GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - It’s been more than six months since Jonathan Daniels left as executive director of the Port of Gulfport, and port commissioners are still in the process of interviewing candidates.
But progress certainly hasn’t stopped and that includes the new Roger Wicker Center of Ocean Enterprise, which officials believe will be the next step in the blue economy initiative that will help put Gulfport in the spotlight.
Make no mistake, Port of Gulfport corporate Administrator Nick Foto is proud of the building.
“This is a great opportunity for South Mississippi in the fact that this will be a center for research and development,” said Foto. “It will be a very high-tech technological center. It will house not only education, research. But it will also handle maintenance and repair of research vessels.”
Construction started in November 2019, but people are just now noticing it, but it’s starting to come out of the ground. When it’s finished in April 2022, it will be 62,000 square feet.
But it has a ways to go, the project is maybe only about 20 percent complete.
“We’ve completed the slab, which is on the first floor,” Foto said. “We’re bringing in the steel to complete the vertical construction. That should be finished around the first part of February.”
The center, in partnership with the University of Southern Mississippi, will be doing oceanographic research along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and beyond.
“Currently, we are the homeport for USM’s Point Sur,” said Foto. “USM will be adding an additional vessel and we are currently in discussions with NOAA to locate operations here inside of this building.”
And this project continues despite setbacks by a pandemic, an unprecedented hurricane season and the lack of an executive director.
“We have wonderful employees,” Foto said. “We have wonderful tenants. We have wonderful support throughout the community. So, it’s made our job easier to continue with the work that we would normally do. So we have been very fortunate in the fact that we have very good, experienced people still here still doing very good work.”
The $30 million construction price is the last of the money available by the Port Restoration Grant.