State of the City Address

Mayor Holloway’s “State of the City” Address, delivered Feb. 3, 1997 to Biloxi Bay Chamber of Commerce, Treasure Bay Hotel.

Good evening and thank you for having me here tonight. I am honored to present the annual State of the City address.

For three years now, I have come before you to outline the many projects that we have undertaken and completed throughout this great city of ours. I am delighted to say that Biloxi continues to reach new levels of
achievement and accomplishment — in both the public and private sectors.

Tonight, I’m going to review for you where we’ve been and tell you where we’re going. Before I end this speech tonight, you’ll hear a little about the history of our city and more importantly you’ll hear about Biloxi’s future.

Before I go any further, let me say this. I want to thank you for the opportunity, for the support, for the encouragement, and for the trust you’ve shown me over the last four years. Boy, this has been one great ride for the city of Biloxi, hasn’t it?

Thank you.

In every decision I make, I always strive to do what I think is in the best interests of Biloxi — even though it may have not been what was most popular for A.J. Holloway. But, like you, I want to see Biloxi be the best city it can be. So, what have we done to make Biloxi a better city? I suppose the most significant accomplishment in the past year — at least in my mind — was Vision 20/20, the city’s comprehensive plan.

That may not sound as important to many of you, especially considering how many plans this city has seen over the years. But frankly, you can see this plan coming together all around you. Because of the citizen input, because we set up a funding plan, and because Biloxi needed a plan now more than ever, we are making this plan happen.

Our first step was annexation. We presented an excellent case for Biloxi to expand to the north and grow with the times. We’re bulging at the seams as far as new commercial and residential development is concerned, and since there is no zoning in the county, we need to control our future growth and development. Who wants a landfill in their neighborhood? We faced opposition from the Harrison County Board of Supervisors and the City of D’Iberville, but I believe that the judge was impressed with Biloxi’s comprehensive plan for the future.

When we did our comprehensive plan, we included the area that we were planning to annex, so as soon as we get the judge’s decision in the next few months, and barring any further costly appeal from the county, we’ll be ready to hit the ground running.

But while the annexation case was going on behind the scenes, other work was continuing throughout the city.

Just last week, we turned up the volume on our case for a North-South connector from I-10 to Highway 90 in Biloxi.
With the backing of the local business community, including the Biloxi Bay Chamber, we are seeing this pressing need addressed in this legislative session. The bill has already passed the House Transportation Committee and is expected to do the same in the Senate committee this week.

We’re also doing our part locally. We’ve paved or rebuilt more than 50 miles of streets in Biloxi — about half of the streets in our city. In the next few weeks — that’s WEEKS not months — you’ll see a $1.2 million project begin on the final phase of Oak Street. When finished, this will give us a brand-new, completely rebuilt three-lane road from Highway 90 to Bayview Avenue. Then, I am going to ask the City Council to approve a project to straighten out and upgrade Bayview all the way to Interstate 110. That will create a loop effect that will take some traffic off 90 and open up Back Bay to development, which it is already appropriately zoned for.

On the front beach, the state Department of Transportation is currently reviewing our plans for more lighting on U.S. 90 — from Beauvoir to past Rodenberg. We will then have some form of lighting on ALL of the Biloxi section of Highway 90. It will be safer for our residents and our visitors.

This brings me to the subject of public safety. In the past year, I’m sure you watched the crime reports coming out of New Orleans. Those residents lived in fear as the murder rate and the crime rate skyrocketed.

Here in Biloxi, our increase was in the number of tourists and the number of new residents — not in crime. Burglaries, thefts, robberies were all down. We’ve made quite an investment in our police and fire departments. We went from an annual budget of $6.5 million for police and fire to $14.5 million this year. And it’s paying off for you and me, our children, and for our visitors. You are safe in your home and business at night. Once a city gets a reputation for being unsafe, you never lose that reputation. We don’t have that reputation. And we are going to see to it that our reputation remains a positive one.

If anyone thinks the growth of Biloxi is slowing, just check with our Community Development department, where new business applications, new subdivision plats and development continue to come in record numbers. I’m proud to say that we are meeting the challenge and making sure our growth is handled in the proper manner.

Another major project is our $10 million upgrade of the Keegan’s Bayou Sewage Treatment Facility. This project will double the capacity of this facility and is scheduled to be online before the Imperial Palace and Beau Rivage casinos open. And it will put us in a position to absorb any foreseeable development in east Biloxi. On Back Bay, I’m
proud to announce that the new state office building will open later this year at the old Howard Memorial Hospital. It will be called the Dr. Eldon Langston Bolton State Office Building, and it will house Coast offices of the Bureau of Marine Resources, State Gaming Commission, State Tax Commission, Highway Patrol, and other state agencies. All right here in Biloxi. I’m very proud of this accomplishment. There was a point when we almost lost it, but we were able to go before the State Bond Board and get it back on track and the state issued $8 million in bonds.

This project is an example of good cooperation and constant pursuit of economic development. It turned a piece of property that was an eyesore and a big ZERO to an $8 MILLION investment that meant more jobs to Biloxi. For
the past three years, we have watched as thousands of new jobs were created in our casino industry. We’re all aware of how property values and rental prices skyrocketed in many cases.

But we have
a plan to meet that challenge. Tonight, I am announcing “Biloxi Home PRIDE.” Biloxi Home PRIDE is a public-private partnership that will oversee an affordable housing program here in Biloxi.

PRIDE stands for Partnership for Rehabilitation, Investment, Development and Education.

This housing program will help working households who are struggling to make ends meet. It will help them buy or rehabilitate homes. Again, this program is the result of cooperation and economic development. It’s a partnership between the City of Biloxi, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Gulf Coast Community Action Agency, Habitat for Humanity, the state of Mississippi, and local lenders and Realtors. Biloxi is only the second city in the state to be chosen to participate in this program — and the only one in south Mississippi. This program will not only benefit the needy. It will benefit ALL residents of the City of Biloxi because it’s instilling pride and responsibility in people. That makes them better citizens. That makes them stockholders in this city. As part of the program, qualified residents will go through a class that educates them about the responsibilities that come along with owning a home.

We recently held a workshop for local financial institutions, and on Wednesday, we’ll be meeting with local real estate agents about the program. Let me add this: This program is not a big giveaway. It is an OPPORTUNITY. And with that opportunity comes responsibility. This partnership promises to be a great program. I congratulate our partner agencies and local lenders for taking part in this much needed program. On the subject of rehabilitation, one of the responsibilities of your Mayor and City Council is to maintain our public facilities — and Biloxi has its share of historic properties. It’s quite a challenge for their upkeep, considering the age of the buildings, their  historic characteristics and the damage that the elements can do. We’ve refurbished Point Cadet Plaza, the Natatorium and Hiller Park, and now we’re undertaking projects to upgrade the Dantzler House, City Hall, the Old Brick House and the City Hall annex. We must protect these historic structures because they are part of what makes Biloxi special.

Another initiative undertaken by this administration was the replacement of our Public Safety Complex on Howard
Avenue. We continue to make progress on that project. It involves acquiring four parcels of land facing Porter Avenue. We purchased the Church of the Nazarene and we have reached agreement on another. Unfortunately, we have not come to what I consider a fair market price on two other parcels. As we continue negotiations, we have our architects designing a quality facility so we’ll be ready to proceed as soon as all of the necessary property is purchased.

Our Parks & Recreation Department continues to excel. This year, we had more than 5,000 kids participating in city leagues and programs — soccer, tennis, basketball, softball, baseball, swimming and football.

This past summer, we even introduced tackle football for kids ages 7 and 8. We were concerned at first about safety, but frankly, if you think about it, we’d be putting the kids in helmets and shoulder pads. How did it go? We had more little kids turn out than we ever had for the flag football. We had to go out and buy more equipment — which we gladly did. This summer alone our Summer Enrichment and Playground Program offered summer arts and crafts programs and field trips for hundreds of kids. We even had an after-class program for parents who had to work late. We also unveiled a special “Sun Camp” for two dozen kids with disabilities. It was a great success and we look to improve it even more this year. And we’ve done a few other innovative things that are getting the attention of the rest of the state and the nation.

In the past year, the federal government gave Biloxi residents and business owners a 5 percent drop in your flood insurance because of the work the planning department is doing. And in July, we’re hoping for another 5 percent drop — that means a 10 percent reduction in flood insurance in two years. That’s city government putting money back in YOUR pocket.

Last month, the state recognized us for innovative and progressive government. One award was for City Desk,
the weekly radio show that I do on WVMI. And I thank Gary Michiels, a Biloxi Bay Chamber member, for his support of Biloxi. The other award was for the Mayor’s Awareness Committee for Citizens With Disabilities. This committee is a cross-section of volunteers from across the Coast who help businesses understand the Americans With Disabilities Act, and help the disabled showcase their skills for potential employers.

I’m quite proud of the work my team is doing for the City of Biloxi. Let me take a minute to recognize them …. [introduce directors]

Finally, I’d like to address the subject of city finances. Biloxi has gone from having $21.1 million in general fund revenue three years ago to a general fund revenue base of $36.6 million this year. We’ve been able to spend about $20 million on capital projects. At the same time, we paid down our debt service and improved our credit rating. All of this happened while we reduced individual property taxes over the last three years — and I foresee more tax decreases in the next four years as more development comes on line and our economic base continues to broaden. I’ve talked about our accomplishments and talked about our future plans, introduced you to part of my team, and this brings me to you. You are the most important part of this team.

I want to thank each of you for all of your efforts to make Biloxi the best it can be — your beautification program, the Betting on Biloxi promo on “Wheel of Fortune,” the “Biloxian Made Good” and a host of other programs. Let US give you a pat on the back.

In about 16 months, this city will become a stage — a 28-square mile stage with 53,000 stars. The name of the production will be the Biloxi Tricentennial Celebration.

A Tricentennial Commission made up of a cross section of our residents has been working behind the scenes to plan a 16-month long, multi-million dollar celebration. This will be a golden opportunity for the City of Biloxi to show off our rich heritage, our beaches, our great restaurants and golf courses, our museums and family attractions, and everything else that makes Biloxi so great.

The challenge for me and the City Council will be to keep things on the right track now and have Biloxi in world-class shape by September 1998.

What’s your role? I challenge you to become part of this effort. You’ve seen it happen in other cities… Los Angeles and Atlanta with Summer Olympic Games …. New Orleans with the Super Bowl and World’s Fair … The entire community rallies together, brimming with pride and united in purpose.

The Biloxi Tricentennial will be history in the making. We are so fortunate to be in the position we are in today — to be in Biloxi at its 300th birthday. We’ll have professional sporting events here, a presidential visit, and a number of other events designed to celebrate our past, our present and our great future. This city has a great record of accomplishment. But a record is not something to rest on. It’s something to BUILD on.

There you have it — my vision of where we’ve been and where we are going. I am confident that we WILL get there — but only if we work together. You know, Biloxi and its people have been through a lot. Like so many communities, we seem to have done our best in times of crisis — after hurricanes and tornadoes and other disasters. We always seem to pull together during these tragic times. Now, when times are good, let’s take that same spirit of cooperation and capitalize on the many opportunities facing Biloxi.

I just want you to know it has been a real honor and privilege serving as your mayor over the past four years. Thank you for giving me this wonderful opportunity and thank you for having me here

Good night and may God bless each one of you and the City of Biloxi.