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Gulfport may redevelop waterfront

The local casino with its sock hops, near-beachfront bungalows and the corner store where one can buy everything from corn flakes to tank tops _ those are just parts of the waterfront area that the city hopes to develop. But people who frequent Gulfport's waterfront district need not shudder at the mention of redevelopment.

The city has no plan to declare the area a "slum" and "blighted." Those were the designations Pinellas Park used to receive redevelopment grants _ designations that got the town in such hot water with its residents.

Gulfport does not plan to knock down the waterfront area and build something sparkling and new.

"It's kind of a quaint area," said Robert E. Lee, Gulfport city manager. And Lee said that is just what the city wants to preserve.

"What we're interested in doing is taking advantage of the resources we have down there," Lee said.

The Gulfport City Council has hired Glatting Lopez Kercher Anglin Inc. to study the waterfront area and draw up a redevelopment plan. On June 20 the city will hold the first of six public hearings for residents to tell the consultants what they think should be done in the area.

The Waterfront Redevelopment Plan will cover the general area along Beach and Shore boulevards, Lee said. The plan will cost the city $26,900.

"I think the emphasis is to maintain a quaint beach for residents," Lee said. "We're not trying to attract people from all over Pinellas County."

No specific plans have been made, but parking will be one of the biggest parts of the project.

Lee said Gulfport Beach is frequented by many longtime residents and many younger residents are moving into the city and going to the shops, the Gulfport Casino and the beach near Shore and Beach boulevards. He said parking often is scarce.

He said one of the objects of the redevelopment will be to make enough parking for business people, consumers and beachgoers.

Lee said businesses have already begun sprucing up facades. He said the plan would provide uniformity for the improvements.

Unlike redevelopment programs in some larger cities, Gulfport's Waterfront Redevelopment Plan will not be one to attract new businesses to empty storefronts. Lee said the city's waterfront is not suffering. He said that is why this is a good time to redevelop.

"Too often governments decide to invest in a redevelopment area, frankly, when it's too late," he said. "They put millions of dollars into an area and, in six months, it's boarded up.

"I think the redevelopment is a continuous process. We're just not going to go in and put in some money for one or two years and tell people they're on their own. . . . We're talking about seeing if we can make it better."