Appeals Court Says Jones Park Can't Be Developed

When a mid afternoon shower fell, it nurtured Jones Park's parched grass. A few hours earlier, a federal appeals court saved the grass from commercial development.

"Oh happy day," Gulfport resident Betsi Burgess said as she sat under a shoo fly at the park. "Happy day."

Burgess and her group People for the Preservation of Jones Park have spent years fighting to keep the park away from developers.

"This is public land," group member Mary Anne Barkley said. "This isn't private land to be used by anybody for profit."

Another group member who came out to talk about the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling was Patsy Spinks.

"To look out and see that a community has taken a large amount of space that they could have used for something else," she said, "and provide it as a place for their citizens and their guests is a very positive thing."

Four years ago, Jones Park heirs tried to argue that some of the events at this park violated the 1935 deed that gave Jones Park to Gulfport. The heirs admitted they wanted the land back so they could build a casino resort complex here.

Councilman Billy Hewes supported the plan because of the money it could generate for his cash starved city.

"I still think there should be commercial development there, if that's what the people want," the councilman said, "if it will help get Gulfport out of the red and into the black."

At least 11 people want the park preserved. They walked away from the shoo fly with smiles on their faces, because a ruling by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals made that wish come true.

"I think this is a victory for every resident and everybody that uses it, everybody that drives by it," Burgess said. It's also a victory against greed and power."

The attorney representing the heirs is Tom Vaughn. He said the family was disappointed by the ruling. The heirs could appeal the Jones Park case again. But that decision hasn't been made yet.