GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Brent Warr never expected he'd watch somebody else take the oath of office Thursday outside Gulfport City Hall. Then again, he never expected a storm like Katrina would become the defining moment of his one term as mayor.
As the outgoing mayor sat down to discuss the highs and lows of his four years at city hall, Warr said, "It's been the greatest experience of my lifetime, and I've loved it."
Just blocks from his downtown office window is an empty harbor, vacant and weed infested lots, and storm damaged buildings. Those are vivid portrayals of what Gulfport lost in 2005, just as Warr was learning how to be the city's mayor.
He's quick to remind people that less than two months after moving into city hall, the political novice had to lead Gulfport through the aftermath of America's worst natural disaster.
"We just kind of did it with determination and a commitment to ourselves and to the citizens that we would succeed. Failure wasn't ever considered as an option," he said.
Hurricane Katrina gave Warr a clean slate to remake the city in his image.
"I thank God literally hundreds of times for giving me the opportunity to have this job at this time because I felt like I could see what our future needed to be," he said.
The Warr administration dusted off Jones Park designs to enhance the city's waterfront park. It developed a $19 million plan to redo the small craft harbor. And it got the VA to deed its 92 acre waterfront parcel to the city, giving Gulfport prime property to market to developers.
"They will make Gulfport the city on the Mississippi Gulf Coast that people talk about when they talk about the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It has not always been that way," the outgoing mayor said.
A Katrina fraud indictment against Warr and his wife forced the mayor to drop his plans for a re-election bid. Because that trial starts in September, we agreed not to ask any questions about the pending case.
Instead, Warr's final interview prior to Thursday's inauguration focused on his administration's success stories. The accomplishments included projects like the municipal complex going up down the street, the community centers that have reopened around the city, and the new facades that have transformed aging downtown buildings into a central business district with a hopeful future.
"It seemed like everyone of them was an absolute uphill climb," he said, while sitting in a city hall conference room.
City hall is another building that's receiving a post-Katrina makeover. According to Warr, "They are now finer facilities than they've ever been by and large."
As for how he wants his administration to be remembered, Warr said, "I hope that the people of the city of Gulfport carry with them a belief, because I have it, that Brent Warr cared about everybody in this city, and it didn't depend on what corner of the community you lived in."
George Schloegel takes the oath of office Thursday night at 6:00 pm. However, he doesn't officially become mayor until the first full week of July. Until then, Brent Warr says he'll be in the office, finishing up as many projects as he can get done.