Holloway tells gaming audience of new potential in Biloxi

Here is the prepared text of Mayor A.J. Holloway’s remarks to the Mississippi Gaming Commission, made during the commission’s Nov. 17, 2005 meeting at Imperial Palace in Biloxi.

Good morning and thank you for inviting me here to update you on the Hurricane Katrina recovery here in Biloxi.

First let me say this: I have never been more proud to be mayor of this great city. I’m proud of how the people of Biloxi have handled this ordeal. Together the people of Biloxi and our fellow residents along the Mississippi Gulf Coast are showing the rest of the nation something that WE’VE known all along:

We are a resilient people. We will overcome this challenge, just as we have overcome numerous challenges that we have faced during the long history of this community.

As we’ve said over and over, this storm was not our first rodeo, but we certainly hope it was the largest we’ll ever have.

Now, let me give you a quick overview on where things stand here in Biloxi.

We’ve hauled more than a million cubic yards of debris from our city streets and neighborhoods. That would amount to a debris field that’s large enough to cover a football field and stand more than 47 stories high. That sounds like a lot, and it IS, but we still have more than 3 million cubic yards of debris left to haul.

We suspect that we’ll be hauling debris for months before we get it all. And we don’t plan on stopping until we DO get it all.

Regarding traffic: All four lanes of Highway 90 are scheduled to re-open to traffic, with traffic signals and street lights in place, on Dec. 15.

As was said in mid-September, Highway 90 in 90 days, and MDOT looks like they’re on track.

A new U.S. 90 bridge linking Biloxi and Ocean Springs is scheduled to be partially opened at Thanksgiving of ‘06.

A new Popp’s Ferry bridge is scheduled to be in place in about 50 days from today.

A huge and unresolved challenge we’re facing is where we stand on rebuilding neighborhoods, particularly in east Biloxi.

Affordable housing was an issue before the storm, and it’s even more of an issue now.

Today, FEMA is scheduled to release new flood elevations.

They are going to be recommending a 16-foot elevation on Back Bay and an 18-foot elevation on the front beach, and they may expand the existing flood zone. This new elevation is about 4 feet higher than we have now, and many homeowners may find it difficult to rebuild.

We thought we faced a lot of issues in the immediate aftermath of the storm. We did. But now we face issues that are going to have impacts on our community for decades to come.

We’re at the point now where we’re having public discussions on how we want this city to look in the future.

In fact, one of the questions that the national media was frequently asking us in the days after the storm was “Where does Biloxi go from here? How could we possibly rebuild after such massive destruction?” Surely, they said, it would take decades to rebuild, IF we could do it at all.

Well, like I said, this is not our first rodeo. We have the spirit and the drive to build a bigger and better Biloxi, and one that we can all be proud of.

Some people say that Biloxi and the Mississippi Gulf Coast didn’t really rebound from Camille until 1992, when casino gambling was legalized.

I think we have potential that we never dreamed of before.

The past 10-12 years gave us only a glimpse of the success we can enjoy.

The governor wants to see a renaissance, I want to RESURRECT the renaissance that we were having.

People are going to remember Biloxi not so much for how bad the destruction was, but for how GREAT the recovery effort is going to be.

You know, the difference between Camille and Katrina is that we have the tool to move forward. Legalized gambling, and it’s even better with on-shore gaming. We’ll see more jobs, more visitors, AND more sustainable development.

That’s the story as I see it. I’m excited about the future, and all of you in this room are going to play a key role in helping make the future a very bright one.

Again, thank you for inviting me here today. God bless all of you, God bless Biloxi and God bless America.