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  #241  
Old Posted Jan 25, 2008, 5:14 PM
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Biloxi Still Moving Forward

Development, schools continue to be hot issues
By MARY PEREZ
meperez@sunherald.com

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BILOXI --Expect another controversial year in Biloxi as the city continues to repair the damages from Hurricane Katrina and embraces many new opportunities.

The fight to grow the city north will likely continue to upset neighboring municipalities. The school district will need to shift students to other schools to balance the population. Keesler Air Force Base's new commander will oversee base repairs, including the rebuilding of more than 1,000 houses. Developers are rethinking their plans to build condos on the beach and still more developers are contacting the city nearly every day. The need for affordable and senior housing continues to be great.

All these issues were supposed to be sorted out when the city embarked on a comprehensive plan to develop Biloxi's roadmap to the future. In March 2007, the City Council chose a Philadelphia, Pa., firm with extensive experience working with coastal communities to draw the new comprehensive plan for Biloxi.

"We had to reject the bid," said Mayor A.J. Holloway. "It came in too high."

Instead of a total amount, the company bid in the $400,000 to $700,000 range. The Mississippi Development Authority, which is paying for the study, wants a specific price. Rather than getting started, the city has to rebid and begin the process again.

Here is a look at the big picture of where Biloxi is now and what challenges are ahead:

City government

"Every day something good happens," said Holloway. The community center hosted its first Mardi Gras ball over the weekend and projects are starting across the city. Among the most anticipated are the Biloxi Lighthouse Park and Visitors Center, the Popp's Ferry Road extension and the rebuilding of the piers and marinas.

"We have an industry that's hurting there," Holloway said, noting that several charter boats have gone out of business.

"A lot of these projects we hope to be under way quickly in '08," he said. Most of the city wells are still running on generator and the streets, sewers, water lines and storm drains that were damaged in the storm surge will be replaced.

Even as the city rebuilds, it needs to prepare for future development. Holloway said he met with D'Iberville officials to try to reach an out-of-court agreement on land both cities are trying to incorporate. They discussed a compromise that D'Iberville originally rejected but later said it would negotiate.

An east-west corridor through Harrison County will take a long time, said Holloway, although a committee met with the governor in December to try to get funding for an environmental assessment study, which is the first step. Another bridge across the Back Bay also is being studied.

BILOXI --Biloxi School District

Enrollment in East Biloxi elementary schools is still down, said Superintendent Dr. Paul Tisdale. Gorenflo is at half of its pre-Katrina numbers, Nichols at 60 percent and Lopez at 70 percent.

Only 700 of the 1,300 military dependents, most of whom lived at the base, have returned. The buildup will be gradual over the next 30 months as housing opens at Keesler.

Although North Bay Elementary is using 10 modular units in addition to the 40 classrooms, "We're not overcrowded," Tisdale said.

More students attended the school before the storm and the pupil to teacher ratio is about 17 to 1, "which is what it is in other classrooms throughout the district. Capacity is almost beside the point. We're looking at pupil/teacher ratio."

At some point, he said, "We will have to rezone our elementary schools," and bus some students south of the bay. The question is, "which students and to which elementary school?"

Some parents object to this because they don't want their children going to a different school but Tisdale said more of a concern is the time classes start. The schools operate on a rolling basis with one-third starting at 7:20 a.m., the next beginning at 8:10 and the North Bay classes starting at 8:40.

At Tuesday's meeting, the board will consider moving ninth-grade students to the high school campus, the seventh-grade students into the junior high and the sixth-graders out of the elementary schools and into the seventh-grade building.

Tisdale said the move would make room for pre-kindergarten classes that could be financed by casino revenue from Biloxi casinos under construction or proposed.

Although the district has 50 fewer teachers after the storm, he said none were laid off and students have continued to excel, with the high school named a National Blue Ribbon School.

Keesler Air Force Base

Col. Greg Touhill said the current mission of Keesler is to "rebuild the base, renew the community and reload the Air Force," training personnel for missions around the world.

He and Vice Commander Col. Richard Pierce did a walk-through on the first three of 1,028 homes that are being rebuilt as part of the largest military family housing project in the history of the Air Force.

A Division Street gate that would move some of the Keesler traffic off Beach Boulevard is still conceptual, Touhill said, and would require federal government financing.

Developers

Condo projects in Biloxi were approved last year but never built. Mike Boudreaux, president of Gulf Coast Investment Developers in Biloxi, said he is optimistic more of these projects will begin this year.

"Construction costs have come down. Insurance has come down. Labor costs have come down," which he said was the biggest expense after Katrina.

Several condo projects, including Sea Breeze and Aqua, were redesigned to smaller units in the 500- to 850-square-feet range that are more affordable. Originally priced at up to $600,000, the new units sell for around $350,000.

Several developers are considering building combination condotels and hotels, Boudreaux said, with traditional hotel rooms on the lower floors and condotel units above.

Community development

Director Jerry Creel said developers who were waiting for the FEMA flood elevations are beginning architectural drawings and have target dates to begin.

"We have a lot of development happening in Biloxi," and Creel said he has constant phone calls, e-mails and visits from developers.

Work is under way all over the city, with Dillards opening this spring at the Edgewater Mall and the Popp's Ferry and Cedar Lake roads intersection in North Biloxi a continued hot spot. Creel hopes East Biloxi will "develop into the resort destination that everyone has envisioned."

He also sees residential areas in East Biloxi, especially around Division Street where the ground is higher. Commercial developments like casinos and apartment buildings can comply with the more stringent flood elevations and building codes in the higher risk areas, he said.

Biloxi Housing Authority

Director Bobby Hensley said by late January, the Biloxi Housing Authority will have homes to sell. "This is the first time we've done home ownership units," he said and the properties in East Biloxi are between two and four bedrooms.

"We're trying to keep properties affordable for people," which makes development north on Interstate 10 difficult until central sewer and water is available. "We definitely will be building more senior housing," he said, possibly on land near the beach at U.S. 90 and Brody Drive.

The authority also is looking at housing along Main and Division streets.

Holloway said between the casino numbers, the billion dollars of building permits issued since the storm and the Biloxi Bay Bridge reopening all lanes in April, "this all tells the rest of the county that Biloxi is indeed coming back bigger and better."
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  #242  
Old Posted Jan 26, 2008, 7:37 PM
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HUD OKs $600M for port

Agency head 'concerned' about diversion
By RYAN LaFONTAINE
rlafontaine@sunherald.com

GULFPORT --The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development approved a state plan Friday to spend $600 million in grants on the Port of Gulfport instead of housing.

Fair-housing advocates have been the loudest critics of the plan, and their concerns were backed this week by two congressional Democrats - U.S. Reps. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Maxine Waters, D-Calif. - who urged HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson to oppose the plan.

But despite those cries, Jackson sent a letter to Gov. Haley Barbour on Friday approving the state's plan to divert the $600 million, initially earmarked for housing, to repair and expand the Port of Gulfport, the third-busiest container port along the Gulf of Mexico.

Frank and Waters sent a letter to Jackson on Thursday, citing a recent FEMA report that estimated more than 40,000 Mississippians remained displaced after the storm as of November 2007.

Opponents of the port spending say curing the state's profound housing crisis is a much more pressing need than upgrading the port.

The money is part of $5.5 billion in HUD Community Development Block Grants approved by Congress after Hurricane Katrina. The Mississippi Development Authority, which answers to Barbour, is charged with administering the grants.

The MDA disputes the claim that the money is being yanked from affordable-housing programs. Barbour has said the state's original request in 2005 for Katrina-relief funding through HUD included the port project, in addition to housing.

Barbour issued a statement Friday, saying he appreciated HUD's recognition; he said the port's restoration "has been a key component of Mississippi's comprehensive recovery plan since the fall of 2005."

The 210-acre expansion features a new shipping terminal and channel as well as three new casinos and as many as 3,000 hotel rooms.

In the letter from HUD, the federal housing secretary did express some qualms with the plan to move the money.

"I remain concerned that this expansion does indeed divert emergency federal funding from other more pressing recovery needs, most notably affordable housing," Jackson wrote to Barbour.

But Jackson said specific "congressional language" associated with the recovery grants gave him little choice but to approve the diversion.

Waters told The Associated Press on Friday she could not understand why Jackson believed he didn't have the authority to reject the plan.

"I am suspicious that Barbour receives favored treatment with this administration. He kind of gets his way," Waters said.

Jackson praised the state for reprogramming an additional $100 million this week to address the critical housing needs of low- and moderate-income households, but he urged Barbour to keep housing a priority for the Coast.

"I'm sure that you share my concern that there may still be significant unmet needs for affordable housing, and I strongly encourage you to prioritize Gulf Coast housing as you move forward," he wrote.
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  #243  
Old Posted Jan 27, 2008, 11:12 PM
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I heard from a very reliable source today that the Bacaran might not be built. I have been searching for any news along those lines. Have you heard anything like that BLX?
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  #244  
Old Posted Jan 28, 2008, 1:45 AM
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Umm...why would they not build the Bacaran? After all that money that has been spent and the investments made by those buying condos. The market is also growing. This is a very strange rumor.

Your best bet would be to contact the condo people and just pretend you interested in finding some info about them and if they stop you from doing so you will know whether or not they still plan to build the casino. They won't be able to sell you one if they aren't gonna build the resort.
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  #245  
Old Posted Feb 2, 2008, 8:21 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Velastor View Post
Umm...why would they not build the Bacaran? After all that money that has been spent and the investments made by those buying condos. The market is also growing. This is a very strange rumor.

Your best bet would be to contact the condo people and just pretend you interested in finding some info about them and if they stop you from doing so you will know whether or not they still plan to build the casino. They won't be able to sell you one if they aren't gonna build the resort.

I agree 100%. Mr. Torguson has invested a lot of time and money into this project and has stated that he believes in the Biloxi market and is very committed to this project. Why would he have even waisted valuable time and efforts doing pre-construction site work and paying to have a lift station relocated? Red UM Rebel, I would question the reliability of your source. Coincidentally, which I personally don't believe neccessarily merit any thruth to that rumor, Palmer's Run, the golf course that is affiliated with the Bacaran Bay project, is scaling back from its original 27 holes to 18 holes. It is adjacent to the planned Belle la Vie subdivision in the Woolmarket area. This subdivision has also been proposed for some time.



Posted on Fri, Feb. 01, 2008
Entry-level housing
By MARY PEREZ
meperez@sunherald.com


WOOLMARKET -- Belle la Vie means "beautiful life," and developers hope to create that ideal in a community that combines a quality lifestyle and affordable prices.
Location is key for the Master Planned Community in Woolmarket, which will blend a variety of housing and recreational facilities like trails and neighborhood parks with professional, shopping and commercial development. They are also developing a neighboring golf community.

"We know we have a great location," said Phil Frisby, marketing director for the development that is three miles off Interstate 10, eight miles north of the beach and just south of new Mississippi 67. The community is within 15 minutes of 85 percent of the jobs that are projected and existing in the Biloxi/Gulfport area, "which is very important with the price of gas," he said.

James Frisby, president of Pitcher Point Investments, the owner and developer of Belle la Vie, said the community will help fill the need for housing after Hurricane Katrina.

"Our average elevation is 50 feet above sea level," out of surge and flood zone, said Phil Frisby, keeping insurance rates down.

The majority of the more than 2,000 homes will be entry-level housing priced from about $165,000 to $185,000 for a 1,500-square-foot home with three bedrooms, two and a half baths and a two-car garage.

"There is zero inventory of that type of housing," James Frisby said, and without homes the average family can afford, "we can't continue to grow."

Communities will be built in pods, with 16 single-family neighborhoods and 10 multi-family areas over the next five to 10 years. The variety of housing, including apartments, townhouses and condos up to million-dollar homes, will allow families to move to new housing but stay in the community as their incomes grown and needs change, the developers said.

Adjacent to Belle la Vie and being developed at the same time is Finistere, the Arnold Palmer signature golf course started before Katrina but never completed.

It will be redesigned from 27 holes to 18, said Jimmy Day, who spent four years as a site manager at another Palmer course, and 300 residential lots will be built around the course.

Pitcher Point is developing the communities and will donate the fire and police stations and code-enforcement office to the city of Biloxi. Contractors will buy a quantity of lots and build the homes.

James Frisby said the community will have 120 retail stores with "old town, downtown atmosphere. It will have every retail outlet that you need to live," with commercial on the first floor, office space above and third-floor flats for professional and retired people and couples. "It's really a kind of smart growth. It creates the kind of lifestyle that people want to live."



http://bellelaviebiloxi.com/locatormap.html



http://www.biloxi.ms.us/PDF/condostatus.pdf

Last edited by BLX 101; Feb 2, 2008 at 8:41 PM.
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  #246  
Old Posted Feb 2, 2008, 9:54 PM
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Savannah Estates & Condominiums on Biloxi Bay

The cover of the latest issue of Mississippi Newcomers & Visitors Guide features a redesigned Savannah Condominiums in Biloxi. You can also check it out at GCID's website.



http://www.gcid.biz/
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  #247  
Old Posted Feb 3, 2008, 5:45 PM
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Originally Posted by BLX 101 View Post
I agree 100%. Mr. Torguson has invested a lot of time and money into this project and has stated that he believes in the Biloxi market and is very committed to this project. Why would he have even waisted valuable time and efforts doing pre-construction site work and paying to have a lift station relocated? Red UM Rebel, I would question the reliability of your source. Coincidentally, which I personally don't believe neccessarily merit any thruth to that rumor, Palmer's Run, the golf course that is affiliated with the Bacaran Bay project, is scaling back from its original 27 holes to 18 holes. It is adjacent to the planned Belle la Vie subdivision in the Woolmarket area. This subdivision has also been proposed for some time.

I did question the reliability most certainly, and I agree with you. What the guy said is that with all the mortgage mess, Torguson lost a great deal of purchases of the condos, which is why the site work has come to a halt. I truly hope nothing has gone awry, but I am concerned because the guy is a gm of a casino and has a 1000 batting average.
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  #248  
Old Posted Feb 8, 2008, 2:22 PM
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A developer's vision
N.O. company seeks casino zoning north and south of U.S. 90 in Biloxi


BILOXI --
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 goes 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 Thursday the casino would be on the site of the former Gus Stevens nightclub, north of U.S. 90. 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, and Guice said it will be built well below the 110-foot flight path ceiling for Keesler Air Force Base.

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

The developers will ask for the land north and south of U.S. 90 to be rezoned waterfront. Guice said the property on the south side was originally zoned waterfront from 1993 to 2004 and the casino would be within 800 feet of the mean high water line as required by state law.

"We do not think this site will be as controversial as some others that have been proposed recently," he said.

"This is the old Biloxi Strip. This has always been a visitor-oriented place," Guice said. "Between 1993 and 2004 any casino that wished to be there could have applied for a gaming permit. RW simply wants to see it turn back to its original intent."

Executive Planner Edward Shambra said when Biloxi's Land Development Ordinance was drafted in 2003, "That's when we took another look," and changed the zoning of the whole strip of beachfront land in that area to B-3 business-hospitality.

RW Development has not just made promises, Guice said. "We can see their intent coming out of the ground already."
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  #249  
Old Posted Feb 8, 2008, 7:15 PM
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A picture to go along with story, thanks Velastor



Source is Sun Herald
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  #250  
Old Posted Feb 8, 2008, 7:50 PM
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I think this project will go forward for sure if it can get the approval of all the right boards. They have the money needed to ensure that this will be built. The design is very different because it looks more like a shopping center to me than a casino.
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Old Posted Feb 8, 2008, 8:13 PM
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I think at first no casino was planned, but the land as far as I can tell falls into the rules as a gambling site, and it would probably make much more money as a casino. It will be interesting to see if it gets built because I think that the final design will be much different than was posted.
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  #252  
Old Posted Feb 8, 2008, 10:32 PM
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I like the current concept...its very different than the typical casinos. There is no big box hotel with a casino under or beside it.
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  #253  
Old Posted Feb 8, 2008, 10:54 PM
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There are two other photos at sunherald.com. The owner wants to create a mixed-use boulevard at Veterans Avenue, similar to Canal Street in New Orleans. Plans are to widen Veterans to four lanes from Beach Boulevard to Pass Road landscaped with tall palm trees along the sidewalks and the median. The project looks awesome but it will never get aproval for a casino. I'll tell you what is going to happen. As you know, this is a very sensitive and contested issue. I myself have mixed opinions but in the end would have to object. State representative Ishee from Gulfport, just before mayor Holloway vetoed the Tivoli proposal, stated that he would propose a bill that would prevent any future casinos north of the sand beach, which could cause a domino effect and put the entire twenty-six miles of sand beach at risk. There are other condo developers across from the sand beach that has gone on record wanting to incorporate casinos in their projects. The second of three towers at the Ocean Club Condominiums are suppose to be nearing completion at this time but it is on hold indefinitely awaiting the final result of the Tivoli Casino which is not completely dead yet. Mayor Holloway has stated numerous of times, "Not on my watch." And he was recently re-elected for a new term. Just this week, legislators passed a bill that would restrict future casinos to the counties where they are currently legal. I feel that this bill will be ammended to protect the sand beaches along the gulf coast. There are some who are sick of visiting this same issue and want to put an end to it once and for all. If the city could pick and limit sites north of the sand beach to two to three, without causing a domino effect, mayor Holloway would have approved the Tivoli Casino without hesitation. He has sworn to protect Biloxi's sand beach regardless of the amount of revenue the project would generate. One thing is for certain, there are exciting times along with growing pains in the next few months and years as Biloxi entertain the many proposals for its treasured waterfront.

Last edited by BLX 101; Feb 8, 2008 at 11:30 PM.
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  #254  
Old Posted Feb 9, 2008, 12:57 AM
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Ah...I had completely forgot that there was public beaches on the other side of what use to be an area full of gas stations and fast food joints. During all our old visits we just drove by and never noticed the beach because of all those buildings.
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  #255  
Old Posted Feb 9, 2008, 5:34 PM
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I lived there and I forgot too. I think that is very good analysis BLX. It will be very interesting to watch indeed.
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Old Posted Feb 9, 2008, 6:31 PM
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There are two other photos at sunherald.com.
Source is Sun Herald



I agree with BLX that it probably won't get built, but I think it is a very neat concept, much like a boardwalk in Atlantic City or a Forum style shopping and gaming complex like Ceasars. I think it looks very cool.
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Old Posted Feb 11, 2008, 4:13 AM
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I did not realize that the land was already zoned for casino once. That might make it more possible.
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Old Posted Feb 12, 2008, 5:03 AM
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The mayor hinted today in his speech that he didn't want casinos taking over the city and that they should build in areas that the city wants them. I know the tivoli is the casino he was mentioning, but could it also be the new one just announced from RW?


Any more news about the Isle expansion plans being released to the public?


Will we ever hear any news about the Broadwater property?


Did anyone ever figure out if the Bacaran Bay will move forward with development?


Just a few questions to get some more chat going.
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  #259  
Old Posted Feb 12, 2008, 7:22 PM
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I did not realize that the land was already zoned for casino once. That might make it more possible.

Athough previously zoned waterfront, it was never zoned for casinos. This specific site once was home to a nightclub that was owned by Mr. Gus Stevens in which many Hollywood celebrity entertainers would visit and perform. The long time vacant building was eventually torn down to make way for Surf Style Souvenir around 2000. This entire area was known as Biloxi's entertainment district with a number of restaurants and strip clubs where illegal gaming took place. This is where the Dixie Mafia ran rampant until the murder of a former council woman and her husband (a sitting judge) in the 1980's in which a former Biloxi mayor is currently serving time with other mafia members in a federal prison in Angola, Louisiana. Biloxi has always had gaming though not legal until 1992.
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Old Posted Feb 12, 2008, 7:51 PM
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Originally Posted by Velastor View Post
The mayor hinted today in his speech that he didn't want casinos taking over the city and that they should build in areas that the city wants them. I know the tivoli is the casino he was mentioning, but could it also be the new one just announced from RW?


Any more news about the Isle expansion plans being released to the public?


Will we ever hear any news about the Broadwater property?


Did anyone ever figure out if the Bacaran Bay will move forward with development?


Just a few questions to get some more chat going.

Quiet so far, but I do anticipate the anouncement of several exciting projects this year to include the Broadwater Beach property, especially if it yields a third consecutive hurricane free season.
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