SOTC 2021: What you didn’t hear

It happens every year. Either because of continuity, timing or “whatever,” as Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich might say, a number of words do not make it into the State of the City presentation. This year was no exception.

“It’s not that these things are not important. They are,” Gilich said. “Our issue is that we want to keep the attention of the audience, and we know people are busy. What we can say, however, is that when words needed to be trimmed, we went out of our way to make up for it in images of those things we felt important.

Added the mayor: “We also know that we will have plenty of opportunities going forward to shine a spotlight on these projects.”

Herewith, some of the words that were trimmed:

On the Keesler gate: Outside the gate, in the half-mile of Division Street between I-110 and Forrest, we’ve built the roundabout, we’ve purchased all of the right of way, we’re ready to begin construction on the new boulevard.

I’m telling you, I still remember those days when Biloxi saw 140,000 people overnight, and downtown came alive every payday at Keesler Field.

On Martini’s in downtown Biloxi: Just the other day, Machado Patano announced plans for a new downtown venue, Martini’s. It will be an upscale downtown bar and restaurant in Biloxi. Perhaps the most popular thing in this million-dollar-plus investment will be the huge outdoor courtyard with two entertainment stages, custom fountains and even a rooftop bar.

On the West Biloxi boardwalk: We’ve completed the mile-long boardwalk behind restaurant row in west Biloxi. We’re now working on replacing that rip rap along Back Bay and transforming the area from Forrest to a beautiful concrete promenade along Back Bay.

On the Popp’s Ferry extension: In West Biloxi, we have now acquired all of the property for the Popp’s Ferry extension from Pass Road to Highway 90. This roadway is going to ignite what is now a depressed area of Pass Road in West Biloxi. This is a shovel-read project. Our issue is funding. The city has submitted grant applications to US Department of transportation in both 2019 and 2020. Despite support from Senators Wicker and Hyde Smith, and Representative Palazzo, no grant funds for construction have received. The project was scored highly and a new application will be made in April 2021.

On Belle La Vie Parkway: Out in Woolmarket, we completed phase 1 of the Belle La Vie parkway. This half-mile long roadway is important for two reasons. It’s opens up the southernmost portion of this large (perhaps the largest) undeveloped parcel of land to development of planned 1700 residential units. The roadway also includes the transfer of land to the city for development of north/South and east/west roadways connecting this master planned development to other parts of the city.

On Ellzey Place: We also built a connecting roadway in the Cedar-Popp’s area. The new roadway off Popp’s Ferry Road connects to Cedar Lake Road and more importantly opens up this area to new development.

On East Biloxi railway connector road: Another project overseen by our Engineering Department was the new connector road alongside the CSX railway in East Biloxi. This roadway helps us begin the closure of some of the 21 rail crossings in east Biloxi, and we continue to work with MDOT on finding a solution to the Main Street crossing.

On Amtrak: At the same time, we haven’t forgotten about Amtrak and the many opportunities it offers for Biloxi. Money is set aside for a new rail platform to serve the Downtown Transit Center.

On Keesler: Our Keesler neighbors have also adapted, conquered, and continued to move forward. They embraced technology more than ever before with virtual meetings, telecommuting of staff and the purchase of virtual reality training equipment such as laptops, goggles and sensors. Construction also continued on the Division Street Gate entrance with the construction of a new roadway and curbing.  Next is the construction of a new welcome center along with enhanced safety features for vehicles entering the base.

On the Biloxi Veterans Administration Medical Center: Over at the Biloxi VA, the leadership and staff adapted to ensure that our Veterans are getting the attention and care they deserve. They saw patients virtually when possible. Using 3D printers, our VA created their own personal protection equipment, they created a Family Cruising Parade for veterans who had been unable to venture off the VA campus. Another innovation was a drive-through food pantry for Veterans.

On Biloxi Public Schools: And as for the Biloxi Public Schools, they forged through the school year by successfully transitioning to a virtual learning environment, providing every student with a Chromebook, and adapting to the needs of the students to continue to provide each with a top-notch education. In fact, BHS was ranked number one on the Coast and number four in the state by U.S. News and World Report’s annual ranking.

The school district also completed its $14 million dollar Performing Arts Center which includes a stage, 954 seats, a balcony, LED and touch screen lighting, a lobby, a make-up room to accompany 74 individuals, dressing rooms, a shower, JBL and Bose acoustics, and more.