for Gulfport's recovery. Andres Duany and his design team unveiled their ambitious plans Wednesday night. Duany said the concepts created for the VA, the small craft harbor, the Ken Combs Pier, the downtown business district, and the sportsplex capitalize on Gulfport's incredible potential.

John Harral realizes that any improvements recommended by Duany to redo the Gulfport Small Craft Harbor, and Jones Park, will spill over to the downtown area. And revitalizing downtown has been his main focus for years.

"My initial reaction is excitement," the Gulfport attorney said, after seeing the development concepts pitched by Duany.

One of Duany's drawings gives you an idea of what the southside of the harbor could become. The noted designer feels condos, restaurants and retail shops belong alongside boat slips. The picture shows all of those amenities in low rise buildings on land where the White Cap Restaurant sat on before Hurricane Katrina.

"It's unbelievable. I've never seen plans more ambitious," Harral said.

Mayor Brent Warr had a slightly different reaction.

"I think it's believable, rather than unbelievable," he said.

Warr first met Duany during the charrettes held after the hurricane. He's been working with him on Gulfport's possibilities ever since.

"What's good about it, and the reason it's believable," said the mayor, "is that we have investors and developers who were part of this process, giving their input, because they have an interest."

Away from the water, the biggest design change is immediately north of the railroad tracks. Duany's team turns a triangle parking lot filled with cars and oak trees into a performing arts center.

"We 100 percent agree that a performing arts center like that would be a fantastic thing in downtown," Harral said.

According to Mayor Warr, "What he gave us was the opportunity to have something far better than what we had planned before."

When Gulfport initially agreed to pay Duany $400,000 to do this 10 day study, he was asked to design the best way to take the historic buildings that were salvaged on the VA property after Katrina, and blend them into a mix of hotels, conference rooms, restaurants and homes.  Duany's design team came up with two pictures.  One was for the waterfront property.  The other showed what could be built on VA land north of Railroad Street. 

As he worked on the VA, Duany realized other areas of the city needed attention as well. So he analyzed the downtown area, the small craft harbor, the Ken Combs Pier, and the sportsplex near I-10.

The Duany template recommends a swimming pool and some businesses at the tip of Courthouse Road to improve the pier. And he believes the old downtown library site could be turned into a hotel to give the east end of the historic business district a draw.

As for what could be added to the sportsplex, "It's really cool," the mayor said. "A city center built around youth recreation. How do you beat that?"

As excited as the mayor is with the concepts Duany sketched out, he's also a realist.

"We're not there yet," the mayor conceded. "I hate to keep saying we're close. Until there are hammers and nails meeting each other in a very aggressive manner, I'm not going to be satisfied."

by Brad Kessie

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