State of the City 2023: Planning, progress, and pride

Here is the prepared text of Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich’s 2023 State of the City presentation, delivered at the Biloxi Bay Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday, March 16, 2023. To see the video, click here.

From the podium

THANK YOU ALL (concerned citizens, members of the business community) everyone…for being here with us today.

I believe this is Biloxi’s 33RD State of the City address.  This is my 7TH opportunity to come before you… to share the news, happenings, and plans for this beloved city… our beloved city.

1st order of business, as always, is to say thank you and I appreciate everyone from the Biloxi Bay  Chamber for organizing this event today.  Believe me… I know it takes a tremendous effort. And you deliver year after year.    

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

City Council members, brotherMayors, Supervisors, Legislators, elected officials, and many from Team Biloxiare all joining us today.   

Biloxi and I sincerely appreciate what you have done and what you continue to do every day for this city.

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

Everyone sees that Keesler is here in strength today. They are truly a force multiplier.

 I am so proud of our Keesler cousins and their hard work and success alongside of Team Biloxi.

Next, I need to acknowledge and express my deepest love and appreciation to my posse…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. No doubt, I owe it all to them.

This day and time… thank you to everyone viewing online and our TV audiences for their interest in the program.

The video presentation will touch upon things that we have accomplished: the past, what is happening right now today; the present, and important things that are on the radar, and in our vision for Biloxi; and the future.

You’ll see that we’ve forged new partnerships and collaborations 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.

I’m going to stop right here.  And we’ll move to the big screens for about 20 minutes.


Since its beginning, Biloxi’s progress has been and continues to be remarkable.  During the course of Biloxi’s history,  it’s been inhabited by many nationalities and many cultures. In fact, 8 flags have flown over her.

The land and waterfront have provided opportunities for many, developing and growing the city.

Many beautiful hotels, often landmarks in the city, were built, such as the Magnolia Hotel, the White House Hotel, the Buena Vista Hotel, the Tivoli, and the Edgewater Gulf Hotel.  Numerous piers, wharves, docks, and harbors developed the waterfront, all promoting tourism and economic development.

Progress has continued year after year.  Today we have amusement and entertainment venues, casinos, retail stores, boardwalks, walkways, and of course, we have, top-notched restaurants with the best seafood around.

We’ve weathered many storms, spills, and a pandemic, including the last couple of crazy years.

Today, we take pride in knowing that Biloxi is safe, friendly, and beautiful for its nearly 50,000 residents, and 4.2 million visitors.  Our Biloxi pride attracts all walks of life.

Today, tell almost anyone in the nation that you are from Biloxi and they’ll know where we are on the map.

Numbers don’t lie.  We are a tourist destination.  The gaming and sales taxes shows that.  In 2021, the gross gaming revenue exceeded $1 billion. We just ended 2022 with a record-breaking gross gaming revenue of nearly $1.1 billion and more than $14.7 million in sales tax revenue.  When you look at it, these numbers are phenomenal.

Biloxi’s planning and performance are paying off more and more.  

Today, the developers saw the beauty and history of our Biloxi.  The Tullis Gardens Hotel is on the drawing board. They have locked in on the site and are in the due-diligence phase of developing an 11-story luxury hotel with penthouses and suites, a rooftop restaurant facing the waterfront, and scenic gardens.  Next to the grand structure will be a replica of a piece of Biloxi’s history, the 19th-century Tullis-Toledano Manor that was swept away during Hurricane Katrina.

Tullis Gardens will be located in East Biloxi, between U.S.90 and Howard Avenue, just east of the Ohr O’Keefe Museum of Art.

The proposed hotel design borrows a number of features from Biloxi landmarks such as the Buena Vista and the Tivoli hotels.  The upscale rooftop “Deck” restaurant will be an exciting attraction.

All this, is a homage to our rich history, our planning, progress, and pride.

Since we converted Howard Avenue into a parquet dance floor, the revitalization of downtown continues.  It created a nucleus for things to happen, with its own gravity, synergy, and energy in downtown Biloxi.

In 2022, we saw the downtown opening of Community Bank, a 15,000-sq ft, 3-story structure with two rooftop terraces; Fields Steak & Oyster Bar opened in the Magnolia Hotel on Rue Magnolia; and we saw the opening of Ground Zero Blues Club Biloxi, which includes food, drink and live blues music on almost any night of the week.

Rolling Stone has named Ground Zero as one of the must-see music venues in Mississippi and it is right here in Biloxi.

Rumor has it, they put a baby grand piano on the stage just for me.

More downtown living space materialized with the transformation of the former Josette’s on Howard Avenue into 19 apartments. It’s now known as 902 Howard Avenue.

Down the street at the old Wells Fargo building, developers are converting the 2-story building into The Bella, a 13-unit condominium complex including a café.

And of course, there is the work that has been taking place at the Barq Building. Lee & Jeff Young and their team have been renovating the building and pulling back the layers of history to revitalize the building into 30,000 sq ft of retail space, dining, and entertainment and 30,000 sq ft of living on the 2nd floor. Lee says tenants could be moving into 1 and 2-bedroom loft-style apartments as early as June.

Restoration continues on our beloved Saenger Theatre. Exterior renovations have recently been completed and we are moving to the next phase, the interior.  We’re in the middle of designing interior functions & features. We continue to seek funding and the selection of a 3rd-party group to operate and maintain the theatre once it re-opens.  All of this, hopefully, sooner than later.

Nearby, on the beach is the Seawall Walkway, a walkway that runs about a mile from Oak Street to the Small Craft Harbor. We cut the ribbon on the walkway back in December and have moved on to the next phase of the $2 million federally-funded project.  Crews are now adding heavier sand that will reduce the chances of it being blown onto the highway.  Nearly 25,000 tons of specially-graded sand is being hauled and spread on the beach – 230 ft parallel to the seawall. Work is expected to wrap up in the next few months.

The Back Bay Boardwalk, the walkway from Forrest Avenue to Bayview Avenue was completed last summer. It’s about a 3rd of a mile long and includes benches, a pavilion, and outstanding lighting.

It did away with the unsightly rocks that were there for years. Now I see people walking along the walkway enjoying, seeing, smelling, and feeling our beautiful Back Bay.

We’re always looking to increase access to the waterfront for our citizens and visitors.

Recently, a 200-ft floating dock system was installed at Popp’s Ferry Causeway Park at the southeastern-most part of the park behind Yul’s Place.  In addition, a kayak launch has been relocated for easier use and more solar lights was installed. A Tidelands Grant funded the nearly $132,000 project.   

Over at Hiller Park, we have completed another Tidelands-funded project.  It’s the new and improved boat launch that now includes 2 new finger piers on both sides of the launch and new asphalt in the parking area.

More repairs and upgrades are in the works over at the Commercial Harbor. Concrete and electrical panels and pedestals are being replaced.  And at the Point Cadet Marina, nearly 2 dozen floating docks are being installed. Work on both projects is expected to wrap up this summer.

On March 3rd, Margaritaville opened Paradise Pier, with the 180-ft observation wheel overlooking the waterfront, the aero bar, a one-of-a-kind ascending bar, and 14 other amusement rides. Everyone expects it to be a game-changer.

Down the road at Oak Street, we have plans to upgrade and improve the Oak Street pier to allow boaters a place to visit and dine, right off the waterfront.  We are applying for tidelands grants to fund the project.

ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) grants matched with State and County funding will allow us to extend water lines on Lorraine Road, replace old water lines in the Tanglewood and surrounding neighborhoods, and replace the inoperable water well at Bay Vista Drive.

Our top priority and another game-changer is the Popp’s Ferry extension.  We have already spent over $15 million on the project, which will connect Popp’s Ferry to U.S. 90.  We are about 95%  complete with the design and right-of-ways.  With the help of State Representative Kevin Felsher, State Senator Scott Delano, and the Harrison County Board of Supervisors, along with the city’s 2022 Bond Issue, we have secured the funding needed to move forward with the project.  At the beginning of April, we will submit the design and bid package to MDOT for approval. We hope to bid the project in July.  

Without a doubt, it will be a shot in the economic arm of this major intersection and open new opportunities in the impacted area south of Pass Road to U.S. 90 just west of the Coliseum.

You will still have to travel across the Popp’s Ferry bridge. This connection will help with future funding for building a new Popp’s Ferry bridge.  In the meantime, we will continue maintenance of the bridge and look for funding to replace the over-40-year-old structure.

You may have heard the recent announcement about Rouses Market moving into the old Winn Dixie building. Insert Donny Rouses’ video

As part of the Popp’s Ferry extension project, a new railroad crossing will need to be added in West Biloxi. In order to do so, 3 crossings have to be closed. This is part of the ongoing project to lessen the number of crossings in East Biloxi where there are nearly two dozen in a 2-mile stretch from Point Cadet to Keesler Air Force Base.

Nixon and Dorries street crossings have already been closed. The crossing at Holley Street is next.  Construction can begin after we receive an agreement to proceed from CSX and the CSX flaggers are scheduled.

Main Street crossing work will begin soon. The project has been bid and awarded a contractor. CSX flaggers are scheduled in the next month or so, contractors will elevate the roadway on each side of the tracks and will lessen the steepness at the crossing.

We all take pride in knowing that Keesler Air Force Base is more secure. We saw the opening of the new main gate for Keesler Air Force Base last year.  It was a seamless transition for those entering and exiting the base.  

The new Division Street coordinator has been widened. New lighting has been installed and bicycle lanes have been added.  

We continue to work with our Keesler cousins each and every day. Our latest collaboration is another air show. Here is a Thunderbird to tell you more.  Insert Major Downies video.

It will be an airshow filled with Biloxi and the Air Forces’ Heritage and Honor.

Collaborations continue throughout the city.

Remember that little storm named Zeta?  It destroyed the Lighthouse Pier. FEMA mitigation allowance will allow the city to build the pier back stronger with concrete pilings, flow-through decking, and a rock jetty.

Once again tourists and residents will not only walk along the moonwalk and visit the Fred Haise statue but will also walk the 800 ft pier and really enjoy our Biloxi waterfront.

Katrina Infrastructure work continues. We have completed more than $271 million of the $355 million of complex work, with more than $45.5 million in active construction of replacing old water, deep-sewer, and drainage lines in East Biloxi and in West Biloxi along U.S. 90. Once complete, about 75 of the unsightly and vulnerable sewer lift stations will be eliminated.

All of this planning and progress takes a significant workforce. In Biloxi, we have more than 600 employees that provide the day-to-day services that our residents, along with visitors, expect and deserve.

The Biloxi Departments of Public Safety continue to provide top-notch services. Firefighters and Police Officers put their lives on the line daily for us. 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.

Last year, the firefighters responded to over 8,000 emergency calls, 253 were fire-related and over 5000 were rescue and medical incidents, representing 63% of overall calls.

The department has continued its efforts to make it safer for firefighters by investing in equipment enabling them to render life-saving responses safely and efficiently. Self Contained Air Packs with the latest safety regulations went into service early last year. And in the next month or so, three new pumper trucks will be delivered to stations seven, eight, and ten. The Fire chiefs and staff were able to identify the shortest build times and come in under budget. Next up… is a new ladder truck, which takes longer to build than a house. ….The department is anticipating the arrival of a new ladder truck early next year.

Biloxi Firefighters have continued to train with our Police Department to work seamlessly together on high-risk emergency incidents. 

Biloxi Police officers protect and serve the citizens and visitors of Biloxi. Our officers organized security and traffic for more than 8 major events, all while continuing to handle daily police calls for service.

Last year, Dispatchers generated over 110 thousand combined calls for service. 45 percent were self-generated by police officers, which means the officer found the issue before a citizen ever called it in.

Animal Control rescued 343 animals, and our investigators resolved nearly 26 percent of felony cases, which is above the national average. The department recorded reductions in burglaries, robberies, and sexual assaults by a combined average of 24 percent. The Biloxi Police Bomb Squad continues to be recognized by the FBI, ATF, and the Mississippi Department of Homeland Security as the premier bomb unit in the state.

The Parks and Recreation Department maintains the city’s 15 parks, playgrounds, and 20 ballfields. Last year, the department managed 11 community events, including parades, special needs events, and holiday dinners, all with record turnouts.

Parks and Recreation saw the completion of a new public park at Eagle Point that includes a walking track, pickleball courts, and ball fields. Additional playground and fitness equipment upgrades were completed at Savarro Park, Businessman Park, O’Reilly Park, John Henry Beck Park, and Popp’s Ferry Recreational area.

New pickleball facilities and courts are in the works at the Popp’s Ferry Recreational area. Design has been completed and bids are going out for a new locker and restrooms.

At the A.J. Holloway Sports Complex, significant, multi-million dollar improvements are also in the works.  We are about 95% complete with the design which includes improving drainage, replacing fencing, and adding synthetic turf. We look to bid the project later this month with work to begin later this year. 

In the Engineering Department, over 40 projects are either in concept, design, construction or closing out.  In fact, $12 million of projects were completed and closed out in 2022.

Design efforts continue on projects worth nearly $56 million and this year, we have $12 million in ongoing projects.

Efforts continue to extend water and sewer to those unserved in Woolmarket. Thanks in part to a Mississippi Municipality and County Water Infrastructure Grant, crews are installing 6,500 ft of water and 3,800 linear ft of sewer along Beverin Road, and north along Shriners Boulevard to the intersection of Old Hwy 67 and Hwy 67. This project is expected to be completed by the end of July

Crews in Public Works handled over 8,000 work orders in 2022, totaling over $2 million. On-call, 24/7, the many services they provide include asphalt repair, mowing rights-of-way, maintenance of drainage ditches, and maintenance of the city’s 23 water wells, 102 lift stations, and over 2,700 fire hydrants. All this was completed with the combined efforts of 80 employees.

The Community Development Department oversaw the completion of a number of commercial construction projects and saw the opening of many new businesses, some I mentioned earlier.

Just a few more: Slim Chickens Restaurant opened on Cedar Lake Road. Armond’s Rockin’ Chicken opened on Howard Avenue. A new zip line feature was added at the Finish Line Go Cart Track on Hwy 90. In addition, 89 building permits were issued last year for new single-family houses.

Later this year, work will begin on Rizzuto’s Italian restaurant in the Redding house.  

As you know, our Public Affairs Division put this together today. They work around the clock to make sure the public and everyone is aware of current projects and events. They have kept us informed with emergency traffic alerts. They continue to create and produce programming for BTV and the city’s social media platforms, and put together BNews, the monthly compendium of Biloxi affairs.

Our employees keep Biloxi moving forward, shining Biloxi’s pride.


It requires planning and commitment to keep progressing, building a safe, friendly, and fun Biloxi for residents and visitors.

Since my first inauguration, I have said that my plans, Biloxi’s plans are a team effort. Many of the things that I have talked about today have shown that.

Biloxi is where it is today because of working together.   With its citizens, employees, legislators, and other elected officials, we all have the same goal in mind.

Make Biloxi the best it can be.  We already know we have a great community.  We just want to show it off and provide more for future generations so they too will take pride in Biloxi.

Many will tell you I love to talk.  Often too much and always too fast.  What can I say?  I am proud of Biloxi.  We are Biloxi.

So hang on a moment. I’ll join you at the podium.

God bless all of you.

Closing from the podium

Let me acknowledge all of our department directors seated at the table over there. They have a tuff job. I can’t thank them and the city employees they lead enough for the many things that they get done each and every day.  With pride… they do their job for our residents and our many visitors.

Cecilia Dobbs-Walton and John Major our Biloxi’s Public Affairs team. Please join me and acknowledge Cecilia, John, Peter Petro, and Renny Sherman for putting today’s program together.

Some breaking news and some things I would like re-emphasize:

MGM Stadium

-Mississippi State 2 games Nichols State and UL Lafayette

-Battle for the Beach – 2 days of Gulf Coast high schools  

-Shuckers – April 5 & 6 exhibition   April 11 start regular season

IP – Mississippi Manufactured Housing Association – Annual Trade Show

-March 20-23 – 38 model houses assembled…largest housing trade in the country

-Expect 1,500 participants…700 rooms at IP and GN from 25 states

Beau Rivage – IAMC 2023 Spring Conference hosted by MDA April 1-5

-Includes development authorities from other States and Canada.  Originally before COVID

-Expect about 400 participants from the public/private sectors looking for large industrial projects and opportunities.

-Fall Conference in London

Paradise Pier at Margaritaville – those 15 exciting rides are like no other around and it’s attracting new visitors every dayQuave Brothers Po-Boys – opening this week near Keesler Gate 7 at the corner of Pass Road & I’berville Drive. That’s right…D’Iberville Mayor Rusty Quave and his sons. It’s exciting and we appreciate their investment in our city. The Quave Family has been part of Biloxi’s history for hundreds of years…but there is no basis for the rumor of a Biloxi / D’Iberville merger.     

In the video, you heard from Donny Rouse and that the Popps Ferry Road extension to U.S. 90 was a significant factor in their expansion decision.

I’m convinced that the extension was also considered by KFCU in their decision to build and relocate their International Headquarters next to the facilities they have on Pass Road.  1,500 new jobs will be there.

I’m also convinced that it will happen again and again in the vicinity of the new corridor.

I don’t want to talk too much…but I mentioned the number 7 last year… and the number this year is 8.  Many of you know some things about craps (shooting dice).

Sometimes your point is 8.  And… you’ll win your bet if you throw an 8 again before you throw a 7.

You can make an 8 by throwing 2&6, 6&2, 3&5, or 5&3.  That’s called the easy way.  If you throw 4&4…that’s called 8 the hard way.   It doesn’t matter which way you make it or how many rolls it takes.

To win…you just have to make your point.   

Since COVID and 2020… It’s been remarkable, incredible, record years in 2021… again in 2022 and we’re on track again in 2023.  You can see…Biloxi has made more than its share of points …sometimes the hard way and sometimes the easy way.  It doesn’t matter how.

Biloxi is on a roll…there is no time to rest in 2023. It will be exciting again.

So…I’ll close now by saying…

Thank you again…and God bless all of you…and God bless Biloxi