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MARCH/APRIL 2008
 

Gulf Coast Watch

MISSISSIPPI

Biloxi

Mississippi Sun Herald, Feb. 8, 2008 -- RW Development is bullish on Biloxi, with the first South Beach tower going up on the beach near Rodenberg Avenue and now a "mixed-use" project -- including a casino -- heading to the Planning Commission for approval.

Using the working name of "Gold Coast," RW Development was scheduled to go before the Planning Commission March 6 to ask for a zoning change for property on the east side of Veterans Avenue. Estimated to cost $700,000, this development would bring the New Orleans company's total investment in Biloxi to more than $1 billion. Speaking for RW Development, Reed Guice said the general look of the project will be similar to RW's South Beach project under construction to the east.

The plans call for 1,680 hotel rooms and condotels, 100,000 square feet of casino space, and a 1,400-seat entertainment venue. High-end shopping would be on the ground level along Veterans Avenue. Restaurants, meeting space and a spa would be incorporated into the casino development.

The city has funding to widen Veterans Avenue "to turn it into a beautiful boulevard," said Guice. The property is in the Convention Center Overlay District and would bring needed hotel rooms close to the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center.

"It's going to contribute millions of dollars to the local economy," Guice said.

D'Iberville

Mississippi Sun Herald, Jan. 15, 2008 -- Local and national planners gave residents a glimpse into the D'Iberville of the future Jan. 14 at the first public meeting to create a 20-year master plan for the city's development.

Mayor Rusty Quave told the crowd that filled the City Council chambers that within the next few months, two affordable housing projects will get under way, and he anticipates Peter Simon will start construction of his West D'Iberville Casino.

City Planner Jeff Taylor said they are still hopeful that Target officials will be able to announce in the next couple of weeks that they plan to build a store in the city. One property owner is holding up the deal, and Taylor said if the final offer isn't accepted, the city might have to acquire the property.

Miami-based planner Jaime Correa demonstrated how the city is in a prime location for development primarily because of the new highway that will connect Interstate 10 and U.S. 49.

Other developers have proposed building an IMAX theatre, a baseball stadium, aquarium, convention center and office complex. The Mississippi Department of Transportation is looking at building a loop around the interstate interchange to move traffic through the city.

Residents were asked to join two committees to look at downtown and casino development and housing, which may require a mix of styles to draw both baby boomers and their grown children who are looking for alternatives to single-family homes and large yards.

Gulfport



Mississippi Sun Herald, Feb. 20, 2008 -- Gov. Haley Barbour has announced a $9 million grant to the city from the Mississippi Development Authority's Long-term Workforce Housing program.

John Kelly, Gulfport's chief administrative officer, and other members of the Warr administration traveled to Jackson last week to meet with MDA regarding the potential grant. Barbour announced the money Wednesday as part of a $150 million housing initiative in South Mississippi.

Mayor Brent Warr said the city will use the money to build 235 of the so-called "Gulfport bungalows" designed last month during the 10-day conference hosted by renowned planner Andrés Duany.

"They will be spread out all over the city," Warr said. "They won't be clustered together in certain areas; the city already owns a good many lots and that was part of what helped us get this grant."



Mississippi Sun Herald, Jan. 16, 2008 -- On Jan. 15, the City Council voted 6-1 to approve a contract with new urbanism pioneer Andrés Duany to guide the redevelopment of many city-owned properties. Gulfport will fund Duany's contract with a $750,000 grant administered by the Mississippi Development Authority. Of that, Duany would receive about $400,000.

Under the 23-page contract proposed by City Hall, Duany will assemble a design team and determine how best to mix residential, retail, office, restaurant, entertainment and resort uses in selected sites throughout the city.

The Warr administration wants Duany's firm to devise development plans for the Ken Combs Pier, the old White Cap Restaurant and Fisherman's Village at the Small Craft Harbor, the sports complex and the Bagel Shop site on 25th Avenue.

Duany will conduct a detailed historic-preservation study of specific parts of the city, with "special focus" on the 90-acre Veterans Affairs property.



Mississippi Sun Herald, Jan. 5, 2008 -- The Warr administration will propose making SmartCode optional to developers, which some advocates call disastrous.

City Councilman Brian Carriere said Mayor Brent Warr was the first Coast leader to tout the benefits of SmartCode after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but now the mayor seems to be changing his mind.

"He's waffling big-time," Carriere said about Warr. "Making SmartCode optional basically means every individual developer could choose to do whatever they wanted."

Carriere said more than $500,000 was spent to develop SmartCode for Mississippi City and downtown. The City Council adopted it in October 2007. Giving developers the option to not abide would make SmartCode the most significant waste of time and money in the city's history, Carriere said.

Lee Rennigner, chairwoman of the SmartCode Committee in Mississippi City, said she learned of the proposal at a meeting in December 2007 with Warr and Department of Urban Development officials.

"SmartCode has never been adopted anywhere on Earth as optional," Rennigner said. "We are outraged by this move and find it quite unconscionable that the city would attempt such a thing."

Larry Jones, the city's director of urban development, attended the Mississippi City meeting. He said the proposal came about because of complaints from property owners.

"It was always proposed by the administration to be optional," he said. "We don't think it would be as workable as mandatory."

Long Beach

Jacquie Lipski, Long Beach planning commissioner, reports the city held its public input sessions January 22 - 24, during which citizens met with the city's hired planners, Ayers/Saint/Gross, to express what things they wanted new and different for their neighborhood and community, as well as what they wanted to remain the same.

The event included conducting specific Ward walk-throughs during the day and general open meetings in the evening. Overall the meetings were well attended, with plenty of citizen input. Ayers/Saint/Gross returned to Long Beach Feb. 18 to meet with the mayor, Board of Aldermen and Planning Commission to present the plan they created to that date based on public input.

"A major theme throughout the public meetings was a desire for more sidewalks and recreational trails to better connect the city and promote a walkable community," said Lipski. "Even though the city has formally adopted SmartCode citywide, some residents are concerned whether it will work in Long Beach, while others are very excited about the opportunities it will create for our city."

Gradual redevelopment is occurring in Long Beach, but insurance difficulties are still making it very challenging for any type of construction. The city is continuing to move forward with building a new senior and recreation complex in Long Beach's northern end. Plans are continuing to rebuild an elementary school that was lost in the storm. It will, however, be at a new location -- farther north. Last, the Sleep Inn Hotel has stated it is planning to rebuild on its original oceanfront Highway 90 site.

Ocean Springs



Mississippi Sun Herald, Feb. 6, 2008 -- The next step in planning for Ocean Springs' future is here, and the process will feature the information and ideas gathered during the charrette process two years ago.

On Feb. 10, city leaders explained what could come of the information gathered and how more input will be gathered this year. The people of Ocean Springs were asked again to step up and participate in planning their own future.

The mayor and Board of Aldermen have set up a series of public workshops and found other ways to encourage people to get involved. The process will be paid for mostly through grants from the federal government and the state. So what's left is to coordinate, hold public hearings, study the city some more and collect ideas.

A lot of funding pots will be dipped into to pay for this next step in planning for Ocean Springs' makeover, and all have public-comment requirements. So the city is coordinating public hearings to satisfy all of that and at the same time keep people from being asked the same questions repeatedly at different hearings.

"We want people to know and understand the process," said Mayor Connie Moran. "It's all being funded by grants, but without public input it can't happen. . We need a new blueprint to build what we love. "We're held hostage right now by old laws."

The city's strategies for citizen involvement include: planning forums, a Web site, newspaper inserts, surveys, educational symposiums, a photo contest, neighborhood walks and individual interviews.

Stakeholder groups will be selected to focus on 10 areas of the city: Front Beach, downtown, Lover's Lane, East Beach, the gateway to the east, Ocean Springs east, Ocean Springs Road, central Ocean Springs, Bienville Boulevard (U.S. 90) and the gateway to the west.

The groups will have a steering committee that will represent conservation, historic preservation, the elderly, business, industry, tourism, medical services, education, runners and bicyclists, recreation and leagues, single-family homes, apartments and the environment.



The city of Ocean Springs has mailed more than 8,000 voluntary insurance surveys to local residents to gain insight into how the cost of homeowners and business insurance and the FEMA grant programs have affected citizens and area recovery following Hurricane Katrina. The city's insurance survey is in support of Congressman Gene Taylor's National All Perils Insurance Bill.

"Currently, the U.S. Senate is considering a National All Perils Insurance Bill that could conceivably allow relief for wind and other insurance in the event of a catastrophe. It is similar to the National Flood Insurance Program," said Mayor Connie Moran. "If passed, this could reduce the level of premiums for home and business owners on the Coast. Once we get the information from our residents, we will compile it so we can give state and federal officials a clear picture of how important this bill really is.

As a member of the board of directors of the Mississippi Municipal League, Mayor Moran has won approval from MML to send a resolution in support of National All Perils Insurance Bill to the National League of Cities and each senator.

An electronic version of the insurance survey is available on the city's Web site at www.oceansprings-ms.gov.

Pascagoula

Harrietta Eaton, director of administration for the city, reports several redevelopment and reopening stories in the city:

In February, the Art Depot reopened. The depot allows local artists to display their work and is favorite spot in the downtown area.

Hancock Bank has plans to build a new, state-of-the-art building.

A brand-new post office is also under construction in downtown Pascagoula; a local pharmacy will return to downtown, too.

Several food establishments continue to open. Plans are ongoing to revitalize the riverfront area and create a mixed-use area.

Residential rebuilding continues throughout the community. Developers are in the initial phases of building a new subdivision in Pascagoula, and homes are coming back all over the city.

Recreational activities are being enhanced. The city has a new KaBoom playground with another one planned for the future. A new pier is under construction at Beach Park and repairs have started on the Pascagoula Recreation Center. The River Park Pier has been repaired. The city plans to build a skate park at I.G. Leevy Park.
Pass Christian

On Feb. 6, the city of Pass Christian officially adopted three Community Plans (regulating maps) covering about three-quarters of the city and replacing the existing code. The SmartCode will take effect in these areas in 30 days.

The Community Plan for the final quarter of the city will be up for consideration during March. Its adoption likely will make Pass Christian the first all-SmartCode town in the U.S. New building is expected to follow swiftly in this Katrina-ravaged, historic Gulf Coast harbor town dubbed "the Fishing Village by the Sea" by residents.

The city welcomes quality developers who want to see their investments protected.



WLOX.com, Feb. 15, 2008 -- In his state of the city address this morning, mayor Chipper McDermott announced that Wal-Mart is coming back to the city. The store was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, and there was some question as to whether the giant retailer would rebuild its store. Prior to Katrina, Wal-Mart was the largest tax contributor to the city. Officials say the store will be built in the same location but will be smaller than the original store, at about 150,000 square feet. Permits for the project should be issued within about four weeks.

Harrison County

Harrison County has begun the comprehensive planning process with Ideas Forums planned for March. Community plans have been completed for all of the unincorporated communities in the county.

LOUISIANA



The Times-Picayune, Feb. 21, 2008 -- The founder of Barnes & Noble bookstores will spend $20 million from his private foundation to build and renovate homes in devastated Gentilly, an initiative that will match and possibly exceed the investment Brad Pitt's charity has made in the Lower 9th Ward.

Leonard Riggio and his wife, Louise, plan to begin by building 20 new houses in the Filmore section of Gentilly that will be donated to displaced homeowners. In return, those owners will surrender their flooded property to the Riggio Foundation to be rebuilt or torn down for the benefit of another marooned Gentilly resident.

Project Home Again, as the effort will be called, should ultimately return about 100 households to the neighborhood, according to people familiar with the project. Gentilly had a high concentration of elderly residents before the storm, and neighborhood leaders said many did not have the wherewithal to repair flooded, slab-style houses.

The Riggio initiative is only the latest example of how private philanthropy has connected storm victims with resources when the public sector could not. It began when Wal-Mart trucked supplies to the Gulf Coast before the federal government did and continued with Pitt and a partner, Steve Bing, who have each offered a $5 million matching grant to rebuild homes in the 9th Ward.

"It's a situation where the private sector, through its generosity, is stepping in to help people who were left behind by the Road Home and their insurance companies," said Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, whose district includes Gentilly.


New Orleans City Business, Jan. 21, 2008 -- The proposed Gentilly Shopping Center redevelopment -- named the neighborhood's top project by city officials and community consensus -- remains stalled by the property owner.

When Andrés Duany proposed developing the Gentilly Town Center, including a remake for the Gentilly Shopping Center at Elysian Fields Avenue and Gentilly Boulevard, the project was praised by Gentilly residents, Dillard University officials and the city. Duany and planner Robert Gibbs of Charleston, S.C.-based Gibbs Planning Group, envisioned a mixed-use development with retail space at ground level, housing on upper floors, a town square-like green space, a movie theater, library and post office. The planners participated in the 2006 Unified New Orleans Plan process to receive public input for the project.

"[Everyone] was willing to back it -- we were ready to go -- but it came down to the owners," Duany said.

Duany said Gentilly Shopping Center owner Ed Badouh of San Antonio has twice raised the asking price for the property, which stalled talks. Badouh, operating as Gentilly LLC, originally asked $5 million for the property, Duany said.

"[Gibbs] found an investor, made the offer, then the owners raised it to $15 million, which put off [the project] for six months," Duany said.

"Finally the investors met the $15 million, and the owners didn't respond. It's one of the mysteries of doing business in New Orleans. It's utterly frustrating."

Brief updates on Mississippi Gulf Coast communities' progress toward renewal can be e-mailed to Jason Miller at jason@tndtownpaper.com.


SIDEBAR: Gulf Coast Renewal Online

Bookmark these Web sites to stay on top of rebuilding efforts along the Gulf Coast.

Center for Planning Excellence (La.)
www.c-pex.org

The Clarion-Ledger (Miss.)
www.clarionledger.com

Congress for the New Urbanism
www.cnu.org

Governor’s Office of Recovery and Renewal (Miss.)
http://www.governorbarbour.com/Recovery/

gulflive.com
www.gulflive.com

Katrina Cottage Housing
www.katrinacottagehousing.org

Learning Cottages
www.learningcottages.com

LouisianaRebuilds.info
www.louisianarebuilds.info

Louisiana Speaks
www.louisianaspeaks.org

Mississippi Governors Commission
www.governorscommission.com

Mississippi Renewal Forum
www.mississippirenewal.com

New Towns
www.tndtownpaper.com

New Urban Guild
www.katrinacottages.com

New Urban News
www.newurbannews.com

NOLA.com (“Everything New Orleans”)
www.nola.com

South Mississippi Sun Herald
www.Sun Herald.com

Times Picayune (New Orleans)
www.timespicayune.com

Unified New Orleans Plan
www.unop.org