Travel & Tourism

This iconic Coast amusement park destroyed in Katrina is making a comeback in Biloxi

The melody of the carousel and a whiff of cotton candy soon will return to the beach as Fun Time USA makes a comeback— this time in Biloxi.

"As of this morning we own the land," Rafe O'Neal said Friday. His family operated Fun Time for 27 years before it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, and for the last 8 years he's been working with partners and investors to bring it back.

"Can you imagine how beautiful this place is going to be?" asked O'Neal as he stood near the center of the new site, shaded by oak trees and just off the beach in west Biloxi. Fun Time USA's new home will be near Walmart Road and U.S. 90, near IHOP, Edgewater Village and Beau View condominiums.

O'Neal also imagines another giant dinosaur "lording over the beach again," as it did before Katrina.

The Statue of Liberty that once stood in the fountain at Fun Time didn't make it through the 2005 storm, but O'Neal said the company that built the original has agreed to fashion another.

At nearly 8 acres, the new site is about twice the size the old park was in the day.

Fun Time will have bumper boats again and a go-kart track, as well as the Alan Herschell merry-go-round that operated from 1980 until 2005. The carousel was restored just before Katrina made landfall, and O'Neal said the horses are still in pretty good shape, with a few scars to remind them what they've been through.

It'll be goofy

Fun Time USA will bring back real goofy golf that Coast people know, he said. Fun will be built into each of the 18 holes so players can discover a shipwreck with a spinning wheel, a lighthouse, a castle, windmill, an octopus, a North Pole igloo and — to go with Biloxi's casino history — cards and dice.

What will be new about the park, he said, are more rides for families and adults.

"Classic rides to start with," he said, like a Tilt-A-Whirl and the Scrambler, with space for expansion and plans to ask customers what they'd like to see and experience. Areas for games, shopping and food also are planned.

Allen Beverage will sponsor the Pepsi Pavilion, a headquarters for the ticket booth, concession stand and office. Drew Allen supported the project from the start, said Dennis Tynes with Sprout CDE. "Literally without them this wouldn't be happening," he said.

The comeback

Fun Time is being rebuilt for families by Rafe O'Neal, doing business as Gulf Amusements.

Rafe O'Neal's uncle, Ray O'Neal, owned Fun Time before Katrina and has built amusements all over the world. He'll be a consultant on the new park adventure.

Tynes is certified by the federal government to raise funds for projects that create jobs. The Parrish family is investing in the project and Tammy Saxon, who worked at the original park, will be the comptroller. Seymour Engineering designed the new park.

Plans for Fun Time are being submitted to the city for review and are part of bigger plans the investors have for bringing back classic Coast amusements, Tynes said, along with adjacent hotels and amenities.

Sense of place

The group had planned to rebuild Fun Time USA across the street to the east of the location that was leveled by Katrina at U.S. 90 and Cowan Road in Gulfport. Neighbors in that area objected to an amusement park in that area again, and the project went through lengthy reviews and challenges.

The bank-owned site purchased in Biloxi already is zoned correctly for an amusement park, and the preliminary site plan doesn't require any variances that would send it to the planning commission. It is out of the flood zone and velocity zone, and has a large parking lot and trees to buffer it from the neighboring condo tower.

"That's one of the things I like most about the property," O'Neal said. Only a few trees that are dead or in poor shape will need to come down, he said, leaving lots of shady spots for families to make memories at the park again.