BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Biloxi leaders and business owners are sharing the excitement as the restoration of Howard Avenue moves forward.
The project was one of Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich’s major talking points during a Breakfast with the Mayor event hosted by the Chamber of Commerce Wednesday morning.
What was once the heartbeat of downtown Biloxi is now filled with more “For sale" and “For lease” signs than people.
The hope is that will soon change as work to revive what was once known as the Vieux Marche moves forward.
“I can’t wait. It’s like coming in to work every day and seeing the next progress," said business owner Jean McGrury.
The city is spending nearly $ 2 million to widen Howard Avenue, returning it to a two-lane street, and bring in more parking and sidewalks.
“When they decided to do a two-lane road, I was definitely for it," McGrury said, "because then it got rid of all the ugliness of these old planters that didn’t have any plants in them, and people getting confused, and no parking. So this is really a breath of fresh air.”
Gilich said it will breathe life in to the city’s downtown, a big economic impact.
“This is how it used to be. Parking on both sides and lateral parking. It’s actually the same footprint, so we’re excited about that," Gilich said. “We’ll have literally businesses and restaurants and residents, and that’s what we’re excited about.”
A key part of that will be the renovation of the Barq building. Private developers are planning to transform this historic space into 330 apartments with shops and office spaces below.
“That’s the cornerstone. It really is. Next to the Saenger, right at the entrance of Reynoir and Howard, and just like Beale Street has its name, Howard Avenue will have its name,” Gilich said.
Outside of Howard Avenue, more projects are in the works. Right now, the city is conducting a feasibility study to bring a convention center to east Biloxi.
“It will attract an ability to bring thousands of room nights, instead of hundreds of room nights, in conventions,” Gilich said.
He said the city’s future is bright.
“You look at mirror, mirror on the wall, what’s going to happen today? It’s all good,” he said.
Gilich said work on Howard Avenue is expected to be complete around the first of the year.