Emeril Latest To Question Port's Westward Expansion Plans

GULFPORT (WLOX) -- Emeril Lagasse has added his name to the list of people questioning the Port of Gulfport's expansion plans. Lagasse sent a letter to his landlord that expresses his concerns about cargo ships docked in front of his restaurant.

"Frankly, had I known of this proposal, I likely would not have made the decision to open a restaurant at that location," his letter stated.

Other people who've questioned the westward expansion of the port include west Gulfport neighbors, city leaders, and Governor Barbour. In fact, the governor has urged port commissioner to look long and hard at expanding the port south instead of west.

The issue in this case is natural beauty versus natural growth. A year ago, port commissioners adopted a plan to grow west, because it seemed like the natural thing to do to help south Mississippi's economy expand.

"We have to if we're going to remain competitive as as seaport in the Gulf of Mexico," said Port Director Don Allee.

But when Emeril's Gulf Coast Fish House general manager Jason Lonigro looks off his porch, he sees a view that blends in perfectly with his restaurant's atmosphere. That's the beauty part of this debate.

"It just really helps set the whole ambience. It's everything we're trying to do culinary and for the coast," said Lonigro.

In recent months, the port's master plan proposal to move west has taken a beating. Like the birds outside the Island View Casino Resort, owners of the Gulfport casino have done a lot of squawking, urging people to speak out against the port's westward expansion. They feared it would detract from their investment, and detour downtown development.

On Monday, Emeril Lagasse wrote a letter to his landlords, stating that he worried about anything that could interfere with his restaurant.

"It will negatively impact the beach and obstruct the beautiful view that exists," his letter stated.

And several weeks ago, Governor Barbour urged port commissioners to look south rather than west.

The port director says his commissioners are listening.

"Where we are today is we're revisiting a configuration that we think may be more palatable to everyone," he admitted.

A southward expansion is one of the options being contemplated. If that sort of plan is adopted, and the expanded port still gives Emeril's the view it craves, fish house managers expect the restaurant to remain one of Gulfport's new hot spots.

"It's that nice little escape that everybody comes in, having a great meal, and just looking out on the waters," thought Lonigro. "And on a clear day, being able to look at all the islands. It really sets a good scene."

Don Allee wouldn't elaborate on what the port's reworked master plan would look like, or when those changes would be shown to the public. The closest he came to releasing a specific time frame was when he said sooner rather than later.