Mayor Billy Hewes says he will run for a second term in 2017.
Hewes confirmed his plans after he delivered his annual speech Friday to Gulfport Chamber of Commerce members in a packed banquet hall at Island View Casino Resort.
“We have so much in motion,” he told the Sun Herald. “This job will wear you out, but this city is a great place. I really believe the team we’ve assembled is going to do some great things for the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”
Hewes said he had a successful fundraiser about a month ago for his campaign. A former Republican state senator and candidate for lieutenant governor before he ran for mayor, Hewes said he has not heard if anyone else plans to enter the race. The qualifying deadline for municipal elections is in March. Elected city representatives take office July 1.
Hewes talked during his chamber speech about some of the projects started under his administration, most notably plans for the Mississippi Aquarium. “Yes, it is really happening,” he assured the crowd.
He acknowledged that 2016 has been spent on design and engineering work, but said ground should break next year on the multimillion downtown aquarium campus. He also showed one of the design concepts — an elevated tube visitors can walk through with water surrounding them. He said other aquariums have tunnels, but he knows of only one other with a tube.
Hewes also shared plans for a nature area off 34th Street along Brickyard Bayou, where the city hopes to secure funding for community gardens, a dog park and other attractions.
The city has continued to work on expanding the tourism season, bringing one of the largest Christmas light displays in the state to Jones Park and the Bert Jones Yacht Basin. Hewes said 40,000 visited the computerized display in its first year in 2015, and the city is hoping to attract 60,000 visitors this year.
Hewes also said city infrastructure improvements have been evenly spread south and north of Interstate 10.