Library future still being debated during FEMA review

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The future of the historic, storm-damaged library in downtown Gulfport remains up in the air despite another two hour meeting to discuss it.

The ongoing controversy is currently caught-up in a federal process called a Section 106 review.

Thursday afternoon was the third such meeting in that process.

One federal official characterized the ongoing discussions as "rancorous debate." But, despite strong views from several sides, there appears some promise, perhaps of compromise regarding the fate of the landmark building.

"The board of supervisors is telling you that we will not put a library back at that building. Not that we're committed necessarily to demolishing the building. That might be in the future. That remains to be seen based on proposals that we get," supervisor Marlin Ladner told those gathered for the library meeting.

Those comments came near the end of the two hour session that 50 plus people attended.

Supervisor Ladner was responding in part to comments from Debra Peterson, who said the county seemed intent on tearing down the historic building.

"They have given the public no indication that they are willing to negotiate on any fact whatsoever. And that there is no flexibility," she said.

The citizens group fighting the save the library building presented a proposal calling for a multi-use auditorium on the ground floor and perhaps a small library on the second floor.

"Even it it's just a small law library or genealogy library. Then put the Joseph T. Jones memorial multi-use auditorium on the bottom, just like these plans say," said Rosemary Finley, a descendent of the Jones family and a member of "We the People," the citizens group pushing to save the building.

"I do think that this property does need to be for the use of the public for which it was intended. Not necessarily a library, but the bottom can be used as an open air facility," said Gulfport city councilwoman Barbara Nalley.

Gulfport's mayor sought to dispel the notion that the city has ulterior plans to develop the site commercially.

"There has been significant dialogue discussed about having a potential developer. We do not have a potential developer. That just doesn't exist," said Mayor Warr.

As for the possibility of future compromise about the library building and site.

"In terms of concessions, it's entirely up to all of the parties on how much they want to negotiate," said Jeffrey Durbin, with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, a federal body.

This Section 106 review process will continue into the foreseeable future.

FEMA has already scheduled the next two meetings on March 12th and March 26th. A FEMA representative also talked about teleconference meetings after that.