Coast Chamber hears about a cruise ship linked to new port designs

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Port of Gulfport director Don Allee is in Miami this week, meeting with cruise ship operators. Allee remains confident that one day in the not too distant future, a cruise line will make Gulfport a port of call.

While the port director talked with cruise ship CEO's, his agency's master plan designer met with the Coast Chamber. Chamber members saw the sketches that port commissioners already adopted. Once permits are approved, the look of the Port of Gulfport, and downtown Gulfport may be dramatically altered.

The plan at the Port of Gulfport seems simple. Designers want to rebuild the hurricane damaged shipping facility bigger and better than it was before Katrina. John Rester is a port commissioner. He said the goal is "to bring us back to the critical place that we need to be to capitalize on the future."

CH2M Hill is the company hired by the port to redo the shipping berths. Doug Sethness is a company vice president.

"The port's going to be there forever. So let's look long term," he told members of the Coast Chamber as he explained the ideas behind his ambitious rebuilding plans.

However, the road to build what Sethness designed, and port commissioners approved, is likely to be pretty bumpy.

Rester understands that this project is the single largest economic development program in the state of Mississippi. However, he also realizes, "A lot of things have to come to fruition for that to occur."

Funding is one hurdle the port must deal with. The current funding plan was devised by Governor Barbour and the Mississippi Development Authority. Their plan is to pay for the port's expansion uses $570 million of CDBG money. The governor has always said that money was earmarked for south Mississippi recovery issues such as the Port of Gulfport.

However, detractors, like the NAACP counter that the $570 million should be used for housing issues and not the port's expansion. In fact, a lawsuit has been filed by the NAACP against HUD to redirect that money to housing issues.

When Commissioner Rester was asked about the lawsuit during the Coast Chamber breakfast, he said, "The port nor the state of Mississippi are parties to that lawsuit. We are obviously very concerned about that, and are following that."

Designers believe the new master plan will make the Port of Gulfport the gulf's largest shipping facility. In 10 years, they see it generating more than a billion dollars a year for south Mississippi's economy.

"We want to create something that's attractive, that will attract tourists, that will attract business, and eventually will attract cruise ships into the area, so we can revitalize the economy and help the city, not only the port," said Sethness.