State of the City 2022: Transformational

Here is the prepared text of Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich’s 2022 State of the City presentation, delivered at the Biloxi Bay Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Tuesday, April 19, 2022. To see the video, click here.

From podium.

Thank all of you for being here today. I appreciate the Biloxi Bay Area Chamber for organizing this event every year.

Thanks also to the Beau Rivage for always making this gathering top-notch.

City Council members, mayors, supervisors, legislators, elected officials, many of Team Biloxi are here with us today. Thank you for what you have done and what you continue to do every day for our beloved city.

I want to thank all of the businesses who are represented here today, especially those of you who have played huge roles in some of the projects we’re going to talk about today.

Keesler is here in force today. They are truly a force and I’m proud of our Keesler cousins and their hard work and success alongside of Team Biloxi.

Thank you to Team Keesler and of course to Team Biloxi

I need to acknowledge Team FoFo, led by my wife Serena, along with my great family and many friends. They’ve been with me, every day and in every way.

In this day and time, I would be remised if I did not thank our online and TV audiences for their interest in our program today.

 For 32 years now, the chamber has been carrying on this tradition.

Today, our presentation, our message, is one of the most important in all of those years.

In the past few years, we’ve talked about plans and visions and ideas and how we could make things happen. We’ve very hard to provide the day-to-day services you expect and deserve.

During that time, we have forged new partnerships that have produced positive results in terms of economic development, quality of life, and quality of place.

I’m very thankful for what we’ve been able to do together.

We are rising to the next level – sustaining and building on the positive things that we are making happen.

I’m going to stop right here. And we’ll move to the big screens.


TRANSFORMATIONAL…it’s a word that you hear a lot….you don’t always see it happen.

But, you’re going to see it today.

We have accomplished many things in the last 6 years.  May 2022 will begin the 7th year of my tenure as mayor and you’ll see projects described as transformational become reality…. for our city, our county, and yes, our state.

A big part of the state of our city right now…. We’re creating jobs, we’re solidifying and broadening our appeal, we’re enhancing our quality of life and quality of place. We’re creating excitement in Biloxi. You’ll agree, excitement is transformational.

In 2021, COVID-19 cases declined as vaccinations ramped up, safety protocols loosened up and people were anxious to get back out and enjoy what Biloxi has to offer.

Evidence of that….gaming and sales tax revenues were phenomenal in 2021. We saw record-breaking gross gaming revenue, $1billion plus for the year, including a record $111.2 million for a single month. Also….never seen before…. $13.8 million sales tax revenue.

It should be pointed out… good as these Biloxi numbers were for us…. it was even better for the State of Mississippi.

In the 2020 Census….Biloxi picked up nearly 5,400 residents, bringing Biloxi to right at 50,000 citizens.

That’s a 12 percent increase over the past decade, and we picked up more new residents than any other city on the Coast. Population shift has been reflected in new ward lines with each ward averaging about 7,000 residents.

Excitement and growth can be seen throughout the city.

Things got started on Howard Avenue. We developed a plan, not only for Howard Avenue, but for the surrounding areas as well.

It was turned in to a street again, and with the addition of that parquet dance floor, the table was set for economic development. And you’re seeing that economic development move forward. It covers all sectors, residential, commercial, mixed use, all the things you want.

Opportunity was obvious. There hasn’t been this much private investment and commerce on Howard Avenue since the days of the Union Bar.  Outdoor events that take place on a regular basis.

The new Community Bank opened its doors in February and the new park, The District Green has become the spot for the monthly First Friday downtown block party and a host of other activities.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the most exciting opening this year on Howard Avenue happened at the old Kress building.  Ground Zero Biloxi Blues Club opened with much fanfare.  It has already experienced that gravity that attracts people from everywhere like the original Ground Zero in the Mississippi Delta.  We appreciate that the principals, including Morgan Freeman and the late Bill Luckett, saw the potential on Howard Avenue.

Just next door, repairs and renovations have begun on the Barq’s Building.  It will provide about 15 2nd story apartments with 1st story retail spaces all the way from Reynoir Street.

Now you see Martini’s. Josette’s is just weeks away from opening 16 market-rate apartments and retail spaces and the re-location and expansion of Fillups for Billups restaurant. Soon to open Bella, at the former site of Wells Fargo Bank, will add even more living spaces downtown.

Over at the Fields Oyster and Steak Restaurant at the Old Magnolia Hotel on Rue Magnolia, work is underway. May is the target opening for that dining experience.

Progress continued over at the Saenger Theatre, the jewel of the Coast.  The exterior work is nearing the end.  It has been time-consuming and costly, but be assured, it’s being done the right way. Contractors are currently working on the main entrance of this showplace, repairing and replacing the damaged brick and facades, replacing the entrance doors, and awing. Repairs to the ticket booth are all forthcoming. Hopefully, completion also in May.

The City is exploring ideas that would increase the functionality of the Saenger’s interior space.  It continues to look for funding for the interior work, as well as the best operations management options for the theatre.

There’s been a lot of talk about all of the new and exciting things that are happening.

But, never should we forget those who for generations have been the pillars our local economy and made many of these new happenings possible. I want to thank our longtime businesses downtown for the investments they have made and are continuing to make.


On Highway 90, you can see hauling, edging, sweeping, trimming, more trimming and even more hauling … all designed to create a more inviting and visually appealing presence along Highway 90.

What’s so special about that? This project was a team effort, with the city, county and tourism commission pitching in to hire a private contractor to take a holistic approach to beautifying the median. Our challenge now is to keep it looking that way.

More than 100 truckloads, years of sand, were moved before Cruisin’ The Coast. Since then, hundreds more truckloads have been moved.

The Biloxi Lighthouse landscaping also received some maintenance and some revamping took place in the Lighthouse parking lot.  The re-design increased parking from 78 to 173 spaces at this popular location.  A new statue was added as a salute to our most famous son of Biloxi, Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise. The public dedication ceremony took place on Feb. 13 at 1:13 p.m. or 13:13 in military time.

It also included the unveiling of the moonwalk which adds to the out-of-this-world atmosphere at the site.

To add to the beautification efforts, last year the City staged Operation Clean Sweep to aid Pelican Waste in the removal of excess yard debris caused by hurricanes and torrential downpours.

The month-long push to catch up on storm debris removal resulted in 3700 cubic yards of debris being hauled away. That’s almost 450 tons of debris.

Since the West Biloxi Boardwalk was dedicated, the area establish itself as a very popular restaurant row. The boardwalk is a favorite location for visitors and locals alike.

On a 2-acre site south of Highway 90 west of Veterans Avenue, where the Cuco’s restaurant once stood, you’ll see construction of new homes built as short-term rentals and vacation homes. They will be elevated, with flow-through ground floors, and they are designed to meet insurance and flood standards, and, of course, they offer outstanding views.  They’ll face the beachfront, but the side facing the highway is will also to have appeal.  

Also along Highway 90, a project like no other on the beach, is the Seawall Walkway from Oak Street to the Small Craft Harbor.

It’s tied in with the seawall and designed to not only provide access along the beachfront, but also to keep the beach sand from blowing onto Highway 90 using a bench high kneewall on top.  Also part of design a 1-foot composite break away to protect the structure during storm surge.

Contractors are “blowin & goin” laying the concrete walkway with an 18-inch kneewall and composite break away areas. The sand problem has been talked about for years. In a few months, the viability of this pilot project will begin.  


On Point Cadet in early 2021, the beginning phases of South Contract infrastructure work began in, south of the CSX railway.  Contractors installed new water, deep sewer and drainage lines between Hoxie Avenue and Pine Street and the punch list items should be completed this month.

The next phase, between Oak Street and Holley and Point Cadet, contractors are installing new water, deep sewer and drainage lines. Check out this new paving on a newly rebuilt Oak Street.

A design goal was to reduce the overall number of wastewater lifting stations throughout the system. The result will reduce the cost of maintenance and operations, to minimize the vulnerability of the entire water and sewer system.

Next up, work will begin on the West Contract along Highway 90 from Debuys to Veterans Avenue.  Those unsightly portable pumps will be going away.


On Division Street, we are getting closer and closer to opening the new Keesler main gate. Power is now underground and unsightly utility poles are being removed. Curbs gutters are in place and the contractor has begun base course paving.

You can see the work Keesler has done west of the new roundabout, and you can see our working picking up pace in all the areas between Forrest Avenue and I-110.

As the Air Force is completing their new facilities inside the gate, we will jointly coordinate opening the new gate to traffic.  We’re shooting for the end of May.

This project has been battered around nearly 25 years.  And now it’s close to reality.

To be sure, this work is not only providing a fitting and secure entrance to the best base in the Air Force, but it’s also going to revive Division Street once again into a viable economic corridor.


As the infrastructure work in East Biloxi is being completed, areas of West Biloxi will now have the oldest water, sewer and storm drainage systems in our City.  Some date back to before the area became part of Biloxi. Of course, the people in Woolmarket and Eagle Point would like to see water and sewer efforts continue in their area.

The West Biloxi Master Plan and the Woolmarket Master Plan have been developed to address these issues.  And to deliver these projects…we have submitted about $28 million in water and sewer projects to the State asking for American Resource Plan Act funding assistance.

The goal is to create water and sewer systems that will tie into the post-Katrina infrastructure work that has already been completed in of West Biloxi and Woolmarket.


We continue to see outstanding, progressive day to day services provided by employees in all city departments.  I always say Biloxi is a safe, friendly and beautiful City. Our 600 plus employees make that possible.

At the top of the list, of course, is managing city finances. Last year, the city had $70.6 million in revenue versus $61.5 million in expenses. For the year, that’s about $9 million to the good.

My philosophy to running the City is much like that of any business.  Try to increase revenue, decrease expenditures, and manage assets. And I think we are doing all of that properly.

The Public Works Department each and every day manages streets and sewer issues throughout the city.  Last year, it completed 10,231 work orders and continued to assist with debris removal and beautification throughout the city. The department scored a perfect 5 out of 5 in the State’s evaluation of our water and sewer operations.

In the Parks & Recreation Department, facilities opened back up and in-person events took place, including numerous COVID-19 vaccination clinics for City employees and Biloxi residents.

A new shade structure was installed at Miramar Park. The walking track, basketball and pickleball courts are now open at Eagle Point Park.  Just the other day, a ribbon cutting was held at St Mary’s Park on Wiltshire Boulevard. The park received an entire makeover with a new playground and a community garden, all thanks to Sparkling Ice. It chose Biloxi as 1 of 3 cities in the country to receive this makeover.

The door is open for what can be possible at our other parks. Soon, there will be new equipment at Savarro, Pennzoil, Businessmen’s and Eagle Point parks as well as fitness equipment at O’Reilly park.

The Biloxi City Council has approved the sale of up to $17 million in general obligation bonds for a broad variety of projects. A number of the projects are designed….ready to bid….like the Popps Ferry Extension to Highway 90.  On the radar are a number of water, sewer and drainage projects in both the master plans for West Biloxi and Woolmarket.  Also included are recreation projects throughout the City and a major upgrade to the A.J. Holloway Sports Complex.


Our Biloxi Fire and Police Departments, as always, continue to provide exceptional service.

This Administration along with the City Council, in the FY2023 budget, recognized the importance of their dedication to public service, focused and provided significant compensation increases to the departments. 

We need to keep our Fire and Police rated at the top. 

Last year, we saw the retirement of Fire Chief Joe Boney and Assistant Chief Mark Dronet.

The Fire Department welcomed Nicholaus Geiser as its 22nd Chief and Jason Earl Davis as the Assistant Chief in August.  In addition, 11 new firefighters were hired and 3 new fire trucks are in the works to service stations 7, 8, and 9.

Just recently, Biloxi firefighters begin using brand-new facemasks and air packs, thanks to a $600,000 federal grant. The 82 self-contained breathing apparatuses, and 183 masks are updated to the latest safety regulations and were all made in the USA.

Our fire department remains among the nation’s best with a Class 2 rating, putting it among the top 2% in the country.

Everyone recognizes that It is a challenge to be a Police Officer this day and time.

Our Police Department is no different.  The department also saw its share of retirements, resignations and hiring. 13 sworn officers left the department but 13 new officers were hired. 4 dispatch positions were also filled.

The department’s bomb squad remains the premier unit in Mississippi.  The investigations divisions continue to be above the national level in resolving felony cases.

This year, the department begin its Citizen’s Police Academy, designed to give citizens insight into how the police department serves the community. The inaugural 10-week class wrapped up last month, graduating more than a dozen participants from the program. 

Both the police and fire departments continue to serve, protect, and interact with Biloxi residents and its many visitors, all while continuing to take COVID-19 precautionary measures.

They are….simply the best.

In the Engineering Department, employees continued to oversee 50 capital projects from concept, to design, and construction.  They completed more than 1,000 work orders including videoing sewer and storm drains, inspecting ditches, paving, and by way of GIS technology, drew maps and plans for utilities and easements. The department also oversees online road closure notices and street sweeping schedules.

Work continues at the railroad crossings. We have closed two dangerous intersections, Nixon and Dorries with other planned. As for the Main Street crossing, work will soon begin. With funding assistance from MDOT, you will see work on a $1 million project to improve that infamous crossing.

Economic growth continues to be seen throughout the Biloxi.

The Community Development Department oversaw the opening of numerous new businesses throughout the city. At the same time, game-changing projects are in the works.

Margaritaville is nearing completion with its 2-story parking structure and this summer developers are expected to begin work on Paradise Pier, the amusement park that will be adjacent to Margaritaville and will include a Ferris wheel, Aerobar, and other fun things.

I’ve already mentioned the District’s Ground Zero Biloxi Blues opening and renovations to the old Barq’s Building on Howard Avenue.

We also saw the opening of The Blake Assisted Living and Memory Care Community off Cedar Lake Road, The Legends Hotel on Highway 90, and a new Starbucks in front of the Edgewater Mall, just to name a few.

Don’t write off the UMusic Broadwater development or the Tivoli.  Talks continue of a tenant and expansion for the former Margaritaville Casino on 5th Street.  From New Orleans….Rizzuto’s Italian restaurant in the Redding house is on the way.

Single family residential development is off the charts. In development, you want to see growth in all the main areas –single- family, multi-family, commercial and amusement. Biloxi is definitely seeing development grow in all those areas.


Throughout the city, Hurricane Zeta repairs are continuing including work at the Visitors Center and the Commercial Harbor.  We didn’t wait for FEMA reimbursements to get started after the storm.  We established a $20 million credit line to begin clean up and repairs. Vendors got paid and Biloxi was reimbursed by FEMA. And we have re-paid most money that was borrowed.

Most of our storm damaged piers have been reopened: the Coliseum pier, Forrest Avenue T-pier, the Ice Wharf, Porter Avenue North and Oak Street North.

The Lighthouse pier will not be rebuilt the same way.  Seymour Engineering and our consulting engineers are continuing to work on the design.  FEMA hazard mitigation will allow us to rebuild

it with concrete pilings and flow through decking and a protective rock jetty.

We have also opened bids and will shorty award a $6 million improvement project at Point Cadet Marina. This project will replace the old fixed piers with state-of-the-art floating dock systems.

Along our beautiful Back Bay, everyone remembers the ugly rocks, weeds and scrub trees along Bayview between Forrest Avenue and Kensington Drive.  That’s all gone now.  That new promenade, a $2 million project, is a few weeks away from completion.  It has a pavilion, benches and everything you need to gather and enjoy that stretch of the Back Bay. 

Biloxi’s 600 plus employees have made all these things you’ve heard here today possible.

No one knows or appreciates that more than I do. 

With help from the City Council earlier this year, employees saw a bump in salaries ranging from 4½ to 6 percent. They all continue to benefit from a robust, affordable medical, dental and vision plans for employees and their families

But we need even more good people.  In fact, there were about 70 vacant positions at the end of 2021.

So, we’re hiring!  Pass the word.


From the podium after the video, I’ll have some updates regarding the Biloxi Beach Corridor and the much-debated Popp’s Ferry Bridge challenges.

A great benefit to being my age, things are recognized for what they really are.  Many have heard me say that in this business “everything is not what it seems”.  It’s the rule….not the exception. 

That experience is used every day, like leverage in Judo, in making Biloxi’s case.  It also takes innovation, cooperation and collaboration. We’ve demonstrated all of that to the State of Mississippi and all of our neighbors.

Over the last 323 years, that’s how Biloxi was built and It is what it is. Not by saying you can’t do this or you can’t do that. But because we nearly always offer “how can we help you do it”

Please don’t take this the wrong way.  “Let Biloxi be Biloxi.” Everyone will benefit.

We’ve looked back on the rollercoaster of year we’ve had.  We realize too, the opportunity it has presented. We’ve seen record-breaking visitor numbers and we want them to come back.

So where do we go from here?

For you, your children, grandchildren and their children…we’ll keep working relentlessly for them

and we will keep standing up for our Biloxi.

The hope…..future generations will enjoy the same Biloxi that we have enjoyed.

Biloxi has an indomitable spirit. It has shown it time and time again throughout its history.

Those challenges, whether man-made or natural disasters, rest assured it will always endure, persevere and prevail.

We are Biloxi….God bless all you like He has blessed Biloxi.

Closing from the podium.

Today, I have outlined the broad strokes of our program of work in Biloxi.

Let me acknowledge and thank the people at this table over here. They are our department directors.

When I talk about the big pictures, it’s these folks who make sure things continue to get done day to day. It’s a lot of work. I appreciate them and I appreciate all our city employees who work hard every day.

Working for the City of Biloxi and doing a good job for our residents and visitors should be and needs to be a source of pride.

During the video, I mentioned the number of employee retirements over the past year.

Vincent Creel, for nearly 27 years, Biloxi’s Public Affairs Manager, is retiring at the end of this month. He is the epitome of working hard for the city and doing a great job for residents and visitors. You could count on him, 24/7, to perform every aspect of his job with passion and love for his hometown.

Where would we be without BNews? Biloxi was truly fortunate to have Vincent as its media face and voice for so long. The City of Biloxi will miss him. I will miss him.

However, Cecilia Dobbs Walton, Vincent’s assistant for years, will be assuming the helm. I’m confident that we won’t lose a step. I want to thank Vincent, Cecilia, Peter, and Renny for putting today’s program together.

Now, let me give you a gaming update. $115 million of gross gaming revenue for Biloxi casinos is now the new all-time record for a single month. It was for last month, March 2022. I’ll give you the details later, but just like it was in April 2021, the State of Mississippi booked the biggest winner.

Recently, you’ve heard about the price of eggs reaching nearly$3 a dozen. Not too long ago, it was about $1 a dozen.

Well, in 2015, we started exploring the Biloxi Beach Connector from Hwy 67 down Shriners in Woolmarket, a causeway across the Tchoutacabouffa River to Popp’s Ferry Road, a four-lane high rise Popp’s Ferry bridge with the extension of Popp’s Ferry road across Pass Road tying into Hwy 90 just west of the coliseum. At that time, the estimate for the whole project was $255 million.

Just like the price of eggs, the cost estimate of the high-rise bridge jumped from $75 million to about $180 million when United Bridge Partners proposed to the city a toll bridge as an option to be built in five years and paid for over 99 years.

Another significant issue is that Popp’s Ferry Road is not designated as a state road. We researched all of our options, funding sources, grants and programs…every angle.

You know what was discovered? It really was a bridge too far. However, what is within reach is to re-rehab the draw bridge mechanism, keep it form getting stuck, for about $15 million. We’re pursuing and closing in on that funding.

With design and engineering nearly complete and a significant amount of right of way already purchased, you can expect the bid phase of the Popp’s Ferry Extension to get started shortly.

Then, Popp’s Ferry Road will connect to a major highway, a huge step towards getting it designed as a state road.

Each year at these luncheons, we talk of hope for the next year. We talk of vision and opportunity. We use a lot of words like indomitable or resilient, and even transformational.

But, in this, my seventh year as your mayor, I’m not going to think only in terms of goals. I going to be driven by expectations.

Expectation of progress. Expectations of cooperation and teamwork. And expectations of Biloxi getting its fair shake. I hope I have demonstrated what can be done when we work together.

Look, there’s no doubt I’m wired differently, and I’m a numbers guy.

The number seven has always had a mystical significance. It’s said to be the most popular number in the world.

You have the seven wonders of the world. You’ve heard of the seven habits of highly effective people. Scholars say that people can retain seven items of information in their short-term memory. During creation, God said the seventh day would be a day of rest.

For Biloxi, there is no time to rest. 2022 is going to be the year of expectations.

Together, we can make it happen.

God bless you and God bless Biloxi.