EDITORIAL: Marina Project

Our resort, beachfront community is about to have its own public marina. There is a plan in place to locate it at the foot of Main Street in Bay St. Louis. The project would extend from near the CSX Railroad Bridge all the way to de Montluzin Street. The site is directly in front of the downtown business district and the entire area is zoned for commercial usage.

During an editorial board meeting with the Sea Coast Echo, Bay St. Louis mayor Les Fillingame and members of the harbor committee said the project is a done deal. The city, county and state have all approved the project. Funding is in place. The only missing part of the puzzle is regulatory approval by the various environmental protection agencies. As soon as these groups sign off, the final plans can be prepared. Once the bids are let, following legal advertising of the project, construction will begin. Since the marina is obviously located over water, and will be on the other side of a new seawall, there should be minimal construction issues affecting the Beach Road and surrounding businesses.

The project has reached this point because of the determination of a handful of private citizens. They want to rebuild and to see Bay St. Louis prosper again. They think the marina will be the genesis of that re-birth, spurring other development and pulling people back to Bay St. Louis. They made it their mission to convince our city and county officials to endorse their vision. These same citizens then went out on their own and managed to secure funding for the marina from various state and federal agencies. They studied other marinas along the Gulf, picking and choosing from the best designs of each. A lot of hard, time-consuming work.

Now the city has taken the project and has hired an engineering team. It is a continually evolving project. The scope and size of the marina has already been reduced, and probably will change many more times before the first piling comes out of the water. Results of the environmental impact studies may very well dictate the final design. The other major factor will be the funding. If plans call for 150 slips and bids come in too high, then the number of slips would probably be reduced to keep construction costs in line with funding.

Is Main Street, between the Highway 90 and railroad bridges, the best location for a marina? Maybe, maybe not. It all depends on who you ask. A growing number of people think that the Washington Street Pier would be the logical site for a new marina. Boat ramps are already in place as well as parking. Washington Street also offers a direct link with Highway 90. And there would not be the issue of boats having to wait for the railroad bridge to open. Have trolley bus service between the marina, downtown and the depot area, they say. Extend the route to include Hollywood and Silver Slipper casinos and they just might help subsidize the trolleys.

So, where is the best spot? I do not have that answer. Persons far, far smarter than I, and with access to reams of study materials, have concluded that the marina should be built at the foot of Main Street. I hope and pray they are correct.

Operating and maintaining a marina will cost lots of money. Will the city operate the marina or will they hire an outside company? Will slip rental fees generate enough revenue? No one has all the answers, nor could they until the project is finalized. But this project has a huge advantage over most. There will be no debt service. It will be completely paid for when finished. Should not take very much revenue to cover insurance and other operating expenses. Imagine opening a new business and not having to make monthly mortgage or rent payments. This fact alone should ensure the success of the project.

I must admit to originally being more than a little skeptical about the entire deal. I thought the plans were just too grandiose. Now that the project has been scaled back to a more realistic size, I see an excellent potential for success.

The marina is a no-brainer. It will be a great asset for Bay St. Louis and all of Hancock County. Build it and they just might come!

BY: James R. “Randy” Ponder

The Sea Coast Echo

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