Holloway speaks to Gold Coast, city health care plan, harbor, other issues

Here is the prepared text of Mayor A.J. Holloway’s presentation at the Biloxi Chamber of Commerce “Breakfast with the Mayor” program, on Tuesday, April 1, at IP’s 32.

We have a number of issues on the agenda for the City Council meeting this afternoon.

I’ll discuss them briefly, update you on a few other projects, and also tell you about an important summit in Biloxi this week.

I suppose the most talked-about issue on the agenda this afternoon – and one that will attract attention in the state capitol – is the proposal to re-zone about 17 acres at Veterans and Beach Boulevard for gaming.

This is part of the massive RW Development called Gold Coast Casino Resort and South Beach.

This mixed-use development is expected to create a great deal of excitement in west Biloxi, and I think it will energize that area.

Of course, the gaming aspect is not without controversy.

Proponents will tell you that parts of this area were zoned for gaming in the past, and, in fact, the areas north of the Highway once hosted gaming – illegal gaming – many years ago.

Opponents will tell you that this is just another step to open up the entire beachfront to gaming, and that this is unfairly taking advantage of the legislation that allowed gaming to come onshore 800 feet.

The City Council is expected to vote on the issue today.

Some have pointed to my veto of the Tivoli project in the past and wonder if I’ll do the same again.

I have to say that there are a number of differences in this project.

First, the developer has already made a tremendous investment in west Biloxi.

Second, this is one of the few sites that includes area south of the highway that is not beach.

Other than that, let’s see what happens during the council meeting.

Clinic, discount drugs for city employees

The City Council is also expected to vote for an issue that I think will help reduce employee time away from work.

We’re looking to enter into an agreement with Medical Analysis, similar to one the school system pioneered in October 2006.

It offers a clinic for employees and their immediate families and low-cost or free prescription drugs.

The program saved school employees $1.36 million dollars last year, and it helped cut down time for appointments.

I also envision the city’s health insurance premiums being reduced if we offer employees this option.

Health care is a huge national concern, and I think this plan addresses that issue on a local level.

Small craft harbor

We’re aiming to have boats back in a new-and-improved small craft harbor in 60 to 90 days, but we’re continuing to try to negotiate with FEMA about harbor facilities.

Some of you may remember the bait shop at the southern end of the harbor, and that we had restrooms and showers on the ground floor of the port division administration building.

That’s what we’d like to do again, but right now FEMA’s position is that the bait shop would either have to be elevated 20 feet in the air or be a portable structure. Same with the restrooms and showers.

Elevating these things would not be functional. You’d be looking at issues with access and ADA.

We’re continuing to see how we can work that out.

As I said in the State of the City address, we haven’t come across any issues with FEMA that we couldn’t work out.

Interestingly, the City Council has a meeting at 11 this morning to hear about a proposal to build a hotel that would be situated where McElroy’s restaurant was located in the harbor.

Airline and tourism summit

We’ll have a host of airlines and tourism development leaders gathering in Biloxi Tuesday and Wednesday for the Airline and Tourism Development Summit.

So, just what do we tell these people who are coming to a city that is still rebuilding from Katrina?

Let me give you an idea of some of the things I’ll be telling them.

Biloxi, in particular, represents the most compelling and exciting story in the Katrina recovery zone.

I say this because we were enjoying the most prosperous time of our 300-plus year history when this storm struck, and today we have potential that we never even dreamed of before.

We felt we had the total package – first class hotel rooms and meeting space, great championship golf courses, deep sea fishing, a rich and colorful history, an outstanding quality of life for our residents and a unique experience for visitors – and at an affordable price.

Today, 30 months after Katrina, we still have those things, and we’re seeing a milestone – large or small – each and every day.

We’ve issued more than 20,000 permits of one type or another. Our airport has doubled in size, and our convention center IS doubling in size.

Our casino resort industry last year did more business than ever, grossing more than a billion dollars in gaming revenue.

Our city is rebuilding – some areas quicker than others, given the challenges of insurance, construction and elevations.

The casino resort industry continues to be the engine driving the economy, and I think it always will be.

Let me give you a quick example of how it all ties in together.

Right now, we have the billion-dollar Margaritaville resort under construction a half mile down the street, on Casino Row.

Margaritaville will feature 100,000 square feet in gaming, 250,000 square feet in retail and a total of about 800 hotel rooms.

History shows us that every new casino resort hotel room generates 75 new arrivals and 75 new departures at the airport. Bruce Frallic will tell you that that’s 150 new passengers a year.

Margaritaville alone stands to increase traffic by more than 100,000 passengers a year at the bigger airport.

Those passengers will be able to meet at the new convention center, dine in the new restaurants and visit the new visitor attractions.

Even before Margaritaville comes online in 2010, it will spawn new growth in our market.

Here in Biloxi, we’re REVIVING the renaissance that we were enjoying before the storm.

This is the most exciting time to be in Biloxi and on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.