Gulfport library debate drags on

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The heated, often emotional debate about the downtown Gulfport library building has carried over into the new year.

A citizens group called "We the People" continues its campaign to save the storm-damaged structure from demolition.

All interested parties had something to say at a three and a half hour meeting with FEMA Thursday morning.

Harrison County wants to tear down the storm damaged structure and replace it with a new library headquarters in Orange Grove and a branch library downtown.

"Every day this building is allowed to stand, it slows the recovery of the city. And I think our citizens are ready for the city to be rebuilt," said John Kelly, chief administrator for the City of Gulfport.

Citizens fighting to save the building may have history as an ally. Though the building is less than 50 years old, the usual standard, it's been deemed eligible for a spot on the National Registry of Historic Places under a seldom-used criteria.

"Heavily damaged buildings located in areas that had experienced extensive loss of historic buildings," said Claudia Watson, as she explained "criteria G."

"These historical designations and the support of so many of the citizens of Harrison County, the true owners of this library, the citizens, should stand alone as reason enough to repair and restore this beautiful building," said Patsy Spinks, who represents the citizens group We the People.

Gulfport's mayor wants the controversy settled soon.

"What I want to say emphatically is that we cannot allow the issue of this building to put either the Orange Grove or the downtown public library in jeopardy," said Mayor Brent Warr.

The great, great niece of Captain Jones, whose family donated the land, urged everyone to consider the legacy.

"We are going to destroy history. We are going to wipe it out. We're going to put a little plaque up that says 'Captain Jones was doing this'. Why? Why not just take his statue and go put it in the landfill?" said a frustrated Rosemary Finley.

There was no resolution Thursday, only the promise of yet another meeting.

The meetings with FEMA to discuss the library issue are part of something called a Section 106 review. It's required by federal law whenever there might be an adverse impact on a property designated to be historic. No date was set for the next meeting.