Gulfport Mayor reviews economic development

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport Mayor George Schloegel met Friday with real estate managers from throughout Mississippi. He gave the keynote speech at a luncheon meeting of the Institute of Real Estate Management.

The mayor talked about progress at the port and harbor, downtown development and post-Katrina insurance troubles.

Since the luncheon was held in the Great Southern Club, high atop the Hancock Bank building, Mayor Schloegel gave a "show and tell" presentation. His real estate visitors enjoyed a bird's eye view of the progress and projects he discussed.

"The biggest economic impact activity in the State of Mississippi history is right out this window.  And that's the state port," Mayor Schloegel told the group, motioning toward the large south facing windows.

The mayor told his visitors the economic impact of the nearly half billion dollar port expansion project will be felt statewide.

"We're real proud of what it's doing, and we think it's going to ring the cash registers in every county and for each of you who make a living in this state."

He also touted the rebuilding of the small craft harbor, but admitted progress on that project is slower than he'd expected.

"Because of the destruction we had after the storm, instead of trying to patch it, we pulled everything up and started from brand new," said the mayor.

The biggest issue hindering development along the coast is still the cost of insurance. One realtor says action is needed to encourage more construction.

"Maybe in the structure that people build back, giving them some kind of credit for when they add that reinforced concrete or elevate above 17 feet," says Lenny Sawyer.

The regional vice president of the real estate group says economic indicators are encouraging.

"Our economy is starting to turn around. You've already seen multi family properties throughout the Southeast starting to come back. Rental rates are starting to go up, occupancy rates are starting to go up, and therefore you're starting to see a lot of people coming back out of the woodwork," said Chip Watts.

The highly successful facade program and recent downtown development were also mentioned by the mayor, who credits a community wide desire.

"The leadership in this town is coming from the business community that wanted to see renovation and a better life. That's why we've been able to get this," said Mayor Schloegel.

Speaking of downtown development, Mayor Schloegel says the grinding and re-paving of downtown streets will begin this Sunday night at 10:00.  That project will take about three weeks, but he says the work will be done at night to minimize traffic and business interruptions.

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