GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes is excited about progress on the $93 million project now underway downtown.
"It's going to be a real focal point for the entire Gulf Coast," said Hewes. "A lot of folks said, 'Is it going to be real?' Yes, it's going to be real. It's going to be huge and it will be transformational," the mayor told the group.
As Mayor Hewes touted the aquarium project, work crews kept busy with initial ground work at the downtown site. Fences are going up and ground is being prepared for the campus-style attraction.
"We're anticipating about 300,000 visitors a year just to the aquarium. So for the immediate area, it's huge. For that niche that we've been talking about, needing more family oriented activities, this really fills a gap there," said Hewes.
Contractor W.C. "Cotton" Fore won the first contract on the project. The first phase includes demolition, plenty of dirt hauling, and drainage work.
"After we get through with this moving all this dirt in, and shaping it up, then it will settle for a little bit, then we'll start the construction. We're working on putting together the construction package for bids," said Mayor Hewes.
The mayor expects to schedule a formal ground breaking for early April. The aquarium is set to open in early 2019. Hewes is hopeful everyone will get excited as they watch the progress at the downtown location.
"Downtown, that area is already starting to change with taking down some of the buildings and bringing some dirt in. So, just stay tuned," urged the mayor.
David Kimmel's consultant group was hired by the city to oversee development of the aquarium project. Kimmel is the former president of the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.