Community Outraged By Vote That Dooms Grass Lawn - - The News for South Mississippi

Community Outraged By Vote That Dooms Grass Lawn

Rendering courtesy the City of Gulfport Rendering courtesy the City of Gulfport

GULFPORT (WLOX) -- Gulfport's city council is asking for a do over. Council members would like to reconsider a vote that doomed Grass Lawn's fate.

Mayor Brent Warr was admittedly surprised Tuesday when the council voted 3-2 to reject a grant that would have rebuilt the antebellum home. The community was outraged. Dozens of e-mails have been sent to city hall this week, questioning why a property with so much history attached to it wasn't being rebuilt. 

The Grass Lawn controversy was a main topic of conversation at Gulfport's Rotary meeting.  It was also debated at coffee counters, and clothing shops. 

What befuddled so many people was the council's flip flop. Last May, it unanimously asked an architect to design a replica that could replace the waterfront landmark. And the city collected insurance proceeds and FEMA money to cover most of the million dollar construction cost. But when it needed approval to get a $500,000 Mississippi Department of Archives and History grant and complete the project, Gulfport's council said no.

Like so many other pieces of Gulfport's past, Grass Lawn crumbled under the relentless pressure of Katrina. Rebuilding the 170 year old city landmark became a Warr administration priority.

"It's as important as anything we've done so far," the mayor said on Thursday.

So when Mayor Warr heard the city council narrowly shot down efforts to build a Grass Lawn replica, the mayor seemed perplexed.

"I was pretty upset," he admitted.

Louise Bell was downright angry.

"Absolutely furious," she said, outside her downtown Gulfport travel agency.

Without giving an explanation, the city council turned down a $500,000 state department of archives and history grant that would have shined a bright light on Grass Lawn and its oak trees.

"The money is sitting there. Why refuse it?" Bell wondered.

Peter Barrett wondered why the city should accept it.

"What are they going to build back? Grass Lawn is gone," he said.

Barrett lives on Second Street, in the house directly across from the Grass Lawn property. From his second floor window, he watched as Katrina ruined a nearly 170-year-old home, and robbed the city of a popular gathering place. Now, Barrett worries that a new Grass Lawn will ruin his neighborhood.

"I hear that they're essentially building a wedding chapel complete with catering services. And this is a residential area," he said. "I question whether that's what we really want to do here."

Yet that's exactly why Louise Bell is adamant that Grass Lawn be rebuilt, so couples can get married there again. So groups can host parties there again. And so the community can see a symbol of its past again, tucked away behind an avenue of oak trees near Gulfport's waterfront.

"Biloxi has Beauvoir. We need Grass Lawn. It's part of our heritage," she said.

Gulfport Council President Neil Resh has already placed the Grass Lawn grant on the May 6 council agenda. He wants his colleagues to have a chance to reconsider their vote.

By Brad Kessie

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