Around the GO Zone in 60 Seconds: Catching Up Edition

I’ve been faithfully saving news links of interest but have been short on time to gather them in a coherent post so today I’ll throw several out for your reading pleasure.

First off is the historic Grass Lawn property and movement in the rebuilding process. Ryan LaFontaine filed the story for the Sun Herald:

City Hall is searching for a construction company to build a detailed replica of the historic Grass Lawn mansion. 

The antebellum home, built in 1836, meant so much to Gulfport that the old house had its own place on the city’s official seal.

Hurricane Katrina wrecked the mansion in 2005, washing away more than a century’s worth of history. Last week, the council authorized City Hall to solicit construction bids.

The city already has insurance and FEMA money to rebuild Grass Lawn, and earlier this year, the City Council voted unanimously to award a design contract to architect Frank Genzer.

Then in April, the council voted against accepting a $500,000 grant from the state Department of Archives and History to help rebuild the mansion. But two weeks later, after several days of what some council members considered unfair media scrutiny, the council voted 6-1 to accept the money.

The city plans to build an exact replica of the 3,600-square-foot Grass Lawn, using pieces of the old house that were salvaged after Hurricane Katrina.

Next up is Buccaneer State Park and plans to fast track the repairs and restoration at Waveland’s own and Mississippi’s pre Katrina highest grossing state park. Given it was the State Park Service’s “No. 1 money-maker” you gotta wonder why the foot dragging to begin with but we find out the dirty 4 letter word, FEMA. J.R. Welsh filed the report:

What was once Mississippi’s most popular state park lies stripped and closed nearly three years after Hurricane Katrina, but members of a state Senate committee agreed Tuesday to seek funding that could expedite reopening the park by as much as two years.

In a meeting held in a Quonset tent at Buccaneer State Park, members of the Senate Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Committee decided to recommend an $18 million state bond issue to speed up critical repairs needed before the park can reopen. The decision offers new hope to a park whose famous waterslide, wave pool and campgrounds once drew thousands.

“This was our No. 1 money-maker,” said Noel Hughes, director of intergovernmental and community services for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.

Prior to Katrina, Buccaneer pulled in revenue of more than $1 million annually, officials said, and the park netted more than $200,000 after operating expenses. That made it the highest grossing among Mississippi’s 25 state parks.

The hurricane devastated Buccaneer and made a shambles of the wave pool. Only partial remains of the waterslide still stand. Plans to renovate the infrastructure, buildings and amenities are contained in three phases that could take years to complete under the current agreement with FEMA.

In addition, there will be funding shortfalls and more red tape, even with FEMA reimbursing many costs up to 75 percent.

Senate committee member Ezell Lee (D-Picayune) and committee Chair Tommy Gollott (D-Biloxi) expressed concern over the extended schedule as well as the time delays. They agreed seeking $18 million in general-obligation bonds would allow the state to pay more quickly for repair services without waiting for FEMA’s help in each phase.

FEMA would help, but the department could move much more quickly with contracts and repairs.

“This had been unbelievably slow. It has been just hurdle after hurdle with FEMA,” said Ramie Ford, director of state parks. “All the guidelines have continued to change, which is why we are here three years later and haven’t gotten anything done.”

Repairs are expected to cost about $17.6 million, Ford said. Park infrastructure costing $5.4 million has begun and should be completed by the end of this year, but that still leaves two phases.

Under current procedures and without bonds, “I don’t think you could do it by 2010,” said Gollott, who plans to instruct Senate staffers to put together legislation for state bonds, including repayment provisions. Repayment also could be expedited by restoring the park’s lost $1 million in annual revenues.

The package will then be presented to Gov. Haley Barbour with a request that he add it to the next special-session call. The Legislature returns Aug. 4.

State Sen. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, also attended, although he is not a committee member. “Obviously, this is a facility that’s critical for my district,” he said following the meeting. “I’m excited that it seems like there is a fast-track solution.”

I wonder how that worked out since the legislature adjourned early?

Back to Gulfport and the anti Brent Warr faction on the Gulfport City caving on the appointment of George Schloegel to the Gulfport Development Commission (note no economic in the title) which will be charged with redeveloping down town Gulfport. I showed Nowdy the potential of the downtown area as shown in this picture of the Petro rebuild. Unfortunately she also saw gutted buildings and blight closer to Highway 49 with the exception of the headquarters of Hancock Bank which is very attractive and well done. Ryan LaFontaine had the story for the Sun Herald:

The Warr administration Tuesday appointed five new members to the Planning Commission and a popular banker to the Development Commission, but not before locking horns with the City Council. 

The appointment of George Schloegel to the Development Commission first made headlines last month when the council issued a split vote on whether to approve the Hancock Bank president during a meeting that Mayor Brent Warr described as “absolutely ridiculous.”

Recent appointments to both commissions have caused months of conflict between the administration and the City Council, and at Tuesday’s session, the two sides seemed to pick up where they left off earlier this month.

Councilwoman Barbara Nalley said the council had been “intimidated” into voting for Schloegel, although she wouldn’t say where the intimidation came from.

The council voted 5-2 to approve Schloegel. Nalley and Councilwoman Ella Holmes-Hines voted against the appointment.

When Tuesday’s meeting began, Warr asked to move the appointments up on the agenda so that the appointees would not have to sit through the lengthy council session.

Council members Brian Carriere, Neil Resh, Nalley and Holmes-Hines voted against the request. That was at 2:45 p.m.

Two hours and 30 minutes later, the council voted on the mayor’s appointments.

After sitting through hours of subdivision changes and utility easements, the five appointees listened as Nalley urged the council to deny them all.

“If we had one (appointee) brought to us today, instead of five, you’d be getting a positive vote from me,” she said.

Nalley said now was a bad time to appoint five inexperienced commissioners.

“This is the third time I’ve attempted to make appointments; the first two times they were denied for another wealth of different reasons,” Warr said. “These five appointees have lived here in this community for years and they can be engaged on day one to make effective decisions.”

Nalley’s push to deny Warr’s appointments was backed only by Holmes-Hines.

The petty politics in Gulfport is amazing. What a waste of time and talent that could be serving the citizens of the City.

Speaking of Gulfport style petty politics the City Council went completely schizophrenic in their vote to send a letter to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in support of saving the library structure. Our readers may remember this as the same group that voted twice to give the land to the county under the condition the building be demolished. While I’m happy for the library group me thinks I detect a particularly odorous political subplot involving the Gulfport City Council and the County governments. It’s time to pop some popcorn, pull up a chair and watch the train wreck IMHO. Ryan LaFontaine filed the story for today’s Sun Herald:

The City Council voted 4-3 Tuesday to send a letter to the state Department of Archives and History supporting its consideration to declare the downtown library a historic landmark.

 Tuesday’s vote came one month after the Harrison County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to ask the council to send a letter to the state objecting to designating the building a landmark.

Council members Neil Resh, Barbara Nalley, Brian Carriere and Ella Holmes-Hines voted to send the letter to the state.

How much the City Council’s support will mean is unclear, since the same council voted unanimously to give the land to the county last year.

The county owned the building, and the city owned the land. The city’s decision to deed the land to the county was so it could get FEMA funds to move the library. One of the stipulations of the donation was that the county tear down the building.

Last month, county leaders said it would cost too much to insure and maintain the building. Also, the county plans to build a new main library in Orange Grove. If the current building is used as a library, FEMA officials have said the county will lose the money to relocate.

The supervisors voted unanimously despite pleas from We the People, a group of local activist determined to save the library.

It’s back to Bay St Louis for the next story involving a historic structure rising from ruin. Affictionados of our historic black culture and music will no doubt find the story interesting. JR Welsh reports on James Brown, Joe Tex and the 100 men DB Association building in the Bay:

This is a love story – love of history, music and architecture, and all the people whose memories and visions make them unlikely partners in a puzzle. 

It centers around an 86-year-old building called the 100 Men Hall, at 303 Union St. Tucked away at the end of a small lane and across a field behind the Bay St. Louis Train Depot, the hall was almost lost to time and nature.

Now it’s being rescued by Jesse Loya, a local contractor, and his wife, Kerrie. “I couldn’t get away from it,” said Jesse, who saved the wood frame building from demolition after Hurricane Katrina.

The Loyas learned there’s not much official history to be found on the hall or the group that built it. The Hancock County Historical Society has a single file photo of the building. But the Loyas have learned bits and pieces about the old structure and its 3,500 square feet, tin roof and 13-foot ceilings.

From an old cornerstone found on the property, they know a group called the 100 Men DB Association, organized in April 1893, built the hall. The building was erected in 1922 and dedicated on July 16, 1923. It served for decades as a vibrant center for the black community.

In the 1960s and ’70s, the hall was a magnet on the “chitlin’ circuit,” drawing some of the greatest names in rhythm and blues. The circuit was an unofficial string of venues in the South and East Coast where black musicians – many of whom went on to become famous – performed from the late 1800s into the 1970s.

They came to the Bay and rocked the joint. Local citizens recall dancing to music by the likes of Joe Tex, James Brown, Solomon Burke and many others.

“Oh, my Lord, yes. We grew up there. That’s where we danced,” said Charles Johnson, a member of the St. Rose de Lima gospel choir and a former Bay city councilman.

Johnson said the hall also was used for gospel concerts, civic events and political gatherings. He recalls dancing there to music by King Floyd, a New Orleans singer whose 1970 hit, “Groove Me,” was an R&B chartbuster.

“When I was a teenager, I attended all those dances there,” said Paula Fairconnetue, who remembers dancing to live music by artists including Tex, Brown and Archie Bell and the Drells. Bell’s hit record, “Tighten Up,” topped the Billboard R&B chart in 1968.

Finally we end up at Stennis Space Center and another media mention of the budding I-10 Aerospace Corridor in the Sun Herald. Tammy Smith filed the story:

The central Gulf Coast is poised for an exciting future as an aerospace corridor from Louisiana to Florida.

“There are so many ingredients out here for making the brightest future possible, and all we’ve got to do is have a little nudge,” said Leroy Barnidge, vice president of state and local government relations, Air Mobility Systems, for Northrop Grumman. “A little nudge that will cause it to all come together into a corridor across this central Gulf Coast that will make this thing go gangbusters.”

That nudge could be contract approval for Northrop Grumman to build the KC-45 aerial refueling tanker to replace aging Air Force tankers, he said.

Barnidge was one of the speakers at “Economic Outlook: A Midyear Assessment for South Mississippi and the Gulf Coast,” sponsored by The Peoples Bank and presented by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Southern Mississippi College of Business.

“The airplane industry, I believe, is the thing that shocks this thing into life,” he said.

Within the 300-mile area, he sees a wealth of related industries at four key sites: Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, Brookley Industrial Complex in Mobile and NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

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