A $6.6 million parking garage on the east side of downtown Gulfport was supposed to produce income, free downtown parking spaces and provide shuttle service, but those promises were unsustainable.
Weekdays, the 550-space garage is about 10 percent full and weekends, it's mostly empty except during the occasional special event in Jones Park.
The shuttle service didn't last. "There was not enough ridership to sustain it," said Kevin Coggin, executive director of Coast Transit Authority.
Now, CTA is sinking more federal funds — almost $9 million — into a transit center just south of the parking garage.
And it plans to spend another $9.8 million, with the first $2.6 million already in hand from the Federal Transit Authority, on a bridge that will run from the parking garage across U.S. 90 to Jones Park, the harbor and beach. The bridge would accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists and trams.
Coggin said the center will serve as a hub for buses, trolleys, trams and foot traffic, much of it expected from the Mississippi Aquarium being built next door.
"The aquarium is going to be a game-changer," Coggin said. "There will be parking in that garage every day going to the aquarium."
CTA expects to award a bid later this month for reconstruction of the old downtown library, a state landmark heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina, to serve as the transit center.
The center will include public space, CTA passenger seating, a conference room available to the public, a food court, office space and classrooms.
Passionate residents lobbied city officials to save the iconic building after Harrison County spent designated disaster funds to relocate the library to higher ground. It will be restored to its previous appearance, down to the koi ponds at the entrance and interior helical staircase.
The transit center and aquarium should be completed at about the same time, in late 2019 or early 2020.