| State of the City Address
|Mayor A.J. Holloway's State of the City address delivered Feb. 5, 1998 to the Biloxi Bay Chamber of Commerce at J.L. Scott Marine Education Center.
Thank you for such a kind reception. It reminds me of what the cow said to the farmer after the milking machine broke. "I
appreciate the warm hand." I am delighted to be here for the annual State of the City address. This is the fifth time that I have had the honor of coming before you to report on the progress we are
making in your city government, and I thank you and the Biloxi Bay Chamber of Commerce as awhole for your support over the years.
Right now, I'd like to pause to recognize a few people in the
audience who help lead this city:
Ward 1 Councilman Tom Ferrill Ward 2 Councilman Eric Dickey Ward 3 Councilman Jim Compton Ward 4 Councilman Charles T. Harrison Jr. Ward 5 Councilman Mike
Fitzpatrick Ward 6 Councilman Tom Wall Ward 7 Councilman Bill Fluty Chief Administrative Officer David Nichols Public Works Director Jerry Morgan Community Development Director David Staehling Parks and
Recreation Director Nathan Sullivan Police Chief Tommy Moffett Fire Chief Floyd Thibodeaux City Attorney Ronnie Cochran (And any other local leaders.) I also want to welcome Mrs. Essie Clark and her
students from the American government class at Biloxi High School. Tonight, I am going to give you an overview of the major improvements that we have made and are making in our city, tell you what's on
the drawing board and give you an idea of when you can expect to see our major projects come to fruition. I also want to tell you about a few opportunities we have to dramatically improve our city. And I
promise it won't take 72 minutes for me to tell you all of this. In short, I hope that when you leave here tonight you will have a good idea of the massive amount of work we have underway and I hope that
you also leave satisfied that we have this city on the right track.
To put it in a sentence: The State of the City of Biloxi is strong. It's vibrant and it's on the move. When I began my campaign
for re-election last year, I commissioned a poll of Biloxi residents to make sure we WERE on the right track and to make sure we had the issues in focus and in the right priority. This detailed poll
showed me a lot of things. On a personal level, I suppose the biggest thing it showed me was that I would be re-elected. That kind of took a load off my mind and prompted me to read on.
As far as
the issues, one issue stood out. In fact, it was so high in your minds that it was off the scale. You know what it is, and I know what it is. Transportation to be specific, traffic. Improving the flow of
cars from one end of town to the other north, south, east and west. I drive the same streets that you do everyday, and I am very aware of the problems. You and I don't need a poll to tell us that. So
what are we doing about it? Let me spend a few minutes to bring you up to date.
I want to speak to the two biggest projects first the east-west and north-south corridors. Biloxi has been a leader
in seeing that both of these projects stay on track. Last week in Jackson, I spoke to officials with the Legislature about how we could speed up this much-needed north- south corridor. On the east-west
corridor, the county and cities have hired a team of engineers who are now working on a common route that will best serve all along the Coast. When the best route is decided upon, we'll be ready to go
here in Biloxi with our portion. We're expecting to receive a recommended route from the engineering teams in about 6 months.
Here in the city of Biloxi, we have six major improvement projects in
the works. They are Caillavet Street, Popp's Ferry, Bayview, Oak, Main and Highway 90. Let's talk about the project that has gotten the most attention in the media and in public hearings -- the widening
Some people have said why can't we just add an off ramp for traffic to get on I-110 at Highway 90 and get off at Bayview, instead of widening Caillavet. The state and federal
governments say to put an off ramp at Bayview we would have to close the Division Street ramp, and I am against that. And nowdays, the Department of Transportation will not build off-ramps only. They
will not build partial exchanges. The policy is to build a complete cloverleaf or diamond at all exits, which would be a major exchange at Bayview. Would this be best and most efficient plan for ALL of
Biloxi? I am against spending city tax dollars on any project that would benefit a select few. We must always look at the overall picture, and we should always have a goal of undertaking those projects
that offer the largest benefit to the largest number of our residents and businesses. And, believe me, there are no quick and easy solutions when it comes to the major projects we are looking at here in
So on Caillavet, our engineering team is currently designing the route that will be best for Biloxi. We'll submit that route for City Council approval next week. We'll be acquiring
property by the end of the year, and we'll begin construction on a new Caillavet Street in 24 to 30 months. My hope is that we have to acquire only a minimal number of homes. But as I said, we're going
to do what's best for all of our citizens.
Another important and much-needed project is the widening and straightening of Bayview, from Oak Street and all along the Bay. This will be the first
project out of the gate as far as construction is concerned.
We are now doing engineering on Bayview, and soon we will be asking the City Council to hire a team to identify the needed property,
begin title work and begin acquisition. I hope that we can begin acquiring property within the next 90 days with a goal of having this new road finished in 30 to 36 months after construction begins.
The project to widen Popp's Ferry Road from Cedar Lake to Riverview will actually begin with the extension of Richards Drive, through the new school property, and all the way to CampWilkes Road. We
have to do this to have an alternate route for when we are working on Popp's Ferry. And while we are building this new road from Richards to Camp Wilkes, we'll also be buying land along Popp's Ferry Road
and along Brodie and Brashier Roads, which is also part of the detour route. This project will be taking place at the same time we're working on Caillavet Street.
Another project that has
captured a lot of attention is the widening of Main Street, for which we should soon be hiring an engineering firm.
Let's talk about a project that you can see and drive on right now -- Oak
Street. Our contractors are in the process of putting the finishing touches on the final phase of this 3-phase project. We have a new and completely rebuilt Oak Street from Highway 90 to Back Bay. It's a
project that cost close to 3 million dollars in all and it's one that I'm very proud of. Oak Street represents a major portion of the "traffic loop" that will carry traffic from Point Cadet,
along a new Bayview and to either I-110 to the north or a new Caillavet Street to the south. Another project that you can see is the lighting of Highway 90. The contract has been let for lighting from
Beauvoir Road to past Rodenberg, and as that work progresses, we'll be in a position to start the final phase, from Rodenberg to the Biloxi Lighthouse. We're going to be careful in the type of lighting
we put in this residential area, but we are committed to seeing a well-lit and safer Highway 90 for our residents and visitors.
In addition to those major projects, we are also continuing our
efforts to improve streets and drainage in your neighborhood. You know, in January we had close to 20 inches soak our city. That's double our monthly average of rain for the month of January. In years
past, we didn't look forward to answering the phone at City Hall on days it was raining. I'm proud to say that we did not get a flood of calls about flooding. Our investment in our city's streets and
drainage system is paying off. But I know that there's much more to be done.
In the current city budget, you'll see almost 7 million dollars in streets and drainage projects. They include major
improvements on Brady Drive, Myrtle Street, Dorries Street, Greater Avenue, First Street and Bohn Street. And we have put another 1 million dollars toward our repair and replacement program.
repair and replacement program has enabled us to do more than 100 important projects in the past two years, and the success of this program has caught the attention of cities across the nation -- cities
who are looking for ways to improve infrastructure. I'm proud of this program.
Another project that I'm particularly proud of is another one that you don't hear to much about, but you use it
everyday. It's the new 10 million dollar state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant at Keegan's Bayou. This plant has doubled our capacity to handle wastewater and we have room to expand the plant
should the need ever arise. This plant was finished on schedule. It's innovative and it's vital to our infrastructure.
But when we talk about innovation and infrastructure here in Biloxi, we
cannot stop with streets and drainage. To ensure that our city remains a great place to live and work, we have to improve the infrastructure of our neighborhoods -- ALL neighborhoods. This administration
realizes that affordable housing has become hard to come by for many of our residents. The rising price of property that we have seen in the past few years has caught our low-income residents in a pinch.
I realize this and we are taking steps to change that. Last year, when I came before you for the State of the City address, I announced the Biloxi Home PRIDE Program. Because we are doing an
excellent job in overseeing our state and federal programs, Biloxi was one of two cities in Mississippi honored by HUD to take part in a special nationwide program that challenges cities to come up with
ways to help put families in homes.
In our home PRIDE program, 21 Biloxi families have completed a course to prepare them for becoming first-time homeowners. As I said last year, this program is
not a giveaway. It's an opportunity that comes with responsibility.
We have educated the heads of these families about the responsibilities and obligations of home ownership, and we have helped
them understand what they have to do to realize the American dream of owning their own home.
In short, we have shown them how to get from Point A to Point B, and we stand ready to help with down
payment assistance and closing costs. Through a partnership with the Gulf Coast Action Agency, local banks and the real estate industry, we're ready to place the first class member in a home, and I am
confident that we are going to put more members of that first class in homes. Now, we are ready to begin our second class of potential first-time homeowners, and we'll also continue to monitor the
progress of the members of that first class.
In another part of our Biloxi Home PRIDE program, the City entered into a partnership with Habitat for Humanity. Before we went into this program, a
Habitat home had never been built in Biloxi. In the past year alone, we have seen three families move into three brand-new homes in Biloxi.
And to keep this program moving, we have targeted
several blocks of homes near Nixon and Division Streets to be revitalized. We're going to transform this neighborhood from BLIGHT to BRIGHT.
In another initiative to improve the infrastructure of
our neighborhoods, a few days ago we announced a new effort to undertake a citywide neighborhood watch program. My goal is to have the men and women who patrol our streets, our police department, working
hand in hand with you and your neighbors to make our city the safest place in America.
I'm proud of the job that our police department is doing. But to do an even more thorough and successful
job, we need to have a strong partnership between the police officers and the hard-working and law- biding residents of all of our neighborhoods. We can do this through communication and coordination. By
working together, we WILL make this city even safer for you and me and the millions of people who visit the Mississippi Gulf Coast each year. In the area of public safety, in the next several weeks we
will begin demolition on the old Jay's Fabrics building, the old church next door and the old bike shop on Porter to make way for construction of our new multi-million dollar public safety complex. We'll
move into the new facility 18 to 24 months after we break ground.
We'll also begin construction on a new communications center for police and fire on Popp's Ferry Road. Our plans are to build a
new fire station on that property, too. The annual budget for the police and fire departments has leveled off at 14 million dollars at the moment, which is a far cry from the 6.5 million dollar police
and fire budget of five years ago. But we're getting results for this investment. Crime statistics continue to show annual decreases when you factor in the 15 percent increase in population and the
millions of people who visit the Mississippi Gulf Coast each year. We have nearly doubled the number of men and women patrolling the streets, and have given them the tools -- about 135 new vehicles in 5´
years -- and the training to do the job.
Same for our fire firefighters. We've purchased or refurbished 7 firefighting vehicles in the past 5´ years, constructed a new fire station at Back Bay,
made improvements to the Lee Chinn and Bay Vista stations, and we're looking now at replacing the station on Point Cadet with a brand-new fire station.
Our investment in the fire department,
along with the continued training of our 109 firefighters, not only helps keep our city safe, but it has helped maintain a low fire rating for our growing city. That means lower insurance rates for your
home and business. These are investments that pay outstanding dividends, which is our goal in city government.
Another investment we've been making and continue to make is in our historic city
properties. This is a time-consuming and costly proposition when you consider the age of our facilities and the damage that the salt air has done over the decades.
But at Tullis Manor, the
Dantzler House, City Hall and the City Hall annex, the Saenger Theater, the Magnolia Hotel and the old Brick House, we have either completed major restorations, have work underway or we are getting ready
to start major projects. These properties are important to this city because they protect and preserve our sense of place, who we are and where we came from. These unique historic properties are just as
important to us as the beach, the great seafood restaurants, the golf courses, the seafood industry, and all of the other things that make our city great.
They show that Biloxi is a place where
residents cherish their proud heritage. We also revitalized our downtown area, with the removal of the rusting metal awnings. The sun is now shining in the Vieux Marche. This project had been talked
about for 20 years, but with a partnership between the City, Biloxi Regional, Mississippi Power and Main Street Biloxi we worked together to see the awnings come down and new lighting go up.
Speaking of economic development, on Wednesday, my office took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Edgewater Mall. This was the 28th new store to open there since the mall completed its $19 million,
250,000-square foot expansion this year. And that milestone at Edgewater Mall is an example of the economic growth we are seeing throughout this city. In the past year, our Community Development
Department has issued an average of 30 to 50 applications of new businesses each month. Think about that. We issue a license for a new business at a rate of one a day. That's serious economic
Another important aspect that greatly contributes to the premier quality of life that we are enjoying here in Biloxi is recreation facilities and programs. We are continuing to make
dramatic improvements in this area.
In April, we'll break ground on the West Biloxi Community Center. We should start construction in April and be completed with this 1.7 million dollar facility
in 12 to 14 months. When finished, this city will proudly offer its residents a state of the art facility housing a swimming pool and a therapeutic pool, plenty of rooms for a variety of recreational
programming such as jazzercise and educational activities for our children, a basketball court and spectator stands, and a stage and dance floor to host carnival balls and other community events. How big
is recreation in the City of Biloxi? It's very big and it's growing each year. In the past year alone, we had close to 3,000 kids and teenagers participate in such activities as football, basketball,
baseball, softball, our popular summer playground program, and the most popular activity, soccer, which had over 700 boys and girls alone. We've also have also invested more than 150,000 dollars in
rebuilding the soccer fields at Popp's Ferry.
The city's youth brings me to another important issue. We are at a historic juncture in the city of Biloxi -- and the path we take will decide
whether we want our children in state of the art classrooms and schools where our hard-working teachers can be focused on preparing our kids for the 21st Century by giving them a solid education or we
can try to get by with a piecemeal, band-aid stab at trying to refurbish some of the decades-old, drafty classrooms where our children and their teachers are distracted from concentrating on the vital
lessons they must possess to be prepared for college.
As Mayor -- and as a father and a grandfather -- I think we should do everything that we can to provide first-class schools for our children.
After months of planning and hearings, the Biloxi school system will soon launch a campaign to build public support for a 53 million dollar project to build a new state of the art high school,
have a consolidated junior high with an improved and advanced curriculum, and make dramatic and much-needed improvements to schools throughout our city. This proposal also includes a huge and much-needed
sports complex that will greatly improve and enhance the recreation opportunities for ALL of Biloxi. This is an ambitious plan, and like all things in life, it's not without some controversy. But we must
not lose focus of the goal here -- to do what is best for the education of the next generation of Biloxians.
Having said that, I think it speaks volumes that our school board, our school
administrators and our teachers have been able to do such an outstanding and successful job day in and day out in educating our children. Biloxi Public Schools are ranked among the best in the state and
last year our graduating class at Biloxi High was awarded tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships. Just think what our young people could accomplish if they were in an improved classroom
As parents and as concerned citizens of this city, we must come together and support and pass this bond issue if we want to guarantee our city's continued progress and ensure a
bright future for our community.
A first-class and successful school system is one of the things that prospective residents and developers look for when deciding where to live and work. And
believe me, the number of developers and potential developers visiting our city is far from slowing down. In the past year, our Community Development Department has overseen 271 million dollars in
commercial and residential construction.
About 99 percent of that construction has been done with the proper city permits and approval. But, man, that 1 percent of unapproved construction has
occupied a good bit of my time and a lot of media in recent weeks.
I want to publicly commend our Building Inspection team on the job they are doing day in and day out. Over the past few weeks,
I've had one or two residents ask me how someone could build something unauthorized without our building inspectors catching it. That's a legitimate question, and I want to help you understand the
In Biloxi, like nearly all cities across the United States, construction plans are approved on the front end, before construction starts. And contractors are obligated to build things by
those approved plans and to call us for inspections by our staff at key points during the construction process.
We HAVE added inspectors to our staff, but no city in the WORLD has a staff of
inspectors who can be on the scene of every commercial project and every residential project every day of the project. Particularly here in Biloxi, where we permitted close to 3,000 projects in the past
year alone. It's not physically possible or practical.
The members of our building inspection team -- our Building Official, our electrical and plumbing inspectors and our inspectors from our
fire department, which, by the way is the same team that has overseen the opening of 11 casinos here in Biloxi -- have all performed their roles in a professional and responsible manner. Their jobs are
vital, but they are usually done without any public attention or fanfare. Here in Biloxi, our team has been faced with an awesome and growing amount of development and construction. Through it all, they
have been and continue to be a valuable asset to our city, and they have my continued support. I'm proud of the job they have done and continue to do.
Now, I'd like to stop and talk about
something that has NOT been happening at City Hall, and it's my fault. Well, it's not ALL my fault. My friends on the City Council will have to share some of the blame for this, too.
with a number of issues in the eight months since we took office. And some of those issues -- in fact, all of the major ones -- have been controversial. Zoning changes and requests for zoning changes
have been the most debated. That Z word always sparks emotional debates.
But with all of these issues we've debated at City Hall, the thing that's NOT happening is an environment that includes
petty bickering, name-calling and personality clashes. Some of the council members and I have not agreed on every issue, and I'm sure we'll have disagreements in the future. Our strong mayor-council form
of goverment, with its separation of authority, encourages debate of the issues. That's not a bad thing. Tonight, I want to thank Tom Ferrill, Eric Dickey, Jim Compton, Charlie Harrison, Mike
Fitzpatrick, Tom Wall and Bill Fluty for the jobs they are doing as City Councilmembers. They do a good job representing the residents of their wards and they are working together and with me in a
One thing I always remind people is that A.J. Holloway and the Biloxi City Council all have the same goal -- to make Biloxi the best city that it can be.
easy, and it's a continuing challenge, but with your continued support we will stay on the right track as we head to our Tricentennial year in 1999.
God bless you and God bless Biloxi.