Hard Candy – Blue Gold

This originally appeared in print and online editions of the June 20, 2013 Gabber Newspaper

Things come full circle, and it seems, in Gulfport, the key to our future is by honoring our waterfront past. Specifically, it’s time we returned to making our living off the water. Kudos to Ward Two Councilwoman Christine Brown for realizing that our waterfront isn’t living up to its “highest and best use.”
After what felt like an eternity discussing outdoor furniture fabric and the exact geographic location of trash cans at 7:01 p.m. on trash day (it seems like we pay staff to do that, or at least we should) city council finally decided to talk about something that could truly yank our lovely sleepy town into the 21st century: upgrading our marina and capitalizing on our waterfront.
I realize I’m teetering on the edge of nominating myself president of the Christine Brown Fan Club, but she’s just making so much damn sense. I’m completely enchanted by her idea for the marina district, marina upgrades, and unifying our waterfront. I’m thrilled that someone finally has the chutzpah to say “you know what, we could do a lot better” and apoplectic with joy that she presented a plan to do exactly that.  
When council held its workshop about the marina, she came loaded for bear. She didn’t come to talk about little things; she came to talk about an overhaul of our waterfront.
Here’s what she sees: commerce, people, and preservation. She’s not looking to change things so much it ruins what makes that district cool; her plan would enhance the area. She’s talking about – hold onto your hats – using our waterfront to our advantage. She wants to take a boat parking lot – and don’t get me wrong, I love our our secure dry storage area – and turn it into a boutique hotel and restaurant. She’s talking about consolidating the Lion’s Club and other buildings that don’t enjoy full-time use into one new building on the water and using that existing space for waterfront activities instead of indoor training classes and pancake breakfasts (no disrespect to the pancakes, but I’m pretty sure they’d taste just as yummy in another building) . She thinks we should connect the marina – which will soon allow liveaboards – with our downtown so that people can more easily get there and see how awesome the rest of the our town is, too.
I said this two weeks ago, but it bears repeating: I love this idea so much I want to creep into its backyard, peer through its window, and watch it sleep.
So let’s have a real conversation about our marina, shall we? It’s a great moneymaker now, but let’s talk about how great it could be for everyone. Liveaboards alone will help fill the city’s coffers with higher slip rent and money spent in the ship store; add a hotel where boaters who can’t sleep on their boat can stay and you’ll see even more boats in the marina for a few days at a time. The Peninsula Inn and Seabreeze Bed and Breakfast are phenomenal, but they don’t have enough beds. We don’t need high rise resorts, but an extra 20 rooms or so wouldn’t hurt, and they’d definitely stay booked.
Observation tower disguised as a water tower at the marina? Genius. While Councilwoman Jennifer Salmon criticized the water tower as inappropriate, consider that Interstate 75 has historically guaranteed that Florida’s west coast gets most of its visitors from the midwest. I guarantee that midwesterners know what a water tower means.
The Mayor expressed concerns about ruining the view. Marina district residents have a great view of sailboats, and those few who do have water views will keep them. I’m pretty sure that the folks staring at the Lion’s Club and the boats in dry storage can live with an upgraded view.
As for the Coney Island endeavor on the beach? A ferris wheel and merry-go-round on Gulfport beach? Um, legen –  wait for it – DARY. I see it as a vintage experience for people, a chance to recapture their summers on the boardwalk. Who wouldn’t love that? I’d take it a step further: let’s add carnival-style games and a splash park and water slide.
Because – let’s be honest here – no one comes to our beach for the pristine waters. We are, as the Chamber president once said to me, a “bay beach”, which means that locals don’t swim in the water because they know Pass-a-Grille and Fort DeSoto have better sand. But put a Coney-Island style endeavor there and, hello, jackpot.
So, as the good councilwoman said at the workshop, are you still with me? A tiny hotel by the marina, the only waterfront restaurant in Gulfport, a Gulfport-style boardwalk-type playland on the sand, and a bike-friendly path that connects all these things.
Lease the property for a hotel and a restaurant and ask for a share of the profit. We could do the same with any concessions on the beach. Market our waterfront as an “escape to a vintage Florida seaside” and pretty soon we’d be having arguments about how to spend the extra money, not whether or not we could afford a kids librarian.
Right now we get lots of press, but we need something more than a heavy dependence on our awesome restaurants, handful of great boutiques, and celebrate-everything-but-water-bill-day festivals to keep people coming back. We need this. This would be different. It would be awesome. I mean, rolled-in-chocolate-and-dipped-in-sprinkles awesome.
So what happens next?
Nothing. I don’t expect any of what she suggested will happen unless you write your councilmembers – all of them – and tell them you support Councilwoman Brown’s plan.
We need this if we want to stay on the map. Without a host of sprawling resorts or condominium canyons (which we don’t want, I think we can all agree), we don’t have a large tax base. So we need revenue. Sales tax is good, but isn’t enough, but our marina is now and always has been the source of our artificially low tax rate. It is a veritable gold mine. Er, blue mine.
I say we send in the miners.

Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.

Contact your Gulfport councilmembers:

Published by


I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.