Orange Grove to get its community center back

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Katrina's fury ravaged the Orange Grove Community Center. A fire almost two years later gutted whatever was left inside the vacant Highway 49 property. Gulfport had two choices. Rebuild the city's largest meeting space. Or relocate the complex to another property.

On Wednesday, the city launched a two million dollar reconstruction project -- on the community center's original slab.

The wind was whipping through the Highway 49 construction site Wednesday morning. And the clouds were thickening.

"But anytime you're cutting a ribbon, or digging in some dirt," Gulfport Chief Administrative Officer John Kelly said, "it's chamber of commerce weather."

Gulfport broke ground for its new Orange Grove Community Center. The facility's next door neighbor just happens to be the Orange Grove/Lyman Chamber of Commerce. Evelyn Scruggs represented the chamber at the groundbreaking.

"We'll be so glad when this is done," she said.

Since Hurricane Katrina, her group has been looking for places to hold breakfast meetings and parties. Returning to the Orange Grove Community Center will mean so much to chamber members, Scruggs said, "because it's just easy for our people to get to."

During the groundbreaking ceremony, Mayor Brent Warr said, "This is really a big step forward in the city of Gulfport, not just in our hurricane recovery, but in our recovery as a community in general."

Katrina damaged the original Orange Grove Community Center. A July, 2007 fire destroyed what was left. Questions soon surfaced about whether Gulfport should rebuild the Highway 49 meeting space. Barbara Nalley's ward includes the community center.

"In my mind it was never an option not to put the facility back. It was just a matter of where," she said.

The city ultimately chose its original community center location. So once a few damaged steel girders are tossed away, the old slab will have a new, two million dollar community center built on top of it. Mayor Warr said the new complex will be "a superior structure, a superior facility and an incredible, strong element of the backbone of this community, in the community we owe services to, the Orange Grove community."

The new Orange Grove Community Center should open in late October.

Here's a list sent out by the City of Gulfport that highlights the history of the Orange Grove Community Center.

*City purchased old Skating Rink in 1994

*Help from Harrison County $500,000 and city put up $500,000 for a joint county/city project designed to serve the needs of the Orange Grove/Lyman Communities.

*Opened in 1995

*Hosted events from mini conventions, health fairs, garden shows, to proms, banquets, wedding/receptions, and meetings

*About 80,000 people went through the door in 2004.

*The center hosted four or five events a week, more than 200 events annually.

*Facilitate up to 750 people entire facility Pre-Katrina, the Orange Grove Community Center hosted the largest events and more events than any other community center.

*Many activities hosted there for state and regional events as the location was central for the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

*The facility hosted several events not large enough for the coliseum but too large for other city community centers.