Howard Avenue project to begin next week

The project to restore downtown Howard Avenue kicks off Monday at 11 a.m., when Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich ceremoniously dons a hard hat and goggles, and plants a jackhammer into the narrow roadway that in 180 or so days will be transformed into a two-lane street with convenient parking and sidewalks.

In fact, Howard Avenue between Reynoir and Lameuse streets could be closed to traffic as early as Tuesday as Gautier contractor Gulf Breeze Landscaping begins the $1.93 million, 180-day project.

For Gilich, restoring Howard Avenue is a linchpin in the effort to revitalize downtown Biloxi. The section of Howard between Reynoir and Lameuse was once the heart of downtown Biloxi, lined with clothing stores, movie theaters and bars.

With the arrival of Edgewater Mall and the exodus of anchor stores to the climate controlled mall, the city in the 1970s, not unlike other communities across the country, attempted to transform downtown into an outdoor mall, closing many streets in favor of pedestrian traffic. The urban renewal project spawned the Vieux Marche Mall, with outdoor overhangs that obliterated the facades of the remaining downtown businesses and historic buildings.

The idea to restore two-way traffic in the four-block section had been discussed for decades, but never materialized. In the A.J. Holloway administration the roadway saw one-way traffic restored on a roadbed that was more akin to a driveway instead of a city street.

However, Gilich’s fondness for All Things Old Biloxi has given the idea new life, which he hopes will signal new interest in all of downtown Biloxi.

“Howard Avenue is central to Biloxi’s downtown, so it’s critical that the roadway is equally friendly to vehicular traffic as well as pedestrian traffic,” said Andy Pehlan, associate principal owner of Pickering Firm, the design firm tasked with conceptual planning and final design, with an expedited construction schedule.

Said Phelan: “Our design essentially removes all surfacing between Reynoir and Lameuse, and replaces it with concrete sidewalks and brick roadways. While the final product will be something the city and its citizens can be proud of, it will be challenging to maintain access to existing businesses and we appreciate their cooperation as we work through this project as quickly as possible.”

Besides restoring Howard Avenue with the clay pavers that once made up the roadway (“like a parquet dance floor,” Gilich likes to say), the project, with assistance from Harrison County, will see the addition of curbside parking on Lameuse north of Howard and on Howard between Lameuse and Main. Another key factor will be the redesign of the Howard Avenue intersection with MLK Boulevard east of Bradford-O’Keefe Funeral Home, to allow westbound motorists to more easily travel through downtown Biloxi. Uniform sidewalks also will be in place on Howard, along with curbside parking.

During the Biloxi Chamber breakfast with the Mayor a couple of weeks ago, the audience of 150 applauded when Gilich announced that a construction contract had been awarded for the Howard Avenue work.

“Just the talk of this project has generated interest among developers in downtown Biloxi,” Gilich declared. “I can tell you that the Barq Building is now under contract, and, without releasing too many details, I can tell you we are close to issuing a demolition permit for the old federal courthouse – which some people thought looked more like a federal prison. Things are happening.”
See the Howard Avenue design
See old photos of Howard Avenue


Repairs to public piers ready to move forward

The 45-day job to repair the Hurricane Nate-damaged Lighthouse Pier and three other city piers is scheduled to begin by the middle of May and be completed by the end of June.

This week, the city accepted two bid packages: One for the popular Lighthouse Pier and another for the repairs to the Coliseum pier, the Old Ice Wharf on Back Bay and the public pier at the north end of Oak Street.

Coast contractor J.E. Borries, a firm that specializes in marine work, was the apparent low bidder on both jobs: $139,373 for the Lighthouse Pier repairs and $22,703 for the repairs to the other piers. The city’s Engineering Department is reviewing the bids for the work, which will be primarily funded by FEMA, and Engineering Department Director Christy LeBatard said she expects the contracts to soon be on the City Council agenda for approval.

The city piers were damaged in Hurricane Nate in October, and since that time the city has worked to create scopes of work and bid packages to meet guidelines of FEMA and other federal agencies, to ensure the city receives federal reimbursement for the work.

Striping at Lighthouse Pier parking lot:  City contractors on Monday morning, weather permitting, will begin applying striping to the newly revamped parking area at the Lighthouse Pier. The parking lot, which is south of U.S. 90, will be closed during the work, which is expected to wrap up by the end of the day Monday.
See the list of city harbors and piers


News and notes: Weekend preview, council, Biloxi Shuckers

Weekend preview:  First Friday Downtown takes place tonight in the Rue Magnolia Art District, the Annual Mississippi Gulf Coast Spring Pilgrimage finishes up along the Gulf Coast, David Feherty performs at the Beau Rivage, 38 Special will be at the Hard Rock, and Trace Adkins will be at the IP Casino.  To see the Biloxi Community Calendar, click here

City Council meeting:  The next scheduled meeting of the Biloxi City Council is set for Tuesday, April 17 at 1:30 p.m. at the Biloxi City Hall.  To see more about the Biloxi City Council, click here

Play ball:  The Biloxi Shuckers play the Mississippi Braves in the 2018 season opening on Wednesday evening at MGM Park.  To see more about the Biloxi Shuckers, click here.