Harrison County

Centennial Plaza’s new look will be a ‘game changer’ when resort, 2 hotels open Aug. 5

It’s one of the prettiest sites in South Mississippi, with its campus of Spanish-style buildings on 50 beachfront acres shaded by graceful live oak trees.

How do you improve on that?

Centennial Plaza is getting better as buildings open again as part of the $100 million investment and new life emerges on the property that for years was a veterans hospital. Hospitality and entertainment are being added so both locals and tourists will think of the place as their own.

Just as they did when they brought the White House Hotel in Biloxi back from decades of neglect, crews from Barrington Development are restoring the old buildings, some of which were damaged by Hurricane Katrina and others by time. The craftsmen and Barrington, in partnership with Virginia attorney Robert Lubin, are moving toward the Aug. 5 opening of the hotels, restaurants and amenities.

“It’s a game changer,” said Josh Gregory, marketing consultant for Frontier Strategies, who recently toured the site. “There’s nothing else like it on the Coast,” he said. “It’s a destination of its own.”

Water playground

It’s been a year since work began at Centennial Plaza, turning two large, facing buildings into a 152-room Holiday Inn. An office building with a front desk is being built between them with the same Spanish architecture. The north building will have the restaurant and across the landscaped courtyard the south building will have a kids’ club with games, opening to the pool and water playground.

The water area, for hotel guests only, will have a a zero-entry pool, with a slope like a wave pool instead of a ledge. There will be a bar in the middle and a 950-foot lazy river on one side. Two waterslides will spill riders into the lazy river and 8 more waterslides will twist and plunge in the 13,000-square-foot splash pad.

The water park is what people are seeing as they drive past on U.S. 90, with its colorful surfer dude perched at the top.

At the quiet north end of the resort, a boutique-style Grand Centennial Hotel is being created, with 63 rooms in two buildings. It also will feature a wine bar and a gourmet pizza restaurant.

Blue Marlin seafood restaurant will open in the building up front, closest to the beach. French doors lead out to a balcony, where diners will enjoy sunset views over the water. The second floor will have a private dining room and a banquet room for parties and weddings.

‘I do,’ indoors or out

Right inside the front gate is the chapel where veterans once prayed and now will become a wedding chapel with its own catering kitchen.

Couples will be able to wed inside the chapel, on the front steps or at one of the many scenic areas at Centennial Plaza.

“The White House has proven that a lot of people want to get married outdoors,” said Cono Caranna, spokesman for Barrington Development. The Biloxi hotel hosts many weddings and receptions under a huge tent on the front lawn.

At Centennial Plaza, couples will be able to get their wedding photo taken on a bridge that crosses to an island in the middle of a pond and then have their reception indoors or out.

Park and walk

Centennial Plaza, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has served as Cruise Central for Cruisin’ The Coast for years, and Caranna said the east side of the resort will remain an open area for community events like Barbecue Under the Oaks and Cruisin’.

Sidewalks are being sculpted into the landscaped grounds to encourage visitors to walk among the buildings. The security fence on the beachfront side of Centennial Plaza will be replaced with decorative wrought iron fencing, and a large Spanish-style fountain, being built by craftsmen from Mexico, will be outfitted with lights, jets and music.

Get ready for more

While this work is under way at Centennial Plaza, Barrington Development continues to restore properties and add amenities in Biloxi and Gulfport. The projects include:

Work has just started to build another hotel tower and an amusement park at Margaritaville Resort Biloxi.

Crews continue to restore the former Santa Maria tower in downtown Biloxi into Watermark all-suites hotel, which also is scheduled to open this summer.

The Markham building in downtown Gulfport is being restored to become a Hyatt Place hotel near the Mississippi Aquarium that is under construction.

Centennial Plaza will be open by Labor Day weekend.

Mary Perez is the business and casino reporter for the Sun Herald and also writes about Biloxi, jobs and the new restaurants and development coming to the Coast. She is a fourth-generation journalist.