GULFPORT -- The biggest electronic light show to hit Mississippi will cost at least $1.4 million for its inaugural holiday season this year, but city officials are hoping for a major return on investment.
"In the long view, we think we'll be able to pay for it and, hopefully, make it a regional draw for Christmas time," Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes said. "We wouldn't have stepped out on this limb if we weren't able to pay for it."
Island View Casino Resort will be the main sponsor of Harbor Lights Winter Festival, which starts Nov. 27 and runs through Jan. 3 in Gulfport harbor and Jones Park. The casino has pledged $2.5 million over five years for the show, which will have a nautical theme. The first installment of $500,000 was paid in March, with equal amounts due each of the next four years.
Universal Concepts of Atlanta is installing the show, which will include some huge displays and a grove of Christmas trees with LED lights that will dance to tunes programmed through an FM radio station. The cost for the first year's installation and tear down is around $1.3 million. Hewes said the bill is being paid in quarterly installments.
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At its Tuesday meeting, the City Council also is being asked to approve a group of related expenses that total $126,650:
-- $36,000 to Mississippi Delta Shows for a ferris wheel,
-- $6,000 to Pegasus Carriage Co. for a horse-drawn carriage and driver,
-- $10,800 to Pan-Isles Inc. to keep its Ship Island Ferry open in the evenings,
-- $9,750 to Lamar Advertising for billboards,
-- Up to $22,500 to Swetman Security Service for uniformed officers,
-- $10,600 to Cook Portable Warehouses for a utility building,
-- $16,665 to Advanced Marine Inc. for sound receivers,
-- and $10,155 to Chancellor Inc. for electrical work.
Some of the expenses, including all the decorations, the electrical work and sound, will be one time only, Council president Rusty Walker pointed out. He said the sound system will be used for many special events, including Cruisin' The Coast and outdoor movies in Jones Park.
The city hopes the winter festival will be such a big draw that it extends the traditional tourist season, as similar light shows have done in the Smoky Mountains and other areas. Also, Gulfport is selling business sponsorships and will recoup money from ticket sales.
In addition to elaborate displays that will include Neptune's castle, crawfish, mermaids and other sea creatures, all structures in the harbor will be lighted, as will Live oaks in Jones Park. Lighted wreaths will decorate downtown.
Visitors will pay $20 per vehicle -- $40 for vans and $100 for charter buses -- to enter the winter wonderland. The Ship Island Ferry will be open in the evenings for refreshments, with the city receiving 10 percent from gross sales. On holiday weekends, from Thursday through Saturday, visitors can pay $6 a person to ride a giant ferris wheel overlooking the show or a horse-drawn carriage that holds nine. Also on these extended weekends, a crafts fair will be open at the 27th avenue farmer's market location and food vendors will be offering special holiday treats.