Harrison County

FunTime? Amusement park encounters obstacle to Gulfport return

GULFPORT -- The City Council might put the kibosh on FunTime USA's return to the beach this summer.

Residents all along the Coast have been excited by the potential reopening of the iconic amusement park Hurricane Katrina obliterated.

Rafe O'Neal, a member of the original FunTime family, and business partner Romy Simpson had hoped to reopen the park by June. They planned to build it on 3.5 acres across from the park's old location at U.S. 90 and Cowan Road.

But they needed a zoning change for a portion of the property, from light to major business use.

Councilman Ricky Dombrowski said he will oppose the zoning change. He said some of his constituents don't want the park near their homes. Other council members could go along with Dombrowski because FunTime would be in the area he represents, Ward 2.

"It's going to be a loud business and it's going be close to a residential area," he said. "I'm listening to my constituents on this particular one. I won't be supporting it."

He said FunTime could find property west of the proposed location that is already properly zoned. The developers plan to lease the space for the park.

Simpson said the Planning Commission has twice approved the zoning change -- once before the council rejected it and again after the council sent it back to the commission. The City Council could as early as March 22 consider the Planning Commission's second recommendation to approve the zoning change.

A portion of the property already is properly zoned for major business use, while another piece is zoned for smaller, neighborhood-type businesses such as an office or corner market. Zoning is not generally split on a single piece of property as it was here.

"We were told all we had to do was put in a request for rezoning, that it was a mistake and it would be taken care of," Simpson said.

Although FunTime is an amusement park, she said a go-cart track is the nosiest component. The track would go on the south end of the property, across from the beach and away from a residential area to the north.

"We want to be good neighbors," Simpson said. "We want to make a beautiful place."

David Comstock, the real estate broker for the FunTime deal, said he expects about 200 supporters to show up when the council considers the zoning change a second time.

"I think it's a great opportunity for Gulfport, and a whole lot of people want to see FunTime come back," Comstock said. "They're making a mountain out of a molehill. We're not trying to rezone the whole property, just part of it."

"Where else would you put FunTime? The problem is, if it doesn't go there, it will go to Biloxi."

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