SOTC 2021: We dare to have vision and a plan

Here is the text of the 2021 State of the City presentation that was published online on Tuesday Feb. 11, 2021. To see the video, click here.

Cold opening

(Phone trilling)

Vincent Creel. Yes, it’s Vincent.

Mayor: Tokyo Rose. This is your mayor.

VC: Yes, master.

Mayor: I’m still not comfortable having 500 people in a room for a State of the City luncheon. The Biloxi Bay chamber is eager to have their fundraiser, and I told them we definitely want to do it when the time is right, and I appreciate their understanding.

VC: You are a genius. How do you do it?

Mayor: OK, listen to me. I want you and Cil to go over the departmental reports. I want you to do your thing, but I want it to be the best one we’ve ever done. You hear me? The best. We want to update people on the big stuff — more than the 1.8 billion in planned development, the progress we’ve made on all of the big stuff, even in a pandemic.

VC: OK, OK, slow down. That’s a lot of stuff.

Mayor: Yes, it is a lot of stuff. It’s been a busy year with a lot of progress to show. And I need you to make it the best one.

VC: If only I had recorded this. We’d already have it done.

Mayor: Whatever. Get to work.

VC: But…

Mayor: I’m sorry you’re breaking up.

End call.

Phone trilling.

VC: “Ok, we have direction from the genius.”

Cecilia Dobbs Walton: Cool? What does he want in the speech?

VC: Everything.

CDW: Everything? Covid?

VC: Yes.

CDW: The north contract?

VC: Yes. Completed.

CDW: The storm debris?

VC: Yes. Hauled away.

CDW: The Broadwater and Tivoli?

VC: Yes. Nearly $2 billion in development announced.

CDW: The fire department?

VC: Yes. Named one of the best in the nation.

CDW: Wow. That’s a lot of stuff.

VC: And you better not forget he lowered the water bills. You better mention that more than once.

CDW: How are we going to get that all in?

VC: I’m sorry, you’re breaking up.

CDW: Whatever. We should have recorded this.

VC: We did.

Opening graphic: State of the City 2021.


Hello, and welcome to your State of the City presentation.

Mayors of Biloxi have been coming before you each year for 30 years now, telling you the story of Biloxi. And I want to again applaud longtime Biloxi businessman Tommy Munro and the Biloxi Bay Area Chamber of Commerce for pushing this idea so many years ago. Tommy Munro always said “Things are brighter in Biloxi,” and we tend to agree with him.

This presentation each year is the one opportunity where you can hear all and of everything important happening Biloxi. In fact, you can take it to the bank. I was just thinking about how we gathered at this time last year. 

Daydream sequence: Newspaper headlines. The Daily Planet, The Biloxi Bacon, Lighthouse news.



“2020: What could go wrong?”

Well. OK,  I may have not been totally right on a couple of those, but one thing I wasn’t wrong about and have NEVER been wrong about is the strength and resilience of the people of Biloxi.

2020 will be the year of COVID and its impact on our way of life. But Biloxi will not be defined by a virus or even a pandemic. Just as we were not defined by Zeta, Katrina or Camille. Or an oil spill. Or anything else.

COVID-19 overshadowed nearly everything in 2020.   And now, in many ways, it still does.  Like many of you, the threat of this virus and the need to stem its spread has occupied a good bit of my time.

The bottom dropped out in mid-March 2020 and we’re clawing our way back right now.  But early on, my fellow Mayors and I teleconferenced 2 or 3 times a week to discuss what we were seeing… and what we were doing.  We reviewed CDC guidelines and Governor Tate Reeves’ executive orders.

I met with Biloxi business owners from various segments and  along with leaders of our Church community.  We told them what to expect when the doors re-open and things come back.

Our challenge in Biloxi is that visitors drive our economy. That’s nearly 7.5 million visitors a year, mainly to the casino resorts, beaches, golf courses, but also to the special events we usually have throughout the year.

COVID vaccinations are now the light at the end of the tunnel. But we continue to look at the number of new positive tests, and the number of hospitalizations during any decision making process.

We made the decision a few weeks ago, to cancel Mardi Gras parades this year. We continue to look at other events.  We continue to press…. Please… wear a mask, keep your distance, act responsibly, and avoid social gatherings.

The risk is real.  We all know someone who has died from COVID.  As Mayor, as a father and a grandfather, I ask you again, be smart.

Don’t get the idea that COVID stopped our world. To the contrary, it hasn’t. I want to give you an overview of the progress we’ve made… and the many things we’re doing to improve our quality of life. 

We took a number of steps to navigate the past few months to deliver to you the quality of services you deserve and do it without raising your taxes.   To be honest, we even found a way to lower what it costs you each month. We’ll talk about that little later.

The most pressing challenge I faced when I took office in 2015, was dealing with all the torn up streets in East Biloxi.  The North Contract began a year before I became Mayor. It was part of what was said to be… the largest municipal undertaking in the history of Biloxi.  A $130 million contract, 55 miles of streets that would be torn up for new water, deep sewer and drainage lines. They just didn’t tell everybody… it would be all the streets at once.  The North Contract was grinding to halt.  The program management company was almost out of budget to manage the entire $355 million project… with $200 million left in construction.  Vendor payments were not always… timely and FEMA reimbursements were also lagging way behind… causing a cash flow problem.

The City borrowed some money,  took over program management,  got the North Contract moving and started by phases with the South Contract…the right way,  not all at once.  We paid off the money we borrowed as we were reimbursed by FEMA.

Today, instead of re-living history, we can say the major overhaul of the East Biloxi infrastructure… came to a close with the striping of Division Street. In East Biloxi… north of the railroad tracks… are the newest streets, sidewalks, water, sewer and drainage systems you’ll find anywhere.  And it’s been earned.

The South Contract Phase I, also known as the Hemphill contract, has been completed.  We now have two projects underway on Point Cadet.

Phase II, or the Lane contract, is expected to be completed in May.  Phase III, the Necaise contract, began construction a few weeks ago.  The next phase, will be in West Biloxi along the beach.

You’ll be seeing work, but not nearly as disruptive.

Another big deal when I took office was MGM Park. We had to get that stadium open, play baseball and make 19 easy payments of $1.2 million a year. That’s been on my mind a while.

When the pandemic hit, it took our breath away, and about $5 million of revenue.  We looked at everything.

An opportunity popped up in re-financing about $18 million for MGM Park and $2 million in other debt.  Because of the drop in interest rates, we pulled the trigger.  The move saved us $300,000 in that fiscal year ending September 30, 2020, and a total of $1.5 million over the course of the bonds. That goes right to the bottom line.

The City is a member of the Harrison County Utility Authority. Our share is 42% of the Authority’s $100 million debt.  Biloxi’s debt service to the utility authority is $3.9 million a year.  During the utility authority FY2021 budget process… I pointed out Biloxi’s experience with re-financing debt. The utility authority engaged the same financial and legal team to determine the opportunity.  That trigger was pulled resulting in $1.3 million a year reduction in debt service for the City of Biloxi.

Soon… almost all Biloxi residential and commercial customers will see a HCUA Debt Reduction of $.50 per thousand gallons of water used. If you use 4,000 gallons, your HCUA charge will be $15.20 and your reduction will be four times 50 cents- $2.00. 

As I mentioned, we had to look at every aspect of our finances. We put the brakes on spending.

Before the pandemic, in fiscal year 2020 beginning October 1, 2019, we had projected $62.2 million in General Fund expenses… but we had actual expenses of $58 million at the end of the fiscal year, September 30, 2020.

We had also projected $59.4 million in revenue and actually received $58 million.

Given the situation, I’d say not too bad.

The nearly 650 City of Biloxi employees forged on…despite the challenges of the pandemic… storms and near misses.  And, when Hurricane Zeta actually hit, it was the first significant storm since Katrina,15 years ago.

In fact, Mississippi Power had to bring in 1,700 people from 20 states to work the restoration event.  The power was back 5 days after the storm.

Our crews and contractors hit the ground days after the storm… and when they wrapped up operations at the end of January… 3 months later… they had picked up 300,000 cubic yards of debris.

I appreciate all the work our citizens, contractors and Public Works crews did to make our City beautiful again.

Progress was made on some transformational projects.

The new gateway to Keesler Air Force Base is under construction. When complete, It’s going to be a 4-lane boulevard from I-110 directly into a new, safer, more secure main entrance to the base.

Keesler has its portion of the roadway inside the gate complete, and now attention turns to the security areas and the new base visitors center.  

Over on Howard Avenue, we started the ball rolling with the brick roadway.

Now, work is underway to transform the old Josette’s building, across from MGM Park, into 23 high-end apartments with 2 ground level retail spaces.

At the old Magnolia Hotel, Jourdan Nicaud’s restaurant, Fields Flights… is going to be opening in a few months.

It will have an oyster bar on the 1st floor, tables throughout the building and balconies,  a glass walk-in cooler for dry aging steaks and a marble countertop on the 2nd floor.

We’re all excited to see things happening at the Barq building. The project achieved some major milestones in 2020. The old JC Penney building has been vacated and is being prepared for renovations.  Renderings and construction drawings for the apartments and building facades should be completed in the coming weeks.

By day…you can see the growing number of murals. By night… the string of lights brings a new look downtown.

There’s even a new downtown park…The District Green.  Lunch is served regularly.  It’s going to be a happening place. 

Last year we told you about Ax throwing and a few other new businesses.

Downtown, a new restaurant, Green House Biloxi has opened up with a record shop right next door.  It’s a niche business, tapping into the vinyl record market… they even sell a few posters too.  Marley’s Music, which opened at the beginning of the pandemic, has actually improvised and survived through online auctions reaching customers across the country.

The second phase of the West Biloxi Boardwalk has been completed from Veterans to Camilia Street.  Now, the whole boardwalk is enjoyable and walkable from Sharks Head to Treasure Bay.

The contractor has been given notice to proceed with the Bay View Boardwalk, a $2 million project, for the building of a beautiful concrete promenade along Back Bay Boulevard with access to water from Forrest Avenue to Kensington.

Another $2 million project has been awarded for a Seawall Walkway from Oak Street to the Small Craft Harbor.   We’ve talked about this for years. It’s not only going to give us a beautiful walkway, but it will have an 18” knee wall to help keep… sand off Highway 90 and on the Beach…  where it belongs.

This stretch will be a pilot project for what is needed all along the beachfront.

Parking lot paving and landscaping has been completed… along with the interior improvements at the Woolmarket City Center.  It includes the Harrison County Library and a new place for special events and family gatherings.  A ribbon cutting will be soon scheduled.

Also, in Woolmarket, we’re well on our way to opening a huge new City park at Eagle Point, where Councilman Nathan Barrett likes to point out it will be the City’s largest park, second only to Hiller Park.

With all the talk about transformational projects, we cannot overlook our City employees who provide the day to day services you expect and deserve.

The men and women in our public works department not only assisted with storm and hurricane related clean up but they continue to do a tremendous job, day to day, maintaining the more than 47 city buildings including MGM Park and the Biloxi Cemetery and providing citizens with the many services they expect.

They processed 10,148 work orders, filled nearly 2,000 potholes, mowed over 5,000 miles of rights-of-way, picked up more than 3,000 bags of litter and maintained and repaired 569,000 feet of drainage ditches.

2020 was one of busiest years ever for the Port Division. It began with such promise, hosting three huge fishing tournaments that brought in more than 250 boats to the Point Cadet Marina. Then came….the record Atlantic hurricane season. The division oversaw 3 mandatory evacuations in 65 days at the height of the storm season.

I want to thank those boat owners who took steps to help us protect the Port assets.

Today, we are in the process of requesting FEMA assistance with nearly 50 Hurricane Zeta related projects for damage to most of the City’s piers, including the Lighthouse and Coliseum piers, as well as the Commercial Fishing Dock where many shrimp boats are now temporally docked.

When we rebuild, I plan to do it in a way, with FEMA approval, that helps minimize damage and withstands future storms.

We will not rebuild piers, like the Lighthouse Pier in the same way that’s it been done in recent years.

Despite all the challenges of 2020, we found time for outdoor recreation. The Parks and Recreation Department maintained the City’s 15 parks and playgrounds, and 20 ballfields. They made repairs at the Biloxi Natatorium and the Donal M. Snyder Community Center.  They broke ground on that new public park at Eagle Point that will include a walking track, pickleball courts and ball fields.

Community programs, sports, events and rentals unfortunately decreased because of the pandemic.

The department did, however, successfully host 3 drive-thru events – a Halloween and two Christmas events – in lieu of their usual annual events which draws large gatherings.

Our public affairs division worked around the clock to make sure the public was aware of the national and local guidelines and protocols for COVID-19.

We appreciate the many kind words that we have received about our monthly newsletter, and the dozens of informational videos produced for the City’s social media platforms.

Perhaps the biggest challenge this city faced in 2020 was on the front lines — in the police and fire departments, and what a year they had.

Joe Boney:

“I’m Joe Boney, Chief of the Biloxi Fire Department. It’s been a long year for the firefighters in the Biloxi Fire Department, but, I tell you, it’s been SEVEN years for Jack.

We dedicated this new training tower. We dedicated this new station. We dedicated this second new station, we brought two new trucks online, and they’re GREEN trucks because of the efficiencies we’ve built in, and, let’s not forget, that just a month ago, in December, we were able to notify Mayor Gilich that because of his support and the support of the City Council, we now have a Class 2 fire department.

Fire Departments across the country are graded from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best. By being a class 2, we’re one of in the top 2 percent of the fire departments in the country. That means you enjoy discounts on your fire insurance for your home and business.

We answered 7,026 calls for service, and 4,490 of those were medical emergencies. We had a few fires, too, 306 of them, in fact.

And, yes, it was a year where Jack made the rounds, as well.

And, yes, it was a year where Jack made the rounds, as well.

We are very proud in the Biloxi Fire Department. In a year where we faced great challenges — the pandemic, storms and firefighters stricken from the virus — we were named one of the best departments in the country. Now I’m gonna take Jack over to City hall, he wants to mark his spot.”

John Miller:

“I’m John Miller, chief of the Biloxi Police Department. You know, all due respect, but we heard all about this fire dog in the state of the city last year.

You wanna see a dog?

And we’ve got eight of these, some trained for apprehension, detecting drugs and some for detecting explosive devices.

We responded to more than 100,000 calls for service, 62 percent was self-generated by officers, which means the officers initiated the calls themselves. We rescued 189 animals, and resolved nearly 50 percent of felony cases, which is above the national average. We organized security and traffic for more than eight major events. We also implemented and deployed a new Community Crime Camera Program.

The Bomb squad continues to be recognized by the FBI, ATF, and Mississippi Department of Homeland Security as the premier bomb unit in the state. And we sustained our accreditation policies and procedures. 

And let me say this: We do work well with the fire department. We like to say that inside every firefighter, there’s a police officer trying to get out. I’m not sure if it’s the same with these dogs though.

Finally, I want to thank all of you for everything everyone in Biloxi does to help make Biloxi a better place. We have an outstanding police department with outstanding officers, dispatchers and staff. We are proud to have the support of the public, which is something you don’t always see nowdays. And for that, we are eternally grateful.

Hey, Duffield, can y’all send animal control over to city hall? I hear there’s a stray dog over there.”


(Da Look.) Don’t bring that spotted dog over here at City Hall.

Seriously, I’m very proud of the fire department begin recognized as one of the best in the country, but I’m just as proud of the job our men and women do in the Biloxi Police Department. I am also proud of all of our working K9s.

These two departments provide the most basic and most essential services of city government ……. that you know you are safe in your homes and businesses.

When you call 911, whatever the emergency, a Biloxi firefighter or Biloxi police officer will be the first ones on the scene to render assistance.

Having said all of that, it seems to be a thing about dogs with the police and fire chiefs.

Let me mention one more thing about our Firefighters and Police Officers. They put their lives on the line every day for us. Let us never forget Police Officer Robert McKeithen, Firefighter Darrian Endris and all our fallen heroes.

Over in the engineering department, that team last year managed over 70 projects in either concept, design, construction or completion stages. Work on the exterior of the Saenger Theatre was visual. Contractors have wrapped up the renovations to the fly tower, or the large area that houses the stage equipment. Now, ….more work will begin on the sealing of the bricks to help reduce future interior damage.

The department also managed over $1.4 million in paving citywide.

Last year, the Community Development Department issued nearly 4,500 permits including 465 for commercial structures and 968 residential structures. We saw a $30.8 million increase in overall construction valuation from 2019.

We saw completion of apartment complexes, homes and businesses such as Pep Boys Automotive Center on Highway 90, Shipley Do-Nuts on Popp’s Ferry, and The Cannery Bar n’ Grill on Shriners Boulevard in Woolmarket.

We saw Biloxi Station No. 7 on Popp’s Ferry open for service.

We saw permits issued and construction begin for the new Community Bank Building in downtown, the Biloxi Public Schools Performing Arts Center, and the Margaritaville amusement park… just to name a few.

In December of 2020, our City Council and the Harrison County Board of Supervisors….unanimously approved development incentives that sets the stage for 2 of the most significant projects for the future of Biloxi,  our Coast and the State of Mississippi. It’s even more exciting when consider it will be happening in the middle of this pandemic. 

One project is the UMusic Broadwater development located on the old Broadwater property.  It’s estimated to attract 2 million new visitors a year, with a world-class $1.1 billion resort that would include a 12,000-seat atrium, a new marina and golf course, 1,100 hotel rooms and a casino.

The other project located at the old Tivoli hotel property in East Biloxi, is the Tivoli Resort and Convention Center. It’s a $700 million project with 1,300 hotel rooms, a casino and convention center.  The property was acquired in 2007 and plans have been on the table for 10 years. Amazingly, today…they are both moving forward.

So it is, we come to you again today with another report about the State of your city.  We dare to have a vision, a vision based on what was and could be. We stand ready to deal with whatever comes our way.

Like another story that occurred 50 years ago. When one of our own dared to have a vision and a plan. And then comes the unexpected, and the adversity.

It was a story that had the entire world sit up and take note. In a few months, on the 51st anniversary of Apollo 13, we plan to be pay a long-overdue tribute to our hometown hero, Appllo 13 Astronaut Fred Haise.

And what better time?

Fred and his fellow astronauts were on their way to the moon when they launched at 13:13 on April 13, 1969.

They had a plan….and then the unexpected happened.

Fred Haise faced his adversity 50 years ago, and it took a lot of people working together to bring Apollo 13 home. Part of that plan was to be able to pivot when needed.

It’s just like us here in Biloxi. We have a vision of what this city can be, and we have a plan to make it happen.

We capitalize on our strong suits,  waterfront access, natural beauty, friendly people, a safe community, with a low cost of living, and a place that millions want to visit every year.

We have the benefit of living here, and we have the obligation to see that Biloxi remains, as Tommy Munro and Fred Haise would say, “a Brighter Biloxi.”

God bless all of you and God bless Biloxi.