Someone had been complaining about all the trash in an alley that runs behind restaurants downtown, so Community Development Director David Parker strolled through on his way to a meeting.
The city’s new economic development director saw more than trash. Opportunity spoke to him. He thought of Printer’s Alley in Nashville and Exchange Place in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Why not a pedestrian alley in Gulfport?
The alley between 13th and 14th streets, in the first block of downtown, is referred to as a canyon alley, meaning it has no breaks like empty lots or parking areas. It’s the only canyon alley downtown and also runs behind seven restaurants and bars.
Parker got others on board with the idea, and money was located in the post-Katrina streetscape budget. The city dubbed the space Fishbone Alley.
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Construction began right after the holidays and was supposed to be finished in March. Rain and unexpected utility lines that were eventually replaced have added 99 days to construction. But the good news is Gulf Breeze Landscaping of Gautier will complete Fishbone Alley within its original budget of $250,191 by Friday.
Brick pavers from downtown Gulfport circa 1906 were saved and have been used in the alley.
More work remains. A “dumpster corral,” as Parker calls it, will be built for trash from the alley businesses and decorated with art.
Lights are going to be strung high in three layers. Laurie Toups, executive director of Gulfport Main Street, is coordinating work on murals and other art.
Parker said the alley should be finished some time in July, when a big celebration will be held.
Downtown Gulfport was a sleepy place before Hurricane Katrina. In this post-Katrina era of facade grants and historic renovation, downtown Gulfport boasts 40 restaurants and bars.
“One of the things I think that really makes tourist attractions beneficial is not only when there are great restaurants and places to gather,” Parker said, “but when there are great public places to gather.”
Though it’s not finished, Fishbone Alley already has brought change to the Coast and state. The alley gave the Gulfport the idea to propose what’s referred to as a “go-cup” law so patrons can stroll outdoors with alcoholic beverages in designated entertainment districts.
The state Legislature this past session approved the law for Coast counties and some other localities.
Gulfport already has designated downtown as an entertainment district, so pedestrians will be able to stroll through Fishbone Alley with go cups as soon as it opens.