Gulfport gets a jump on planning for state’s 200th birthday

The Gulfport Redevelopment Commission on Tuesday announced plans to host Mississippi’s bicentennial celebration at Centennial Plaza — the old Veterans Affairs hospital property on Beach Boulevard.

The state’s bicentennial celebration will kick off March 30 and feature numerous exhibits and events, though many of the details are still being ironed out.

“This is not a Gulfport event,” former Mayor George Schloegel said. “It is a Mississippi event.”

The GRC, the city’s redevelopment agency, met with city and community leaders from the Coast at the Centennial Plaza property Tuesday afternoon and invited media to tour the grounds and peek inside the several vacant buildings that are slated for development.

Tuesday’s meeting served as an opportunity to drum up attention for the 57 acres of “untapped potential” on the Coast, as Mayor Billy Hewes called it.

New Orleans developer Stewart Juneau first announced plans two years ago for a Holiday Inn Resort, festival marketplace and other development on the property, which the federal government deeded to the city after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It was previously used as a VA hospital.

The GRC has about $190 million worth of developments planned for the plaza. The first phase includes building the Holiday Inn on the west end of the property, landscaping a town square and festival marketplace near the entrance on U.S. 90 and renovating two of the buildings. Construction is scheduled to begin in December.

“This is your blank canvas,” Juneau said to the crowd standing in the middle of one of the empty and cleaned-out buildings. “You get the sense of the openness and possibilities.”

The overall plan for the plaza is to offer mixed-use rental space, host public and private events and offer commercial space for long-term leasing. Mississippi’s 200th birthday celebration will serve as the redeveloped plaza’s debut event.

Wesley Muller: 228-896-2322, @WesleySMuller