Holloway discusses Tullis veto, rebuilding progress

Here is the prepared text of Mayor A.J. Holloway’s speech to the Gulfport Business Club, a presentation made on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2007 at the Bayou Bluff Tennis Club in Gulfport.

First, I want to thank the Gulfport Business Club for inviting me to speak today.

I thought I was going to be late, to be honest with you.

First I got pulled over by the Gulfport police, and then I got bogged down in that moat they’re building over by Mayor Warr’s house. It looks like it might be a casino site, Mayor.

I suppose the most-talked-about issue that we’ve had in Biloxi in the past year was the proposed re-zoning of nearly 30 acres of land near the Tivoli hotel in east Biloxi.

There’s a lot more going on, which I plan to discuss today, but let me address that first. I’ll also touch on a few other things and save plenty of time for your questions.

I have long been an advocate of property rights, but at the same time I have a responsibility and an obligation to look at the impact on the overall city.

For many people it all boiled down to three things – location, location, location.

Casinos are the engine driving our economy, but I want to be a city with casinos, not a casino city.

Allowing a casino on land exclusively north of the beach would have opened a wide door that would have put immense pressure on the city council, would have been unfair to the existing market, and would have negated the millions of dollars we have invested in new roads and infrastructure on Back Bay in east Biloxi.

I think it’s incumbent upon us to try to strike that balance that we had before the storm. That is, that we have land zoned for casinos and land zoned for other uses.

Issues like this are going to continue to come up in Biloxi and in other cities along the Coast.

As much as people talk about having plans and blueprints and smart growth, property owners are entitled to due process.

They have the right to make requests for any use of their land. Getting approval is another matter.

Right now, we have architects working on 10 major public facilities in Biloxi.

They include a new Visitors Center and Lighthouse Park, which will be located north of the Biloxi Lighthouse, renovations to the Biloxi Community Center on Howard Avenue, and at the same time a new, larger community center planned for across the street form the current community center.

We also have architects drawing up construction plans for the repairs to the Biloxi Lighthouse, the Old Brick House, fire stations on Back Bay and Point Cadet, City Hall and the City Hall annex, the Magnolia Hotel across from Mary Mahoney’s, the downtown Biloxi Library, which will be turned into a civic center, and restoration of the administration building at the small craft harbor.

In all, those projects will account for tens of millions of dollars in construction, once we get to that phase. They’re going to give us city facilities that are going to be better than they were before the storm.

Right now, there are two projects in particular that the public is watching. We’re in the midst of a $6.5 million, 180-day project that will see a new Biloxi Small Craft Harbor.

Another project being anxiously awaited is the 2.6 million dollar restoration of the Biloxi Community Center, which is scheduled to be back online in time to host Mardi Gras balls in January.

I suppose the big news is how much construction that we’ve been seeing throughout Biloxi.

In fact, today, I announce to you that we are approaching the billion-dollar mark in construction permits issued in the 25½ months since Katrina.

As of Friday, we had issued more than 977 million dollars in permits. And I’m happy to say that more than half of that figure — 532 million dollars — is non-casino and non-condo construction.

We’ve issued a total of nearly 20,000 permits of one type or another since Katrina.

We’ve issued right at 49.7 million dollars in permits for new homes, which translates into 331 new homes since Katrina.

Keep in mind we lost 6,000 homes and businesses since the storm, so we have a ways to go. But we’re getting there.

All of you know the issues – the cost of insurance, if you can get insurance, the cost of construction, and the new flood elevations.

Right after the storm, I’d said that some areas would rebuild quicker than others.

For some, it would be months, for some it would be years, and for some, it may never happen because it might not be the right thing to do – allowing people to rebuild in harm’s way, in low-lying flood zones.

We still await the new flood maps, by the way, to help finalize the elevations and enlarged flood zone. The elevations are one thing, but people tend to overlook that second issue, the enlargement of the flood zone.

The preliminary maps, which our council has resisted enacting, will have most of Point Cadet in a flood zone.

That’s why I think we should consider this Corps of Engineers buyout proposal very carefully.

Another thing that I said after the storm was that we could see as many as 18 to 22 casinos in Biloxi in a matter of years.

I stand by that statement, but the key is to have they located in areas already zoned for casinos.

There’s a great deal of land along the Bay in east Biloxi that is unused and zoned for casinos.

I guess the bottom line that I’m here to tell you is this, and it’s been my consistent message since the day after the storm: Biloxi and the Mississippi Gulf Coast were not broke or broken before the storm.

Today, as we go about our recovery from Katrina, we’re building on the things that we were doing RIGHT before the storm.

Now, I’ll be happy to take your questions.