GULFPORT -- Plans are moving ahead for a destination aquarium on property the city owns downtown.
The city's urban development agency, the Gulfport Redevelopment Commission, is requesting proposals from developers by June 3 for a hotel on the nine-acre property. Requirements include a minimum of 120 rooms, affiliation with a hotel brand, at least a three-star rating, and amenities such as a conference room and restaurant.
The GRC also is requesting proposals for marketing services, which are due April 4.
The city borrowed $14 million to assemble enough lots for The Mississippi Aquarium. The state has committed $41.5 million to the project.
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"Hard construction cost is covered, but that does not cover the exhibits or animals within the aquarium," said John Kelly, the city's chief administrative officer.
GRC wants a marketing firm that will assemble materials for a public launch of the aquarium design, said GRC attorney Steve Hendrix of Jackson. The promotional materials also would be used for fund-raising.
The GRC's advertisement says the marketing firm also could be asked to develop a website and social media strategy.
Hendrix said the GRC wants to be in a position to start raising money for the aquarium as soon as a design is approved.
Kelly expects design approval soon. He said GRC members, plus council president Rusty Walker and vice president Myles Sharp, have been involved in reviewing aquarium design plans. The city is planning to unveil the aquarium design on the property in April, Kelly said, with Gov. Phil Bryant expected to attend.
PGAV Destinations of St. Louis, Mo., is designing the aquarium with assistance from Coast architectural firm Eley Guild Hardy and input from selected Coast groups, including teachers, school children and business people.
The hotel will sit on two or three acres of the aquarium property.
The city and GRC will set
up a committee to evaluate hotel proposals. In reviewing proposals, the advertisement says, the committee will consider experience, reputation, financial resources and hotel brand affiliation.
The GRC is already trying to get a hotel and other amenities built on the old VA property on U.S. 90, now known as Centennial Plaza.
Developer leTriomphe Property Group LLC announced plans in August 2014 for a Holiday Inn Resort at Centennial Plaza.
But the project has stalled over financing. Developers have said they are waiting for the state Legislature to replenish tax credits available for restoration of historic properties. State Rep. Richard Bennett said Monday that a bill is moving forward to make more state tax credits available.
The city is hoping tram service between the aquarium and Centennial Plaza will tie together the two sites. A walkway over U.S. 90 also is planned near the aquarium so that visitors can cross to Jones Park, the harbor and the beach.