Holloway updates progress for businessmen’s club

Here is the text of Mayor A.J. Holloway’s speech to the Biloxi Businessmen’s Club, delivered Oct. 13, 2011 during a luncheon at Mary Mahoney’s Old French House Restaurant.

Good afternoon, and thank you for inviting me here today.

We’re seeing a lot of positive signs in Biloxi right now, and before you leave this meeting, you’re going to know about some of the reasons for our success.

I think we just saw one last week with Cruisin’ the Coast. Wasn’t that great? It was the largest turnout we’ve had since Katrina.

It seems like we’re doing more and more welcomes for conventions, too. You and I may not notice things since we see them every day, but the people I talk to at these conventions they see the progress we’ve made.

I tell them we see a milestone – large or small – each and every day, whether it’s a new beauty shop around the corner, or construction starting at Margaritaville, or the new visitors center, or Cruisin’ or whatever.

Let me tell you something else I tell them. That’s to be careful on Highway 90. Last week, the police stopped a car going 80 miles an hour, right in front of the Beau Rivage.

It was an old man driving. It was him and his wife in the car. The officer said, “Sir, the speed limit is 40,” and the old man said, “Son, I was going 40.”

So his wife says, “Now, honey, you know when we got off the Interstate, I told you the cruise control was set on 80 and you should turn it down.”

The old man looked his wife and told her to be quiet.

Then the officer said, “Sir, it’s also a law in every one of the 50 states that you must have your seat belt fastened.”

So the old man says, “Son, that’s where you’re wrong again. When you got behind me with the blue lights I knew you were going to want to see my driver’s license. So I unfastened my seat belt to get my billfold out.”

So the little old lady says, “Now, honey, I told you when we got in the car this morning that you ought to fasten your seatbelt, and that it was the law. But you said you didn’t care.”

Now, the old man looked his wife, and said, “If you don’t be quiet and let me handle this with this policeman, I’m going to lock you in the trunk. I swear.”

So the officer leaned down in that car and he looked at that little old lady, and he said, “M’am, I’m sorry. Does your husband always talk to you like that?”

And she looked right back at that officer, and she said, “No, young man, not all of the time. It’s just when he’s been DRINKIN’.”

The convention groups all love it. Most of the men tell me they have a wife like that.

I’ve always said tourism is our niche, and that’s where we’re seeing a good bit of our growth.

Before Katrina, the Mississippi Coast had more than 17,500 hotel rooms. More than half of them were in Biloxi. Today, the Mississippi Coast has just over 13,000 hotel rooms, and half of them are in Biloxi.

And right now, we have three new hotels in the works on Highway 90. They account for nearly 350 rooms.

There’s a 142-room Hilton Garden Inn approved for Rodenberg and 90. There’s a 120-room inn proposed at Bellman, and soon we’ll see an 84-room hotel being proposed at Benachi and 90, just east of the Visitors Center.

It will have an historic design that will complement the Lighthouse Park and Visitors Center. They have submitted an application, but no hearing date has been set.

Now, that’s 350 rooms. Don’t forget we also have Bill Holmes talking about a 500-room headquarters hotel at the Coliseum.

So, we’re looking at 850 new hotel rooms in Biloxi. That’s almost a 13 percent increase in the current hotel inventory in our city. That will put us at almost 7,500 hotel rooms, which is about 80 percent of our pre-Katrina numbers.

The steel framing is going up on Margaritaville. They just submitted the interior “build out” plans last week. They have not given us a projected opening date, but if they continue at the current pace it should be in late April.

You may recall they were shooting for the end of this year, yea, two months from now, but they’ve added a buffet, and they re-configured some of the entertainment space. It also grew from a 51 million dollar project to 53 million.

And don’t forget about Biloxi Boardwalk Marina. It’s an 11 million development that will have wet and dry slips for 400 vessels, a restaurant, ship’s store and much more.

Sharkheads is scheduled to open March of 2012. That’s 27,000 square feet of retail, but more important than that it makes a statement about the rebuilding of the beachfront in west Biloxi.

Of course we have two new restaurants downtown — the Half Shell Oyster House and the Port City Café, which is at the CTA station north of the Saenger.

Construction on the new Wal-mart remains on track, which is going to spur even more growth in that area. Walmart is 150,000 square feet and is scheduled to open in January 2012. The walls are up, the roof is on and the Air Conditioning condensers are currently being installed.

People in cities across the country worry about the impact of a new Wal-mart, but it’s just the opposite here in Biloxi.

Right now, we’re reviewing plans for a 12,500 sq. ft. Dollar Tree proposed for Edgewater Village Shopping Center. This is the first store initiated by the Walmart effect.

There are others in the pipeline, like the new Dunkin’ Donuts at Edgewater Square on Pass Road, and as the Wal-mart gets closer, you’ll hear even more.

About 15 years ago – long before the storm, and the oil spill and the recession – we predicted that building a new Cedar Lake Road and connecting it to a widened Popp’s Ferry Road would light up that area around that intersection with growth.

We first started seeing it happen when Cedar Lake Medical Plaza opened. Then, we had more medical services locate in that area.

Then, the restaurants sprouted up, and the LaQuinta hotel, and the Home Depot, and the growth at Cedar-Popp’s Shopping Center, and the strip malls on Cedar Lake and Popp’s Ferry, and four banks built in the immediate area.

And then just a couple weeks ago, we made the big announcement — about the second hospital coming to Biloxi. It’s a 132 million dollar investment at Cedar Lake.

We’ll have two hospitals in Biloxi, one north of the Bay with 144 rooms, and one south of the Bay, here in downtown with 198 beds. Both will offer the full array of first-class, state-of-the art medical services.

All of these things are happening without the people of Biloxi having to buy the business. At City Hall, we provide the services, the infrastructure, and we stay out of the way.

Now, that’s the commercial side. Let’s talk about residential.

We currently have more than 641 homes in the works out in Woolmarket.

Most of the homes – 400 of them – would be part of the Hidden Springs development, which was approved by the City Council, but is currently under appeal. We should have a final decision by the end of the year.

A 60-lot subdivision was approved last month by the council. No zoning change was needed for this tract.

Each lot will be a minimum of 10,000 square feet. The development is located at the intersection of John Lee Road and Wash Fayard Road. Breland Homes will be the builder and the homes will be the same style as the ones in Villa Tuscano on Atkinson Road.

The latest development is called the Peacock-Peoples Subdivision. It will have 172 lots on the east side of Lorraine Road just north of Woolmarket Road. Again, Breland will be the builder and the homes will be the same style. The second Reading is on the council agenda for October 18th.

We also have more than 11 million dollars worth of public improvement projects underway right now.

Let me run through the list real quick.

Out at Popp’s Ferry causeway, we’re doing a million dollars worth of work to make the waterfront more accessible. We’ll have an 11-foot-wide concrete promenade that will run 1,400 feet, from the small bridge on the causeway to the boat ramps, which will have new piers.

The promenade will be lit for nighttime fishing and will have benches. We’re also repairing the boardwalk that runs over the marsh. We’ll have all of this done by the end of the year.

In the Bent Oaks subdivision in west Biloxi, the city and the county are making a hundred thousand dollars worth of street repairs.

At the Lighthouse Fishing Dock at the north end of Lee Street, and at the commercial harbor, we’re installing a new bulkhead, utilities and piers. We’re spending 2.3 million at each site, and we’re going to be done in 180 days.

In Woolmarket, we’re installing sewer lines on Landing Court, Scenic River, Parker Circle, River Estates Circle, Parker’s Creek Road, North Oaklawn Road, Thomas Road, Husley Road and a segment of Woolmarket Road.

That’s almost 3 million dollars in work and we’ll be done next fall.

You can see a million dollars worth of improvements underway at three of our fire stations. We’re putting stronger metal roofs at Veterans Avenue, Pass Road and at the Margaret Sherry Library. We’ll be done in the first quarter of 2012.

We’re also spending a million dollars to repair and repaint the elevated water tanks at Bay Vista, Popp’s Ferry and Kuhn Street, and we’re doing work at the ground-level tanks at Irish Hill and Greater Avenue. All of that work will be completed in March.

Some of this stuff is big news, and some of it is not too exciting. But it’s all progress, and it’s all good.

And let me say something else – it’s in all areas of the city, and it’s in all segments of our economy.

I think we need to keep doing what we’re doing. We need to keep your taxes low, we need to watch our spending, and we need to keep moving forward.

Now, let me here what you have to say. (Q&A)