Harrison County

Half Shell group trumps Felix's in New Orleans for harbor restaurant

HARBOR POINT PROPOSAL 
 The Gulf Coast Restaurant Group, which has eight Half Shell Oyster House restaurants, including the original downtown Gulfport location, submitted the winning proposal for a Gulfport harbor restaurant. The ground floor includes this beach patio with food vending, outdoor seating and other amenities around an elevated building.
HARBOR POINT PROPOSAL The Gulf Coast Restaurant Group, which has eight Half Shell Oyster House restaurants, including the original downtown Gulfport location, submitted the winning proposal for a Gulfport harbor restaurant. The ground floor includes this beach patio with food vending, outdoor seating and other amenities around an elevated building.

GULFPORT -- Half Shell Oyster House owners won out over Felix's Restaurant and Oyster Bar in New Orleans for a restaurant overlooking the beach at the south end of the city's harbor.

The two companies -- Half Shell owners Gulf Coast Restaurant Group and Felix's Gulfport LLC -- submitted proposals in response to a request from the Gulfport Redevelopment Commission. The GRC, the city's urban development agency, selected the Half Shell group's proposal and is negotiating a lease for the city-owned property.

Plans call for an elevated one-story building with an expansive deck, and a walkway along the beach below, possibly with a children's play area, food vendors, outdoor seating, daiquiri bar, seafood market and other amenities.

The GRC or the city plans to borrow money for construction, estimated at $5 million, with rental proceeds funding loan repayment. Plans are for the business to open in spring 2017.

Gulf Coast Restaurant Group "really did come with a great plan," GRC chairwoman Carole Lynn Meadows said. "It looks like a fun spot to be that would add to the harbor." She found the proposal creative and the financial backing solid.

Company president Bob Taylor said plans are in flux as the contract is negotiated, but he hopes to have retail space in the building, too.

The working name of the restaurant is Harbor Point. Taylor envisions a restaurant with 250 seats. Unlike other beach restaurants that sell appetizers and burgers, he said, Harbor Point would be a full-service restaurant with an elegant but casual feel.

Entree prices would be similar to those at Half Shell, where menu items range from $9 for a sandwich up to $28 for surf and turf. Harbor Point would offer different entrees from those at Half Shell, he said. The menu could include lobster, crab, steaks, chicken, salads, pastas and, possibly, steamed seafood.

Additional plans

Taylor opened the first Half Shell in downtown Gulfport. Today, there are eight Half Shells, including one in downtown Biloxi.

He also is working with the GRC on the city administration's plan to rent recreational equipment on the ground floor beneath the elevated restaurant. Taylor said family entertainment also would be part of the mix, possibly a volleyball court, kid's fishing rodeo and outdoor concerts.

The city plans to move the road near the restaurant site so the building will sit over the beach.

"We think the potential for events out there could be a very positive thing," Taylor said. "There's plenty of parking."

The restaurant owner also would be responsible for overseeing the harbor's fuel dock and bait shop.

Felix's proposal

The Gulf Coast Restaurant Group formed and took off after 2005's Hurricane Katrina, unlike Felix's, which opened in the French Quarter in the 1940s. Felix's specializes in oysters and seafood.

Danny Conwill, who was born and raised in Gulfport, bought the restaurant in 2012. He lives in New Orleans, where he works as the co-CEO of an international investment bank, but maintains a summer home in Pass Christian, according to a resumé he submitted to the GRC.

Conwill was out of the country and unavailable to comment. The proposal he submitted to the GRC said he would have experienced restaurateurs overseeing Felix's in Gulfport, including managers from Felix's and Copeland's of New Orleans.

"Felix's will provide the (harbor building) and the city of Gulfport a brand name and product widely recognized on the Mississippi Gulf Coast as a premier dining establishment and social hub catering to families, businessmen and young professionals," the company's proposal says.

The Sun Herald received the proposals through a request filed under the Mississippi Public Records Act. The GRC redacted all financial information from the proposal, including lease terms the applicants submitted.

The GRC and Gulf Coast Restaurant Group are negotiating a lease in private, as allowed by the state's open-meetings law.

A harbor restaurant would replace the old White Cap Restaurant that Katrina destroyed. The White Cap rebuilt on U.S. 90 across from the beach in Gulfport.

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