Gilich goal: ‘Take care of the obvious,’ avoid stupid

Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich sounded familiar themes during his inaugural address Tuesday night, but he also let the Saenger Theater audience know about some guiding advice he’s picked up since becoming mayor two years ago: “Take care of the obvious,” and “if it’s stupid, we’re not going to do it.”

The mayor’s 17-minute address, where he touched on a host of major initiatives, was the highlight of an hourlong ceremony where the city’s seven councilmembers, including new Ward 7 representative Nathan Barrett, took the oaths of office. All officeholders, except for Barrett, who replaced retiring David Fayard, were re-elected in the May elections: George Lawrence of Ward 1, Felix Gines of Ward 2, Dixie Newman of Ward 3, Robert L. Deming III of Ward 4, Paul Tisdale of Ward 5 and Kenny Glavan of Ward 6.

Gilich decided to have the inauguration in the city-owned Saenger Theater, which opened in 1930 to vaudeville audiences, to illustrate the challenges of the downtown restoration efforts. The walls of the 900-seat theater were pocked-marked where rainwater intrusion had dislodged plaster.

Against that backdrop, the mayor discussed other “obvious” challenges. He cited the process of making progress and completing the Katrina infrastructure project in east Biloxi saying, “There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”  

The daily disruption and inconvenience of rebuilding water, sewer and drainage lines under 55 miles of streets is far from over, the mayor said. He pledged to continue to press contractors and manage the next round of infrastructure reconstruction differently, completing work in a specific area before moving to the next task.

Gilich also expected to complete long-term projects, such as a new main entrance to Keesler Air Force Base, the west Biloxi boardwalk and waterfront development, and building a new fire station in Woolmarket. He also pledged better accountability of the city-owned MGM Park. 

He mentioned his continuing effort to introduce high speed broadband internet service to the area, and the continuing issue of sand on U.S. 90. In fact, he held up a small plastic bag of sand he recently scooped up from Miami Beach and compared it a bag of sand from Biloxi, which was scooped up from a turning bay on U.S. 90 near the Biloxi Lighthouse, not the Biloxi beach.

Gilich said it’s time to restore parts of Biloxi’s past to help encourage economic development downtown. He called the historic but deteriorating Saenger Theater “a jewel” in need of restoration but admitted it’s been difficult finding the money to make it happen. Gilich said the city will continue in its attempts to secure $2 million from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

“We haven’t been successful, but we’re going to keep bulldogging it,” Gilich told the crowd gathered in the theater.

Gilich said restoring the Saenger is part of his plan to re-introduce two-way traffic to nearby Howard Avenue and breathe new life into the downtown area.

The mayor also pointed to what he called another obvious challenge for the city, to deal with the issue of homelessness. The City Council recently stopped short of approving a plan to convert a former west Biloxi school, Beauvoir  Elementary School, into a homeless resource center. The idea is not dead, the mayor said: “The homeless problem is complex but must be addressed. We can’t duck the issue.”
See photos from the inauguration
See video of the mayor’s speech
See the inauguration program
See the mayor’s original draft
City Desk: Hear the mayor, post-inauguration