Mayor A.J. Holloway’s State of the City address to the Biloxi Chamber of Commerce, delivered March 17, 1999 at the Grand Bayview Hotel.
Good morning. I’m glad to be with you this morning to present the State of the City address. You know, it seems like it’s been only a
few weeks since I gave this presentation. In fact, the room seems pretty familiar too….
To tell you the truth, this is the third time in the last few weeks that I’ve been in this room to speak
to a group. A few weeks ago, I spoke to the Interdepartmental Hurricane Conference, a gathering of scientists, weather researchers and meteorologists from all across the country. I was proud that this
national convention was hosted by Keesler’s own 53rd Weather Reconnaisance Squadron. The Hurricane Hunters did a great job, and it was a super conference.
My job as keynote speaker was to tell
them how far we’ve come since Hurricane Camille, but I also told them that it was great that they were all here sharing information.
******* This morning, I’m going to give you a progress report
on several important projects we have going on.
First, let me recognize a few people who help run this city.
The members of the City Council:
Ward 1, Tom Ferrill Ward 2, Eric
Dickey Ward 3, Jim Compton Ward 4, Charles T. Harrison Jr. Ward 5, Mike Fitzpatrick Ward 6, Tom Wall. Ward 7, Bill Fluty. I’d also like to recognize my boss, Macklyn, and my daughter, Heather.
And the department directors, who oversee the city workforce of just under 500 employees:
Chief Administrative Officer David Nichols Community Development Director David Staehling Legal Director
Ronnie Cochran Parks & Recreation Director Nathan Sullian Police Chief Tommy Moffett Public Works Director Jerry Morgan And, finally, I want to recognize Fire Chief Floyd Thibodeaux, who I am sorry
to say is retiring at the end of this month. I’m very proud of the job that Floyd has done as Fire Chief the past six years.
Floyd worked his way up through the ranks, and he’s a 27-year veteran
of our Fire Department. He’s helped make sure that our department had the proper equipment and that our men had the proper training to be prepared to meet the challenge brought on by all of the
development we’ve seen in our city.
Six years ago, we didn’t even have a skyline here in Biloxi, and you saw for yourself how prepared our Fire Department was when they were called for that
rescue at Beau Rivage. Floyd and Jo, I thank you personally and as Mayor, I thank you on behalf of a grateful city.
So where are we on helping relieve this city’s growing traffic congestion?
Yesterday, the City Council and I received a detailed report on the Caillavet and Bayview projects, and I have some
great news to share with you this morning.
We have completed 92 of the 95 title opinions we needed on the Caillavet Street parcels.
Surveys have been done on a third of the 95 parcels,
and we’ll have another third done by the end of this month.
Let me cut to the chase: We originally thought it would take us until the end of the year for everyone to have offers in hand.
As it stands right now, about two dozen property owners will be receiving offers on their properties within the next few weeks. Everyone should have offers in the next few months.
Let me explain
something about this process: We have to have ALL of the property acquired, and ALL of the businesses and residents relocated before we can begin construction.
We’re proceeding with care and caution on this project.
We’re having to uproot residents and businesses who have been in this area for nearly all of their lives. The City Council and I do not
take this process lightly.
On Bayview, the City Council approved the revised route about two weeks ago. We originally planned to begin making appraisals in June followed by offers in July, but
we’re also moving faster on this project, too.
We received the first appraisal report on Monday, and, after having a review appraiser look at it, we anticipate making the first offer in the next
The first phase of our project to improve traffic flow near Popp’s Ferry Road – construction of a new road from Richard Drive to Jam Lane, across the school property – will go out for
bids in September, and we’ll start work shortly thereafter.
Another facet of our traffic improvement program concerns Main Street, where Councilmember Eric Dickey and a number of his constituents
have been meeting with the Administration to help devise the best plan to widen Main Street and redevelop this area of our city.
I am happy to report to you that our ambitious project to upgrade
our Public Safety facilities in Biloxi is now underway.
Lloyd T. Moon Contractors is working on a 5,000 square foot building just west of the Business Technology Center on Popp’s Ferry Road. This
facility will house our fire and police dispatchers.
This facility also will provide an increased presence for our police and fire departments in one of the fastest growing areas of our city.
And believe me, the area off Cedar Lake and Popp’s Ferry roads is THE fastest growing area of our city:
- The school board broke ground last month on its first school to ever be constructed
across the bay; – the Catholic Diocese is building there; – there’s a $30 million medical complex taking shape near I-10; – there’s a new a new apartment complex under construction in the area; – the
engineering firm of Brown & Mitchell has an office complex under construction; – and the new Harley-Davidson shop and showroom are both under construction. Additionally, the Harrison County
Development Commission is developing the 104-acre Biloxi Commerce Park. This park will be similar to the Intraplex 10 park near the seaway in Gulfport.
I am also here today to report to you that
the new public safety center to be located on Porter Avenue should go out for bids in April, with construction starting a month or so later. This building will be over 66,000 square feet and will be two
stories. It will have three fire engine bays, a two-level lobby with a distinctive skylight, and the facility will also have a unique set up for our Municipal Court.
I would also like to commit
to you today that by the end of the year we will identify property on Point Cadet for a new fire station to replace the aging building on East Howard Avenue that currently houses our East End
We need a station to better serve our needs for this growing area. This new station also will allow us to move one of our aerial platform trucks to Point Cadet.
that will be receiving more attention is the Vieux Marche. I’m excited about Jerry O’Keefe’s drive to see a new George Ohr Arts and Cultural Center and adjacent parking garage built. Jerry wants to break
ground in December, and with the way he’s been going, I know he’ll be out there with a shovel in December.
In the next few weeks, Biloxi Regional will break ground on its medical office building
and parking garage. This parking garage will be large enough to handle hospital visitors and hospital employees.
We’ve made a good bit of improvements in the Vieux Marche in the past six years —
more than any other time in the past 20 years. But, like the Biloxi peninsula itself, the Vieux Marche has seen a tremendous amount of growth on a small section of land.
One downtown businessman
told me the other day that he thought one of the best perks that the Mayor of Biloxi gets is a reserved parking space behind City Hall. I have heard the calls for something to be done to address the
parking situation in downtown Biloxi.
We have taken several steps to improve parking, but the problem won’t be fully resolved until these two parking garages are up and operating. But it’s just
like Wayne Brown said at the north-south connector road hearing the other night at the Community Center, no matter how many roads we build, roads are not the only answer.
These parking garages
are not going to be the total answer to our downtown parking problem.
Let’s look at this issue. The Vieux Marche is unlike any other area of the city because businesses are not required to
If you open a business any place in the City of Biloxi, you have to have a parking plan before you open, and when you expand your business, you have to expand your parking, too.
But not in the Vieux Marche.
We’ve seen new businesses open and nearly all of the established ones expand, and now people say we have no parking.
Some businessowners and downtown
employees are looking to City Hall for a quick fix, and I want to give you one today.
When you leave here to head to your downtown business, think about where you park.
of Biloxi has more than 1,000 free parking spaces in downtown Biloxi, but over the years, the people downtown have gotten used to parking right outside their business. You have to change that mindset. We
have a good bit of parking north of the Vieux Marche by the Washington Loop.
If you work downtown all day, park over there and walk the block and a half to your business. Leave the 30-minute and
two-hour spaces for your customers.
We’ve written parking tickets, and we’re going to be writing more. Some of the loudest complaints come from some of the downtown merchants and their employees.
We can write tickets until we’re blue in the face, but we’d rather not do that.
We’d rather have cooperation from the people downtown to make a dent in this problem.
Another issue that’s
on the table is annexation. As you know, we were awarded about 34 square miles of land north of the city by a special chancellor in 1997.
The issue is now before the State Supreme Court.
In the area of recreation, the City of Biloxi and Biloxi Public Schools should begin clearing land in the next couple of months for a 61-acre recreational complex that will include soccer fields,
softball and baseball fields, tennis courts, a 5-K cross country track and a walking track. This is a $10 million project.
This year, the City has budgeted $1 million so we can get this thing
moving forward at the school property off Popp’s Ferry Road.
Our city engineers are currently reviewing the plans for the West Biloxi Community Center. We expect this project to be out for bid
shortly. Frankly, I’m not at all pleased with the progress on this project. This building ought to be under construction right now.
But as many of you have found for yourselves, our local
contractors and architects and engineers are working at capacity. Unfortunately – or fortunately – this is the price we pay for having such a booming economy here in Biloxi.
Those are most of the
major projects we have going on. As we continue to work on these things, we are still providing the essential services that you expect from your city government. Over in our Community Development
Department, we are continuing to issue permits for new businesses at a rate of 30 to 50 a month.
We also issued 813 residential building permits and 351 commercial building permits during 1998.
This represents a total of $106.9 million in construction for the year. The biggest growth, I believe, was in residential development, both in single family and multi-family construction.
Public Works, where we’ve spent more than $20 million on streets and drainage in the past six years, we’re still not slowing down. Yesterday, we awarded two $600,000 projects, one to rebuild Dorries
Street and the other to rebuild Bohn Street from the tracks to Division Street.
We’re also going to be starting a project to improve the drainage on Lakeview and Fairview. In the next few weeks,
I’m going to ask the City Council for approval to award a contract to light Highway 90 from Rodenberg to the Biloxi Lighthouse. This will meet our goal of lighting the entire stretch of Highway 90 from
one end of Biloxi to the other.
Yesterday, we resolved the problems on the Edgewater Park drainage project, and we have given the contractor a deadline of July 1 to finish that job. I’m not going
to apologize for having the city halt that project until we were absolutely sure we were getting quality work and quality materials.
But I do want to apologize to the Edgewater Park residents for
the inconvenience that they have been through. I appreciate their patience and understanding. When we are spending millions of dollars on these major projects, as your Mayor I’m going to make darn sure
that we are getting our money’s worth and that they are being done right.
Some of you may have noticed that huge sewer project on Division Street. We were replacing a 10-inch pipe with a 24-inch
pipe to better handle the increased amount of sewage from the east end of our city. You saw the big pipe out in the street, but what you didn’t see was months and months of tearing up Division Street and
months and months of delays.
That’s because we tunneled under the street and we were able to do this work in a fraction of the time it normally takes.
More important for residents and
businesses, we were able to keep Division Street open throughout the process. This is the kind of innovation that we are constantly looking for to help us do a better job for you.
In the past
year, independent auditors gave the City of Biloxi its first clean audit it more than 20 years. One of the reasons that we were able to reach this milestone is because we have been able to accurately
document and catalog all of the city’s fixed assets and provide a clear and accurate accounting of ALL city property – from the smallest wrench to the largest fire truck. And we placed a dollar value on
all of it.
Another part of my goal to get our financial house in order was to improve this city’s credit rating. Councilman Tom Wall and I made presentations to a Wall Street rating board last
year, and as a result of the job we are doing managing your city and managing your tax dollars, our rating was improved. This will save us several hundred thousand dollars in lower interest payments.
And, in case you haven’t noticed, while we’re accomplishing all of these things we’ve been able to provide tax breaks along the way. In fact, over the past 6 years, we’ve been able to reduce your
city taxes by 12 mills – or about 10 percent.
Now, speaking of taxes, Harrison County is currently reappraising property. As most of you know, this means that your property values are going to go
up, which of course normally means that your taxes will go up, too. I don’t think that should be the case for Biloxi residents and Biloxi business owners.
My position is that the City of Biloxi
should take the appropriate steps to reduce our millage as necessary so that your city taxes do not increase as a result of reappraisal. I hope members of the Council will agree with me on this.
I’m proud to say to you that we are in this position here in Biloxi because of the fiscally conservative and responsible way that we’ve managed your tax dollars over the past several years.
has this been a week or what? I want to congratulate the staff and management at Beau Rivage on their opening. Everything was fantastic, and this was another milestone occasion for Biloxi and the
Mississippi Gulf Coast. I also want to applaud the efforts of our Casino Row properties on their new joint marketing partnership.
I cannot say enough about the many benefits and the positive
results that we have seen and can see from the many partnerships that we have in our city. There’s the Jerry O’Keefe drive for the George Ohr facility. The Council of Garden Clubs just unveiled the newly
refurbished Old Brick House.
Habitat for Humanity built three new homes in Biloxi just in the past year, the Seafood Industry Museum is looking for a major expansion of its facility, and Main
Street Biloxi is keeping a strong focus on the downtown area.
I know I don’t have to tell the Biloxi Chamber of Commerce about partnerships, considering the fantastic year that you’ve had. Your
work on the D’Iberville statue was an excellent example of having a vision, making a plan and getting people involved in that plan, and, most important of all, following through on that plan. I
congratulate you. I also thought that you came back with a great encore with the 150th anniversary celebration for the Biloxi Lighthouse.
I’m hoping that this positive energy and these kinds of
accomplishments will continue on another important initiative I announced the other day. In a couple of weeks, Grand Casino will begin working on the median right out here, from Oak Street to Kuhn
This project is part of our adopt-a-median program and this first work will serve as a model that we’re going to use to improve the medians on highway 90 all the way to Gulfport. The Isle
and Casino Magic have also stepped up to take the rest of the median, all the way to the Small Craft Harbor.
But this program is not limited to Highway 90 and it’s not limited to casinos and you
don’t have to have deep pockets to join in.
I am encouraging you this morning to think about what you can do as leading business people in the way of adopting a median near your business or in a
high profile area of our city. The project can be as small or as large as you want.
It can be a matter of planting flower beds or just picking up litter every so often. Just call my office and
we’ll help you get the project underway.
We’ll also be doing our part at City Hall. You’ll soon be seeing our new COP program in action. That’s Citizens on Litter Patrol, where we’re using people
from city court to pick up litter along our roadsides. I hope I don’t see any of my friends out there.
This fighting litter is an important issue, and it’s one that we can win if we have a strong
partnership like we’ve seen on other projects.
I’m hoping you’ll take the lapel stickers you’re wearing to heart, and be a part of the team, to work for Biloxi.
I know you’ll make us a winning team.
Thank you, and God bless you and God bless Biloxi.