GULFPORT — Downtown is a great place to visit — if you can find it.
Nestled blocks away from Gulfport Boulevard, its charming restaurants and shops are treasures often discovered only by chance.
More than two years ago, the Waterfront Redevelopment Advisory Board and the city decided to change that and install an attention-grabbing sign in Clymer Park, the gateway to downtown.
City Council, at a recent workshop, chose the sign and the artist.
The winning design was created by Tom Pitzen, a Gulfport artist and custom cabinetry designer. It's an 8- by 20-foot concrete relief depicting all things Gulfport — including a gecko, a palette, a flamingo, sailboats and comedy and tragedy masks.
"It has all the things I love and other people love about Gulfport, done in a fun and whimsical way," said Pitzen, who came to Gulfport nine years ago from Columbus, Ohio.
Pitzen, who also created the artsy palm tree that stands in front of the Neighborhood Center on 49th Street S, said he tried to carry that theme onto the new sign.
And while the council's vote-by-hands to choose the winning sign at the workshop seemed an abrupt end to a yearslong, vetted-from-all-directions process, the sign, with its many elements, has promise of fulfilling the original aim of the waterfront board: branding the city.
"The point was to bring attention to Gulfport," said Lori Rosso, president of the Chamber of Commerce and chair of the waterfront board.
The council chose Pitzen's design from five submissions it received after advertising for entries.
There was some trepidation about making a final decision on such an important element in the city.
"I hate for us to unilaterally make a decision," council member David Hastings said. "Can the waterfront redevelopment people weigh in?"
But he was overruled by the others, whose grumbling in response to his question signaled they were more than ready to finally get this project off the table.
"There are so many bigger issues in Gulfport that council has had to deal with in the last few months," Rosso said. "There comes a time when you need to make a decision; you need to move forward."
Pitzen, who will be given $11,000 in waterfront funds for the project, said it should be completed in about two months.
In other business, the council also discussed the proposed ban on smoking on the beach and city parks, an issue brought up by Hastings, a cancer survivor. It is a move to cut down on litter and safeguard residents against secondhand smoke.
Hiring a magistrate to handle code enforcement issues is also under consideration. The aim is to put some muscle behind code violators to force them to comply. The way it works now, cited residents appear in court and pay a fine, often without fixing the violation — at least immediately.