Harrison County

D'Iberville eyes BP money to build downtown conference center

D'Iberville has outgrown its civic center and wants to build a new conference center downtown, city planner Jeff Taylor said, and the city has applied for BP money to do so.

Tuesday night, the mayor and council voted to commit $5,000 in matching funds for a study of the project. Coast Transit Authority has a $20,000 grant for the study, said City Manager Bobby Eleuterius, and D'Iberville's match is 20 percent.

"Everyone tells us in order to get money you've got to have a plan," Eleuterius said.

The study will include architectural sketches to show how the conference center would fit in the French Market the city wants to build. It also will look at economic feasibility and how the center might be used. Taylor said it would move events such as D'Iberville's Cruisin' The Coast and BBQ Throwdown downtown to spur business in that area.

"It might have some outdoor space as well," Taylor said. "We're trying to study that."

The city's initial request not long after the 2010 BP oil spill was for $12 million, but Taylor said they realized that would not be enough. Acquiring the land and building the center will cost closer to $18 million, he said, and D'Iberville plans to leverage other income to get the project done.

"If it weren't for BP there wouldn't be MGM Park in Biloxi or an aquarium coming to Gulfport," he said. "If it weren't for BP we wouldn't stand a chance to build one of these on our own."

He envisions a multi-purpose center that could host a variety of events and seat 1,500 to 2,000 people, He's thinking it would be half again or twice the size of the new Biloxi Civic Center -- "not to compete with anyone else other than to meet our needs here in D'Iberville."

Taylor said the study also will look at building a 200- to 300-room hotel, "again, scaled to our needs."

A group of developers met this month with the City Council to discuss a proposed arena to house arena football and other activities. Taylor said the city-owned conference center is a separate project.

D'Iberville worked with CTA to develop a downtown plan that is transit-oriented, he said. That plan focuses on creating neighborhoods around the future French Market. Taylor said the conference center could be the public asset that stimulates downtown.

"It's the piece that's been mentioned in the city's renewal plan since '06," he said.