Skeletal remains delay start of Biloxi visitors center project

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Skeletal remains found by archaeologists near the Biloxi lighthouse have the city in a quandary. Because of the discovery, Biloxi can't build its new visitors center until the Department of Archives and History gives its okay. And that could take another 60 days.

Biloxi's current visitors center is tucked in the foyer of the Bond Grant House on Howard Avenue. When it first opened, nobody could find it. But Laurie Rosetti says that seems to be changing.

"Yesterday we probably had 20 or more sets of visitors," the visitors center employee said.

The front entrance of the Bond Grant House overlooks I-110's elevated roadway. Visitors center staff members know it's not the best location to market Biloxi attractions. But for now, it will have to do.

"We're just being patient right now," Rosetti noted.

That patience pays off when the visitors center relocates to a property on Highway 90 with a sparkling view of Biloxi's waterfront, and its historic lighthouse.

Vincent Creel is Biloxi's spokesman.

"We think it's going to be something that tells people welcome to Biloxi," he said.

But as Biloxi was preparing to transform an old gas station site into the city's lighthouse park and visitors center, historians red flagged the project, because they dug up a problem. Flags dot the Moran property immediately behind the new visitors center location. They mark spots where archaeologists discovered skeletal remains with potentially historical significance.

"If you go putting a shovel into the ground anywhere in Biloxi," Creel said, "you're going to find something that was put there either three years ago, or 300 years ago. And that's what we've run into on this site."

So Biloxi must wait for the department of archives and history, and FEMA, to issue a finding of no significant impact. What does that mean? It's a certificate from historians that says the visitors center construction won't impact the archaeology work on the Moran property next door.

"The good news is that whenever it's built, we're going to have a visitors center that's going to redefine Biloxi as the visitors destination on the Mississippi Gulf Coast," said Creel.

Until then, visitors must walk over to the Bond Grant House to find out what Biloxi and its tourism community have to offer.

Most of the $15 million construction project will be reimbursed by the state and the federal governments.