New Santa Maria del Mar will offer "beacon of hope"

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - By Steve Phillips – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The Catholic Diocese of Biloxi is celebrating the start of construction on the Santa Maria del Mar senior citizen project.

Bishop Roger Morin said the finished apartment buildings will stand as a "beacon of hope" for the elderly who need such affordable housing.

Hurricane Katrina heavily damaged the old Santa Maria del Mar tower on the waterfront in Biloxi. The replacement project is on higher ground and much farther inland.

The new Santa Maria will be next door to the Catholic diocese administrative headquarters off Popp's Ferry Road. It's being built on Medical Park Drive, a spot the bishop called the "backyard" of the Biloxi diocese office.

Rev. T. Dominick Fullam was master of ceremony at the event.

"Whenever we look to the interests of our neighbor, or seek to serve our community, we are in a very real sense co-workers of the Lord," he said.

Unlike the old high rise on the waterfront in Biloxi, the new complex will consist of two six story buildings with a commons area in the middle.

"The residential towers contain both efficiency and single bedroom units with a total of 106 units. In addition, the towers contain a hair salon, laundry facilities, activity rooms and shared exterior balconies," said architect Stephen Stojcich, with Eley, Guild & Hardy Architects.

"I know that the senior citizens will be happy to get back home. I know you've had a rough five years so far. But hang in there and stay the course, because relief is coming very quickly," said Mayor A.J. Holloway.

The Santa Maria del Mar tower was built in the wake of Hurricane Camille to help meet the growing demand for housing. More than 30 years later, it was the wrath of Hurricane Katrina which prompted the decision to rebuild farther north.

"Santa Maria del Mar, which you know means 'by the sea.' We've gone a little bit away from the waters, but nonetheless, I believe that we have made the wisest choice in terms of location," said Bishop Roger Morin, who delivered the keynote address at the ground breaking event.

Theresa Taylor lived in the Santa Maria tower for 14 years. She's anxiously looked forward to this project's ground breaking.

"Oh it was wonderful.  I'm so happy for all the people that will move in. And I'll move in as soon as they, I hope I live long enough when it's ready to go," she exclaimed.

"For Santa Maria, not so much del Mar now in its new location, it will stand as a beacon of hope for those who need these accommodations," said Bishop Morin.

Units will be rented to residents with 50 percent of the area median income. Rental assistance will be provided through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Construction of the new complex should take about 18 months.

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