Here is the prepared text of Mayor A.J. Holloway’s State of the City address to the Biloxi Bay Chamber of Commerce, delivered Feb. 1, 1996.
Thank you for inviting me here tonight and giving me the opportunity to present the traditional “State of the City Address.”
First let me say I have some “good news” and some “bad news.” The bad news is that, though I am getting better after more than two years in office, I must admit that I am still not the most accomplished public speaker. The good news is, it’s going to be a short speech–like King Henry the 8th told all his wives: “I won’t keep you long.”
I stood here a year ago and
told you that the City of Biloxi was in its best shape ever. We were catching up on years of overdue streets and drainage work, we were investing money in our police and fire epartments, and we were
doing our best to get a good return on your tax dollars.
Reporters from the New York Times, the Boston Globe and other national publications have been here to conduct interviews. Not to mention
Walter Fountain. As we told those writers: Three years ago, we couldn’t afford to buy tires for our police cars. Now, we buy police cars. Dozens of police cars.
I don’t want this speech to be a
laundry list of the streets paved and drainage projects that were completed. Nor do I want to get bogged down in statistics. But I would be remiss if I failed to take a moment to point out a few
noteworthy accomplishments that took place in the past year.
You can see the massive work that is continuing on our infrastructure. Last year we completed 21 capital projects, in addition to
overlaying more than 30 miles of city streets. As I speak to you here tonight, we have about 15 major projects underway throughout the city, including Oak Street, Hopkins Boulevard, Iberville Drive, and
the long awaited city water service on Popp’s Ferry Road.
I am proud of the outstanding job that our police department is doing in fighting crime. As the city continues to experience dramatic
growth in population and in the number of visitors to our community, we actually experienced a significant drop in crime. Burglaries, robberies and auto theft decreased by as much as 30 percent in the
past year. Also, our fire insurance rates have been maintained and we’re about to open a brand new Back Bay Fire Station. The bottom line is that we have very effective police and fire departments. I
congratulate Chief Moffett, Chief Thibodeaux, and their men and women for the great job they have done and continue to do.
If we are to realize our goal of becoming a world-class destination
resort and at the same time remain a thriving, livable community, it is vital that our residents and visitors not only feel safe, but that they are living and staying in a stable environment.
We’ve made significant investments in our Parks and Recreation services. Hiller Park and the Natatorium are being upgraded and repaired. We also continue to add new and innovative programs to our Parks
and Recreation menu of activities.
The Community Development Department is overseeing a major restoration of the Saenger Theatre. The City is able to take over management of more of its
historical properties, such as the Magnolia Hotel housing the Mardi Gras Museum, and the Old Brick House. These landmarks, plus Tullis Manor, have undergone renovations, helping preserve the history and
heritage of our city.
There are several other developments that will have a lasting impact on the future of the city. Last year, I traveled to Wall Street with the city’s finance director,
Council President Eric Dickey and Chief Administrative Officer David Nichols. We gave reports on the financial condition of the city, the status of gaming, and we showed how we were managing our city
funds. Our presentations resulted in improved bond ratings for the city. The Wall Street folks said we were managing the money wisely. And those better bond ratings saved the city almost $400,000 through
lower interest rates. This seal of approval makes additional capital for long term funding and growth more readily available and cheaper.
While these events were taking place behind the scenes,
we continued to keep apace of the development steadily coming into our city. In the past year, we issued more than $70 million in construction permits, and more developers arrive on our doorstep each
day. In fact, this year, development will exceed 500 million dollars (this is not pie-in-the sky). This brings in more people, new jobs, and new opportunities.
At the same time, we are demanding
tight controls and insisting that these developers pay their fair share of infrastructure improvements. We are ensuring that the explosive growth of Biloxi occurs in an orderly and planned fashion.
But as important as these accomplishments are, what I really want to outline for you is a number of vital challenges that we have facing us. It’s what George Bush called “the vision thing.”
We are now three-quarters complete with a Comprehensive Plan for the City. This plan, called “Vision 2020,” has been almost two years in the making. It will plot such neccessities as
streets and drainage, transportation, public safety, and population shifts and trends for the entire city. And it will include a budget to implement goals and objectives provided by a committee of
citizens representing each ward of this city. This brings me to an important and timely issue.
We are even closer to celebrating our Tricentennial in 1999. It’s high time for people across this
country and around the world to know that Biloxi is re-asserting itself and reclaiming its leadership role in tourism. Along those lines, I commend the Biloxi Bay Chamber of Commerce for its successful
“Betting on Biloxi” promotion on TV’s “Wheel of Fortune.”
With new hotel construction and an improving economy the coast will soon have over 15,000 hotel rooms. These rooms
will result in expanded airline service enabling us to expand our market area. We have so many tourist-related attractions going for us–the beach, boating, golfing, our great restaurants, deep-sea
fishing, and the rich history of our city. The impact of the casino industry on this effort cannot be underestimated. Major events like the Southern Governors Conference that we hosted last year at Point
Cadet Plaza are just the tip of the iceberg. With our growing casino industry, Biloxi will have an aggressive marketing campaign to bring national and international attention to this city that is both
lucrative and positive, and which will solidify our position as a destination resort for well into the future.
Part of that future, of course, is expanded development and growth. This
administration and the city council are very aware of this. We’ve had our disagreements, and undoubtedly we’ll have disagreements in the future. I can assure you, though, that the Mayor’s office and the
council are united in the goal of making Biloxi the best that it can be.
There is no question that we need more room for the people who want to live in Biloxi and educate their children, for the
people who want to open a business in Biloxi and earn a decent living, and for the people who want to retire in Biloxi.
We are out of room. Currently, 80 percent of the Biloxi peninsula is
developed. And of the 20 percent that’s left, 33 percent is wetlands. While we must continue to appreciate the appeal of Biloxi’s unique geography, we must face this fact: Biloxi is out of room and must
expand. The only way to grow is to the north. The Biloxi school system realizes this and has purchased property on Popp’s Ferry Road. So has the First Baptist Church, which purchased 24 acres on Popp’s
Ferry Road. And an increasing number of subdivisions is coming up north of the Bay.
The City of Biloxi is well into the process to annex a large portion of land north of our current northern
boundaries. We feel that this acquisition is imperative for Biloxi to continue to grow. None of this means that we turn our backs on the peninsula — on West Biloxi, on Back Bay, the front beach, or
Despite the discomfort I mentioned at the beginning of this speech, I want to tell you that I’ve done more public speaking in the past year than I did when I was running for
election. You’d think I was running for re-election…..
This administration has taken steps to make Biloxi government more open to the citizens. Through the community-minded spirit of Biloxi Bay
Chamber Vice President Gary Michiels, we have a weekly radio show, called “City Desk,” each Thursday morning on WVMI. In 1995, my directors and I presented seven meetings over a two-week period
throughout the city. We informed residents about how we were managing their city and their tax dollars. We also listened to their comments, answered their questions and followed up with personal letters.
I was on the speaking circuit again several weeks ago to gauge public perception about a proposal to expand our police and fire facilities, and open a new 24-hour facility on Popp’s Ferry Road.
Frankly, I was encouraged by the responses that I received from the many civic groups I spoke to.
At all of my presentations, I’ve been saving time for questions and answers.
I’m here to tell you: I’ve heard the questions. I’ve heard the concerns.
I’m referring to another north-south connector from Interstate 10 into the city of Biloxi.
I’m referring to an on and off ramp on I-110 in the city of Biloxi.
You know, before we know it, two of the biggest hotel-casino developments in the South will serve as bookends to Caillavet
I’m referring to the annexation efforts that the city of Biloxi is currently pursuing.
And, yes, I’m referring to my plan to open a second Public Safety facility on a widened
Popp’s Ferry Road. This Public Safety idea is the right thing to do, in the right place and this is the right time to do it.
For all of the tremendous strides that we have made in the past two
years in the city of Biloxi, you can see that we still face many vital issues that demand our attention and our vision.
In closing, I’d like to thank you for the support and interest you’ve shown
in Biloxi city government. I have had a lot of encouragement in the past 30 months since I became mayor.
These are certainly some exciting times for Biloxi. It’s natural to be saddened by some of
the changes we’ve witnessed because we’re losing a part of our past. Some probably felt that way when the old Edgewater Hotel was demolished. Or when the old City Hall on Main Street was torn down. Or
when the new Biloxi High School was built. These events may have tugged at our hearts at the time.
But today, we’re making our OWN history. And at the same time, we’re continuing the important
task of preserving our cultural heritage.
I do not have a crystal ball to predict the future. But I do know that we must do everything that we can in the present to prepare ourselves and our city
for the future. Things are happening now, and what I have outlined here tonight show you that we are on the right track and have a bright future. But I know we still have a lot of hard work to do. Like
the Biloxi Bay Chamber of Commerce, I’m “Bettin’ on Biloxi.”