GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) — The historic downtown library in Gulfport is being incorporated into the city’s plans for a major aquarium development that will cost $90 million to $120 million.
Mayor Billy Hewes said the library would become a welcome center and transit area for residents and tourists who visit the aquarium and Gulfport’s waterfront.
Gulfport has spent more than $14 million into downtown facade restorations and landscaping and about $40 million spent on the harbor. Federal Katrina relief paid for most of those improvements.
The city needs to find up to $80 million more if cost estimates for the project are accurate. Hewes is banking on funding from the Restore Act that coast localities expect to receive as a result of the BP oil spill.
The state is providing $24.5 million from a bond bill awaiting the governor’s signature.
The city took out a short-term loan to buy the property, intending to repay it with ticket sales and possibly other aquarium proceeds. Chief Administrative Officer John Kelly said only interest on the loan would be paid until the aquarium is built, hopefully in three to four years.
Hewes and Kelly said the tentatively named Mississippi Aquarium would be a regional draw, adding to Coast attractions such as casinos, Infinity Science Center in Hancock County, the Biloxi Shuckers baseball stadium, Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs, and ecotourism along the Pascagoula River.