Downtown Biloxi businesses undergo facelifts

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - "It was horrible. She took a bad beating. So this is a real joy," said Eileen Ezell.

Ezell was referring to the battered building in downtown Biloxi, which once housed Mary Mahoney's Cafe and Bar. Katrina flooded the building and caused extensive damage outside.

Ezell co-owns the property and doesn't know whether it will reopen.  Ezell recently received $45,000 from the city's Facade Grant Program to fund the building's makeover.

"I thought it was a great idea and we did it immediately," said Ezell. "We got all new windows, doors, light fixtures, wrought iron railing, and new awning. So it will be very pretty."

The city received 25 applications for a share of the $300,000 grant. Nine properties received funding, including an art gallery on Water Street, an apartment building, and the newly-opened Half-Shell Oyster House. The goal is to revitalize downtown by repairing damaged storefronts and restoring the facades of historic structures.

"It is about sprucing up the buildings, making it more attractive. So when visitors or people who live here come downtown, they get a better experience," said Bill Raymond, Biloxi's Historic Administrator. "You can already see how much lighter and brighter it looks and more inviting than it ever was."

The ninth and final project is the old Spanish Trail Bookstore building. The property is still in shambles after a January 18th fire. Believe it or not, the owner actually received his facade grant just months before the devastating fire.

"It was to upgrade the property. Put the cornice at the top of the building, replace the windows and work a little bit on the store front. We still have those things to do now obviously," said the property owner Mike Hutter.

"The grant will enable me to build that building back, because we were really tight on funds and not sure what we were going to be able to do," he added.

The grants range from $30,000 to $45,000. It's an incentive the downtown property owners said they couldn't pass up.

"Free money. I mean you're getting the work all done for free," said Ezell. "This is just a great opportunity to take advantage of."

Biloxi's Facade Grant comes from CDBG funding.  The work should wrap up by the end of September.

Just so you know, Biloxi Main Street recently launched its own downtown Facade Grant.  At least five grants will be awarded, each with a value of up to $5,000.

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