It's already been a big year for new attractions in South Mississippi and lots more fun is on the way.
More than $135 million in building permits were issued for the first 6 months of 2018 and the largest project are all family attractions.
Leading the way is a $51 million construction permit for the Mississippi Aquarium in Gulfport. Drone footage provides an overhead view of the progress that can't be seen by those driving past the site along U.S. 90.
Among the indoor and outdoor exhibits will be the "Gulf Tunnel," a 30-foot long tube that will surround visitors with sea life. The aquarium is expected to open in late 2019 or early 2020, according to the attraction's website.
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Other big-ticket family attractions permitted to begin construction this year are $14.7 million for a new performing arts center on Tucker Avenue in Pascagoula and $6.5 million for the new Premier Cinema at Edgewater Mall in Biloxi. It is expected to open in time for Thanksgiving and the holiday movies. Also coming to the mall early next year is Sky Zone Trampoline Park, which will have large windows so people passing in the mall can see the fun inside.
Hurricane Katrina destroyed so many attractions and now, nearly 13 years later, many are returning and new fun is being announced every month.
Already this year South Mississippi has added a new Ocean Adventures aquarium and high-speed go-karts at Finishline Performance Karting. A nearly $10 million upgrade at Infinity Science Center brings a Deep Island Explorer attraction that virtually dives to the bottom of the sea as life-like digital dolphins and turtles swimming past the portals, the seats rumble and joysticks let visitors play along.
The Betsy Ann paddlewheeler now spins along the Biloxi coastline. Ship Island Excursions is running trips from both Biloxi and Gulfport, where a $1.2 million permit was issued this year to start construction of a new terminal and pavilion.
June was huge for the Coast, with the new Beach Casino opening at Island View Casino in Gulfport. Rapper Pitbull, aka "Mr. Worldwide," created a stir in Biloxi when he arrived to open the iLov305 bar at Hard Rock Casino Biloxi. Margaritaville Resort Biloxi put a big exclamation point on June with the announcement of a $140 million investment to build an amusement park and a second hotel tower in East Biloxi.
In addition to providing more fun for local families, South Mississippi is opening attractions that appeal to more visitors, "Proving we're a very diverse and welcoming destination," said Milton Segarra, chief executive officer of Visit MS Gulf Coast.
He attended the back-to-back openings at Island View and Hard Rock casinos. In addition to the family attractions, he said Mississippi is the only state in the Southeast to offer sports betting starting in July. That will open the Coast to a new demographic of visitors and new groups to the region, he said.
All of these projects are in addition to the opening of a smorgasbord of new restaurants on the Coast along with new service stations, improvements to local schools and continued investment by The Chemours Co. at Pass Christian.
More than $18 million in construction permits were issued during June in South Mississippi, according to the Treen Report. The largest include:
▪ $5.5 million for Race Track service station and market, 7015 Washington Ave., Ocean Springs
▪ $4.3 million for renovation and addition to chiller building, Biloxi School District, 1845 Tribe Drive, Biloxi
▪ $3 million for administration and customer service facility and $685,000 for maintenance building for West Jackson County Utility District, 7200 McCann Road, Biloxi
▪ $2.5 million for renovation of Building B, Saraland Manor, 8010 U.S. 49, Gulfport
▪ $453,000 for renovation of apartments at 4900 Old Mobile Highway, Pascagoula
▪ $438,000 for slab for rail loading area at The Chemours Co., 7685 Kiln DeLisle Road, Pascagoula
▪ $400,000 for finish of Lifeway Christian Store, 15268 Crossroads Parkway, Gulfport
▪ $250,000 for tenant finish of property owned by Glenn Davis at 1107 Cowan Road, Gulfport
▪ $159,000 for addition to hangar at 18320 Mississippi 53, Gulfport
▪ $125,000 for renovation of Burger King, 1641 Pass Road, Biloxi
▪ $113,000 for two canopies at Shop N Geaux, 16303 Mississippi 53, Gulfport
▪ $103,000 for renovation of Our Lady of Victories, 510 Convent Ave., Pascagoula
▪ Ground was broken for a new Merchants & Marine Bank in Gautier and ribbon cuttings were held for:
▪ Visualize LLC, a cleaning and organizing business in Ocean Springs
▪ Love, Ivy boutique at 914 Washington Ave., Ocean Springs
▪ Watersedge swimwear boutique at 1202B Government St., Ocean Springs
▪ Mr Geez Snowbreeze, 2203 Nicholson near U.S. 90, Waveland
▪ The Menagerie on Market at 2302 Market St., Pascagoula
▪ Brandi's Hope, 15255 Community Rd, Gulfport,
▪ Crunch Fitness, 200 West Railroad St., Long Beach
▪ Gulf Coast Campers, 10381 Mississippi 603, Bay St. Louis
▪ Brackish Waters restaurant at 5542 Main Street, Moss Point, opened June 15 and owner Darrin Matthews said big crowds of diners arrived by boat and vehicle to be the first to try the fried or steamed seafood, macaroni and cheese with shrimp, chicken wings and other Coast favorites for lunch or with a sunset view.
Closing on the Coast are Backyard Burger on U.S. 49 in Gulfport and the Dapper Pig men's boutique in Long Beach.