City Council to receive final downtown plan

The Biloxi City Council this evening will receive the final draft of Biloxi’s Downtown Restoration Plan, an 85-page document that lays out a year-by-year timetable for progress, with identified funding sources for much of the work and a host of incentives for small businesses.

Much of the public focus to this point has been the proposed re-opening of Howard Avenue to two-way traffic with on-street parking, but it’s much more than that, says the team that has worked on building public consensus for the plan. 

“I like to think of it as a step-by-step roadmap to show how the city can implement small and doable, practical projects that can bring about the total restoration of downtown Biloxi,” said planner Lindsay Ward of the Southern Mississippi Development District, who worked on drafting the plan with city economic counsel and former Mayor Gerald Blessey.

And it’s not just about “downtown” Biloxi, Ward said: “The area that we’re looking at is the downtown district that includes the entire area from north of Division Street to the waterfront and all along Howard Avenue in between.”

A major portion of the plan is dedicated to incentives for development. “We actually have quite a few programs for communities and small businesses,” Ward said of the development district. “There’s a community development loan fund from $5,000 to $175,000 and a revolving loan program that offers from $2,000 to $500,000, depending on approval our loan committee and board. 

“With the plan itself and the funding opportunities, this is not an 85-page document that sits on a shelf. It’s a step-by-step holistic approach that shows how the city can implement every single recommendation.”

The development district, which presented a draft of the plan to the City Council in July, says restoring two-way traffic to Howard Avenue could be realized in four to six months once construction begins. Estimated cost: $1 to $1.5 million.

The plan also had a host of other recommendations for Year 1:

— Restoring the Saenger Theater and making use of an L-shaped alley that wraps around the theater

— Uncovering the authentic façade of the Barq Building and offering multi-use, affordable rent for small businesses and downtown residents in the building

— Enter public private partnerships to build camouflaged parking facilities in the downtown area, hosting retail shops on their ground floor

— Return Water Street, which runs east and west south midway between Howard and U.S. 90, to two-way traffic

— Create crosswalks at MGM Park and the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor

— Offer wi-fi throughout the downtown district.

The overriding message of the plan: Move away from the urban renewal project of decades ago, when the city attempted to diminish the impact of Edgewater Mall by converting streets to pedestrian traffic only.

In fact, the report said, a nationwide study by the Downtown Fresno Partnership found that such plans in cities across the country had an 89 percent failure rate and the overwhelming majority had restored two-way traffic or otherwise repurposed.

The report also said the city should stop referring to its downtown area as the “Vieux Marche,” another carryover from the urban renewal effort, and refer to the street simply as Howard Avenue.

The downtown plan will “lay the foundation for the city to restore downtown Biloxi back to its vibrant and historically authentic self.”
See the proposal for Howard Avenue 
Read the entire final draft of the plan
In a nutshell: Year-by-year
See images from the July presentation
Slideshow: A look at downtown Biloxi through the years 


News and notes: Cruisin’ and Lighthouse fair

Cruisin’ in Biloxi: Cruisin’ the Coast focuses on downtown Biloxi with a huge block party Wednesday morning and then on George Ohr with a “pit stop” at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art Wednesday afternoon. Both events are free. To see images of the preparation and a little more information about both events, click here

Arts and crafts fair:  On Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., shop with over 50 arts and crafts vendors as they sell their creations in and around the Biloxi Visitors Center while enjoying the vintage cars cruising U. S. 90. Children’s activities and Lighthouse tours will also be part of the affair. To see the flyer, click here