FEMA hosts discussion of library controversy

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Should it be saved or torn down? The controversy continues over the fate of the old library building in downtown Gulfport.

The city and county want the storm-damaged structure demolished. But a citizens group continues the fight to save the landmark.

FEMA hosted a meeting Thursday to discuss the library's future.

The various factions involved in this debate gathered around a conference table.  The meeting is called a "Section 106 Review." That process is required by the federal government in cases involving historic properties.

Jeff Durbin is with the Federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

"In some cases, there's a very happy outcome. We all hear about those win-win situations," he told the group.

Reaching a win-win compromise in the library debate seems a formidable challenge. There are clearly strong, opposing views regarding the future of the downtown landmark.

"Any action that could try to put a library back in that site could jeopardize the other libraries in the city. I have a strong concern over that," said Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr.

The mayor says the city's position supports demolition, despite some voices to the contrary.

"There is a fine group of citizens that are very vocal, that are attempting to preserve this structure. The truth of the matter is, it is a very vocal minority. That's my personal opinion," said Mayor Warr.

"We went out and got over four thousand petitions. We went out and got comments and letters to the editor. People have been coming to us. This is not a small group of people. There are thousands of people involved in this," said Marianne Barkley, a representative for the citizens group "We the People."

"If this structure can be saved, I am one of the council members who actually voted to ask that it be considered for landmark status," said city council member, Barbara Nalley.

"I'm always perplexed with this discussion of the library. It stands, let's tear it down. Grass Lawn is not standing, let's build it back," said city council member Ella Holmes Hines.

The director of Gulfport's Main Street Association says there needs to be a sense of urgency about resolving this controversy. Lisa Bradley says the storm ravaged building, on such a prominent piece of property, is having an adverse impact on ongoing efforts to revitalize downtown.

It's certain the controversy won't be resolved before the end of this year. FEMA has set another library meeting for mid January. That next meeting will be held Thursday, January 15th.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History has already declared the old library building a "Mississippi landmark." The structure remains eligible to be included on the National Register of Historic Places.