Holloway: People realize Biloxi has a promising future

Here is the text, as prepared, of Mayor A.J. Holloway’s presentation to a group of investors, delivered Oct. 26, 2006 at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino.

Good morning and welcome to Biloxi and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

I used to say that at least once a week to convention groups, but for the past year I’ve been sort of tied up with other things, as you may have heard.

But your presence here today – and the promising signs that we’re seeing in our economy – tells me that we’re going to be back in the swing of things in due time.

If you read the local paper this morning, you could see it for yourself – talk of the homeowners grant program, and Harrah’s and the Choctaws, to name a couple of the top issues.

The fact is, that you’re seeing all of this intense interest in Biloxi because people realize the promising future that we have.

People see that the casino resorts operating in Biloxi have been generating record levels of gross gaming revenue.

Back in May, three of the Biloxi casinos generated 78 percent of the revenue that NINE of them were generating before the storm.

In June that figure rose to 83 percent, and in July it was 99 percent of the pre-Katrina revenue, and that was with only five of nine casinos operating.

And the biggest news was last month, when seven of the nine pre-Katrina Biloxi casinos generated $95 million gross gaming revenue, the largest amount in the history of legalized gaming in Biloxi.

That’s why you’re seeing the interest and the talk about Biloxi and our future.

The casino resort industry – and let’s not forget that word “resort” because these are more than casinos.

The casino resort industry is the engine moving the train, but it’s not the whole story.

Right now, our Community Development Department has 26 – more than two dozen – condominium projects under some level of review.

We had 561 condo units in Biloxi before the storm, and construction was underway on another 500.

But the big news just before the storm was that we had 3,100 on the drawing boards. Today, those 26 projects at one stage of review or another, represent nearly 10,000 condo units. That’s a heck of a lot of interest.

On the residential construction front, we expect to see activity pick up as more and more homeowners grants make their way from the state capital to the homeowner.

But don’t get the idea that we’re sitting on how hands down here in Biloxi.

On Wednesday, the day before yesterday, I was in New Orleans to participate in a panel discussion with the editor of USA Today.

He wanted to know about media coverage in the aftermath of Katrina, and, of course the question came up comparing the case of New Orleans and Biloxi.

As I told him, I could see how the national media was fascinated with the New Orleans story.

You had all of the issues – talk about the delay in the federal, state and local response, the levees breaking, the issues at the Superdome and convention center, the looting and people trapped on their rooftops for days in some cases.

Over here in Biloxi, though, I think we have a compelling story, and I think it’s something that those of you here today need to keep in mind.

Biloxi was not broke or BROKEN before the storm.

We have a compelling story here in Biloxi, and let me tell you why.

In the decade before Katrina, we were enjoying the most prosperous and productive time in our 300-plus year history.

We oversaw 6 billion dollars worth of development in Biloxi.

Nine casino resorts helped create 15,000 new jobs.

We saw the number of hotel rooms on the Coast grow from 6,000 to nearly 20,000.

We went from a million visitors a year to between 8 and 10 million a year.

We invested tens of millions in public education, public safety and recreation, we invested in our heritage and culture and preserved historic neighborhoods,

And we cut our tax rate in half while we were providing our residents a much-deserved and enhanced quality of life.

We were doubling the size of our airport and were getting ready to start on a project to double the size of our convention center.

A survey of the nation’s leading travel agents said that the Top 3 emerging destination resorts were Orlando, Las Vegas and Biloxi.

Then Hurricane Katrina came along.

Katrina destroyed 6,000 homes and businesses in Biloxi. Hundreds of historic homes and landmarks.

Senator John Warner was in town a few weeks after the storm with a group of senators that included our own Thad Cochran, Ted Kennedy, Joe Lieberman, Christopher Dodd and Majority Leader Bill Frist.

Sen. John Warner pulled me aside and said, “Mayor Holloway, I’m an old man. I’ve been through three wars and five wives, but I’ve never seen anything as bad as this.”

But despite the widespread destruction and as difficult as it was, I knew what we were doing before the storm, and I knew we could do it again.

But it always comes back to the people.

The people of Biloxi have a passion for life, a passion for living. Always have, always will.

I hope that you can get out in the community and see it for yourself.

Katrina did not destroy our community spirit, and that’s an important asset.

As we move into the future, we’re going to use the past as our guide. We’re going to Revive the Renaissance that we were enjoying before this storm.

Biloxi and the Mississippi Gulf Coast are once again going to be the places that we loved and called home.

We’re going to be that place where people want to come back over and over.

And we’re going to do it in a responsible fashion.

We’re going to show the rest of the country that we’re going to do it right.

Now, you hear reports about Harrah’s putting a hold on plans here in Biloxi.

You cannot tell me that a company that has vowed to spend a billion dollars in this community, and was buying land earlier this week, is going to sit on plans for too long.

I think what we’re seeing here is a small bump in the road.

Harrah’s is talking about spending a billion dollars, and you don’t do  make an investment of that magnitude  without seriously considering all of the angles.

And you have a couple of angles at play here.

First, is the Mississippi Band of Choctaws considering making their own investment here on the Gulf Coast.

As all of you know, the regulations governing Native American gaming are far different than those of regular operators. Some argue that they don’t have much regulation.

I’m an old jock, and I’ve always thought that it’s best that we all have a level playing field – that everyone is treated the same.

That’s how I feel about that. I’m also glad to see that the governor has the position that he does.

The second angle is the published reports about two companies considering a buyout of Harrah’s, which, of course, is the world’s largest gaming operation.

All of this gets back to what I said a few minutes ago.

All of these people – and I include all of you in that number – realize the exciting opportunities here in Biloxi.

We can talk about what if’s and should haves and could haves all day, but the numbers don’t lie.

We were making history here in Biloxi before the storm, and we’re going to make history again.

In closing, let me give you an idea of some of the important things that we’re going to be doing so you’ll know that our recovery in Biloxi is not just going to be about casinos and condominiums.

Months after the storm, Governor Barbour said he wanted to see a renaissance created as part of the rebuilding process here in south Mississippi.

We agree, and here in Biloxi, we’re going to go about reviving the renaissance we were enjoying prior to Katrina.

Following up on the governor’s words that it’s going to be up to the local communities to determine the look of their respective cities, we have begun planning for our long-term recovery.

We launched the Reviving the Renaissance initiative, which will help us address issues like affordable housing, public education, streets and drainage, historic preservation, and, of course, the new challenges from the FEMA flood elevations.

Nearly 200 of our residents volunteered to take part in this movement.

They addressed these complicated and challenging issues.

We’re going to look at the things that made us successful in the past, and build on those qualities to help make us a success again.

Our role in city government, as I see it, is to set the table for economic development. to provide the essential services and infrastructure that pave the way for the creation of jobs and growth, and to provide an environment where our residents will find the excellent quality of life they deserve, and where our visitors will re-discover a place they want to visit again and again.

The people of Biloxi have shown time and again that we’re up to this challenge, and I’m confident that we will not only endure but we will prevail.

Many of you in this room share that view. You realize the opportunity that exists in Biloxi. I thank you for your support in the past, and I look forward to working with you as we make history – again.

God bless all of you and God bless Biloxi.