GULFPORT — If the dreams of some City Council members are realized, the Municipal Marina may someday sport a small hotel, observation deck and new restaurant.
These ideas and more were discussed at a recent council workshop where members were asked to consider the creation of a "marine lifestyle" for the area, according to the Director of Community Development Fred Metcalf.
"Where do you want (the marina) to be in 10 or 12 years?" Metcalf asked the council. "What would you like it to look like in 20 years? We're looking for your ideas."
Though recommended renovations to the marina, at 4630 29th Ave. S, are included in the 2014 Capital Improvement Plan, City Manager Jim O'Reilly noted that the workshop was designed to further the preparation of the Marina Master Plan, which the council adopted in January.
"This is your time," he emphasized. "Tell us what you'd like to see the marina look like in the years ahead."
Council member Christine Brown was the first to offer ideas. Saying she had "been waiting years for this opportunity," Brown submitted what she admitted was a "romantic vision" of the marina's future — a destination that would bring more visitors and tourist dollars.
By placing boxes of varying sizes strategically on the dais, Brown implored the council to imagine a 16-room hotel where the dry docks are now, and a family restaurant. She also envisioned a water tower or lighthouse powered with solar panels that could act as an observation deck and provide visitors with "stunning views of beautiful Boca Ciega Bay."
"There's no doubt we need to freshen up our waterfront," Brown said. "But as we go forward with the changes to the marina and the ship store, we need to keep in mind the look we want to create."
"Coney Island, Gulfport-style," council member Dan Liedtke mused.
Budget recommendations call for $870,000 to be allocated for Phase I projects scheduled to begin this year. Those include renovating and expanding the ship store ($700,000), updating the park and picnic area ($50,000), and installing 10 new 20,000-pound boat lifts ($120,000).
Additional improvements include dredging around the marina basin and the Boca Ciega and Gulfport yacht clubs (scheduled to begin in 2016), and renovating the dry storage area (2020), a project council member Michael Fridovich hoped would "happen sooner rather than later."
Council members responded enthusiastically to Brown's presentation, with some suggesting a transportation link from the marina to Gulfport's downtown area that would encourage visiting boaters and their families to patronize local restaurants and shops.
Residents who live on 29th Avenue S directly across from the marina wanted assurance that they would be informed of any potential changes to their neighborhood.
"We all want Gulfport to run like a big business," offered Linda Wallace, whose property would be affected by the addition of a hotel. "We just don't want to see that happen at the expense of the locals."
O'Reilly assured homeowners that they would be included in any review of plans that might call for a hotel and restaurant.
Mayor Sam Henderson, whose long-range suggestions included upgrades to Clam Bayou and a bicycle trail, cautioned that Gulfport not lose sight of the city's unique nature.
"Whatever changes we decide on," he said, "let's not gentrify the marina district."
Diane Craig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.