New gym coming to old Kmart building on Cowan Road

Mayor Billy Hewes roamed the audience Friday at Island View Casino, delivering his annual state of business report and saying more than $1 billion projects are under way, in planning or recently completed throughout the city.

Here are the top 10 takeaways from Hewes:

1. The aquarium project in downtown and a new smoke-free casino at Island View on the south side of U.S. 90 are the two most anticipated projects under construction.

2. Memorial Hospital at Gulfport just completed a $60 million expansion and already is talking about another expansion for a neonatal center. Hewes said the hospital is partnering with the University of Mississippi Medical Center on the project.

3. One of the stores that’s been empty for years, the former Kmart at Pass and Cowan roads in East Gulfport, could be coming back to life. “I’m told that there’s something that may be going in the Kmart,” Hewes said. A sign in front of the property on Pass Road advertises a new gym called The Club 24 is coming. The gym’s Facebook page also shows work already being done in the interior for exercise rooms, tanning beds and more.

4. Hewes made light of the slow progress on the renovations of the Markham Hotel, the start of the casino at the harbor and work on Centennial Plaza, all by developer Robert Lubin and his company GBR. “We’ve been waiting and hoping and eager for so long,” he said. “The good news is things are happening.” Representatives from Holiday Inn, which plans to build a hotel at Centennial Plaza, were in town recently, and he said it’s not just talk and pretty pictures from GBR. “They bought the Markham and they have paid for the rights to develop Centennial,” he said. “They’re paying the rent for the casino site. These are things we haven’t seen before.”

5. “Our economy is not having spikes up and down,” he said. It is a little bit flat, he said, “but will take that.”

6. The city has a $30 million commitment to rebuild the Job Corps in West Gulfport, something he said will bring construction jobs and then training programs to the city.

7. The Sportsplex continues to grow and Hewes said, “We have over 200 tournaments that come there every year.” Cities need 19-20 fields to be competitive on a national basis, he said, and Gulfport is going to have 21 and even artificial turf.

8. Thanks in part to the extra hotels and restaurants going up near the Sportsplex north of Interstate 10, “that retail up there’s been hopping,” Hewes said. “Over the Thanksgiving holiday, you couldn’t find a place to park,” he said.

9. Christmas is now big business for Gulfport and its Harbor Lights display at Jones Park “It is the reason that we have been able to extend the tourism season through the end of the year,” he said, and was named the number one Christmas attraction in Mississippi. The light display also attracted a Lifetime Movie, “Christmas in Mississippi,” which debuts Dec. 9, with an extended version airing at 7 p.m. on Christmas.

10. The new dog park is open at the 34th Avenue Park and other recreational amenities to follow are a kayak launch, nature trails and bike paths.

These developments lead to local and national attention, he said. “Every bit of it is a commercial. It leads to commerce and economic development but more importantly it's about just quality of place, gives people something to do.”