Why Biloxi is such a compelling story

Here is the prepared text of Mayor A.J. Holloway’s remarks to the Biloxi Rotary, delivered Wednesday, April 12, 2006 at Mary Mahoney’s Old French House Restaurant.

I’m glad to be here today. This is my third speaking engagement in two days. And I’m happy to say that’s because we have a lot of good issues to talk about.

Last night, I spoke to representatives of six of the nine airlines who are in town right now. The governor’s speaking to them right now over at the Isle.

We have five airlines at the airport right now, and we fly to about eight major cities. We’re looking to add four more. Have Continental fly to Newark, which is a big hub for them, have Northwest fly to Minneapolis, have Delta go to Washington and have America fly to Miami.

We even have a new airline called Allegent here out of Las Vegas.

This summit is something that was in the works before the storm, and today, it’s the same story. We had a lot of great things going on before the storm, and we’re poised for even greater things now.

That’s what I told them last night, and, in fact, one of them stopped me later and wanted to know where he could get a copy of my remarks.

So, I figured if HE was that interested in the Biloxi story, then I ought to let you know what we’re telling these people. Some of it you might already know, but I think it’s good to get a reminder every now and then these days.

Airline service, make no mistake, is one of the keys to our future. That as well as hotel rooms and convention space. We’ve known that all along, but now more than ever.

Visitors who fly in have a longer stay, without the traffic. It’s great for the tourism industry, particularly with good public transit.

But let me tell you what I told them last night:

We have a compelling story here in Biloxi, and let me tell you why. In the decade before Katrina, we were enjoying the most prosperous and productive time in our 300-plus year history.

We oversaw 5 billion dollars worth of development in Biloxi. 10 casino resorts helped create 15,000 new jobs. We saw the number of hotel rooms on the Coast grow from 6,000 to nearly 20,000. We went from a million visitors a year to between 8 and 10 million a year.

We invested tens of millions in public education, public safety and recreation, we invested in our heritage and culture and preserved historic neighborhoods, and we cut our tax rate in half while we were providing our residents a much-deserved and enhanced quality of life.

We were doubling the size of our airport and were getting ready to start on a project to double the size of our convention center.

Then Hurricane Katrina came along.

Katrina destroyed 6,000 homes and businesses in Biloxi. Hundreds of historic homes and landmarks.

Entire blocks of neighborhoods were reduced to debris fields. Huge casino barges broke from their moorings and were pushed down the road as far as three-quarters of a mile.

Our infrastructure was decimated. And, let’s not forget, 53 people lost their lives in Biloxi.

But months after Katrina, even as we were dealing with day-to-day issues of recovery, we came to realize something.

The decade of prosperity we were enjoying before the storm was only a glimpse of what our potential is today. We stand poised to reach even greater plateaus of prosperity and opportunity.

And this is not just A.J. Holloway talking. The facts bear witness to what I’m telling you.

Three of the 10 casino resorts in Biloxi re-opened in December. Today, that 30 percent of the industry in Biloxi is generating nearly 70 percent of the pre-storm gross gaming revenue.

We’re seeing brisk business, thanks primarily to our guests from the east — from Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee.

We saw $6 billion in development in that decade leading up to Katrina, but in the seven months since then we’ve seen concrete proposals for nearly $3 billion since the storm.

That’s in the casino industry alone. That doesn’t count the tremendous interest in the condominium area. We had proposals for about 3,000 condo units before the storm, and that number stands at 9,500 today.

Armed with the new legislation to allow shore-based gaming, the casino operators, condo developers, our local community and our loyal customer base are all seeing the same thing in Biloxi: a promising and exciting future in Biloxi.

I want to thank all of you for the support and encouragement that you’ve shown to me and to the citizens of Biloxi.

Governor Barbour has said he wants to see a renaissance created as part of the rebuilding process. We agree, and here in Biloxi, we’re going to go about reviving the renaissance we were enjoying prior to Katrina.

Following up on the governor’s words that it’s going to be up to the local communities to determine the look of their respective cities, we have begun planning for our long-term recovery.

We have launched the Reviving the Renaissance initiative, which will help us address issues like affordable housing, public education, streets and drainage, historic preservation, and, of course, the new challenges from the FEMA flood elevations.

Nearly 200 of our residents have volunteered to take part in this movement. They’ll be addressing these complicated and challenging issues.

We’re going to look at the things that made us successful in the past, and build on those qualities to help make us a success again.

Our role in city government, as I see it, is to set the table for economic development. To provide the essential services and infrastructure that pave the way for the creation of jobs and growth, and to provide an environment where our residents will find the excellent quality of life they deserve, and where our visitors will re-discover a place they want to visit again and again.

The people of Biloxi have shown time and again that we’re up to this challenge, and I’m confident that we will not only endure but we will prevail.
Many of you in this room share that view. You realize the opportunity that exists in Biloxi. I thank you for your support in the past, and I look forward to working with you as we make history – again.