Harrison County

House OKs action to save projects on Gulfport waterfront, harbor

TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALDBilly Hewes talks about the hard work that has gone into securing the Mississippi Aquarium so far, Friday, March 24, 2016.
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALDBilly Hewes talks about the hard work that has gone into securing the Mississippi Aquarium so far, Friday, March 24, 2016.

A bill passed the state House on Saturday that gives the city of Gulfport or its urban renewal agency, the Gulfport Redevelopment Commission, authority to sign long-term leases on seven projects where planned expenditures total $450 million.

The bill is now headed to the Senate for a vote.

On Thursday, the City Council struck a deal with the GRC to give the council more control over multimillion-dollar waterfront projects, such as the harbor casino and aquarium.

The council and GRC reached the deal as a result of the state Supreme Court's recent ruling that a local government can enter into long-term leases only with express permission from the Legislature.

The city had deeded expensive properties to the GRC under the erroneous impression the agency could enter long-term leases, but state law prevented the council from binding its successors to such deals.

Gulfport has deeded to the GRC its 57-acre Centennial Plaza on U.S. 90; 14 acres for a downtown aquarium along 90; the harbor casino site; and other properties.

The legislation lists all seven properties.

The city still owns one of the properties in the harbor where an elevated restaurant is planned. The city had planned to deed the property to GRC, but under the bill the city could keep the site and the City Council could sign a lease with a restaurant owner.

The GRC is negotiating with Bob Taylor, whose Gulf Coast Restaurant Group owns eight Half Shell Oyster Houses, to lease the site at the harbor's south end.

Anita Lee, Sun Herald staff writer, contributed to this report.

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