Harrison County

Spring-breakers not likely to rush Mississippi Coast

NATHAN LAMBRECHT/THE MONTIOR VIA ASSOCIATED PRESSSpring-breakers sit on the beach under flags from their universities March 17 at South Padre Island, Texas.
NATHAN LAMBRECHT/THE MONTIOR VIA ASSOCIATED PRESSSpring-breakers sit on the beach under flags from their universities March 17 at South Padre Island, Texas. AP

Spring Break for college students was barely a blip on the Coast's radar this year. But with beaches to the east of Mississippi clamping down, will those rowdy, and somewhat lucrative, crowds come here?

Probably not.

Although the state's Big 3 universities were on break last week, the weather on the Coast wasn't exactly inviting. A week earlier there were floods and by week's end it was cloudy and chilly.

To the east, Panama City Beach had banned alcohol from the beach and had enacted other restrictions to roll out the unwelcome mat to the wildest young partiers. It worked. Business was down.

Gulf Shores, Ala., followed suit with a ban on alcohol on its beaches until April 17.

But the Coast didn't make the list of alternatives being passed around on social media.

Tuesday, the sun was burning off the chill but Coast beaches were mostly empty. Thousands of kids were in town. They were fourth- through eighth-graders, though, who were holed up at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum. And besides, they were with the Jr. Beta Club, which is all about academic achievement, character and leadership -- not drinking, debauchery and other risky behaviors.

Arnettia Hopkins was with the 1,000 or so third-, fourth- and fifth-graders from Leake County Elementary, who were winding down with a trip to Sharkheads souvenir store in Biloxi. It was her first trip to the Coast.

"It was nice," she said of her night at South Beach Biloxi. "Quiet. Very relaxing."

Bumper-to-bumper traffic and thousands of intoxicated 20-somethings wouldn't be an attraction, she said.

The Coast will be host to a wilder party, though, the Biloxi Black Beach Weekend on April 8-10. But most of the events, including the Twerk Fest that kicks it off, are confined to the Coast Coliseum and its grounds. Its Facebook page had just over 9,000 likes but nothing guarantees they'll all come, or that they'll be all who will come.

Mississippi hasn't been exactly falling over itself trying to attract spring-breakers. Spring break isn't mentioned on GulfCoast.org, the website of Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast, the regional tourism bureau.

The city of Biloxi has no plans to pursue spring-breakers being run off by Panama City, said spokesman Vincent Creel.

Biloxi and Gulfport, the largest cities on the Coast, have been leading the way toward more family oriented entertainment to bolster its casino crowd. "One more day" is the mantra, and baseball, amusements, concerts, museums and an aquarium are the preferred attractions.

Gulfport is even being a little antsy about bringing back an amusement park that operated across U.S. 90 from the beach for years before Hurricane Katrina.

The Harrison County Board of Supervisors, which has jurisdiction over the biggest portion of beach in South Mississippi, has not discussed spring break, said Board President Connie Rockco.

"It hasn't come up," she said.

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