Plans to rebuild Gulfport’s Jones Park after Katrina

Published 6:10 pm Friday, July 7, 2006

In 1935, Grace Jones Stewart, an heir of Gulfport’s co-founder, Capt. Joseph Jones, donated the tract of land now known as Jones Park as a memorial to her late son to the city under the promise that it would only be used for recreation.

Since then, numerous forces have tried and failed to claim the park.

Donald Trump tried to put a casino on it. Rumors swirled when Jones’ heirs attempted to reclaim the land in 2001 that they also wanted to put a casino there. A Nashville producer, Robert Vernon, submitted plans to develop an audio, video and film production facility there.

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Every time, though, the city kept its promise to Stewart and limited everything but recreation on the picturesque setting at the bottom of 23rd Avenue.

Now that Katrina has leveled the area and all the recreation built there across the years — from Rice Pavilion to the Oceanarium — city leaders face the daunting task of being back at square one.

Mayor Brent Warr and members of the Jones Park Committee said last week they are not only up to the task, but the rebuilding will begin shortly.

With the help of landscape architect Christian Preus, designs are being finalized, Warr said, and residents can expect to see construction begin as soon as the end of this month.

Preus said he designed the park with Stewart’s ideals in mind.

“My goal was to make it a functional space for the community, incorporating different elements that would make it usable for multiple events,” Preus said, a place where people will tarry longer than they’d planned.

Almost everyone who has seen his drawings said they feel like he has succeeded.

“So far, everybody’s saying it’s a great idea,” Warr said. “This is all still subject to public, though.”

The current plan has mostly come from months of public discussions and planning sessions with city leaders. Warr expects the final price tag on the grand vision, which includes new boat ramps, an amphitheater and ample new fishing space, as well as extending 23rd Avenue into the park and widening it for parking, will be between $3 million and $5 million.

Warr said he does not expect the city’s taxpayers to fund the rebuilding and he hopes to raise all of the capital privately. To that end, the city of Chicago already donated $500,000 and an anonymous donor recently gave $1 million.

The first construction phase most likely will involve building a fountain, a pavilion and grading the park area, Warr said.

Melissa Warren, a member of the Jones Park Committee, said the committee members are excited about their plans and drew their suggestions from a lifetime of experience with the park.

“I played in that harbor as a child,” Warren said. “My parents would take me down there on the weekends and we’d cook out and I’d swing. The general feeling of the committee was, we want this to be a place for all people in Gulfport.”