The company that restored the White House Hotel in Biloxi, opened Margaritaville Resort Biloxi and is transforming the former Santa Maria del Mar into a suites hotel in downtown Biloxi now is setting its sights on Gulfport.
Barrington Development, in partnership with Virginia attorney Robert Lubin, this week secured an $18 million building permit to start work to turn the former Veterans Affairs property on U.S. 90 in Gulfport into the long-awaited Centennial Plaza destination resort.
Lubin, whose company GBR also owns the Markham Hotel in downtown Gulfport and proposes building a casino at the Gulfport Harbor, took over the Centennial Plaza project in 2017 in an agreement with the Gulfport Redevelopment Commission.
The development of Centennial Plaza will begin with construction of a 150-room Holiday Inn Resort, said Cono Caranna III, spokesman for Barrington Development. Plans call for a resort swimming pool with water slides similar to the pool and waterpark at Margaritaville Biloxi, he said.
Work will start immediately, Caranna said, with a target opening of the Holiday Inn within a year. The hotel will span two existing buildings on the west side of the property, with a courtyard in the center. The buildings will be connected by breezeways to a new registration office.
The $30 million-$40 million hotel will be an anchor for what Caranna said will be a $100 million Centennial Plaza project. The developers are working on ideas for other developments to make Centennial Plaza an events center that will bring people to Gulfport, he said.
It’s been nearly four years since a Louisiana developer announced in August 2014 that a Holiday Inn Resort was coming to Centennial Plaza, but he was unable to move forward on the project.
Barrington Development has become known for turning vacant properties on the Coast into tourist destinations. White House Hotel, which was empty for decades, now is an award-winning hotel. Barrington converted the former Casino Magic that was damaged during Hurricane Katrina into Margaritaville Resort in East Biloxi and is building a similar Margaritaville Resort in Vicksburg. The company is turning the former Santa Maria del Mar senior apartments in Biloxi, also damaged during Katrina, into Watermark Biloxi Hotel & Suites.
The Centennial Plaza property was selected as the location for Mississippi’s centennial observance in 1917 that was canceled due to World War I. It did host the Coast celebration of the state’s bicentennial last year and has served as “Cruise Central” for Cruisin’ The Coast antique car show each October.
It operated for decades as a veterans’ health center. In 2009 the federal government deeded 48 acres and historical buildings at Centennial Plaza to Gulfport after the site was damaged during Hurricane Katrina. In 2010 the property was designated a Mississippi Landmark and in 2014, despite the damage from Katrina, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places as “The Gulfport Veterans Administration Medical Center Historic District.”
Sun Herald reporter Anita Lee contributed to this article.