City opens door to private interest in Saenger

The Gilich administration, following up on suggestions from the public and members of the City Council, is seeking proposals from the private sector as an option to move forward with restoration and operation of the city-owned historic Saenger Theatre.

The city this week published a Request for Proposals seeking interest from developers who could be eligible for historic tax credits and other incentives as part of a partnership to purchase, lease or management the theater, a 1929-era, 900-seat venue that adjoins a proposed $54 million downtown mixed use development.

“There has been a great deal of discussion about this theater over the years and especially since the city was forced to close it 15 months ago because of safety concerns,” said Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich. “Some have proposed that we investigate the city not being the sole source of funding for repairs and renovation, and something like that could be possible through a management agreement. We’re going to open that door.

“But one thing I do know is that we cannot continue to let this theater continue to deteriorate.”

Councilmembers balked at Gilich’s proposal on June 4 to spend $2.3 million on initial repairs to the roof and flytower, the elevated brick structure atop the rear of the theater’s roof. The work was the first phase of stabilizing the exterior of the building. The next phase, albeit unfunded, would be the interior of the theater.

Councilmembers tabled the repair contract for 60 days, and during a half-hour discussion some questioned dedicating more than $2 million of a $14 million citywide bond to the theater for the overall cost of the Saenger repairs, and whether the theater should be demolished.

A week later, a standing-room audience of more than four dozen theater supporters, including longtime Saenger benefactor Gwen Gollotte, filed into City Hall to asked council members to take steps and develop a plan to renovate the theater.

“We know that there are people interested in saving this theater. I’m one of them,” Gilich declared. “Now we’re giving developers a chance to be a part of this theater, and we’re doing it in short order. We want to hear from you within the next few weeks.”
Video: Council’s Saenger discussion from June 4 meeting
Video: A bird’s eye view of the Saenger
Video: Gwen Gollotte’s remarks to council
See the June 4 contract that was tabled
See the Saenger Request for Proposals

News & notes: Point clean up, Sports Hall of Fame

Pick up the Point: On Saturday from 8 to 11 a.m. volunteers are invited to participate in Pick up at the Point, a clean up effort at the Point Cadet Plaza. Gloves and trash bags will be provides. Lunch will also be available. To see the flyer, click here.

Sports Hall of Fame: The deadline to submit nominations for the 2019 Class of the Biloxi Sports Hall of Fame is a week from today, June 29. If you know a retired athlete who contributed to the betterment of athletics in Biloxi, or a coach or individual who has played a supporting role for more than a decade, nominate them for the prestigious honor. For more information, click here.