‘ReUnion at the Union’ on tap for May 17

Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich’s vision for the “new” Howard Avenue has compared the brick-covered street to “a parquet dance floor,” and on May 17, the public will get a chance to try it out.

The city, Main Street and Merit Health Biloxi will formerly mark the re-opening of Howard Avenue on Friday, May 17 with “ReUnion at the Union,” billed as a downtown Biloxi street party with an “all-star jam session, fun, food and games.”

The free gathering will be held at the corner of Howard Avenue and Rue Magnolia, what Gilich refers to as “the crosshairs of downtown,” “the heart of Biloxi, and Howard Avenue specifically.”

The location is the former site of a notorious hangout — a bar and pool hall — that was known as The Union Bar (“Reunion  at the Union”). The time on May 17 — 4:06 p.m. — is a nod to the 406 Club, a reputed bookie joint raided by the federal government decades ago.

Downtown Biloxi back in the day was vibrant, with the hotel Avelez, “retail, entertainment, newsstands and everything in the world you could think of,” Gilich said. “The buildings are here, with new life breathed into them because of this dance floor that we call Howard Avenue.”

Those attending the May 17 event “can hear some good music and some activities that we used to do around here, like dancing and pool and some other things. And new people will understand what was there was part of our heritage.”

A parade of vintage cars will roll down Howard Avenue to formally open the street, which has undergone a two-million-dollar project that has returned two-way traffic, on-street parking on Howard and Lameuse, and a new intersection east of Main Street at Howard and MLK. The project has generated millions in private investment. In fact, construction should begin later this year on the first phase of a $54 million downtown initiative involving five mixed-use sites on Howard Avenue.

Much of “The District on Howard Avenue” has focused on the Barq Building, but the overall project includes plans for 330 one-, two- and three bedroom housing units, 230,000-square feet of boutique shops, local breweries, restaurants, and music venues; and 20,000-square feet of office space.

Down the street, at Howard and Lameuse, Community Bank has cleared the former site of a federal courthouse and will be constructing a new office building.

Music, of course, was a big part of the downtown experience of yesteryear, and it will be a part of the May 17 affair as well.

“We’re putting together a group of musicians and you’ll hear old-time Biloxi dancing music, what we might call New Orleans R&B swamp pop,” said Nick Mattina, who with his bother Glenn for more than three decades operated the Upstairs-Downstairs nightclub in downtown Biloxi.

Nick Mattina for more than a decade fronted an oldies group called the Checkmates, a group specializing in standards by such artists as Ray Charles, James Brown, Fats Domino, and, of course, Irma Thomas.

“We’re putting something together and we’ll play a couple of hours, until about 6 p.m., because we’re all a little older now,” said Mattina, whose old group the Checkmates has morphed into a collection known as “The Outpatient Band.”

“For May 17, we’re going to put together a lineup of musicians who are going to have people dancing in the street. We’re ready for some dancing with all of the news we’ve had in the past several days.”
Video: See your invitation to Reunion at the Union
Print a flyer for the event
See background on The District
Video: Just how wide is the new Howard Avenue?
Video: The construction (August 2018)
Video: The groundbreaking (April 2018)