State of the City: The end of the beginning

Mayor A.J. Holloway outlined dozens of city projects and programs underway throughout the city in his annual State of the City address on Wednesday, and he admitted that Biloxi, like other communities through the country, faced a number of economic challenges.

In fact, the mayor told the Biloxi Bay Chamber audience of 600 at the Beau Rivage, Biloxi’s situation reminds him of another historic time.

“It was Winston Churchill, at a pivotal point in World Ward II, who looked at his war-ravaged country and people, and took stock of the situation,” Holloway said. “They had reached a turning point in their years-long struggle. Despite the difficult times, it was not the beginning of the end, he said. It was the end of the beginning.

“And now, nearly five years after Katrina, the same could be said of Biloxi.

“We’re past the days of seeking federal funding and insurance money. We’re past the days of designing new buildings, or drafting plans to restore old ones. We’re past the point of drawing up construction contracts, and we’re even past the point of hiring contractors. Restoration and renovation is well underway. You can see the buildings coming up all around you. We’re at the end of the beginning.

“But make no mistake: Biloxi still faces myriad and continuing challenges.”

It’s remarkable, the mayor observed, that Biloxi is doing the things it’s doing in the dismal economic climate.

“The state of our economy remains depressed but not depressing,” Holloway said. “The state of our city and the spirit of our people remain strong and vibrant. Encouraging and promising. “

Holloway pointed to multi-million-dollar restoration projects underway —
the Biloxi Lighthouse, the Old Brick House, City Hall, the Magnolia Hotel, the White House Fountain, the Slay-Bernich House, the Creole Cottage, the fire museum and the Saenger Theater – and two new structures being built, the Visitors Center and the new downtown library and civic center.

He pointed to work at Biloxi’s waterfront marinas, and the $355 million infrastructure project, which will begin construction in many neighborhoods beginning this summer.

But, still, the mayor said, with gaming and sales tax revenues at 10-year lows, the city faces a host of challenges, mainly to cut expenses, spur economic development and continue working on rebuilding the city to be ready when the economy turns around and private investment returns.

Said Holloway, “You can pick whatever cliché you like, but the fact is,
we haven’t turned the corner, we’re not out of the woods, and we’re not at the point where we can see light at the end of the tunnel.”

Despite it all, Biloxi and its partners – Keesler Air Force Base, Biloxi Public School, Coast Transit, as well as a number of key city departments – were taking advantage of one-time federal and insurance money to reach new levels of success.

“When the private sector get its financial house in order and things get back on track – and that WILL happen – we in the public sector will welcome them from a very strong position,” Holloway said.

“You can see it already in the public infrastructure that supports our tourism sector. Look at the new convention center. Look at the expanded airport and the new service there.

“We have the product. The beaches, the deep-sea fishing, the golf courses, the seafood, the casinos, the Southern hospitality. We’re a great place to spend a weekend, or a lifetime. What we have to do is continue to promote our culture and our assets.

“My message today is that we do have promise. We do have great things happening. My message today is that we need to be realistic. We’re in tough times, and they’re going to continue to be tough for a while.

“We’ve been through tough times before and we’ve come through them and we’ve reached the mountain top before. And we will again.”

To see the text of Mayor A.J. Holloway’s State of the City address,
click here.