GULFPORT — The idea was simple: Create an on-call, free shuttle service in Gulfport to take residents and visitors downtown and help alleviate crowded parking.
Early in March, the Gulfport Merchants Association and the Chamber of Commerce presented the idea to the City Council. They had the electric cart and the plan, and they asked the city to kick in about $12,000 for start-up costs.
The council had questions, however: What about the city's involvement in a private enterprise? How would vehicles be dispatched, and what about insurance?
While council members showed interest in the proposal, they decided to discuss it further at its Thursday workshop.
"They raised some good questions. We knew there had to be other companies out there who had the answers and provided the kind of service we want to offer Gulfport," explained Biff Lagan, treasurer of the Gulfport Merchants Association and a member of Gulfport's Chamber of Commerce. "We had homework to do."
Their homework turned up Swoop Miami, a free shuttle service operating for five years in South Beach.
"They blew our socks off. Swoop Miami is doing what we want to do in Gulfport, and they're doing it with class and style. Plus, they've worked out the dispatching and insurance concerns council raised," Lagan said.
Would Gulfport's business community look to an outside company to operate a free shuttle in Gulfport? Lagan was adamant.
"We don't care who runs it, as long as they provide superior service."
If the merchants association and the chamber are able to work out an agreement with the Miami-based company, free shuttle service may soon be available in Gulfport.
And that request for city money?
"Don't need it," said Lagan. "Swoop Miami would provide the vehicles, the battery chargers, and the dispatching. The drivers, however, will be from Gulfport. We have folks lined up to volunteer."
City Manager Jim O'Reilly is excited about the possibility Swoop Miami represents. "I support any effort by the private sector that works for the betterment of the community," he said, adding the city might consider providing in-kind services if the need arises.
"That will be up to the City Council," O'Reilly added. "In the meantime, we look forward to seeing what our partners in the business community bring back to the table."
Caldwell Park welcomes additions: R.H. Caldwell Park, the 1-acre park at 64th Street and Gulfport Boulevard in Ward 3, has been transformed into a green space with something for everyone. City workers have installed colorful, new playground equipment for children and added exercise equipment for adults.
"It's the city's first dual-purpose playground where both kids and adults can utilize the equipment," O'Reilly said. "We're excited about the transformation," he said, adding that the park's upgrade was initiated by former Ward 3 council member, Jennifer Salmon. R.H. Caldwell Park is open from dawn to dusk.
Fresh Market loses coordinator: After only a year as operations manager of Gulfport's Tuesday Fresh Market, Laura Garrison resigned March 25. Daniel Hodge, who previously coordinated the market for four years, has stepped in as interim coordinator until a permanent replacement is identified.
"Everyone's worked hard to build the market, and we all want to see it continue. The market isn't just about one person — it's the vendors and Gulfport who have made it what it is today," Hodge said.
Market vendors with questions should call Hodge at (727) 366-4086. The market runs every Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Beach Boulevard.
Contact Diane Craig at [email protected]