Arlean Hall can't survive hurricane


By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor

More than 2½ years after striking the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Katrina has claimed another structural victim -- Arlean Hall.


The Executive Committee of the Mississippi Conference United Methodist Women voted in January not to rebuild the 44-year old building located on the grounds of Seashore United Methodist Assembly in Biloxi.


"It was going to cost between $2.3 million and $2.5 million to rebuild it," said Mary Beth Bounds of Pearl, chair of the Arlean Hall Board of Directors. "That didn't include architect fees or furnishing or anything."


In addition, Bounds had reported at the UMW Annual Meeting in October that insurance on the building would cost about $40,000 per year. The storm not only gutted the first floor of the two-story building but also caused structural damage. The facility sits just across U.S. 90 from the Mississippi Sound.


Arlean Hall opened in 1964. Two years earlier, the idea of a building on the coast dedicated to United Methodist Women was born. In the two years prior to it's opening, some 10,000 women gave 10 cents per member per month to fund the project. Once completed, the building served as a place for meetings and retreats not only for UMW, but others groups as well. It featured meeting rooms on the first floor and 28 guest rooms on the second floor.


The decision was announced in the UMW newsletter The Beacon. Bounds and UMW conference President Jackie Pennington of Cleveland said they've gotten one comment each from UMW members about the decision, and both said the comment was supportive.


"I guess people see the reality of the money it would cost to rebuild," Pennington said. "There just really weren't a lot of options."


Both women said maintaining the building had become difficult financially. Arlean Hall sustained hurricane damage in the 1980s, and took until 1998 to pay off the debt on those repairs. Income from use of the building had not met expenses for several years.


The next step is uncertain. The UMW has offered the building "as is" to Seashore, which holds a 99-year lease through 2063. While not officially turning down the offer.Seashore officials have indicated they do not want the building in its current state, Pennington said. Under terms of the lease, UMW would have to pay to have the building razed.


Bounds said the board is in the process of getting bids for that work.


As the Arlean Hall era closes, Bounds and Pennington said it is unlikely for UMW to take on another similar building project.


"We did good things at Arlean Hall and had a mission there, but the cost of the building and managing it could be better spent carrying out more mission work in other places and ways," Pennington said.