STATE OF THE CITY ’03

Here is the prepared text of Mayor A.J. Holloway’s State of the City address, delivered Jan. 30, 2003 during a noon luncheon at the Isle of Capri and sponsored by the Biloxi Bay Chamber of Commerce.

Good afternoon, I’m glad to see so many of you this new year. I have several things to tell you about, but before I do, I want to recognize some of the people who help make it all happen.

First, the City Council. Ward 1, George Lawrence; Ward 2, Eric Dickey; Ward 3, Jim Compton; Ward 4, Charles T. Harrison Jr.; Ward 5, Mike Fitzpatrick; Ward 6, Tom Wall; and Ward 7, David Fayard.

And the people who help run this city on a day-to-day basis. Chief Administrative Officer Jim Borsig, Police Chief Bruce Dunagan, Fire Chief David Roberts, Community Development Director David Staehling, Public Works Director Richard Sullivan, Parks and Recreation Director Nathan Sullivan, and Legal Director Ronnie Cochran. I also want to recognize my wife Macklyn.

All of these directors HAD to be here today. I want to thank all of you who CHOSE to be here. I want to thank Miss Mississippi for being with us today. Jesse, you must be very proud.

I also want to thank Susan Hunt and the Biloxi Bay Chamber for organizing the State of the City address each year.

Having such a great turnout demonstrates that we have a lot of citizens who are interested in how we are progressing, and are proud of their city.

And I’m just as proud to report to you that the City of Biloxi continues to reach new milestones of achievement and progress.

Our work on transportation, revitalization, public education, historic preservation and land-use guidelines are not only going to produce results for me and you, but for our children and grandchildren. The result of the work that you are seeing today is that we continue to enjoy an excellent quality of life in Biloxi – now and in the future.

My fellow citizens, the state of the city is robust and vibrant.

A lot has happened in the past year — locally and around the world. I stood here last year and commended Brigadier General Ted Mercer for the role that he and the men and women of Keesler were doing in the defense of our nation. Today, the men and women of Keesler continue to stand vigilant, ready to go into battle to protect our nation and our way of life. For that, I salute you and I say God bless you.

Keesler and the issue of encoachment

Locally, some would have you believe the biggest threat to Keesler is from so-called encroachment. Let me say this: For more than 60 years, Keesler and Biloxi have shown that they can weather the storms, deal with adversity, and be good and proud neighbors, working together with genuine cooperation and making good things happen.

Through the years, we’ve gotten smarter about how we work together. A few years ago, the city placed a Keesler liaison on our Planning Commission so that Keesler would be in the know on all things going on in our city. We’ve worked with Keesler on joint land-use plans, a new land development ordinance and a number of other issues.

Since I have been Mayor, I have had the privilege of working with nine generals at Keesler. All have been great to work with, and I’m proud to say that we now have one of our own, General Michael Peterson, at the helm of the 81st.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again and again: As Mayor, I am not going to allow anything to occur that would jeopardize the missions of Keesler Air Force Base. Nor do I think the members of this City Council would allow anything to occur to jeopardize Keesler or any of its missions. So that we’re all clear on this, Keesler has three primary missions – flight training and operations, electronics training, and medical. Each of those three missions is vitally important to the base and our community.

But I, like others in this community, realize that we must still be leery of the next round of BRAC hearings, which are set for 2005.

We have a number of groups and agencies monitoring this closely. Obviously, we depend on Senators Lott and Cochran, Representative Taylor and others in our congressional delegation. The city, in partnership with the Harrison County Development Commission, has paid part of the salary of the Washington lobbyist working on this issue for us.

Today, I am announcing that I am appointing a liaison for me and for this city. Someone to work with our congressional delegation, with the chambers of commerce and others helping protect our interests and the interests of Keesler Air Force Base.

To assist us in this endeavor, I present Lt. Gen. Clark Griffith. Clark is one of the 10,000 local military retirees who have decided to call Biloxi home. He is a three-star general. A former fighter pilot, former commander of the 81st Training Wing at Keesler and former commander of the Second Air Force, which is also headquartered at Keesler. Clark will do an excellent job keeping tabs on this important project for us. As a matter of fact, Clark and I will be meeting this afternoon with Michael Olivier and others to discuss our efforts to deal with the BRAC issue.

Meanwhile, we are continuing other efforts locally. To be honest, the discussion over heights, noise and density provides a good opportunity to review the other steps that we HAVE taken here in Biloxi. To ensure that our new land development ordinance will adequately address a broad range of interests, we employed Michael McNerney. Let me tell you about the caliber of person we have working for us. Michael is uniquely qualified. He has 30 years of experience in both the operations and engineering side of aviation. He is a graduate of the Air Force Academy. He is a professional engineer. He is an Air Force pilot, with 2600 hours of jet time. He has served as supervisor of flight operations at three Air Force bases, and he is a recognized authority on aviation issues such as airport noise, GIS, runway layout and environmental planning.

Based on his expert advice, we are adopting regulations that will limit heights according to flight patterns – in accordance with FAA guidelines. We are also limiting heights citywide by zoning classifications. Our current regulations have height limits anywhere from 35 to 75 feet, depending on which zone you are in. We’re proposing reasonable standards on two other zones – waterfront gaming and C-3 – which currently have no height limits. And, finally, we are proposing to restrict land-uses in areas known as accident-potential zones. We’re going to require sound buffers for new buildings where noise may be a factor.

All of these measures are just part of an overall set of ordinances that have a goal to help streamline the process, to make it easier to understand for residents and businesspeople.

This process to overhaul our ordinances has been underway for three years. It has included many discussions and presentations with property owners, developers, residents and a host of community groups across this city. We have been diligent in our efforts. We have been deliberate. We’re looking to move forward with these ordinances in the next month or so. As we enter the final phases of the process, the biggest topic has been the issue of height.

We have taken steps to address a number of concerns.

One thing that IS reason for concern is misinformation or misleading information about this issue of encroachment. In fact, misinformation is more threatening to Keesler than any particular development proposal. In the past year, I think some opinions were drawn from inaccurate information. That inaccurate information — and those unfair and sometimes down-right wrong opinions — are now part of the record.

Everyone needs to remember this: Economic development in Biloxi is not a threat to Keesler. Keesler and growth in Biloxi can co-exist.

The role of municipal government

As elected leaders, we know that the decisions we make influence lives and WAYS of life for years to come. That’s one of the most rewarding aspects of our role as city leaders. City government is where the rubber meets the road. It’s where things get done. When you have a pothole on your street, you call City Hall. When your garbage doesn’t get picked up, you call City Hall. When the neighbor’s dog is barking at night – or when your neighbor won’t cut his grass — you call City Hall. You don’t call Jackson or Washington. You call City Hall.

We provide the basic services so that this city can function every day. One of the most important responsibilities we have is providing well-trained and well-equipped public safety workers to keep our streets and neighborhoods safe.

We’re making quite an investment in this area, and we’re seeing results. We have tens of thousands of motorists on our road every day, yet we had four traffic fatalities in Biloxi last year. Our fire department responded to nearly 2,000 medical emergencies. We’re saving lives. We provide things like good roads to move traffic, good drainage so your yard or your street doesn’t flood. New and bigger ballfields for our children to play on. Making as many of our services as possible free and more available.

We provide an excellent public school system, with state-of-the-art facilities. We use federal funds and local matches to upgrade housing. We coordinate everything to make sure that we’re providing our citizens the best quality of life possible – not the most expensive, but the best possible – because we also like to cut your taxes along the way.

But you know about all of those things. It all seems to come down to this: “What has your city done for you lately?” Reviewing my State of the City addresses over the past few years, I have found that I have made quite a few pledges to you.

Construction management is working

Last year, I stood before you and told you we were ready to go to work on Bayview Avenue and Popp’s Ferry Road, and we were getting closer on Caillavet Street. I came before you advocating the idea of a construction management program, to help keep these major projects on time and on budget.

I want to thank those members of the City Council who supported me on this concept. I am happy to report on the status today.

Eight months ago, in May of 2002, we broke ground on the new Bayview Avenue project, to construct a new boulevard connecting Back Bay with Point Cadet. This 6.5 million-dollar roadway will cover one-and-a-quarter miles, with three bridges and plenty of challenges for our construction management team.

When we broke ground in May, we said it was going to be a 12-month project. Today, I am announcing that a significant portion of the new Bayview Avenue will be open for traffic on March 15. That’s 10 months into the process. The rest of the roadway will be finished on time, despite setbacks caused by a hurricane, three tropical storms and a number of underground obstructions.

On Popp’s Ferry Road, we broke ground only five months ago, in September, to widen the roadway from Cedar Lake to Jam Lane. When we broke ground on this 3.8 million-dollar project, we said it would take 12 months. Today, I am proud to report to you that we will be completed in June, possibly more than 60 days ahead of schedule.

We also think we’ll be able to open the roadway to two-way traffic even before that, maybe in March or April. I want to thank the motorists, residents and business owners in that area for their cooperation on this traffic plan. The plan provided our construction crews enough room to get more work done in a shorter amount of time. And they could get it done without having to worry about traffic passing nearby.

Frankly, this construction management program is working so well that we are considering combining the next two phases of Popp’s Ferry – from the causeway to the Margaret Sherry Library, and from the library to Jam Lane – into one phase and beginning work as soon as possible.

The numbers may show that we can save time and money. Since we have good momentum on this project, we should keep moving and get the job completed. We’re going to look into that.

On the Caillavet Street project, the first phase will be to widen the nearby Anglada Street by five feet. This will allow delivery trucks to service the new businesses that will be re-locating in the redevelopment area on Caillavet Street.

Today, I am announcing that we will begin construction on the Anglada phase within 30 days. And within 60 to 90 days, we’ll be out for bids for a major drainage project to improve drainage on Caillavet and in the neighborhoods to the east. We’ll construct a new outfall to Keegan’s Bayou to help these areas drain better.

Other initiatives: Woolmarket services; museums; causeway park

A few weeks ago, we mailed you a detailed State of the City report outlining dozens of projects we’re working on throughout our city. I’m not going to go over every one of them today, but I would like to spend a few minutes on the major initiatives.

Since I stood before you last January, the City of Biloxi has spent a total of 19.6 million dollars on major improvement projects throughout our city.

Ground was broken this month on the expansion here at the Isle of Capri. The agreement that we reached with the Secretary of State and IHL sets aside room for the Isle expansion. It sets aside room and a funding stream for J.L. Scott Marine Education Center and Aquarium. And it sets aside green space on Point Cadet. This agreement guarantees a bright and well-planned future for Point Cadet and its tenants.

This month, the Planning Commission is reviewing the site approval for the Hope VI Housing Authority project in east Biloxi. In a few months, you’ll see infrastructure work begin for a new road and new homes on the former sites of Bayou Auguste and Bayview Homes.

In Woolmarket, work to provide sanitary sewer service to a significant portion of that area is underway right now. Engineers are designing an interceptor line, or trunk line, for us to then install a collection system, which are the lines to individual properties. We have engineering work underway right now on that collection system. In addition to that, we’re increasing the capacity at the Eagle Point treatment lagoon to meet the increased demand.

The first phase of the sewer project – which could cost more than 4 million dollars – will serve the area from Eagle Point to near the northern limits of the city. This work will take about two years to complete because easements will need to be obtained to install the lines. Make no mistake, though: We are committed to providing this service. It’s vital to the growth of the area and it’s vital to the health and welfare of our community.

In fact, next week, I will be in Washington meeting with our congressional delegation about securing grant money for this important work. While I’m there, I also plan on discussing potential funding for the north-south connector and the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art. More on that in a minute.

We’re moving forward with our plans to construct a new city park and other facilities on the 20 acres of land we purchased in Woolmarket. We have preliminary designs on the park, and in 60 days we will be advertising for bids for a new fire station that also will be on the property.

Regarding the drive for a new Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, the museum board now has 11.5 million of its 20 million-dollar goal. They also are awaiting decisions on grants totaling more than 4 million dollars. You’ll see groundbreaking for what they are calling the “campus” in May, along with a preview opening of the Pleasant Reed House. The museum itself is scheduled to open in 2005. Next month, there will be a grand re-opening of the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum. You’ll see the unveiling of a 2 million-dollar expansion that has doubled the size of the museum, adding a total of 8,000 square feet.

We’re also continuing to restore the Saenger Theater, with new theater seating for audience members, restoring the auditorium ceiling to its original design, and improving acoustics. We’re refurbishing the Crawford House at Tullis, and we’re working on some creative designs inside the Dantzler House, which will be the new home of the Mardi Gras Museum. We’ll unveil the plans for the new museum on Feb. 22.

At the Popp’s Ferry causeway, county workers have cleared the land, and now our design team is creating construction specs for the new waterfront park. At the same time, we’re applying for the wetlands permits that we will need before construction can begin. This park is going to make the Popp’s Ferry waterfront more accessible to more of our residents and visitors.

Our high school students were welcomed in September by a new 31-million dollar state-of-the-art high school and campus. Construction is underway right now on new elementary schools at Nichols and Gorenflo, to open in 2004.

And in a project funded by the city, Harrison County and the Mississippi Library Commission, we are now doubling the size of the Margaret Sherry Library to meet the growing needs of that facility.

Investment in youth

These last few projects – the new schools and expanded library – represent just a part of the huge investment we are making in the youth of Biloxi.

You’ve probably all seen the media reports on the success of our soccer program. A few years ago, I promised you that we would abolish recreation fees. Today, as a result of that action, we are continuing to experience record levels of participation in all of our sports leagues.

The Biloxi soccer league is now the third largest in the state, with 1,400 children playing in our city league. I congratulate Stephen Peresich and Bill Ramsey and coaches and parents who are helping oversee this league.

Frankly, we’d like to see that enthusiasm and level of participation carry over to the entire Biloxi youth sports program. That’s why we’re constructing a 10 million-dollar sports complex right now. We’ll have soccer and softball fields, trails, and picnic areas, just as we’ve done on a smaller scale at parks across this city.

We have people like Barry Lyons back home and wanting to see baseball, America’s pastime, return to local prominence.

That’s why we’ve set aside land and most of the funding for four Little League fields as part of the new sports complex. I’m hoping that we can receive county funding to help move forward with that phase of the project.

Cooperation between city and county

You’ve heard me mention this issue of county funding before, and I’m sure some would rather me speak about something else. But, as your Mayor, I have a responsibility to see that residents of Biloxi get a fair return on the 17.9 million dollars in county property taxes you paid last year alone.

I am very appreciative of the cooperation from Harrison County we have seen on projects. The supervisors are going to pay 12 million dollars over 20 years on the bonds for Bayview, Popp’s Ferry and Caillavet. These funds will come from property taxes on casino development.

The supervisors have also committed 150,000 dollars to the Housing Authority to construct a bridge to connect Nichols drive to Bayou Auguste, and we have county support on the Popp’s Ferry Causeway project, widening Wells Drive near the new sports complex, and a number of our historic properties and museums have received direct financial support.

You have heard and read about a significant amount of work underway in the city of Biloxi. There are also a number of projects that the City Council and I are having to phase in over several years because of the cost.

I think you – and all residents of this county – expect your city and county leaders to put territorial differences aside, and work together to get the most out of the tax dollars spent in Biloxi. I know we can do that.

Thank you for your support

In closing, as I look around this audience, I see many people who are working on various city projects or programs.

There are also many in this room who volunteer time to serve on various city boards or commissions. Many of you give your time to museums or work on events like Christmas on the Water or Mardi Gras. Many of you also volunteer through civic groups or other organizations.

Your just being here tells me that you care about your city.

And in response, I say this: You make me proud to be your Mayor. You make me want to work harder to make this city a better place for you and me, and our children and grandchildren. For that, and for the opportunity and support that you have given me, I say thank you. God bless you, God bless Biloxi and God bless America.

  • unhonored